Some strange coincidences do occur in this world.
For instance, I just finished Walter Tevis’ novel The Man Who Fell to Earth. This book was written in 1963, 12 years before David Bowie starred in the movie version, and 9 years before Bowie wrote the song “Five Years,” in which he said that we have “five years left to cry in” before the world ends. Imagine my surprise, then, when I came across this passage:
Newton looked down at him. "Do you think there'll be a war?"
[Bryce] held the cigarette speculatively, then flipped it into the lake. It floated. "Aren't there three wars going on now? Or four?"
"Three. I mean a war with big weapons. There are nine nations with hydrogen weapons; at least twelve with bacteriological ones. Do you think they'll be used?"
Bryce took a larger sip of gin. "Probably. Sure. I don't know why it hasn't happened yet. I don't know why we haven't drunk ourselves to death yet. Or loved ourselves to death." The Vehicle was across the lake from them, but could not be seen for the trees. Bryce waved his glass in its direction and said, "Is that going to be a weapon? If it is, who needs it?"
"It's not a weapon. Not really." Newton must be drunk. "I won't tell you what it is." And then, "After how long?"
"After how long what?" He felt high, too. Fine. It was a lovely afternoon to be high. It had been a long time.
"Until the big war begins? The one that will ruin everything."
"Why not ruin everything?" He tossed off his drink, reached over to the basket for the bottle. "Everything may need ruining." As he took the bottle he looked up at Newton, but could not see his face because the sun was behind him. "Are you from Mars?"
"No. Would you say ten years? I was taught it would be ten years at least."
"Who teaches things like that?" He poured himself a glassful. "I'd say five years."
could it be that the book influenced the song?
I thought about that, and while I can’t say definitively that Bowie didn’t read The Man Who Fell to Earth before 1972, it seems highly unlikely. David, if you’re reading this, could you please fill us in?
The song “Five Years” came more from a nightmare Bowie had at some point wherein some global calamity caused all the jet airliners to fall out of the sky and crash.