Some Are

Some Are.
Some Are (Philip Glass, “Low Symphony,” 1993 (Pt.1)). (Pt. 2)

A quiet little piece Brian Eno and I wrote in the Seventies. The cries of wolves in the background are sounds that you might not pick up on immediately. Unless you’re a wolf.

David Bowie, on “Some Are,” 2008.

Are there lost Low songs? An apocryphal quote by Tony Visconti, allegedly claiming that there are “dozens of bittersweet songs” left over from Low, seems to be the main source of this rumor (I’ve also seen references on DB message boards that Visconti said something similar about Lodger, for what it’s worth).

Bowie is said to be assembling a deluxe reissue of Low, which presumably would include some of these mysterious bittersweet songs. Yet the release date of this epic reissue regularly gets pushed into the future (it originally was supposed to come out in 2007), and the chances that any new material will appear on it are…low. After all, Station to Station, reissued with grand fanfare last year in a massive boxed set, had no new music on it besides the heavily-bootlegged ’76 Nassau concert—no demos, no outtakes, no alternate takes or mixes, nada.

Bowie has always been sparing with his outtake releases (though he lets the world and his wife remix his songs). Perhaps it reflects a perfectionist’s dislike of letting out into the world various half-finished songs and inferior takes. I imagine also that Bowie, like any good magician, wants to keep up illusions. He’s an avid recycler of his own material, and for all we know “Ashes to Ashes” began during the Low sessions, or “Blue Jean” was originally some reggae thing he did on Lodger.

There are two “official” outtakes from Low: one, “All Saints,” is a bit of a ringer, a Low fragment reworked and titled in the early 1990s. By contrast, the other outtake, “Some Are,” is an essential piece of Low‘s sound puzzle, and it’s canonical enough that Philip Glass used it as part of his Low symphony.

“Some Are,” a collaboration solely between Bowie and Brian Eno, bears some resemblances to “Warszawa,” particularly in its somber piano opening, the same chords played eight times (the tolling continues throughout the rest of the piece, though confined to the right channel). But “Some Are” is on a much smaller stage than “Warszawa”; it’s a haiku (a few syllables too long) to “Warszawa”‘s epic. Bowie’s four-line lyric initially seems comprehensible, unlike the phonetic new language of “Warszawa” or the bizarre code of “Subterraneans,” but Bowie’s singing is shaded enough, and the words he chose have enough homonyms, that the lines lack any definitive meaning. Is it “summer bound to fade” or “some are bound to fail”? “Some are winter sun,” “summer-winter sun”? or “some will win too soon”? “Sleigh bells in snow” or “sailors in snow”? (It really sounds like the former.)

Its composer, writing about “Some Are” some twenty years later, tweaked those who tried to read anything into its handful of vague images. The song was about “the failed Napoleonic force stumbling back through Smolensk. Finding the unburied corpses of their comrades left from their original advance on Moscow,” Bowie said. “Or possibly a snowman with a carrot for a nose; a crumpled Crystal Palace Football Club admission ticket at his feet. A Weltschmerz [world weariness] indeed. Send in your own images, children, and we’ll show the best of them next week.”

Recorded Château d’Hérouville, September 1976, and/or Hansa, Berlin; completed (and mixed) at Mountain Studios, Montreux, Switzerland, 1991. On the 1991 Ryko reissue of Low (out of print) and the 2008 compilation iSelect.

Top: Phillipe Hernot, “2Cv en Eure et Loir,” 1976.

16 Responses to Some Are

  1. Jeremy Earl says:

    Just so so beautiful. His voice and the main synth line carrying the melody. Such atmosphere – it really is like another world, some Ballard like realm.

    In connection with this Eno collaboration – just got back from seeing the Bang on a Can All-stars play live in a little city park Eno’s Music for Airports. They also did Everything fades into the night and Burning airlines give you so much more. Beautiful lights and trees.

  2. diamond dog says:

    Bless ryko for including this on the reissue though I love it does not fir in the soundscape for LOW , I’m not sure why but it does not sound the same as the album. To me it sounds later than low ? It is a superb piece though pity more was not known about it perhaps notes on on when where etc.

  3. Jeepster says:

    Maybe it’s because I’m only eighteen, but I’ve always felt it was amazing that Bowie produced music that sounded so mature (for lack of a better word!) when he was still in his twenties, although I guess by LOW he’d be about thirty.

    I know others have as well, but it’s Bowie’s music that strikes me the most and makes me feel very uninspired in contrast! Great track by the way, I had never heard of it before 🙂

    • ian says:

      It’s like the definition of being an artist/human being inspired by Bowie to learn how to switch a phrase like “he made Hunky Dory at 24” from soul-crushing to soul-inspiring.

  4. Joe the Lion says:

    Way back on the entry for the Candidate demo, I said that and one other Bowie song were my favourite rarities – this is it. Just gorgeous.

    I wonder what the Low deluxe edition might include, if not previously unreleased songs? Any ideas?

  5. normball says:

    It’s not so much a song as an atmosphere brought to song.

  6. diamond dog says:

    I would love them to get a deluxe edition together of LOW but let’s have some decent outtakes , Bowie seems very precious about demo material. It would be nice to hear early versions of classic stuff from the session. I cannot believe that station to station had no outtakes included its almost the same thinking as The Beatles who reissue classic material with nothing of value for the fan thus perpetuating bootlegs , though even here Bowie is not that well represented. They tend to be live or are the same bunch of tunes we are very familiar with from the early years. There are non from station,low,heroes lodger.

  7. craigwords says:
    I think there must be tons of great outtakes from Low and Heroes, with DB disappearing and Eno dabbling and tinkering.
    I’d even be happy just to hear remixes, with some instruments removed from the mix, better stereo width, synth doodles.
    He was so inspired and open-minded at that point, it was probably all good.

  8. Steve Ison says:

    Can’t understand why he didn’t put this beautiful on LOw..Would’ve been a brilliant closing track on side 2..
    I can really hear DEERHOOF must’ve listened to this..They’ve got a few ballads with such a similar vibe n feel..

  9. Going back to the issue of the lyrics:

    “the words … have enough homonyms that the lines lack any definitive meaning.”

    I agree with this, though I think it’s possible to trace an associative process at work:

    Sleigh bells in snow,
    Cinder coal-a bears on ice

    ie from cinder to coal, coal to cola, cola to koala, koala bears, performing bears, performing on ice – or maybe even choler or collar, with the thought of “polar” leading to bears by that route?

    ditto some are/summer winter

    and whether summer may “fade” or “fail”, it leads to thoughts of winter, making the song cyclical …

  10. Anonymous says:

    it’s from the man who fell to earth, the xmas scene.

  11. BING says:

    Cinder coal are blazing eyes , some are bound to fade

    • BING says:

      Sleigh bells in snow , Cinder coal are blazing eyes.
      Some are bound to fail. Summer , Winter, some are.

  12. Tyrell says:

    “David Bowie, on “Some Are,” 2008.” – what is the source for it?

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