David Bowie is being remembered as a musical genius, a gifted artist and a fashion icon. But to whale and dolphin activists, he was nothing short of a hero.
Bowie’s hauntingly moving song “Heroes,” the title track of his 1977 album, has become a rallying cry for people around the world working to end the killing and capture of whales and dolphins at the cove in Taiji, Japan.
The song, which includes the lyrics “I, I wish you could swim/Like the dolphins, like dolphins can swim,” accompanies the closing credits of the 2009 documentary The Cove, which brought global attention to the annual slaughter in Taiji.
Most people don’t know that Bowie, a quiet but generous supporter of animal welfare causes who died on Sunday at 69, personally intervened to make sure the song could be licensed for a minimal fee.
The Cove director Louie Psihoyos said the movie’s producer, Fisher Stevens, knew Bowie’s wife, Iman. “That’s how we got through to him,” he said. “If we’d had to go through record-company channels, it never would’ve happened.”
According to Psihoyos, the cost of licensing a rock song for commercial films starts at about $25,000 and can reach six figures. After hearing about the film, Bowie insisted that RCA Records make “Heroes” available for $3,000.
“They had to charge something so they weren’t giving it away,” Psihoyos said. “It was hardly worth the time for the record label to write up the contract.”
A licensing employee for Sony Music Entertainment, which owns RCA Records, confirmed that the fee was reduced but said the amount paid “is confidential.”
The song, reportedly about an East German and West German couple who meet at the Berlin Wall—“I, I can remember (I remember)/Standing, by the wall (by the wall)/And the guns, shot above our heads (over our heads)”—became a powerful anthem for the anti-whaling movement.
“I didn’t know at the time about his support for animal rights,” Psihoyos said of Bowie. “But it turns out he had a huge heart.”
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