Track of the Day: ‘Heroes’ by David Bowie

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

From a long-time reader in Bend, Oregon:

For your Track of the Day series about specific places, I respectfully submit a song about West Berlin: “Heroes” by David Bowie and Brian Eno. It is, as everyone knows, beautiful and inspiring. The West Berlin lyrics:

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
Oh, we can beat them, forever and ever
Then we could be heroes, just for one day

The song also contains the lyrics, “I, I wish you could swim; Like the dolphins, like dolphins can swim.” Bowie, an animal welfare supporter, allowed the song to be used for a nominal fee in the documentary The Cove about the annual mass murder (and capture for enslavement at marine parks) of innocent, defenseless dolphins and whales, in front of their families, in Taiji, Japan. The heroes, of course, are the dolphin defenders who travel to the Taiji cove and everyone who supports them.

My colleague Krishnadev noted the song after Bowie died earlier this year, specifically his 1987 performance of “Heroes” at the west side of the Berlin Wall. Bowie said of the experience:

It was one of the most emotional performances I’ve ever done. I was in tears. They’d backed up the stage to the wall itself so that the wall was acting as our backdrop. We kind of heard that a few of the East Berliners might actually get the chance to hear the thing, but we didn’t realize in what numbers they would. And there were thousands on the other side that had come close to the wall. So it was like a double concert where the wall was the division. And we would hear them cheering and singing along from the other side. God, even now I get choked up. It was breaking my heart. I’d never done anything like that in my life, and I guess I never will again.

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