C’est La Vie


This entry, on a minor but sweet song from ca. late 1967, is in the book but never was on the blog. This was due to the fact that the recording didn’t leak until well after I’d covered the Sixties on the blog (2009, basically–I think “C’est” only popped up around 2012).

I am curious whether other demos from the messy “second (and never recorded) Bowie Deram LP” era of late 1967 to early 1968 will eventually surface. I wouldn’t be surprised if so. Looking forward to hearing “Angel Angel Grubby Face” and the Ernie Johnson tape someday.

C’est la Vie.

Bowie wrote “C’est la Vie” in summer 1967 and his manager Kenneth Pitt sent demos that October to song publishers and the American singer Chris Montez, to no response. The elaborate tape, which had eight instrumental and vocal versions of the song, with multiple vocal overdubs and prominent clunky bass (apparently Bowie), suggested Pitt thought “C’est la Vie” one of Bowie’s more commercially promising efforts.

Considered for Bowie’s second Deram album but never taken beyond the demo stage, “C’est la Vie” had a warm melody to suit its lyric’s homebody sentiments. Bowie’s content to watch the world pass by his window, hoping that time will pass him by in turn. It’s a lassitude found in a contemporary interview he gave to Chelsea News (“David is contented with contentment: he is a happy loving person with a gentle nature”). He later reworked one line for “An Occasional Dream” (“burns my wall with time”) and recycled some of its top melody for “Shadow Man.” You could also argue that “Conversation Piece” starts here.

Recorded: (demo, still unreleased) ca. September 1967, Essex Music. Bowie: lead and harmony vocals, acoustic guitar, tambourine, bass?

Top: John Atherton, “London, 1967” (“September 13, 1967 at St. James’s park. She was from Germany.”)

19 Responses to C’est La Vie

  1. Chris Williams says:

    Well, the woodwork is creaking and out comes the previously hidden. I’ve noticed a lot more stuff on You Tube in the last month; unseen interviews especially, the impressions of Springsteen, etc. I have faith that any re-discovered material appearing here will be of quality.

  2. garboseyes says:

    There’s also a lot of “Shadowman” at 1:26 !!!

    Is there a bootleg where I could find this track ? I’d never heard about it !

  3. Chris Williams says:

    Yep! That’s very nice. I love Shadow Man and this backs that up. Chris Montez would have been fantastic.

  4. Ellie Arroway says:

    He sounds so young in this song, but I’m heartened to conclude, not naive. Or maybe I am just tempted to read early hints of later lyrical sophistication into lines like the first several:

    Through my window I can see, if the world is there for me,
    will my shadow on the floor, let me be
    And tomorrow calls my name,
    but I don’t want to go, through the burning flames of time
    C’est la vie.

    Actually, it reminded me of this lyric (not that much later):
    Look out my window and what do I see
    A crack in the sky
    and a hand reaching down to me

    Perhaps the narrator here is a younger version of the one in Oh! You Pretty Things.. not yet sure what he’s even waiting for, but waiting none the less.

  5. Jasmine says:

    Interruption, but the BBC is reporting that Prince has died. RIP.
    The 70s were Bowie’s and the 80’s were Prince’s. His ”Heroes” cover last month was lovely.
    Such a sad year 😦

    • BenJ says:

      Thank you for alerting me to Prince’s “Heroes.” That is a beautiful rendition. He and Bowie are two losses we’re going to feel keenly for a long time.

  6. Bruised Passivity says:

    Just when my tears over Bowie are drying Prince dies. 2016 = the year all the music dies.

  7. Stolen Guitar says:

    The ducal thin white one and the majestically purple, diminutive genius… kindred spirits both. What a shocking year. Somebody somewhere, either up there or down below, is getting all the best tunes now.
    All these ending of an era-type passages are reinforcing just how lucky our generation(s) were to have had such useful beauty amongst us. Again, we will not see their like again, but to have had Bowie and Prince (and, let’s not forget, Michael Jackson) at the same time, in the same charts and in the same world… well, we were very, very, fortunate, indeed.

  8. Vinnie says:

    Pretty song! I would love to hear a complete set of demos for the second Deram LP – mainly because, had the album been completed, it probably would have moved Bowie in a different direction. (Alternate history dreaming).

    She was from Germany – what a face, what a photograph.

  9. Peggy says:

    My tears are not drying. Managed to finally listen to first 2 tracks of ★Blackstar yesterday. Had to stop.

    • Ramona says:

      Yes, still the tears. Blackstar particularly hard to listen to. I guess time doesn’t always heal.

      • marta says:

        I listened to Blackstar during *that* weekend. Never after. Probably next year.

        There’s so much to listen to in the meantime (and forever and ever).

        As always, thanks Chris!

  10. BenJ says:

    This song sounds like it’s got some McCartney in it. Bowie was already starting to assimilate his influences into his own voice, though.

  11. Jasmine says:

    Lyrically it also reminds me of Thursday’s Child – surely ‘throw me tomorrow’ has a link back to ‘show me tomorrow’
    Nice song this, let’s hope for other versions turning up…

  12. Michael. says:

    I’m the guy who first got this out. What happened was I got befirended by a guy claiming to be a Bowie fan on Facebook. He was talking about rare tracks and I asked if i could see what he had. Thet were all Ryko bonus track except right in the middle of the list with no fanfare, were the three ‘C’est La Vie’ tracks. Up until this point, I was under the belief like most people, that ‘C’est La Vie’ was held by a private German collector, so I was skeptical but asked him to send them anyway. I was astounded.

    The first copies were sent to Nick Pegg (which is why I have a credit in his book) and he thinks the bass is played by Tony Visconti. After that, I just gave the tracks to friends and anyone who asked, and that’s how it became ‘liberated’.

    There weren’t any other particularly rare tracks on the guys list and I don’t even think he was aware of what he had. I’m no longer friends with him but he’s still on Facebook and I can put people in touch with him if they like.

  13. There are also connections with the lyrics of Holy Holy “Just let me be”, when he sings “will my shadows on the floor will let me be?”

%d bloggers like this: