This Bowie cover got quite a bit of attention this week. It features Beth Gibbons, the lead singer of a band called Portishead, which is a real band with a big following, joining a group of young, musically talented Afghani refugee girls called the Miraculous Love Kids mostly in singing the Joy Division song, “Atmosphere,” mixed in with the refrain from Bowie’s “Heroes.” The occasion is the two-year anniversary of the end of the U.S. war in Afghanistan.
I have been meaning to write a post about the politics of Bowie’s songs, and while I’m not going to do that here, I can safely say that throughout his career he was anti-war. Bowie didn’t really have a protest song per se, at least not a song that would regularly be used at protests, but song as early as “Bombers” (1971). He skirted around the topic even earlier, such as with earlier songs like “Little Bombardier” and “She’s Got Medals,” both fro 1967. Though they don’t really focus on war, they are both about veterans who have difficulty functioning in society after their military service. Bowie returned to the topic throughout his career… and I’ll get to that when I do my post on the politics of his music.
This particular song makes me think of Bowie’s cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s, “America,” which he performed, along with “Heroes,” at the Concert for New York City following the 2001 terrorist attack. So Bowie was vaguely connected to the beginning of the Afghanistan war and now, Beth Gibbons brings it full circle.
I was not previously familiar with Gibbons or Portishead. From the band’s Wikipedia page: “Portishead’s debut album, Dummy (1994), fused hip hop production with yearning vocals from Gibbons and an atmospheric, cinematic style reminiscent of spy film soundtracks. The album was met with commercial and critical acclaim, quickly becoming a landmark album in the emerging trip hop genre. However, the band disliked being associated with the term and would consciously step away from that sound on later releases.”
Click here for a link to the band’s web page.