Reality album coverWritten by: David Bowie
Recorded: January-May 2003
Producers: David Bowie, Tony Visconti

Released: 15 September 2003

Available on:
Reality

Personnel

David Bowie: vocals, guitar, keyboards, synthesizer
Gerry Leonard/Earl Slick: guitar
Tony Visconti: bass guitar
Sterling Campbell: drums

Written by David Bowie as a protest against post-9/11 American imperialism, ‘Looking For Water’ appears on his 2003 album Reality.

As with ‘Fall Dog Bombs The Moon’, the song was a reaction to the US foreign policy in the Middle East. “I lost God in a New York minute,” Bowie’s protagonist sings. “Don’t know about you but my heart’s not in it.”

When I wrote it, I just had this image of somebody crawling through the desert looking for the water, which is the most clichéd image that you can come up with. But then that made me think, well, the only thing he would be looking at would be the oil pumps. And the oil pumps seem to be working, but there is no water. This must be about a military, industrial situation – a complex of some kind. It must be about an administration that has a manifesto that was probably written in the late nineties that’s being carried through now. That’s kind of what was on my mind.
David Bowie, 2003
The Complete David Bowie, Nicholas Pegg

The theme of looking for water had appeared previously in Bowie’s career – most notably in The Man Who Fell To Earth, where Thomas Newton seeks the liquid for his planet, and also on the ‘Glass Spider’ refrain “Gone, gone, the water’s all gone/Mummy come back ’cause the water’s all gone”.

I really don’t have a general approach to songwriting. Sometimes I’ll inflict rules like ‘All right, this piece can only have five chords,’ and go from there, because it can be good to set parameters. Then again, I’ve developed such a lot of different processes over the years, ranging from accidents of looping – taking three or four chords and looping them in a particular way, and then writing a melodic theme over the top of them – to old-fashioned, crafted songs. I guess something that was virtually looped on this album was ‘Looking For Water’, and so a secondary consideration was the melodic content on top, whereas ‘She’ll Drive The Big Car’ was specifically a written piece. It’s self-evident when you know that and then hear the songs.
David Bowie
Sound On Sound, October 2003

The phrase “dawn’s early light” – taken from the opening couplet of ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ – appears in both ‘Looking For Water’ and ‘She’ll Drive The Big Car’. It was also in Mort Shuman’s translation of Jacques Brel’s ‘Amsterdam’, as performed by Bowie in the early 1970s: “But in the port of Amsterdam, there’s a sailor who’s born/On a muggy hot morn, by the dawn’s early light”.

Tony Visconti’s bass guitar part on the ‘Looking For Water’ demo was re-recorded by Mark Plati during the studio sessions.

Before the band came in, I’d played bass on all of the demos, and some of my bass parts eventually made it all the way to the album in preference to Mark Plati’s. This was the case on ‘New Killer Star’ – Mark had a go at it, but there was some kind of personality in my bass playing that David preferred, and the same applied to ‘The Loneliest Guy’, ‘Days’ and ‘Fall Dog Bombs The Moon’. It’s Mark’s bass on all of the other tracks, including the part that I wrote for ‘Looking For Water’.
Tony Visconti
Sound On Sound, October 2003

Live performances

David Bowie sang ‘Looking For Water’ live on 44 occasions in 2003 and 2004, making it one of the lesser-played songs on A Reality Tour.

It was first performed on 8 September 2003 at Riverside Studios in London, during a warm-up show for the tour. The final outing was on 17 June the following year, at Koengen in Bergen, Norway.

Previous song: ‘The Loneliest Guy’
Next song: ‘She’ll Drive The Big Car’