Soul Love

Though not particularly obvious “Soul Love” is to my mind the deepest song (and he’s had more than most) by Bowie (then aged 25) and by extension one of the most evocative of rock songs. It plays a pivotal role in the running order of arguably one of the greatest rock albums made and, of course, part of the catalogue of one of the longest genuinely creative runs in popular music — i.e. the Bowie of ’71-’80.

The lyrics

Stone love – she kneels before the grave
A brave son – who gave his life to see the slogan
That hovers between the headstone and her eyes
For they penetrate her grieving

New love – a boy and girl are talking
New words – that only they can share in
New words – a love so strong it tears their hearts
To sleep – through the fleeting hours of morning

Love is careless in it’s choosing – sweeping over ‘cross a baby
Love descends on those defenseless
Idiot love will spark the fusion
Inspirations have I none – just to touch the flaming dove
All I have is my love of love – and love is not loving

Soul love – the priest that tastes the word and
Told of love – and how my God on high is
All love – though reaching up my loneliness evolves
By the blindness that surrounds him

Love is careless in it’s choosing – sweeping over ‘cross a baby
Love descends on those defenseless
Idiot love will spark the fusion
Inspirations have I none – just to touch the flaming dove
All I have is my love of love – and love is not loving

This plausible interpretation of the song from Teenage Wildlife

Blatantly the most personal song on the album. Bowie dismisses the possibility of his own self being capable of love, but equally recognises the potency of love being a powerful force of inspiration in others. He starts by depicting the bond between mother and son, the child being a military recruitment killed in action for the ‘honour of the regiment, King and Country’ “Stone love, she kneels before the grave. A brave son who gave his life to save the slogan which hovers ‘tween the headstone and her eyes” There then follows the juxtaposition of this ‘dead love’ with the fresh romance of ‘boy meets girl’ and the innuendo’s that only such a pair would understand. “New words that only they can share in.” Bowie views love as a spirit/metaphysical force which descends indiscriminately, presenting this inspirational power upon the unprepared, sparking the fusion between one person and another. “Love is careless in it’s choosing, sweeping over cross a baby.” And Bowie, aware of his inability to feel love, professes his empathy to the word and the beneficial effect it has upon others. “All I have is my love of love-and love is not loving.” The final verse develops a thought of cynicism to the ‘love of God’. It is not that Bowie’s projected affection for the Christian deity is unrequited, moreover he cannot receive mutual feelings from those around, even when he lifts himself to the possibility of Gnostic beliefs he finds no reward. The inner desire of the soul, as related by “the priest who tastes the word”, and the prospect of a God on High being “all love” are dissolved, because his isolation and loneliness is a result of not lacking a god, but the oblivion such a god displays “though (by) reaching up my loneliness evolves by the blindness that surrounds him”.

Consequently, the chaos of the initial song expands to encompass a religious aspects mankind does have the ability and capability to love on a superficial level with the air of doom hanging above, but the love which god is believed to possess, apparently the greatest love of all, breeds discontent because of it’s inaccessibility.

The theme is not too dissimilar to Eleanor Rigby, Mac (aged 24) being the prime mover:

Though “Eleanor Rigby” was far from the first pop song to deal with death and loneliness, according to Ian MacDonald it “came as quite a shock to pop listeners in 1966”. It took a bleak message of depression and desolation, written by a famous pop band, with a sombre, almost funeral-like backing, to the number one spot of the pop charts. The bleak lyrics were not the Beatles’ first deviation from love songs, but were some of the most explicit.