Released: 15 March 1993
David Bowie: vocals, saxophone
Nile Rodgers: guitar
Lester Bowie: trumpet
Richard Hilton, Dave Richards, Philippe Saisse, Richard Tee: keyboards
Barry Campbell: bass guitar
Richard Hilton: keyboards
Poogie Bell/Sterling Campbell: drums
Fonzi Thornton, Tawatha Agee, Curtis King Jr, Dennis Collins, Brenda White-King, Maryl Epps: backing vocals
The lead single from David Bowie’s Black Tie White Noise album, ‘Jump They Say’ was inspired by his half-brother Terry Burns’ suicide in 1985.
Terry Burns had been a key influence on the young David Jones, introducing him to new music, books and philosophical beliefs. However, in an interview around the time of Black Tie White Noise, Bowie downplayed the role he had played in his life.
I saw so little of him and I think I unconsciously exaggerated his importance. I invented this hero-worship to discharge my guilt and failure, and to set myself free from my own hang-ups.
Burns had suffered his first psychotic episode in the mid 1960s, and spent time in a local asylum, Cane Hill. He visited Bowie often at weekends at Haddon Hall, and helped inspire several tracks on The Man Who Sold The World, along with later songs including ‘Five Years’, ‘The Bewlay Brothers’, and ‘Jump They Say’.
‘Jump They Say’ is semi-based on my impression of my step-brother and probably, for the first time, trying to write about how I felt about him committing suicide. It’s also connected to my feeling that sometimes I’ve jumped metaphysically into the unknown and wondering whether I really believed there was something out there to support me, whatever you wanna call it; a God or a life-force? It’s an impressionist piece – it doesn’t have an obvious, cohesive narrative storyline to it, apart from the fact that the protagonist in the song scales a spire and leaps off.
There’s also a personal reason why I cover Creams’s ‘I Feel Free’ on the album. One of the times I actually went out with my step-brother, I took him to see a Cream concert in Bromley, and about halfway through – and I’d like to think it was during ‘I Feel Free’ – he started feeling very, very bad… He used to see visions a lot. And I remember I had to take him out of the club because it was really starting to affect him – he was swaying… He’d never heard anything so loud; he was ten years older then me and he’d never been to a rock club, because jazz was his thing when he was young. He turned me on to Eric Dolphy…
Anyway, we got out into the street and he collapsed on the ground and he said the ground was opening up and there was fire and stuff pouring out the pavement, and I could almost see it for him, because he was explaining it so articulately. So the two songs are close together on the album for very personal reasons.
NME, 27 March 1993
Terry Burns took his own life on 16 January 1985. He left Cane Hill early in the morning, crossed the road to Coulsdon South railway station, and, as a train approached, jumped onto the track. He laid down and was killed by the impact. He had attempted suicide at the same spot the previous month, but had been pulled away from the track just in time.
Bowie did not attend the funeral, fearing that his presence would turn it into a media circus. He sent a wreath and a message of condolence, but remained at his Switzerland home. The message read:
You’ve seen more things than we could imagine but all these moments will be lost, like tears washed away by the rain. God bless you – David.
Bowie’s estranged aunt Pat – his mother’s sister – gave an outraged interview to The Sun newspaper in response to the lyrics and cover artwork for ‘Jump They Say’.
Now he is using [Burns’s] tragic death to put his record in the charts and I find that not only macabre but pathetic. The picture of David upset me terribly. There is a real resemblance. David looks just like Terry did when he became schizophrenic.
The Sun, 31 March 1993