Five Years – Apocalypse and Empathy in a Doomed World


You can view the lyrics, alternate interprations and sheet music for David Bowie's Five Years at Lyrics.org.
Article Contents:
  1. Music Video
  2. Lyrics
  3. Song Meaning
  4. The Clock Is Ticking: Doomsday’s Somber Dance
  5. A Montage of Desperation: Humanity in a Vignette
  6. Sonic Catharsis: The Music That Drives Despair
  7. The Hidden Meaning: Bowie’s Lament for Empathy
  8. Memorable Lines: Bowie’s Lyricism Hits Home

Lyrics

Pushing through the market square
So many mothers sighing (sighing)
News had just come over
We had five years left to cry in (cry in)
News guy wept and told us
Earth was really dying (dying)
Cried so much his face was wet
Then I knew he was not lying (lying)

I heard telephones, opera house, favorite melodies
I saw boys, toys, electric irons and TV’s
My brain hurt like a warehouse, it had no room to spare
I had to cram so many things to store everything in there
And all the fat, skinny people
And all the tall, short people
And all the nobody people
And all the somebody people
I never thought I’d need so many people

A girl my age went off her head
Hit some tiny children
If the Black hadn’t have pulled her off
I think she would have killed them
A soldier with a broken arm
Fixed his stare to the wheels of a Cadillac
A cop knelt and kissed the feet of a priest
And a queer threw up at the sight of that
I think I saw you in an ice-cream parlor
Drinking milk shakes cold and long
Smiling and waving and looking so fine
Don’t think you knew you were in this song
And it was cold and it rained, so I felt like an actor
And I thought of Ma and I wanted to get back there
Your face, your race, the way that you talk
I kiss you, you’re beautiful, I want you to walk

We’ve got five years, stuck on my eyes
Five years, what a surprise
We’ve got five years, my brain hurts a lot
Five years, that’s all we’ve got

We’ve got five years, what a surprise
Five years, stuck on my eyes
We’ve got five years, my brain hurts a lot
Five years, that’s all we’ve got

We’ve got five years, stuck on my eyes
Five years, what a surprise
We’ve got five years, my brain hurts a lot
Five years, that’s all we’ve got

We’ve got five years, what a surprise
We’ve got five years, stuck on my eyes
We’ve got five years, my brain hurts a lot
Five years, that’s all we’ve got

Five years
Five years
Five years
Five years

Full Lyrics

David Bowie’s ‘Five Years,’ the haunting opener from his 1972 album ‘The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars,’ stands as a testament to the artist’s unique ability to interlace apocalyptic storytelling with intricate character sketches. The song lays a stark foundation for the concept album, introducing the listener to a world teetering on the brink of collapse with only half a decade of existence remaining.

But more than a mere doomsday chronicle, ‘Five Years’ serves as an exploration of human connection in the face of impending annihilation. With a blend of visceral imagery and emotional turmoil, the track is a shimmering microcosm of Bowie’s genius, inviting a deep dive into its layers of meaning.

The Clock Is Ticking: Doomsday’s Somber Dance

The steady drumbeat and sobering refrain of ‘Five years, that’s all we’ve got’ underscores the urgency and dismay threaded throughout this prophetic anthem. As news of Earth’s impending fate spreads, Bowie juxtaposes the cataclysmic revelations with snapshots of quotidian life, highlighting the absurdity and poignance of mundane concerns in the shadow of the unimaginable.

These repetitions serve as a chilling reminder, a mantra that time is slipping away while humanity is left scrambling to make sense of the finite nature of existence. Bowie channels the universal sense of desperation, ensuring that the ticking clock of ‘Five Years’ beats loudly in the listener’s own chest.

A Montage of Desperation: Humanity in a Vignette

Like a surrealist painter, Bowie crafts sequences of vivid, often disconcerting images — a girl losing her mind, a soldier fixating on luxury amidst injury, and a ‘queer’ reacting viscerally to the sight of religious sanctimony. In Bowie’s world, social hierarchies and norms crumble as death’s egalitarian approach forces a raw and real connection amongst the inhabitants of this doomed reality.

Each character in this grim tapestry represents fragments of society, suddenly stripped of their future. These snapshots are a poignant reminder that in the end, everyone from ‘nobody people’ to ‘somebody people’ confronts the same existential crisis, erasing the lines that once divided them.

Sonic Catharsis: The Music That Drives Despair

Musically, ‘Five Years’ builds steadily from a mournful dirge to an anthemic crescendo, mirroring the narrative’s climactic swell. The orchestration masterfully reflects the emotional weight of the lyrics, reinforcing the tension and the overwhelming sense of panic that grips the listener.

Bowie’s stirring vocals further accentuate the poignancy, conveying a raw urgency that is at once haunting and painfully human. The production encapsulates a soundscape that moves from the personal to the universal, speaking not only to the era of its creation but to any moment when humanity grapples with its mortality.

The Hidden Meaning: Bowie’s Lament for Empathy

‘Five Years’ is not merely a herald of doom; it’s an enigmatic ode to empathy. Bowie expresses a kind of solidarity amid chaos, where collective suffering dissolves the barriers between individuals — the rich tableau of society finds unity in the recognition of their shared fate.

This hidden layer invites listeners to ponder the value of human connection and the potential for people to transcend their differences when faced with a common adversary – death. It challenges the audience to reflect on how society might change if everyone understood their lives were finite with a known expiration date.

Memorable Lines: Bowie’s Lyricism Hits Home

The lyric ‘I never thought I’d need so many people’ resonates as a powerful message of Bowie’s theme of togetherness in ‘Five Years.’ This line strikes to the core of the paradoxical human condition: the simultaneous desire for independence and the fundamental need for others.

It’s a sentiment that captures the essence of the song – a message that even in the darkest of times, perhaps especially then, there exists an undeniable need for human connection, compassion, and empathy. As the final echoes of ‘Five Years’ dissipate, the takeaway is crystalline: what we do with the time we have, and who we choose to share it with, matters most.

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