Love In The Time Of Apocalypse
My top David Bowie songs
1. "Heroes" -- Heroes
This beloved song shows up on every top five song list I’ve ever made, not to mention every make out mix. Heroes is the second album in the Berlin Trilogy. Bowie and Iggy went to the most decadent city in Europe to get clean and sober. How like them! And, what’s more, they did it! At heart, even in his most apocalyptic moments, Bowie is a romantic. And nothing is more romantic than this tale of two lovers kissing at the Berlin wall, wanting to be each other, wanting to be there for the world. Nothing. The lyrics and the music and that black and white image of Bowie posing on the cover with his hands like birds…
2. “Rebel Rebel” -- Diamond Dogs
This is my anthem for a personal transformation into a punk rocker. Although Bowie seems to have had mixed feelings about the early punk movement, according to many, including Germ’s manager Nicole Panter, “There would have been no punk without David Bowie.”
I liked to pretend he was talking to me when he sang “your face is a mess” (me!), “you tore your dress” (slamming with Dirk, falling, I got up and my vintage silk black and white dress was sliced in two—me!) “I love you so” (me! me! me!).
3. “Be My Wife” – Low
If I could pick one Bowie to live with forever this would be him. Fierce and tender, masculine and femme, cool and hot, dressed in high-waisted pink baggies (I had a pair like them). This song, from the acclaimed Low, is the most accessible on that album and reflects my taste in the simplest, purest rock 'n' roll. “Be My Wife” was written as a plea to Angie Bowie when their marriage was on the rocks. How could she (or anyone) refuse him?
4. “Space Oddity” – David Bowie (“Ashes to Ashes” – Scary Monsters/“Starman” – Ziggy Stardust)
This song became such a classic that the album it’s from is often referred to as Space Oddity instead of David Bowie. Bowie spoke again and again about his feeling of alienation, isolation and being on the outside. What song expresses it better than the one that put him on the map and later echose in “Ashes to Ashes” and “Starman” etc.? We’re all space oddities in our own way—floating alone from birth to death and seeking ways to connect through love and art.
5. “Lazarus” and “Black Star” – Black Star
See my piece on “Lazarus” here. I am still processing “Black Star.”
6. “Jean Genie” -- Aladdin Sane (“Blue Jean” -- Tonight)
I’ve said it before: Just like punk, Weetzie Bat could not have existed without David Bowie. This song is the origin story of the genie who gives Weetzie the magic lamp that made her wishes come true. Listening to it now as I write I realize David Bowie was not only Weetzie’s genie. But (revitalizing, inspiring and connecting me to you even in this moment) my own.
7. “Golden Years” – Station to Station/“Changes” – Hunky Dory
I’m sitting on someone’s couch. I don’t know how I got there. It’s night and there are big windows overlooking constellations of city lights. Everyone knows each other well; they sing and play music together, drape their bodies languidly over one another; they even all seem to look alike, though maybe it’s the makeup. I’m not one of them. Smoke, who has David Bowie eyes and cheekbones, is playing two songs he recorded for Glinda’s 30th birthday. First, “Golden Years” (“I’ll stay with you baby for a thousand years/nothing’s going to touch you in these golden years”). Then “Changes” (“And these children that you spit on/as you try to change their world/are immune to your consultations/they’re quite aware what they’re going through.”) His voice sounds erotic and numinous. Glinda is his ex-girlfriend but I can tell how much he loves her by the way he sings, especially that word “Angel.” I want him to sing that way to me. Reading Bowie’s interview in which he expresses his sense of isolation and outsider-ness comforts me years later: even this beautiful, gifted, famous genius of a man felt lonely and lost sometimes.
8. “Suffragette City” – Ziggy Stardust
My first love, Zane Starling AKA John Mandolin, invites me over to his little house in North Hollywood to work on a project about teen suicide. The air smells like eucalyptus, and leaf shadows rustle across the walls in his bedroom. He is a Nordic prince, so tall and blond and golden and beautiful. I can’t even look at him. He had a crush on my friend Berry Rodriguez but she rejected him and I can’t believe he would ever like me. But even though I can’t quite look at him, he looks at me; he is painting my portrait. All I’ve ever wanted at sixteen is to have a man look at me the way my artist dad looks at my mom when he paints her. I couldn’t even have imagined the young man would be someone like Zane Starling/John Mandolin. And that he would kiss me. I cry all the way home in my turquoise VW Notchback. I love him too much.
He goes on a cross-country bike trip and I never see him again. He was the one who first turned me on to Bowie in a big way. “Suffragette City” was the song I associate most with that time. A perfect, hot, sexy rock song and for me a melancholy reminder of the raucous joy and ecstasy that could have been if my self doubt hadn’t cause me to run.
9. “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide”– Ziggy Stardust
“Oh love, you’re not alone.”
Bowie as Ziggy Stardust is a prophet or “god” from the heavens who ultimately sacrifices himself for his people. His acolytes tear him to pieces, each of them hungry for the creative power of his body and soul. David Bowie rent by the destructive forces of cancer ultimately triumphs. His magick (read: music) is released upon this dying earth.
10. “Young Americans” – Young Americans/”I’m afraid of Americans” – Earthling
11. “Valentine’s Day”/ “Where Are We Now” – A New Day
12. “Under the God” -- Tin Machine
Iggy Pop Collaborations:
“TVC15” – Although this isn’t officially a Bowie/Pop collab it was inspired by a story Iggy told David about a hallucination in which his TV ate his girlfriend! What more is there to say?
“China Girl “ – Let’s Dance
Iggy wrote and performed this song and Bowie recorded it, too.
And most important of all:
“Lust for Life” from the album of the same name by Iggy Pop. Somehow, after all these years, I’d forgotten that Bowie wrote it with him. That song not only shows up in the last scene of Weetzie Bat. It’s what I’ve always said I wanted played at my funeral. Please remember to dance.