Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ saves the (musical) day

Ryan Dombal

When does that song you kind of enjoy turn into one of your favorite songs ever? It’s a mysterious process that often just slips by, but its effects are usually palpable. There are probably a lot of tunes that you like to blast from your car radio but only a few that you simply cannot live without — those choice songs that you listened to five times every day for a month straight. The ones that prompt an irrational, almost embarrassing possessiveness: no matter how popular, these are your songs.

I always liked David Bowie’s distorted, lovelorn ’77 classic “Heroes.” But after seeing the ageless rock veteran live last week and listening to the “Heroes” album ad nauseum since, the song suddenly entered my canon of personal greats.

After chugging through the seething power chord stomp “I’m Afraid of Americans” last Tuesday at the Rosemont Theater, Bowie put aside his posturing and preening shtick for a moment and said, “Every story has two sides, this one’s for you,” launching into a sharp version of “Heroes.”

When he juxtaposed the pessimistic paranoia of “Americans” with the unabashed optimism of lines like “We could be heroes/ Just for one day, ” Bowie brilliantly summed up the current American dilemma. Although it may seem implausible considering the seemingly endless war against an elusive “evil” surrounding the collective consciousness, it’s important to acknowledge the notion that with great power comes great hope, too.

Yet even with global politics subverted into its meaning, I did not reach my “Heroes” epiphany in a flash of divine social awareness. But a few days later, on a routine walk to campus with my earphones snugly plugged into my head, “Heroes” hit me like never before.

The weather was vicious, but the chills I felt were not the my-hand-is-about-to-fall-off chills — those would come minutes later. They were more like those other chills that you can catch year-round. The exact moment registered after four minutes of subtle buildup, as a ghostly tambourine entered and Bowie started to half-scream the words, “I, I can remember/ Standing, by the wall/ And the guns, shot above our heads/ And we kissed, as though nothing could fall.”

I listened to the song about nine more times that day, downloaded the rare — and surprisingly affecting — Bowie-sung German version and a few more live versions that day out of sheer necessity.

It is important to note that although my infatuation is growing deeper by the day, I am systematically avoiding the recent Wallflowers cover in fear of disastrously undoing the pleasant spell “Heroes” has cast upon me.

I still can not really tell you exactly why I was struck so hard by “Heroes” last week, but the next time it pops up on the radio, I’ll just sit quietly humming to myself.

Medill senior and PLAY music columnist Ryan Dombal isn’t afraid of Americans — or classic rock. He can be reached at [email protected]