Bromley boy David Bowie found a second home in New York. The Big Apple treated him like one of its own and provided him with more of a normal life than he could ever have led in Britain—thanks to New Yorkers inherent disposition towards celebrity culture. He was forever thankful for the life that the city had helped him lead and, when New York was left grieving on its knees following the tragic events of 9/11, Bowie was on hand to give back on October 20th, 2001, a time when he took part in the Concert for New York City.
The concert was the brainchild of Paul McCartney who brought along many fellow legendary British contemporaries, including The Who, Elton John, Eric Clapton and Rolling Stones bandmates Mick Jagger and Keith Richards but it would be Bowie’s spinetingling rendition of ‘Heroes’ that would steal the show. The evening was an attempt by McCartney to bring the great and good of the arts together and to give the New Yorkers in attendance, many of whom had lost loved ones that dreadful day, a night that they would never forget.
Aside from performing for charity, the concert was an attempt to celebrate the first responders from the New York City Fire Department and New York City Police Department, their families, and those lost in the attacks as well as those who had worked in the ongoing rescue and recovery efforts in the weeks since that time.
The crowd was full of victims’ family members and colleagues who held up portraits of the dearly departed. Quite understandably, they were in a volatile and emotional state which saw them boo Susan Sarandon for plugging New York mayoralty candidate Mark Green and actor Richard Gere for speaking about non-violent tolerance. Gere did acknowledge the crowd’s jeering at his pacifist stance, stating, “That’s apparently unpopular right now, but that’s all right.”
The show didn’t get any better than Bowie’s emphatic set. It was a performance that saw him cover Paul Simon’s ‘America’ before launching into a rip-roaring, particularly emotional version of ‘Heroes’ which, even just momentarily, offered a slice of much-needed hope and optimism in the veins of the New Yorkers who had gathered at Madison Square Garden.
‘Heroes’ was fittingly dedicated to the firefighters who lost their lives protecting others, it remains the perfect anthem for times of loss and hardship. The track tells the story of a German couple who are so determined to be together despite the political climate of the day that was preventing them and, in that desperation, they meet every day under a gun turret on The Berlin Wall.
Bowie was inspired by an affair between his legendary producer Tony Visconti and backup singer Antonia Maass who, it is said, would kiss “by the wall” in front of Bowie as he looked out of the Hansa Studio window. For a creative mind like the Thin White Duke, the imagery was too tempting to resist.
As well as being a track about love triumphing overall, the song has since taken on more gravitas. ‘Heroes’ soon became the symbolic anthem that captured Berlin during this troubled period as the city remained divided. It created a poignant moment when, in 1987, Bowie performed a unifying rendition of the track at the Berlin Wall just two years before it demolition began — with the power of music for one night only bringing these two opposing sides together.
His performance in New York on that October evening in 2001 took on a wholly different evening for the Americans in attendance that evening which is testament to the powerful nature of the track that allows everyone to have their own personal relationship with ‘Heroes’.
Watch the gripping, emotional performance of Bowie performing ‘Heroes’ at Madison Square Garden, below.