In 1976, David Bowie was very much a shell of his former self. Drug abuse was catching up with him, and he needed to get clean. His plan? Move from LA; the Cocaine capital of the world, and move to the Heroin capital of the world, West Berlin.
BE MY WIFE: LOW (1977)
Fortunately, Bowie wasn’t a heroin user, so at least he wasn’t going to replace one addiction for another. He also brought Iggy Pop with him to Berlin. Pop; formerly of The Stooges, also had a really big addiction to drugs; and checked himself into an asylum to clean up. Bowie took him to Berlin to clean up and produced a few albums for him. You will find Pop cropping up here and there from this point onwards in this series. Bowie collaborated on and covered a lot of his work.
Low is a special album, it is full of raw emotion, and it is full of uncompromising music. It is strong in its artsiness. From the start to the finish, it is ambient, it is avant-garde, it is a very existential album, thematically. The Berlin Trilogy as a whole feels like you’re listening to Bowie rebuild himself, and in Low, he is really broken. Cured, yes, but still really broken.
Low is by no means an accessible album for the casual listener, because there really aren’t any songs that one can sing along to, unlike some other albums I discussed. I really like it, but you may not. Be My Wife is probably the most accessible song on the album, as it is the most conventional song. It is still a rather minimalist piece, like others on the album, and it is certainly not a commercial song, though this is a song which was actually released as a single, along with Sound and Vision, which was also a more conventional song, in terms of its composition.
In regards to its composition, the lyrics are limited and repeated throughout the song, making it feel rather short, and making you want more, though most of the first side of the album has rather short, snappy pieces, with none of the first side of the album going over 4 minutes. The second side of the album is long and of varying quality. Warszawa is probably the best of the long, Eno led instrumental pieces, with Art Decade being a close second for me, in terms of how much I enjoy them, though your mileage may vary, depending on whether you particularly enjoy moody, electronic music, with a distinctively pessimistic aura.
That pessimistic aura was not just a product of Bowie’s attempts to go cold turkey, but also indicative of the surroundings he and his group of friends and collaborators were in. We, as in people my age, really do not appreciate how close nuclear annihilation was for our parents and grandparents. West Berlin was surrounded by concrete and was an exclave in a very antagonistic, anti-capitalist regime, in a very frosty foreign situation. I think Bowie once commented on West Berlin being a city where people expected it to collapse any moment. That undoubtedly affected his work.
Be My Wife is a great song on what I consider to be a great album. While the album is very uncompromising in its form and composition, it is something that you should take a chance on, and you might find yourself liking. If it isn’t for you, then I would recommend the next album he released, which I will discuss tomorrow.