The time scales in Bowie songs range from “Five Years” and “Seven Years in Tibet” all the way down to the one day we get to be “Heroes.” In the track from hours… just called “Seven,” when David sings:
I got seven days to live my life
You might think that he has only 168 hours till he dies. But another way to look at it is that we all only get seven days to live our lives: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. None of us has ever lived a day that wasn’t one of those, at least as our civilization reckons them. Curious how this came to be, I started poking around and came across an article in The Atlantic entitled “We Live By a Unit of Time That Doesn’t Make Sense.” It begins thusly:
Days, months, and years all make sense as units of time — they match up, at least roughly, with the revolutions of Earth, the moon, and the sun.
Weeks, however, are much weirder and clunkier. A duration of seven days doesn’t align with any natural cycles or fit cleanly into months or years. And though the week has been deeply significant to Jews, Christians, and Muslims for centuries, people in many parts of the world happily made do without it, or any other cycles of a similar length, until roughly 150 years ago.
From there it goes into the history of how the seven-day week came to be, but the details are less interesting to me than the fact that it is completely arbitrary.1A week could just as easily be five or ten days or whatever we wanted it to be, and we would perceive time differently as a result. A longer week, for instance, might make time seem to pass more slowly, because two Mondays – or whatever we called them — would be farther apart.
I guess that’s really neither here nor there as far as Bowie’s song goes. As I listened to it today, a new interpretation of “Seven” occurred to me: The singer is an immortal, maybe one of the ones from “The Supermen.” He’s been around for a long, long time, his origins shrouded in the distant, forgotten past. He’s grown weary of living, of all the endless cycles of time, and unlike the “wondrous beings chained to life,” he could die if he wanted to. But he can’t make up his mind to do it, or can’t decide how (there are at least seven options to choose from); maybe there are some small comforts left in life that keep him hanging around; or maybe he just can’t be bothered. But every morning there’s that same decision to be made: keep going or call it a day?
Now that I think of it, this sounds an awful lot like the plot of Lazarus, the musical that was one of David’s last projects.(“Seven” was not on the soundtrack but maybe he just forgot he made it?) And it’s also a lot like the plight every one of us faces every day. I’ve sometimes wondered, what if it took an active choice to stay alive every day, rather than just not throwing yourself in front of a bus or whatever? The world would be a lot less crowded, that’s for sure.
Which is a dark thought, I guess, and that’s not where I was trying to get with this. It’s a beautiful sunny day in Humboldt County, spring feels just around the corner, and on the whole things are looking up. “Seven,” by the way, is quite a lovely song with a strong, seductive melody. But as Chris O’Leary points out, there’s really no definitive version — in addition to the one on the album, there’s a demo, an early version that appeared in the video game Omikron, two remixes by Beck, a single mix at a faster tempo in a different key, and numerous live versions, both full-band and acoustic.
For the nonce, though, let’s go with this one, which has a fun fan-created video.