David Bowie and the pressure of apathy

Love wins.

Luke Skywalker proves that. In Luke’s story (it’s the central story of an obscure sci-fi flick from the 70’s) the child-murdering, power-mad, most vile villain let’s go of hate and gives in to love thanks to the love he receives from little Luke. It’s heart-warming. Check it out some time.

That same kind of story is told in scripture, too. There, a guy named Saul was a professional persecutor. Saul hunted religious misfits for the purpose of “re-programming” them. The re-programming happened under the threat of death.

It’s weird how when folks won’t return your hate with more hate then the passion that fills the sails of the Good Ship Spite dissipates. That was Saul’s story. His adversaries didn’t hate him back–they weren’t adversarial enough. So Saul gave up the weight of hate and gave in to love. Must have felt good as he changed his ways.

  When David Bowie joined Queen in studio back in 1981, he was supposed to be laying down some backing tracks on a song called “Cool Cat”. But they just couldn’t make “Cool Cat” work. They did, however, catch some cool vibes on a song called “Feel Like”. As they were jamming on the song, Bowie took over the lyrics, changing the song’s substance and it’s title to “Under Pressure”. 

In it’s final form, the song lyrically bristles against a pressure from an unknown source. Maybe it’s the tired pressure of life. Maybe it’s the pressure of constantly feeling at odds with others. It’s a pressure that “splits a family”. It “puts people on streets”. 

The song turned into a full-on duet between Bowie and Queen singer Freddy Mercury. There’s a sense that Mercury’s and Bowie’s alternating singing parts represent an internal dialogue. The two voices are fractures in a personality. One side, represented by Bowie, sits in a hopeless apathy. This voice speaks of the “terror” of the world. Mercury’s voice calls for action in love. Mercury calls for a move from apathy–a move away from “sitting on the fence” of not doing or not caring. Mercury pleads for this person to care. 

Bowie’s personality makes excuses. Caring brings hurt, he suggests. Caring means loving people who are difficult to love–those who stand on “the edge of night”. Love dares us to care–about others and ourselves.

But in Bowie’s final plea for the status quo, the music swells. His voice takes on a note of desperation. There’s a hopeful tone. The song builds until Bowie’s and Mercury’s voices merge into one and declare “this is our last dance, this is ourselves, under pressure.”

There’s a resolve and a resolution. The music leads us into a belief that the resolution is to care. The personality is ready to experience freedom in love.

It’s the kind of internal argument that must have taken place in Saul, in Luke, and in Luke’s adversary and conquest, Darth Vader. And maybe the song’s “personality” is an individual, too.

But it could be about humanity, for the pressure is on, isn’t it? 

Are there ways our apathy towards one another causes us to feel more pressure? Wouldn’t we like to give in to love?

And if the song speaks for humanity, then who are the voices? Are they two different factions of humanity, one pleading for the status quo, another for a new order of love? Or could the two voices represent the dialogue between the voice of humanity and the voice of a Divine will for human unification?

Thank you, David Bowie, for inciting our imaginations in such a way. 


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