I recently witnessed the biggest David Bowie fan I know count down his top 100 favorite songs. These were private posts, meant solely for his facebook family and friends. Something really cool happened over those 100 days.
I’d like to share that countdown with you. Read along, embark upon Niall Colgan’s personal journey while he narrates some of the most intimate aspects of his life with his undying passion for the art of David Bowie. The vid below is a short intro, scroll directly beneath to read the countdown.
Number 98: Shadow Man
But the Shadow Man is really you….
Number 98 features a song from the still (officially) unreleased Toy sessions. Originally recorded in 2000-01, this album was to feature remakes of his lesser-known songs from the 1960s and 70s, along with some newly recorded tracks. Although there seems to be no consensus on the exact date, 1967 is generally believed to be the first time Bowie recorded a demo of Shadow Man.
By 1999 Bowie had put together arguably his greatest band; the new millennium saw him begin revisiting favorite songs from his back catalog. Toy was to be the album that provided his listeners with a fresh link to his past, but record label issues prevented a proper release. When asked about it during a 2001 virtual chat session, held on his personal website, he had this to say:
“I’m finding EMI/Virgin seem to have a lot of scheduling conflicts this year, which has put an awful lot on the back burner. Toy is finished and ready to go, and I will make an announcement as soon as I get a very real date. Meantime, I’m already started writing and recording for another album (untitled at the moment). So far I have to say it’s back to experimental. But knowing me, it doesn’t mean that’s how it’ll turn out. I shall be writing and recording throughout the summer, but daddyfying is really my priority at the moment.”
The musicians who participated in these sessions were quite excited about the project as well. Long-time keyboardist Mike Garson’s words….
“You’re going to LOVE this one. It’s one of David’s TOP songs. He was so YOUNG when he wrote it. We recorded it again around 2000 in NYC. It’s astonishingly beautiful. The arrangement is so sparse. No drums. Beautiful ambient guitars, that exquisite voice of David’s, and some of my simplest yet poignant piano playing. I hope this brings some more PEACE to all those who love David as well as our friend who left us this year but is watching over us in a calm way.”
While compiling this list of songs I often delved into the darker periods in David’s life. This often led me to revisit some of the more difficult times in my own personal life. Shadow Man sees Bowie plumbing the darker aspects of his psyche, providing insight into his decision to express his personal demons through the characters in his songs. Bowie explored the depths of his addictions, laid bare his pleas for help, openly searched for a higher power to give his life meaning. Originally written in 1967, Shadow Man describes a twenty year old man tackling issues of depression and other mental health concerns, even schizophrenia. David’s half-brother suffered from schizophrenia.
“To us Bowie fanatics, Shadow Man certainly provides early insight into why he chose to express himself through the various personages which helped cement his legacy.”
This experience caused him to be acutely aware of his own fears of struggling with mental health issues. When David Jones adopted the artist surname Bowie, was this the adoption of his first character? Was being David Bowie not enough to overcome his demons and is that why he kept changing personas throughout his career? From Major Tom to Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane to The Thin White Duke, right up to Pierrot and the killing off of Major Tom in 1980. 1995’s Outside even saw him adopting multiple characters! Was David shaking off the Shadow Man in these characters, or was he embracing him? While these queries will remain unanswered, it seems clear that “Shadow Man” is a song about a scared young man terrified of his own mental frailty. When approached as such, the fact that Bowie decided to revisit the song during the Toy sessions becomes much clearer. I will explore these themes in more detail as the countdown unfolds. To us Bowie fanatics, Shadow Man certainly provides early insight into why he chose to express himself through the various personages which helped cement his legacy.
David’s personal demons haunted him throughout his life. By 1974/75 they had completely taken over. Recovery eventually led to strength, which led him to bravely revisit the the thoughts that most terrified him. Shadow Man provided listeners with a look inside Bowie’s earliest fears.
There`s a man back a-ways
Who believes at where he is
And there`s a girl
Up ahead who says she knows
And the street overflows
With the folk who understand
But for the guy who can`t be seen
He`s the Shadow Man
And the Shadow Man is close at hand
Take a turn and see his smile
Made of nothing but loneliness
Just take a walk and be a friend
To the Shadow Man
You can call him Joe, you can call him Sam
You should call and see who answers
For he promises to come running, guided by the truth
But the Shadow Man is really you
Look in his eyes and see your reflection
Look to the stars and see his eyes
He`ll show you tomorrow, he`ll show you the sorrows
Of what you did today
You can call him foe, you can call him friend
You should call and see who answers
For he knows your eyes are drawn to the road ahead
And the Shadow Man is waiting round the bend
Oh, the Shadow Man
Shadow man, shadow man
It`s really you, it`s really you, it`s really you
He`s the shadow man