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The book that inspired David Bowie's 'Heroes'


Love can come in so many different forms, and that includes sharing a love of art, music, or literature with someone you care about. As you can imagine, with a penchant for any and every artistic expression, David Bowie was no stranger to this cultural kismet. 

Bowie has found so much inspiration for his work throughout other artistic mediums, from film to mime to visual art. And when it comes to his song ‘Heroes’, the inspiration came from a book that Bowie and his supermodel wife Iman both loved and shared a deep affection for.

David Bowie was married to Somali supermodel Iman for over two decades. Iman moved to New York to begin her modeling career in 1975. She’d been modeling for many years by the time a friend set her up on a blind date in 1990 with none other than Ziggy Stardust himself. The pair were married just two years later.

Many people already know the meandering story behind ‘Heroes’, in that Bowie saw two lovers kissing by the Berlin Wall in Germany and was stirred to write the track. The two lovers, Bowie later admitted, were his producer Tony Visconti and his mistress. However, plenty of people don’t know that the song was also directly inspired by the Somali novel, A Grave for a Dolphin. Most notably the lyrics: “I, I wish you could swim / Like the dolphins, like dolphins can swim”.

In 2001, Iman wrote a memoir, for which Bowie wrote the foreword In it, he said of the 1956 book, “I thought it a magical and beautiful love story and in part it had inspired my song ‘Heroes’.”

Iman added to this in her Vogue interview in 2021, 20 years after the memoir, “This is a very fantastical journey between a girl — and you won’t believe it, but a Somali girl — and a dolphin. And this book is really special because, funny enough, way before David and I met, this was one of his favorite books. And actually, he told me that some of the lyrics from his song ‘Heroes’ were actually inspired by this book. And then of course, finally when we meet, we can’t believe that we both adore the same book.”

This just goes to show how the coincidences of art can touch people in unexpected ways—even in the case of legends. If you want to revisit David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ and search for some of the literary lyrics, you can listen down below.