I know I’m always going on about David Bowie, so forgive me if I’m being tiresome, but sitting quietly and thinking about the awful events of the last 24 hours has prompted me to dust off this remarkable piece of music, which sadly feels more apt today than ever.
Written and recorded in 1969 by a 22-year-old who was working out his anger and disillusion with the hippy movement with which he’d briefly dallied over the preceding months, it’s an extraordinarily complex and nuanced exploration of the process by which idealism can be corrupted and poisoned into stupid, self-serving extremism. It’s a slow burner, deceptively soft and tender in the opening act, before gradually gathering momentum until it plunges headlong into a furious diatribe against the madness of doctrinaire ideologies. ‘We can force you to be free, and we can force you to believe… I will fight for the right to be right, I will kill for the good of the fight for the right to be right.’
Bowie wanted to release it as the follow-up single to ‘Space Oddity’, but the record company refused point blank. I think it’s one of his greatest songs, and I’m not particularly embarrassed to say that it has just reduced me to tears.