Released: 15 September 2003
Earl Slick, David Torn: guitar
Tony Visconti: bass guitar
Sterling Campbell: drums
Gail Ann Dorsey, Catherine Russell: vocals
‘New Killer Star’ is the opening song on David Bowie’s Reality album, and the first single to be issued from it.
It’s an impressionistic piece, I guess, revolving around the idea of actually living in the town where all that took place. And out of it, I’m trying to pull something that has the feeling of positivism about it. The positivism that I’m feeling for this album, for the way that I’ve written it, comes from having this entire family unit – and having a three-year-old daughter. It really is important that I should try and embrace as much positivism in the future as possible. There is no point in me wallowing in some kind of negativity about the future because I have to think for my daughter as well as myself.
Reality was written in the wake of 9/11, and the shadow of the terrorist attacks falls across many of the songs. Bowie stressed that, although he was not directly responding to the events and the subsequent political fallout, he was nonetheless inspired by them.
I’m not a political commentator, but I think there are times when I’m stretched to at least implicate what’s happening politically in the songs that I’m writing. And there was some nod, in a very abstract way, toward the wrongs that are being made at the moment with the Middle Eastern situation. I think that song is a pretty good manifesto for the whole record.
Reality press release
The opening lines of ‘New Killer Star’ – “See the great white star/Over Battery Park” – instantly recall the dust clouds and desecration of the site of the former World Trade Center.
The ghost of the tragedy that happened there is reflected in the song, but I’m trying to make something more positive out of it. The birth of a new star. Not trying to be negative all the time. That’s what I’m kind of aiming for on this album, I think because of my life circumstances, is to produce some degree of positivism out of the situation which can easily prompt one to topple over into the abyss of negativity. It’s very easy to look at the present state of things, and it’s all too much. Indeed, it’s awful, but we have to assume that for every piece of awfulness there’s a good thing that will come about as well. So I’ve struggled hard with that – and I’m telling you it’s a struggle (laughs) – to find a ray of hope.
Performing Songwriter, September/October 2003
Bowie’s optimism was made manifest in the line “Let’s face the music and dance”, a reference to Irving Berlin’s 1936 standard.
I use it as the cliché it is, from those old Fred Astaire movies or whatever, [sings] ‘Well, times can be real bad, but we’ll work our way through this.’ Because it brings all that luggage with it.
Los Angeles City Beat, 9 October 2003
The word ‘star’ occurs in numerous Bowie song titles. ‘New Killer Star’ was his seventh, after ‘The Prettiest Star’, ‘Starman’, ‘Lady Stardust’, ‘Star’, ‘Ziggy Stardust’, and ‘Shining Star (Makin’ My Love)’. He subsequently released ‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’ and ‘★’ (‘Blackstar’).
The ‘New Killer’ of the title is a wordplay on an American pronunciation of ‘nuclear’ – often heard at the time from the then-US president George W Bush.
In 2003 the song was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance, but lost out to ‘Gravedigger’ by Dave Matthews.