Duncan’s Uke

Crash Course for the Ravers
Album: “Heroes,” 1977
Prior Level of Acquaintance: Minimal
Three-Word Review: Frantic, noisy – sequelitis

True confession: a couple of years ago I wrote a scrap of Hedwig and the Angry Inch fanfiction. It was meant for an audience of one and created entirely by the seat of the pants. So at one point, because why the hell not, Hedwig performs Iggy Pop’s song ‘Lust for Life.’

I didn’t know when I included the song that it’d been written in Hedwig’s hometown of Berlin. I also didn’t know it’d turn out to be my favorite song from “Heroes,” despite not being from “Heroes” at all.

Just to mix it up, here’s Lady H (John Cameron Mitchell – first here, best here – in a dreadful recording, sorry) singing ‘All the Young Dudes,’ with an Iggy-imitating stage dive, no less.

Yeah, after a lot of anticipation, I am not in love with “Heroes,” taken altogether. Most of what I like about it are the elements that remind me of prior albums. It kind of made me wish I was listening to Low again (hence my favorite word sequelitis above).

‘Sons of the Silent Age’ may be my favorite track—weird, evocative, tuneful. My Bowie guru suggests it’s a throwback to Bowie’s Jacques Brel period or to The Man Who Sold the World. Also, to my ears, it’s the most Low-like track on the album.

I also get guilty pleasure out of ‘The Secret Life of Arabia,’ along with the vague feeling that that makes me racist. It’s also a throwback at least to Station to Station, or some stop prior to all this ambient-influenced Oblique Strategies stuff.

(You know you want to click through and get your own Oblique Strategy. Mechanicalize something idiosyncratic.)


Brian Eno, Robert Fripp, and Bowie in the studio

Now I understand, sort of, why Bowie is cutting off half the song in most of his live performances of ‘Heroes,’ beginning with the dolphins. (The single flopped initially. It became one of his standard tunes largely due to subsequent live performances.) Sticks with you no matter what, though. Here he is closing his last official concert with it, in 2004, just before he collapsed backstage.

And here it is as the climax (one of several, actually) in the ‘Elephant Love Medley’ from Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge! It might’ve been the first time I heard ‘Heroes,’ when I saw this in the theater in 2001. The soundtrack also features ‘Diamond Dogs’ (performed by Beck) and Bowie himself singing ‘Nature Boy.’

I moved from “Heroes” to Bowie’s 1978 concert recording entitled Stage. The first half opens daringly with ‘Warzsawa’ – live! – and mixes Low and “Heroes” tracks before giving in to the hits with ‘Fame.’ The second side is dominated by Ziggy Stardust tracks, giving an interesting opportunity to hear Bowie’s old material sung with Bowie’s new voice. ‘Soul Love,’ in particular, is wildly different from the original in melody, tempo, and the occasional lyric: where redheaded Ziggy sang “idiot love will spark the fusion,” Heroic Bowie sings “idiot love will cause confusion.” Then, just in case you thought he was getting predictable for a minute, he gets his Lenya on with ‘Alabama Song.

Maybe I’m just not European enough to appreciate “Heroes.” But that’s OK, because I hear we’re getting out of town.

“Duncan’s Uke” because according to legend Bowie began creating ‘Lust for Life’ on his kid’s tiny ukulele, suddenly inspired by Morse-code tapping from West German TV. Mr. Pop then took over and made the song what it is today. There was no way I was seeing the upcoming Warcraft movie until I found out it’s the new Duncan Jones project. Have I mentioned that I love Duncan Jones’ work for reasons completely unrelated to his parentage? Go watch Source Code, seriously.

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