The Real Meaning Behind David Bowie's Heroes

It probably isn't an exaggeration to say that David Bowie's "Heroes" is a song that everyone knows. Released in 1977, the track was written in Berlin in Hansa Studios, a building that stood overlooking the Berlin Wall. The lyrics themselves suggest a love story between a man and a woman that can never be, but the actual inspiration behind the song was taken from a specific scene. Bowie revealed decades after the song's initial release that "Heroes" was based on the sight of producer Tony Visconti and his girlfriend kissing against the Berlin Wall, according to what Bowie told Performing Songwriter

Interestingly, the song was not well received at the time, reaching only number 24 on the British Top 40 charts and not even entering the charts in America, per Financial Times. However, it would pick up major steam later on and become one of Bowie's most famous songs. Despite the song's humble origins, its moving lyrics and anthemic feel made it into an enduring classic and helped to cement Bowie's popularity.

The story behind the song has a sweet meaning

For years, David Bowie didn't reveal the specific inspiration behind the song, presumably due to the fact Tony Visconti was married at the time (and not to the girl he was kissing). In a 2003 interview with Performing Songwriter, he shared, "I'm allowed to talk about it now. I wasn't at the time. I always said it was a couple of lovers by the Berlin Wall that prompted the idea. Actually, it was Tony Visconti and his girlfriend. Tony was married at the time. And I could never say who it was. But I can now say that the lovers were Tony and a German girl that he'd met whilst we were in Berlin."

Bowie went on to add that he got Visconti's permission to share the story and that it was the feeling of being touched by how in love the producer was with his girlfriend that prompted him to pen "Heroes." At the time of Bowie writing the song, there was political unrest in Berlin, and the Berlin Wall still stood tall. Ten years after the release of "Heroes," Bowie played in Berlin. He later spoke about how he felt returning to the place where he wrote such a huge song.

It held particular significance for the city of Berlin

According to Rolling Stone, David Bowie called the 1987 concert "one of the most emotional performances I've ever done," mentioning that he was "in tears" due to the people on the other side of the wall joining in with the show. "When we did "Heroes" it felt anthemic, almost like a prayer," he revealed. "I've never felt it like that again. That's the town where it was written, and that's the particular situation it was written about. It was just extraordinary. I was so drained after the show." Bowie also explicitly acknowledged the East Berliners listening to the concert at the time. Introducing "Heroes," he stated, "We send our best wishes to all of our friends who are on the other side of the wall."

Per Vox, while in general, Bowie didn't play a major part, his Berlin concert did help to propel forward the eventual removal of the Berlin Wall. This is partly because, following the concert, police attacked those listening with water cannons and began to arrest people. This in turn led to major unrest, as it transformed the act of enjoying a concert into a political one. Following Bowie's death in 2016, the German Foreign Office acknowledged his role in tearing down the wall via X (formerly known as Twitter). The inspiration behind "Heroes" may have been a simple kiss, but there's no doubt it had an immense impact on the East Berliners listening all those years ago.