HEROES: From the fall of the Berlin Wall to Popular Homage

HEROES: From the fall of the Berlin Wall to Popular Homage

This classic wasn’t David Bowie’s biggest hit at first — his passing and the song’s growing meaning has risen it to new, tattooed heights.

Play It Again analyzes the sticking power of songs and their ability to compel people to go so far as to permanently alter their skin with cheesy lyrics. We've covered the Beatles, Lady Gaga, and even Modest Mouse


I, I will be king

And you, you will be queen

Though nothing, will drive them away

We can beat them, just for one day

We can be heroes, just for one day


David Bowie passed away on January 10, 2016, and the reverberations of his passing are still felt. The biggest, hardest thing about the loss of Bowie, for most fans, was that he didn’t reveal how sick he actually was, so his death seemed mysterious and sudden. His last album, Black Star, was released on his birthday only two days before his death, further complicating the timing of everything.


“Heroes” came out in 1977, a writing collaboration between Bowie and the renowned Brian Eno. Bowie, after witnessing his producer/engineer embracing his girlfriend by the Berlin Wall, wrote the song’s original subtext as a fictional narrative about two lovers from opposite sides of the wall. Bowie’s performance in West Berlin in 1987, where he performed the song, is heralded as one of the final straws that broke the Berlin Wall’s back — in fact, after his passing, the German government thanked Bowie for his part in bringing the wall down.

With the exception of the following lyrics,


I, I can remember (I remember)

Standing, by the wall (by the wall)

And the guns, shot above our heads (over our heads)

And we kissed, as though nothing could fall (nothing could fall)

And the shame, was on the other side

Oh, we can beat them, forever and ever

Then we could be heroes, just for one day


The song stands on its own, without the hidden story, due to its solid, romantic qualities and its classic Bowie-ness. It wasn’t supremely popular when it was released, clocking in at 24 on the UK charts, and never breaking 100 on the US Billboard. Time treated this slower Bowie ballad well though — it’s been listed on many top 100 song lists across the world, and has been featured in various movies and television shows, both as a tongue-in-cheek jab and as a truly earnest gesture.

The romance, the powerful implications, and the idea of being heroic with a lover — all these factors have catapulted this lesser known Bowie song onto people’s skin. Coupled with the endlessly talented star’s passing, the phrase We can be heroes has been tattooed onto many a fan, either as a single phrase or paired with an image or representation of Bowie himself. As time has passed, the romance of the lyrics as a tattoo triples — the hero that was Bowie, the heroism of being true to yourself, and the loving collaboration between two people.


We can be heroes

Just for one day

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