Days (live, 2003).
Days (live, 2004).

Tucked midway through Reality, “Days” is a sunny self-evisceration. Bowie’s obvious reference was the Kinks’ “Days,” the most generous-seeming breakup song ever written. Ray Davies is heartbroken and may never get over it, but he’s grateful for the brief span of happiness he was allotted. Yet the memory of his happiness is all he has left, and his boundless gratitude has an obsessional quality.

Not so much here. Bowie’s playing a cad, someone who’s taken his lover for granted and only now (he’s facing death perhaps (“there’s little left of me“), or maybe his partner’s finally wised up) feels any twinges of guilt. It’s an egoist’s regret. “All I’ve done, I’ve done for me/ All you gave, you gave for free,” his sings in the essential verse. “I gave nothing in return.” The refrain’s a statement of fact—he’s racked up such an emotional debt that he can never repay it—and by the bridge he’s worked up the nerve to ask for more.

Feinting at G minor in verses only to steady itself in F major in the refrains, “Days” begins with a modest arrangement—three acoustic guitar tracks, a lead guitar peeking in every other bar until settling down to arpeggiate, and a conga/kick drum rhythm. The second verse carts in drums and a piano line, soon taken up by synthesizer, that’s twisted by Bowie’s baritone saxophone. The bridge (which the whole song seems to be leading up to) has a descending bassline,* an uneasy bed of synthetic strings and a small gallery of Bowie voices. It’s over in a wink, with Bowie sweetly atoning for his past and future crimes.

Recorded: (lead guitars, lead and backing vocals, overdubs) March-May 2003, Looking Glass Studios, New York. Released 16 September 2003 on Reality.

* Guided downward by the bari sax: “(Bb)my crazy brain (Bb/A)entangles (Gm) pleading for your (Bb/F)gentle voice.”

Top: James Burns, “La Noue Montreuil, Paris suburb,” 2003.

40 Responses to Days

  1. Mike says:

    Simple, sweet, and my favorite track on Reality.

  2. JoIsaza says:

    The lyric sounds to me more like a self-abasing prayer—a penitent man singing to his god.

  3. crayontocrayon says:

    Days really highlights to me how much the sound of Reality was carried forward to The Next Day. Soundwise seems similar to parts of ‘how does the grass grow’ and ‘so she’.

    I wish a lot of Bowie’s later work remembered the simple joy of brevity – he had a tendency to let songs go on beyond the point where they had more to say. The song flies by and is all the better for it.

    • Mike says:

      >>I wish a lot of Bowie’s later work remembered the simple joy of brevity – he had a tendency to let songs go on beyond the point where they had more to say

      I was thinking about that about his albums. If Heathen and Next Day and Outside were limited by the time constraints of the LP and were forced to feature the best of his best work, they would absolutely be on par with his seventies stuff.

      Conversely, if Low and Aladdin Sane had 8 more tracks that were just OK, they probably wouldn’t be remembered as fondly.

      Short is often indeed sweet.

      • StevenE says:

        as a note, that’s why i thought that posthumous michael jackson album from last year was so good.

        naked commercial ambition and the need to ration the leftover demoes meant it was just 8 tracks, five of which were brilliant, leaving us with something that has a hit rate up with his best- just because he’s no longer around to cover stuff it.

      • StevenE says:

        *over stuff it rather, though the overstuffing was often covers so it still works

      • Patrick says:

        I quite agree about the benefits of time restraints. The old 40ish minute limit on vinyl meant a certain editing and pruning was usually required and so many “classic albums” are the better for it. Even if the left off tracks eg from the Low sessions (which I only even became aware of in the last couple of years) are notable mostly from a historical (or completist point of view. As I’ve mentioned, apart from “God Bless the Girl” the “bonus” tracks from TND were poor and forgettable for me and a couple of tracks could have been pruned. Too often now with remixes and unresolved or simply poor tracks, they are released regardless of quality. Even more so now with online compared with the effort and expense that vinyl required.
        Maybe at times, Bowie needs someone to be an Ezra pound to his Eliot.

  4. Sykirobme says:

    I like this song, but always thought it was a trifle with a lovely melody; the lyrics bordered on the banal for me. This brief entry gave it a bit of depth for me…so thanks yet again!

  5. humanizingthevacuum says:

    This sounds programmed almost entirely by Bowie. True?

  6. SoooTrypticon says:

    As lovely as this song is, and it is a lovely song, I feel like this is one of the culprits that make “Reality” feel a bit tossed together.

    And in 2003/2004, Bowie might have thought that was okay.

    I say that, because he seemed to be on a roll at the time, and likely had another album, or plans for another album in the works.

    Reality gets some flack for being a rush job… but if Bowie never intended it to be his “last album,” maybe people wouldn’t have been so critical. If it was simply a tour stop-gap, a glorified EP, between Heathen, and a “post-tour” album… rather than a the beginning of a quiet decade… maybe we’d view it differently?

    Col, will you write about Bowie’s supposedly “weird” album that was going to come immediately after Reality? I think he mentioned it during a radio interview while on tour.

    • col1234 says:

      there’ll be a couple of entries that cover the “lost years,” so yes

      • SoooTrypticon says:

        Fantastic, I’m looking forward to that.

        On another note. Will you do some kind of book tour? I bet there are a lot of people in Portland that would love to hear you speak (:

      • col1234 says:

        Portland OR or ME?

        I would like to do some readings: much depends on finding a good indie bookstore and working something out with them.

        to all: if any stores come to mind in your town/area, please let me know:

    • Steve says:

      I think you’re right on about this being a “smaller-scale”/tour album. I remember some interview from the time in which Bowie basically stated that with this album, he primarily wanted to show off his current touring band (with whom he was well-pleased).

      That said, while this album seems like a lesser effort, especially following the dramatic “symphony” that was “Heathen,” “Reality” is still a fairly strong album on its own. It has a nice, loose concept, and when it’s good it’s great. Definitely underrated, and I wouldn’t even consider any of the lesser tracks “bad” by any means.

      Never heard about the “weird album” that was supposed to follow Reality. Do you remember anything more about that? That has me curious.

      • SoooTrypticon says:

        Courtney Pine’s Jazz Crusade – September 2005

        Here’s the interview mentioned on Bowie’s site:

        And here’s what he said in 2005:
        Courtney: “You gonna be thinking about a new album soon?”

        DB: “Yeah, I’ve started writing already…it looks pretty weird so, I’m happy.”

        Courtney: “What are you fans gonna be expecting?”

        DB: “Oh they don’t expect anything these days, I think they just sorta see what I put out.”

        Courtney: “Yeah”

        DB: “You know, it’s the luck of the draw and sometimes it works really well and sometimes it’s God awful and…but that’s the way it goes and I like that.”

        (thanks to 96dbFreak transcribing it way back when)

      • col1234 says:

        one of the last public Bowie statements, too. a preview: one of the entries will be called “Mind the Gap” and it will be insanely speculative & hopefully funny. might try to rope Momus in.

    • Ramzi says:

      I wouldn’t go so far as to relegate this as a stop gap or a rush job. There’s plenty of depth to most of the songs, of which if anything these entries are proof.

      I see it more like Earthling to Heathen’s Outside: to show off and provide new material for a well-performing live band but definitely an album in its own right.

      • SoooTrypticon says:

        I’d agree that “Reality” has some fantastic song writing, as well as some very catchy hooks. If it’s a lesser album for me, it’s lesser as a whole than its parts. A strange notion, but one for me that carries down from album to individual song execution.

        There are songs that, as they are, remain fantastic. There are other songs that only came to life for me when performed live.

        I wonder what would have happened, if he’d taken the album on tour first, and then recorded it?

  7. Steve says:

    Like JoIsaza, I always interpreted this song as a conversation with a god or nature or life itself, presenting this life-force as in the form of a lover that one has rejected and/or taken for granted in youth, but at the end of life is yearning for once again, now out of desperation and loneliness. “The luckiest guy” is now “the loneliest guy” in the world. It’s simple and direct, a hymn to nature, a regretful confession, and a plea for comfort in the face of existential despair. This track would have fit well with the concept of “Heathen” (I wonder if perhaps this track originated as an outtake from that album?).

  8. s.t. says:

    This song is pleasant, pithy, and

  9. dm says:

    ‘When I was falling to pieces I screamed in pain
    Your soothing hand that turned me round’

    ‘In red eyed pain … My crazy brain entangled, pleading for your gentle voice … I pray you’ll soothe my sorry soul”

  10. Maj says:

    Interesting seeing a few mention the god angle…I can see it, yet…to me this has just always seemed like something dedicated to a best friend and/or a significant other. Not parents, not the Creator, but someone who stepped in once the singer was already an adult.
    Not quite sure why I mostly hear it this particular way…but I do.

    It is a lovely song. I love its simplicity. One of my favourites not only on the album, but among Bowie’s whole 21st century era.

  11. DLR says:

    I always read this song as an updated version of something like “Never Let Me Down” (the track, not the record), and I recall in the Riverside performance of it that Bowie seemed to wink at someone down in the front row (or maybe the wings of the stage) when he sang the “all I’ve done I’ve done for me” verse. Those two things make me think it’s a Coco song and that, perhaps, she was sitting or standing near the stage.

    Also, the start of the lyrics (“hold me tight/keep me cool”) are recalled in “Boss of Me” (“Tell me when you’re sad/I’m gonna make it cool again”), which could be another Coco ditty.

  12. mnjhunt says:

    Love your writing and analysis. I think this is the first time I’ve strongly disagreed with your interpretation. I, like others here, have always heard this as a prayer. Among other reasons to think so, I don’t think there’s any way the quote from Psalm 23 is coincidental.

    • col1234 says:

      just a note: I very much agree the song can be seen as a prayer and that it quite possibly was its main inspiration–

      I decided to not go w/that interpretation simply out of my exhaustion with the theme, to be frank—I’ve said my piece in entries like “A Better Future” and several others.

    • JoIsaza says:

      Ha, that’s great: “Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

      My folks are Catholic, but as I’ve been an athiest for decades I don’t always catch biblical references. Thanks.

  13. Momus says:

    1. A point Bowie has been fond of making in interviews ever since Let’s Dance is that he takes life one day at a time; a measure of success is simply to consider what kind of day you’re having.

    2. It’s a philosophy with an existentialist and also Buddhist flavour — today is all we have, the here-and-now — and it’s interesting to look at what it rejects: in general terms, it rejects Christianity’s emphasis on a putative afterlife and deferred gratification, and in Bowie-specific terms it rejects ambition, calculation, the racking-up of debt (the Defries technique of madly spending future royalties just to look flash), and Nietzschean strategies of self-improvement.

    3. Thematically, this “days” theme is a disinvestment from “the future”, which used to figure so strongly in Bowie’s sci-fi tinged material. By losing interest in the future, both collective and personal, utopian and dystopian, ours and his, Bowie becomes a simpler and more conservative artist, more invested in emotion, sincerity and immediacy.

    4. Days sounds to me, again, like it’s coming full circle back to the Man of Words, Man of Music album. This is like material from “the first David Jones solo album”, somewhat in the late-1960s style of songwriters like Neil Young and Paul Simon. It reminds me of Conversation Piece (which I always think ought to have been on that first album).

    5. I don’t quite agree with Chris here that “Bowie’s playing a cad”; I don’t think it’s really a mask or persona song. I think the negative self-assessment in verse 2 is just a sort of self-criticism which makes the “you” character seem all the more generous and loyal. This may be one of his regular songs of gratitude to Coco Schwab.

    6. I was just thinking today how much I like Bowie’s nastier songs, the ones in which he plays arrogant campy sneerers, snake-kissers, faustian fuckers, shrieky Cassandras, presidential candidates, sexual leeches, pushy provocateurs, drunken rockstar pierrots, transvestite whores.

    7. This mostly happens in the 1970s, when Bowie is maddened by cocaine, cosmetics and ambition. The justifying ideology is one which vaunts synthesis, artfulness, role-playing, masks, art’s delirious license to crash the plane and walk away.

    8. Compare those philosophies: “You can do and say anything you like” versus “This is all we have”. I talked once about early and late Eliot, and that transition from aestheticism to sermons. But we could as easily see it in the terms Kierkegaard lays out in his Either / Or, a book we know Bowie read in the late 1970s (just before his “David Bowie Straight” turn in 1983): this is the transition from the aesthetic to the ethical.

    9. Kierkegaard tells us that the first volume, Either, is written by an aesthete called “A”. The second volume, Or, is by a character called Judge Vilhelm. The aesthetic approach to life — in which we practice “crop rotation”, or constant change just to keep life interesting — leads only to despair. When we realise this, we leap into another stage, the ethical, which for Kierkegaard is wrapped up with the idea of marriage. Then there’s a third and final stage, which is religious. That gets discussed in other Kierkegaard works: Fear and Trembling, and Repetition.

    10. Mapping this to Bowie’s life (and Bowie seems to have done this quite explicitly; he refers to Kierkegaard quite a lot), we see the Imperial Period — the time when Bowie’s unique contribution to Western culture is strongest — as the result of the restless energy and amoral philosophy of an aesthete character, an “A” from Either. The person singing Days — a perfectly pleasant song with its head screwed on — is more of a Judge Vilhelm. If A was the lightning bolt we all wanted to go to bed with, the old Judge makes a very pleasant dinner companion.

    • Sky-Possessing Spider says:

      Just on your point 5 Momus – I don’t think it’s Bowie “playing the cad” so much as acknowledging that there’s always been a selfishness inherent in his blind ambition over the years.
      Even at such a late point in his career ;”all I’ve done, I’ve done for me” can be seen as a defining lyric in much the same way that the song I Can’t Help Thinking About Me defined the young pilled up Mod determined to make a name for himself in swinging 60s London.
      The Bowie who hopped from band to band with monotonous regularity as he realized each ensemble couldn’t fulfil his dreams.

    • marta says:

      I’ve been listening to this song for the first time ever (yeah, I know…) and the name Coco Schwab immediately sprung to mind.

      Momus, I bought your records as a teenager, in the times before the internet and living in a country a bit removed from the centre of it all. At the time I knew close to nothing about you. I just knew I liked the music and the attitude. I could feel the Bowie in you…

      It all comes full circle. So, it’s good to read your contributions on DB here.

  14. roobin101 says:

    Here’s something interesting, a song that grows while you listen to it. The opening sounded very smoothed-out-white-reggae but the middle section was just a delight, it lifted the whole thing, it deserved a real string section not synths.

    Given this is album is Bowie-Recoups-Past-Losses and given the characters on this album are Paul Simon, Ray Daves, Neil Young, George Harrison etc, is Reality also Bowie making good on Toy?

  15. Mr Tagomi says:

    I think the slightly Celtic-ised version he did live with Gerry Leonard adds something extra to it that improves it.

    It never occurred to me that this one was one of Bowie’s spiritual songs until pointed out here. It seems obvious now.

  16. MC says:

    A small gem for me, this one. (and yes, it always struck me as Never Let Me Down 2 as well). Hearing it live at the Reality concert I went to was a most pleasant surprise.

  17. roobin101 says:

    If this was a sincere secular self-assessment, what do I owe the people that I have shared my life with etc, it really would make me want to give Bowie a big hug and say “everything’s alright really, people love you and you’re a multi-millionaire.” It would have to be addressed to a very specific person in order for it to work.

  18. michael says:

    I agree that the bridge is fantastic and so much more than a bridge, in the way it undoes the half-hearted confessional of the verses. And if the verses are late 60s, acoustic confessional but artificially so, the bridge recalls all those descending chords of the 70s imperial period, when he was taking what others could give and quickly moving on, as noted above. Julian Cope is typically insightful and gloriously bonkers on this:

    ‘The Glam Descend is my musical term for those great descending guitar-led 70s hits like ‘Metal Guru’ and ‘All the Young Dudes’. But its roots come from the Druidical curse known as the Glam Dicenn, in which the poet stands on one leg, screws up one eye and extends one arm and delivers a mighty poetic blow to his opponent. As the Oxford Dictionary of Celtic Mythology comments: “The victim of the Glam Dicenn would be shunned by all levels of society.” I have incorporated this idea into my work in order to show the power of the once-outsider both in terms of the poetic Glam Dicenn and the musical Glam Descend.’

    So the descending movement of the ‘bridge’ is Bowie’s blow to himself, ‘pounding through his head and heart’ as he confesses, more honestly this time, his inability to overcome his enduring parasitism. Or maybe it’s just a bridge.

  19. s.t. says:

    While I find the piano in this song to be a bit dopey, the rhythm always gets me humming Blixa Bargeld’s “Futter Mein Ego” chant from the song “Yu-Gung.” And that cheers me up.

  20. Deanna says:

    It’s a fantastic song. It’s simple, and the line “I pray you’ll soothe my sorry soul” is so perfectly delivered… I think about it a lot.

  21. rob thomas says:

    Great exegesis, everyone, but for me, the song doesn’t deserve it.

    As Momus puts it, “a perfectly pleasant song”.

    The backing vocals are particularly saccharine, imo.

    Reminds me of F. Mac’s “Diane”, another radio-friendly foot-tapper.

    Warning: this clip contains leg-warmers…

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