HCH 9 / March 2016
Heroes (1977), by David Cerdá
This is going to be a tribute article, as you may already know. Last January the unclassifiable David Bowie left us –a muse for more than one generation. So we were thinking down here at HCH that it would be a good idea to take a look at one of his most celebrated tunes.
Heroes is a really special song. Bowie composed it during his «Berlin» period; he played it there ten years later, and among his more fanatic followers exists the belief that this might have even contributed to the fall of the Wall later on. It was not, however, a billboard success; in contrast with other Bowie tunes, it didn’t make its way to the top, neither in the USA nor in the UK. In any case, it was always a favourite among musicians (there are many covers, after all) and fans, and it curiously encouraged British athletes before, during and after medal ceremonies in the London Olympics, 2012.
Heroes is a fairly direct call for everyday heroism. It states that everyone can show courage and dignity even if it’s for only one day. It proposes to kill all excuses not to fight our really important battles whose destiny is linked to ours.
We can beat them, just for one day
We can be heroes, just for one day
The tune also invites us to relativize victory, or success; more precisely, it’s an invitation to rethink our concept of losers. The only fatal loss, according to Bowie, is surrender. That is the “red line”: betraying ourselves by just abandoning our principles; giving up on what we really care about is the only way “they” (the evil ones, the cruel, the selfish, the arrogant, the criminal, the violent, the coward) finally beat us. Therefore, everyday counts. We are told Vespasianus said “Amici, diem perdidi”, about a single day gone by without doing any good to others (probably a hagiographic quote: as far as we know, no roman emperor —except, perhaps, Marcus Aurelius— has ever been so kind).
The song also includes several reflections about love:
And you, you can be mean
And I, I’ll drink all the time
‘Cause we’re lovers, and that is a fact
Yes we’re lovers, and that is that
Though nothing, will keep us together
We could steal time, just for one day
We can be heroes, for ever and ever
What d’you say?
This is a very interesting aspect to think about, because nowadays there are a lot of people who think their main battle has to do with love within the couple. The song reminds us that there is no guarantee in this field, and that our defects, being enormous, do not necessarily mean love is hopeless, nor that it will always finally disappear. What harms us most in love and in general in the victories we can aspire to in life, is the excess of expectations.
I, I wish you could swim
Like the dolphins, like dolphins can swim
Why is it that most of our efforts are deemed to change reality? After all, this isn’t a general philosophy. Accepting oneself’s imperfections is crucial for stoics and Taoists, by the way. Obviously, an excess of acceptation can lead to mediocrity. The exact point in-between (not necessarily in the middle) is part of what we call wisdom.
The references to the wall, the political side of the tune, come at the end:
I, I can remember (I remember)
Standing, by the wall (by the wall)
And the guns, shot above our heads (over our heads)
And we kissed, as though nothing could fall (nothing could fall)
And the shame, was on the other side
This is a very bold statement: the final moral victory is for love over political conflict. Even if there’s a wall, a kiss can overcome it. If this were only true. Even today walls are tearing apart lives and crushing individuals, and kisses alone are not expected to win over evil politicians and their consequences. But there is something true to this statement: our internal me and you and us may be safely kept apart from the nasty parts of humanity. At least up to a certain point.
Being a hero, just for one day, makes us feel good. And sometimes the shit over us is so heavy that, gosh, tiny victories count a lot, for we just need to know we can do a little something before we are ready to face and go after that whole something.