20 Letter To Hermione
From David Bowie – US title: Man Of Words/Man Of Music – (November 1969); reissued as Space Oddity (November 1972)
Dreamy acoustic farewell dedicated to Bowie’s ex-girlfriend and fellow Lindsay Kemp dance student, Hermione Farthingale
RICKY GERVAIS: It was a surprise. I discovered it probably in reverse order. It’s on the Space Oddity album in 1969. When I first got into Bowie it was for “Heroes” and I worked my way backwards to Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane. And, then I heard this song and of course the badge I was wearing of Bowie was one of this artistic, fashionable, trendsetting, androgyne – “I’m different.” What I wasn’t wearing was, “I’m a brilliant songwriter of love songs.” And, it’s a total surprise. It’s stripped down. Just like Bob Dylan surprises you sometimes. Just as most people think Dylan is a political singer-songwriter and then he comes out with “If You See Her, Say Hello”, and you go, “Oh my God.” The same with Bowie. “Letter To Hermione” starts off, “The hand that wrote this letter sweeps the pillow clean…” It sounds like Keats. And then, “Something tells me that you hide/When all the world is warm and tired/You cry a little in the dark/Well, so do I.” That’s amazing. “Did you ever call my name just by mistake?” This guy just hoping. It’s beautiful. It’s beautiful.
19 Oh! You Pretty Things
From Hunky Dory (December 1971)
Stomping, melodious album cut that somehow proposed a pop collaboration between Paul McCartney and Friedrich Nietzsche
PHIL MAY (The Pretty Things): With The Pretty Things, you’d have lots of people who’d come around the stage at the end, from Bromley or Sidcup, even at the early art school shows we did. Lost souls who, like us, thought they were weird and different and yet, when they were in a place where music was played, suddenly didn’t feel such a weirdo. David was the one who struck me like a jackdaw. He was collecting, storing and taking in music like a sponge. He wasn’t like a fan. We talked about art, too – we’d been at the same art school.
I’ve always interpreted this song as a fantasy of outsiders taking over. In terms of using our name, I think we were a beacon to him. I’ve never had a conversation with him about it, but there was “Pretty Things Are Going To Hell”, too [from 1999’s hours…]. I think the phrase is a euphemism for how he saw our band when he was starting up – somebody shining a light on his situation, when for the rest of his life, he was on his own.