Written by: David Bowie
Recorded: August-September 2001; October 2001 – January 2002
Producers: David Bowie, Tony Visconti
Released: 10 June 2002
David Torn/Gerry Leonard: guitar
Tony Visconti: bass guitar
Matt Chamberlain: drums, loops
Greg Kitzis, Meg Okura: violin
Martha Mooke: viola
Mary Wooten: cello
‘I Would Be Your Slave’ is the seventh song on David Bowie’s Heathen album. It was described by Bowie as “an entreaty to the highest being to show himself in a way that could be understood”.
The song is addressed to God, with its protagonist offering himself at the mercy of the deity. Bowie had explored such ground before, most notably on 1976’s ‘Word On A Wing’, but on ‘I Would Be Your Slave’ the god in question is accused of mockery and vengeance: “I bet you laugh out loud at me, a chance to strike me down/Give me peace of mind at last, show me all you are”.
The string arrangement on the song was by Bowie, based on lines prepared on a Korg Trinity keyboard. The final parts were performed by the Scorchio Quartet shortly after the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the USA.
I had a major hand in ‘I Would Be Your Slave’ as I had kind of worked them out on the Trinity keyboard. And I came up with the line in ‘Gemini’ but everything else is Tony. He is a superb string arranger, I could not think of doing an album with him without strings in some form. It would be criminal.
We had most everything laid down by early September and then THAT happened. 9/11. The weirdest and toughest thing for us was having the Scorchio Quartet come up from NY to play the parts that Tony had written for them. It was terrific that they could even think about coming up to work after such a traumatic experience. But, as they pointed out, it was the necessary break that was so needed by all of them. It wasn’t easy for them to get up to Shokan either. Trains and such were out and the roads were all closing down, so it was no small thing that they did. I will always thank them for that. The first piece that we worked on with them was ‘I Would Be Your Slave’, an entreaty to the highest being to show himself in a way that could be understood. Too disturbing.
Livewire magazine, 16 June 2002
‘I Would Be Your Slave’ was performed live on 21 occasions by David Bowie.
The first outing was at the Tibet House Benefit Concert at New York’s Carnegie Hall on 22 February 2022, four months prior to the release of Heathen.
Bowie and his live band also performed the song during an appearance for the BBC’s Top Of The Pops and TOTP2 at the Kaufman Studios in NYC on 2 June, although it was not broadcast. Eight songs were filmed, although only the first three were included in the show: ‘Fame’, ‘Slow Burn’, ‘I Took A Trip On A Gemini Spaceship’, ‘Everyone Says ‘Hi”, ‘I Would Be Your Slave’, ‘Hallo Spaceboy’, ‘I’m Afraid Of Americans’, and ‘Ziggy Stardust’.
‘I Would Be Your Slave’ was played at the majority of the Heathen Tour dates in 2002, with the final performance taking place on 11 October at the Music Hall on Staten Island, New York.