Some Are

March 4, 2011

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.