Golden Years, by David Bowie


Many years ago, I lived in the city. I was probably 23 or 24 years old. I loved living in the city. When the streets and sidewalks were not bustling with traffic and people, there was a trembling, eerie, expectant quiet. Not a lot was happening in the early morning hours, or in the late evening, but there was always the sense that something would be happening soon.

One early Sunday morning, I was driving down Broadway, a major street in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. I don’t remember where I was going, but it felt too early. I was tired. I was likely out late the night before with friends or at work. I was listening to the radio in my car, and the DJ of the local station came on the radio and said they would be playing a David Bowie song next. I felt a sliver of cool morning air coming through my car window, which was open just a crack. I saw the sun coming up over the apartment buildings from the east. “Golden Years” I thought to myself. They are going to play “Golden Years.” And they did. For some reason, it just felt to me like the song that needed to be played at that moment in time.

The David Bowie songs I love are always built around a killer melody. Whether it is “Changes,” “Rebel Rebel” or “Young Americans,” Bowie had a knack for writing music that is truly catchy, memorable and beautiful. Bowie actually wrote “Golden Years” with Elvis Presley in mind, and it is easy to imagine Elvis’ twang and swagger. Presley turned the song down, so Bowie recorded it himself with a velvety vocal and swagger all his own.

The song begins with a simple guitar line, fingers snapping, and a muted horn (maybe an organ) adding accent and color. You can almost imagine John Travolta walking down the street holding a couple of paint cans while “Golden Years” plays.

“Don’t let me hear you say life’s taking you nowhere, angel
Come get up my baby
Look at that sky, life’s begun
Nights are warm and the days are young
Come get up my baby”

We hear the term “golden years” and we immediately imagine an older person, looking back on their life. We think more of a song like “When I’m Sixty Four” by The Beatles rather than something bluesy and sultry like “Golden Years.” But that same feeling of age and retrospection is there. Remembering back, reviewing a life.

“Last night they loved you, opening doors and pulling some strings, angel
Come get up my baby
In walked luck and you looked in time
Never look back, walk tall, act fine
Come get up my baby”

I was 23 years old…just about 30 years ago, as I drove down Broadway listening to this song. I probably thought I knew everything, but I didn’t know anything. Though Bowie himself was relatively young when he wrote “Golden Years”, he sings the song with a maturity and confidence of a much older man. He sounds like someone who has earned the right to reflect on a life well lived, sharing hard earned wisdom, having a little fun. Singing a little doo wop. Whop, whop, whop.

“I’ll stick with you baby for a thousand years
Nothing’s gonna touch you in these golden years, gold
Golden years, gold whop whop whop
Come get up my baby”

In the last verse of “Young Americans,” Bowie keeps the same rhythm as the rest of the song, but spits out lyrics at a rapid fire pace hurling insults, asking questions, sharing information. Here in the middle of “Golden Years” Bowie sings the bridge almost like a rap, before there was Rap music.

“Some of these days, and it won’t be long
Gonna drive back down where you once belonged
In the back of a dream car twenty foot long
Don’t cry my sweet, don’t break my heart
Doing all right, but you gotta get smart
Wish upon, wish upon, day upon day, I believe oh Lord
I believe all the way
Come get up my baby”

David Bowie was 69 years old when died in 2016 of liver cancer. He was recording music and making art up until the very end, his last public appearance at the Lazarus premier, a play based on what would be his final recordings.

A life of 69 years is a nice, long life, but for David Bowie, it felt short. Way too short. Throughout his career, he changed musical styles and personas like a chameleon, but he was always Bowie. He shocked us with an adventurous, almost unbelievable lifestyle, but we always knew who we was and what he did. He amazed us with music that was complex, challenging and deeply satisfying, and we always listened. I was only 23 years old, but the road stretched out before me.

“I’ll stick with you baby for a thousand years
Nothing’s gonna touch you in these golden years.”

“Golden Years”
Written by David Bowie
Performed by David Bowie
Released November 21, 1975

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