Today is the seventh anniversary of David Bowie’s movement to the next bardo, and as fate would have it, the next song in the queue is “Survive.”
David survives, of course, in our hearts and minds and YouTube feeds and Spotify playlists. It’s rare that a day passes when I don’t think of him, partly because our shower curtain is a collage of Bowie images. I also have a coffee mug that shows all the studio album covers in order, as well as these pieces in the room off the kitchen:
When I listen to a song like “Survive” I wonder what it was like to create knowing that your legacy was already set, that nothing else you did — in one way of looking at it — was going to matter. (Leaving aside for the moment the question of whether anything any of us does matters. It’s Tuesday, for Chrissake.) By 1999 Bowie’s audience had pretty much shrunk to the diehards. If you’d lasted through Tin Machine and Black Tie White Noise and Earthling, not to mention the mortifying Eighties, you were a fan indeed and would probably buy whatever David put out.
But whether you’d actually listen to it was another matter; it was easy to put a new album on the shelf, but when your hand reached out it had a tendency to come back with Ziggy Stardust or Station to Station. As it happens I did actually listen to hours… a fair amount at the time, but I think that’s because I truly had nothing better to do. And if memory serves I rarely listened to the whole thing.
Hearing these songs today I notice that they sound better out of context. By and large they are beautifully crafted, but there are too many of them on the album, and they go on for too long, and they are too similar in tempo. A song like “Survive” kind of gets lost in there, but as I hear it now I find I’m quite liking it. Reeves Gabrels’ guitar parts here (and on the rest of hours…) are uncharacteristically tasteful, for the most part; maybe he was trying to keep his place in the band?
Bowie really liked “Survive” — he recorded multiple studio versions of it, he played it live many times, he included it in his VH1 Storytellers set and his Bowie at the Beeb album and his self-curated career retrospective Nothing Has Changed. I like to think he would happy for us to be listening to it as we celebrate the Bowieist High Holidays (birth and death) on these rainy, rainy, rainy days.
In some ways “Survive” is a variation on “Thursday’s Child” — the singer made a different choice, had a different result. (Things do not fall into place.) The videos resonate too; they appear to have been shot in the same house, but for “Survive” David is left alone to deal with what appears to be a gravity outage:
We miss you, you magnificent weirdo.