Produced by David Bowie and Tony Visconti
David Bowie (vocals, keyboards, guitar, saxophone,
Carlos Alomar (rhythm guitar)
Robert Fripp (lead guitar)
Brian Eno (synthesisers, keyboards, guitar treatments)
George Murray (bass)
Dennis Davis (drums, percussion)
Tony Visconti, Antonia Maas (backing vocals)
At home in Schoeneberg
UNCUT interviews in 1999:
UNCUT: Widely seen as a more upbeat and positive
album than Low. Is this accurate?
DB: It's louder and harder and played with more energy
in a way. But lyrically it seems far more psychotic. By now I was
living full time in Berlin so my own mood was good. Buoyant even.
But those lyrics come from a nook in the unconscious. Still a lot
of house cleaning going on I feel.
UNCUT: The album was mostly written in the studio
and completed in very quick takes. Correct? Was there an intent
behind this method?
DB: A couple were very definitely first and only
takes. I think the rest were probably run at two or more times until
the feel was right. With such great musicians the notes were never
in doubt so we looked at 'feel' as being the priority.
Most of my vocals were first takes, some written
as I sang. Most famously Joe the Lion I suppose. I would put the
headphones on, stand at the mike, listen to a verse, jot down some
key words that came into mind then take. Then I would repeat the
same process for the next section etc. It was something that I learnt
from working with Iggy and I thought a very effective way of breaking
normality in the lyric.
UNCUT: It is often said that the album sleeve was
an allusion to Gramatte's self-portrait or to Heckel's Roquairol
- is either of these correct? And did the Heckel painting also inspire
Iggy's The Idiot cover?
DB: Heckel's Roquairol and also his print from 1910
or thereabouts called Young Man was a major influence on me as a
painter. I personally couldn't stand Gramatte. He was wishy washy
in my opinion. I have seen the Gramatte in question but no, it was
UNCUT: Is Blackout a reference to you collapsing
in Berlin, or to the New York City power cut of 1977 - both of these?
Blackout did indeed refer to power cuts. I can't
in all honesty say that it was the NY one, though it is entirely
likely that that image locked itself in my head.
UNCUT: V2 Schneider - a tribute to Florian?
DB: Of course.
Hansa By The Wall
The view from Hansa
NME interviews in 1977:
Charles Shaar Murray: Why does Heroes - or more
accurately "Heroes" come in quotes? Are the inverted commas actually
part of the title.
DB: Yeah. Firstly - it was quite a silly point really
- I thought I'd pick on the only narrative song to use as the title.
It was arbitrary, really, because there's no concept to the album.
CSM: I'd felt that the use of quotes indicate a dimension
of irony about the word "Heroes" or about the whole concept of heroism.
DB: Well, in that example they were, on that title
track. The situation that sparked off the whole thing was - I thought
- highly ironic. There's a wall by the studio - the album having
been recorded at Hansa by the Wall in West Berlin - about there.
It's about twenty or thirty meters away from the studio and the
control room looks out onto it. There's a turret on top of the wall
where the guards sit and during the course of lunch break every
day, a boy and girl would meet out there and carry on. They were
obviously having an affair.
And I thought of all the places to meet in Berlin,
why pick a bench underneath a guard turret on the wall? They'd come
from different directions and always meet there... Oh, they were
both from the west, but they had always met right there. And I -
using license - presumed that they were feeling somewhat guilty
about this affair and so they had imposed this restriction on themselves,
thereby giving themselves an excuse for their heroic act. I used
this as a basis... therefore it is ironic.
Yes it is. You're perfectly right about that, but
there was no reason why the album should have been called "Heroes".
It could have been called "the sons of silent ages". It was just
a collection of stuff that I and Eno and Fripp had put together.
Some of the stuff that was left off was very amusing, but this was
the best of the batch, the stuff that knocked us out.
CSM: Do you find that recording in a studio that's
right by the Berlin Wall gives you a sense of being on the edge
DB: That's exactly right. I find that I have to put
myself in those situations to produce any reasonable good writing.
I've still got that same thing about when I get to a country or
a situation and I have to put myself on a dangerous level, whether
emotionally or mentally or physically, and it resolves in things
like that: living in Berlin leading what is quite a spartan life
for a person of my means, and in forcing myself to live according
to the restrictions of that city.
Bowie interviewed in Musician, 1983:
The content of the album, which was the looking
at the street life in Berlin, had a lot to do with the feeling of
Joe The Lion and "Heroes". It's like the street life in New York
but without the emphasis on consumerism.
3 December 1977 NME interviews :
ENO: That time was really confused. It was much
harder working on Heroes than Low. The whole thing, except Sons
of the Silent Age, which was written beforehand, was evolved on
the spot in the studio. Not only that, everything on the album is
a first take! I mean, we did the second takes but they werent
nearly as good. It was all done in a very casual kind of way.
Q. How did the rest of the finished album strike
ENO: I never really listen to lyrics. I just hear
bits and pieces. Like in Joe the Lion where he says, Its
Monday. Thats a real stunner.
Q. What about Bowie?
ENO: He gets into a very peculiar state when hes
working. He doesnt eat. It used to strike me as very paradoxical
that two comparatively well-known people would be staggering home
at six in the morning, and hed break a raw egg into his mouth
and that was his food for the day, virtually.
It was really slummy. Wed sit around the kitchen
table at dawn feeling a bit tired and a bit fed up - me with a bowl
of crummy German cereal and him with albumen from the egg running
down his shirt.
Q. Do you have much in common in terms of approach?
ENO: We used oblique strategies a lot. Sense of Doubt
was done almost entirely using the cards, and we did talk about
work methods. But no, I dont think we have that much in common.
But thats fine, so long as theres give and take.
Oblique Strategies subtitled Over One Hundred Worthwhile
Dilemmas is a deck of oracle cards which Eno developed and published
with his painter friend Peter Schmidt. It is modelled philosophically
on the ancient Chinese I Ching or Book of Changes. Eno had taken
to formulating aphorisms as aids to the creative process.
Each terse proverb was designed to frame a work-in-progress
in a fresh perspective when the artist got bogged down in details,
unable to maintain a sense of creative options.
The short messages on the cards are varied, evocative
and often intentionally cryptic. Some examples, randomly chosen
from the deck: 'Would anybody want it?' 'Go slowly all the way round
the outside.' 'Don't be afraid of things because they're easy to
do.' 'Only a part, not the whole.' 'Retrace your steps.' 'Disconnect
from desire.' 'You are an engineer.' 'Turn it upside down.' 'Do
we need holes?' 'Is it finished?' 'Don't break the silence.' 'What
are you really thinking about just now?'
Eno wrote down his aphorisms on cards and placed
them in various locations around the recording studio. Random selection
of a card and reflection on its message often provided fresh and
unexpected resolution of a musical quandary.
Working on Sense Of Doubt, Bowie and Eno each pulled
out an Oblique Strategy card and kept it a secret from the other.
As Eno described it:
It was like a game. We took turns working on it;
he'd do one overdub and I'd do the next. The idea was that each
was to observe his Oblique Strategy as closely as he could. And
as it turned out they were entirely opposed to one another. Effectively
mine said, 'Try to make everything as similar as possible.' . .
. and his said, 'Emphasize differences.'