Watching “Heroes”

“Heroes” brought me back to Bowie. I bought that album and Low in the late seventies, but then was distracted by adult life for 30 years. For years I resisted visiting YouTube, suspecting I’d need a much stronger will than I have not to end up spending days and days there, but this winter I succumbed.

And what did I find there?

So many “Heroes,” so many Bowies.

I can’t settle on my favorite “Heroes” performance, but here are the candidates, divided into concert tour and benefit performances.

My favorite tour or festival performances are first, 2002’s Heathen Tour’s Berlin show; then the 2000 Glastonbury Festival “Heroes,” for Bowie’s long hair, if nothing else. And finally, 2004’s Reality Tour’s “Heroes.”

I think that the September 22, 2002 Berlin concert must have been one of the happiest for Bowie — a lot of banter, a great version of “The Alabama Song,” and this “Heroes.”

What’s so good about it: the gradual build-up, strengthening around the fourth minute of this video, the emotion gathering intensity til the break, Bowie’s inability to stay still and running across the stage, the sing-along gestures, and his obvious satisfaction at its conclusion.

There are three benefit performances you have to watch: two are from the eighties, Live Aid and the Freddie Mercury Memorial tribute.

Best of all is from the October 21, 2001 Concert for NYC, organized to thank the police, fire, and rescue services and to provide them a few hours’ enjoyment following 9/11. Participants included organizer Paul McCartney, the Who, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Bowie was the first  to perform, and following a very stark but lovely rendition of Paul Simon’s “America,”  he launched into “Heroes.” Just watch:

Now, “Heroes” was never a big hit in the US;  when it was released in 1977 it didn’t break into Billboard’s top 100. Moreover, by 2001, years had passed since Bowie had gotten much radio play at all. The middle-aged and older audience members probably still thought of Bowie, if they thought of him at all, as Ziggy, in make-up and drag, and the younger ones — well, maybe as Iman’s husband?

But they soon caught on. When Bowie reached the first chorus of  “we can be heroes, just for one day,”  you can feel the response: Yes, they knew all about that.

In live performances, but not on the original recording, there is a pause before the last chorus comes back at its strongest. This audience didn’t know the song, and start applauding in the pause — and then when the band comes back at them, they go wild.

I love it, I love watching NYC’s finest loving Bowie. Just for one day.

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