David Jones C-C-Confronts His Mortality, AKA When Bowie Prays God Listens

If the rumors are true, David Bowie lobbied for the role of grand elf Elrond […]

David Zahl / 5.18.11

If the rumors are true, David Bowie lobbied for the role of grand elf Elrond in The Lord of The Rings. Let’s face it – as good as Hugo Weaving was, Bowie would have been amazing, and not just because he played more or less to type in Labyrinth. It’s more that the man appears to possess the elvish agelessness. Not that you would know these days – barring a hilarious cameo in Extras and an inspired one in The Prestige – the man has kept a remarkably low profile since the Reality tour (which ended prematurely, with the man himself undergoing emergency surgery). In fact, you may not have noticed that David Bowie has not released a new record since 2003. If I were a betting man, I’d put money on new material sometime in the next couple years. BUT if …hours, Heathen and Reality were his final trilogy, it would make a fitting and respectable end to his career. None of them made a big splash, but they were all full of rock-solid Bowie music. And thematically, they found the ageless wonder confronting his mortality with both sneers and tears… and the occasional prayer.

…hours begins with the touching lament “Thursday’s Child,” setting a pretty wistful tone for the record. The largely acoustic “Survive” continues the regretful looking-back, with Bowie expressing the sense that time is running short, that there are many things he could-have-should-have done, before coming to a rather cold conclusion about survival. The record climaxes, however, with “The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell,” a self-referential (Hunky Dory) but not self-reverential tune, in which Bowie breaks out the glammy brimstone: “I’m going to the other side this time/ I’m reaching the very edge/ You’re still breathing but you don’t know why/ Life’s a bit and sometimes you die/ You’re still breathing but you just can’t tell/ Don’t hold your breath but the pretty things are going to hell.”


The reflective, regretful mood permeates Heathen as well, probably the overall strongest of the three albums. It starts off with the harrowing slowburner “Sunday”: “For in truth, it’s the beginning of an end/ And nothing has changed/ Everything has changed.” But things soon heat up with the hard-charging “Afraid,” where David continues to parse the meaning of failed dreams and vaguely impending doom: “I put my faith in tomorrow/ I believe we’re not alone/ I believe in Beatles/ I believe my little soul has grown/ And I’m still so afraid/ Yes, I’m still so afraid.” It’s cagey stuff, but that’s Bowie. The only break in the clouds comes in the excellent albeit maligned “Everyone Says Hi,” a killer ode to a lost friend with an upbeat chorus that urges us, “Don’t stay in the bad place.” Indeed:


Reality, released only a year later, is where things take a surprising turn. Surprising, that is, even for Bowie. “Never Get Old” is a characteristically arch bit of self-parody (which totally rocks). “New Killer Star” has some 9/11 overtones, which thankfully don’t prevent it from being his best single in years. Then he really gets down to business on the dour title track, which references Brel: “Now my sight is failing in this twilight/ Da da da da da da da da da/ Now my death is more than just a sad song/ Da da da da da da da da da/ And I swear/ Woo hoo/ Yes I swear/ Woo hoo/ I still don’t remember how this happened/ I still don’t get the wherefores and the whys/ I look for sense but I get next to nothing/ Hey boy welcome to reality.”

But it is “Days,” a short acoustic number buried in the middle of the record, where we ultimately need to focus our attention. In interviews, Bowie mentioned it as one of his favorites. And while perhaps not the most musically compelling thing he’s ever done, the words (and feeling) catapult the song into the stratosphere. “Days” is nothing less than an unadorned and very heartfelt prayer. To God. Not Iman – though you could certainly be excused for confusing the two. It’s truly affecting and obviously sincere:


Hold me tight
Keep me cool
Going mad
Don’t know what to do
Do I need a friend?
Well, I need one now
All the days of my life x2
All the days I owe you

All I’ve done
I’ve done for me
All you gave
You gave for free
I gave nothing in return
And there’s little left of me

All the days of my life x2
All the days I owe you

In red-eyed pain I’m knocking on your door again
My crazy brain in tangles
Pleading for your gentle voice
Those storms keep pounding through my head and heart
I pray you’ll soothe my sorry soul

All the days of my life
All the days I owe you

As a bonus track, perhaps you remember when David stopped traffic at the Freddie Mercury tribute concert and said the Lord’s Prayer?! It was one of the wildest, coolest, most unexpected moves in a career full of them. As jaw-dropping now as it was then (fast forward to the 4min 55sec mark if you don’t want to see him sing “Heroes,” aka his final performance with original Spider Mick Ronson):