Looking For Satellites

Few people are more cryptic than David Bowie. His lyrics are nearly always cryptic. You can’t really trust him in interviews; he spent years giving them ‘in character’ and now he’s given up doing them at all. You can just give up hope that he’s ever going to sit down and explain himself. But he likes to give clues, and he likes to revisit his own legacy. Did he write this song specifically so he could yank his old Satellite of Love chorus away from Lou Reed? Why let a great vocal part languish on a Lou Reed record when you can give it a second life in a proper David Bowie song? It’s a pretty blatant quotation, absolutely not a coincidence, and you could write it off as Bowie being a jerk. Or you could think of it as a much belated comeback, a little musical l’esprit de l’escalier. He’s not stealing his own contributions from Lou Reed; he’s having a dialogue. Whatever you could encapsulate Satellite of Love being about, this is the reply to it. Reed was a far less cryptic writer than Bowie, and now that I think about it, using satellites as a metaphor for existential ennui was kind of uncharacteristic for him. If the song didn’t date back to Velvet Underground days, I would have thought it might have come from David Bowie whispering in his ear. It’s exactly the kind of song David Bowie would write; it’s got all the David Bowie things – outer space, alienation, befuddlement with modern life, unreachable love, endless devotion, the insidiousness of television, ennui, etc. It’s the most David Bowie song that David Bowie didn’t write. He was probably a bit jealous when Lou busted that one out. Looking For Satellites, decades later, has those things too, with the modern glut of material distractions weighing even more heavily. It’s the same existential crisis, still unsolved, and it feels like the singer is searching for the hope and self-assurance of his younger self. It gets harder and harder to find that lodestone of hope up in the sky when there’s so much things you could be watching on TV.


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