I have always loved David Bowie. Discovering his music in my early teens was an extraordinary experience, partially because his discography is so diverse. I never knew what sound was coming next.
On his ground-breaking 1977 album Low, he worked with producer and musician Brian Eno to create a new type of music full of terrifying and emotional soundscapes. ‘Warszawa’ opens the album’s more experimental second side, creating an atmosphere of tension and disquietude.
The track is six and a half minutes long, with the first four minutes being entirely instrumental, proving that as a musician Bowie was incredibly patient. He gave time for the music to breathe and for the mood to set.
After becoming lost in the haunting world the slow synths and chilling piano notes have created, you are struck by the absolutely alien vocals that creep in. When I first heard Bowie’s vocal performance in this song years ago I couldn’t believe my ears. First of all, he isn’t singing in English, nor is he singing in any other language known to man, but instead belting out completely made up words he created himself. What he is trying to express is far too great for any simple language to convey; he had to just let his voice take over and cry out these nonsense words. Sometimes lyrics aren’t about meaning, but about feeling.
Of course there is the social resonance of the title, Warszawa being a city in Poland. Bowie had visited the city a few years earlier and had felt a bleakness there he wished to convey through sound. And this album was recorded between France and Germany, places full of history and beauty but also of suffering and torment. To hole himself away in these studios and create these deeply emotive songs such as ‘Warszawa’ would have been a great time of artistic relief and growth, and I am glad myself and millions of others have been allowed this sneak peek into Bowie’s wild mind.