David Bowie - Everyone Says "Hi"

There’s something to be said for being able to write a deeply heartfelt song about an emotion that you haven’t felt in years. It really is a gift to remember so clearly what it was like to be a certain age and feel the things that that person felt then. For a man, for instance, to remember what is felt like to be a boy full of unrequited love. It’s one of those things that can make a song truly great, and it’s what I like about David Bowie’s song “Everyone Says Hi”.

It's off of Bowie’s album Heathen (2002), meaning that Bowie was in his early fifties at the time of writing and had been married for ten years or so. Yet the song conveys what I take to be the sentiments of a heartbroken lad who has just realized that a girl he didn’t really know that well, but still was inexplicably in love with, has left him for a life of adventure. It starts out poignantly:

Said you'd took a big trip

They said you moved away

Happened oh so quietly,

They say

She’s gone and she never told him she was leaving! He had to find out from someone else! Judging by the later lyric (“Said you sailed a big ship/Said you sailed away/Didn't know the right thing to say”) I’m guessing that she sailed across the channel to France in search of a bigger world, leaving behind a boy from the neighborhood whom she didn’t think merited a proper good-bye.

Self-centered remorse is the first reaction for the boy, like it is for so many other teenagers who suffer imaginary heartbreak, expressed here through longing for a memento of some kind.

Should've took a picture

Something I could keep

Buy a little frame, something cheap

For you

Lest he get swept away in his own river of emotions, however, he quickly gets to the main refrain of his letter - “Everyone says ‘Hi’”. A admirable gesture of corporate well-wishing, perhaps, but really only a Trojan horse for expressing his own feelings of abandonment as his “concern” for her well-being continues through listing various fears and disgruntlements common to anyone adjusting to a new environment (“Hope the weather's good and it's not too hot/For you” “If the money is lousy/You can always come home” “If the food gets too eerie/You can always phone home” “Don't stay in a bad place/Where they don't care how you are”).

By the second chorus he is all out of excuses to proffer and instead appeals to her emotional attachment to loved ones she’s left behind. They say, “Hi”, he says.

And the girl next door

(Everyone says hi)

And the guy upstairs

(Everyone says hi)

And your mum and dad

(Everyone says hi)

And your big fat dog

(Everyone says hi)

But notice how he repeats that “Everyone says hi”. This is where Bowie’s expressive voice takes over the song and communicates the true intent behind a seemingly altruistic lyric. With every repetition of communal concern, behind Bowie’s rich tenor the timid teenage voice is screaming “I say hi! Me! I care! Look, I’m writing you a letter! I miss you! I want to be with you...”

But everyone says “hi”, because that’s who you really care about.

The amount of resigned angst in Bowie’s voice is almost palpable, and it’s this kind of performance that makes him, even past age 50, a remarkably accessible artist. The whole song, start to finish, communicates an emotion that resonates with fans 35 years younger in a generation that is realizing that no matter how digitally connected you are, physical separation and loss is still a painful, wrenching feeling.

Maybe she’ll come back. Maybe she won’t. Maybe they’ll live happily ever after. Maybe she’ll fall head over heels for a Frenchman and move to Sicily and live on the coast. Maybe he will rent out an airplane to fly over the Mediterranean trailing a banner, reminding her that

“Everyone says ‘Hi.’”

_DZ submit to reddit