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, baritone saxophone, harmonica
Gerry Leonard/Earl Slick: guitar
Mark Plati: bass guitar
Sterling Campbell: drums
Gail Ann Dorsey, Catherine Russell: vocals

‘She’ll Drive The Big Car’ appears on David Bowie’s Reality album. Let down by her boyfriend, the song’s protagonist drives along Riverside Drive in Manhattan and ponders crashing into the Hudson River to end her life.

This one is a tragic little story about a lady and her family. And she lives in the wrong part of town, but she wants to live in an even badder, wronger part of town. But her would-be affair, her boyfriend, doesn’t turn up. You’ve heard this story a million times, I don’t know why I have to tell you again. Anyway, you’ve seen the movie, this is the song.
David Bowie, 8 September 2003
Riverside Studios, London

The themes of escape from domestic humdrum and yearning for an old life of freedom recurred several times in Bowie’s career, going as far back as ‘Maid Of Bond Street’ and ‘Life On Mars?’.

All her plans have been disassembled by her thoughtless boyfriend who didn’t show up to take her back to the old bohemian life, so she’s stuck with this middle-class family and absolutely, desperately unhappy as she’s peeling along Riverside Drive. In my mind, she just swings it off to the left and takes the whole lot down. You know what I mean? I see it as a sad song, but I kind of left it open. She’s turning the radio up high so she doesn’t have to think anymore when she makes her decision to go over the edge.
David Bowie
Interview magazine, October 2003

Bowie rarely provided a clear narrative in his songs, and often masked their true meanings with imagery and wordplay. ‘She’ll Drive The Big Car’ is an exception, one of his most straightforward pieces of storytelling, in which he seemingly revelled in the choice of language – it includes ‘lugged’, ‘shabby’, ‘cormorants’, words rarely used in popular music.

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

In addition to guitar and synth, Bowie added Stylophone and saxophone to some of the Reality tracks, and even played harmonica on ‘She’ll Drive The Big Car’ for the first time since the 1980s. He also played saxophone on ‘She’ll Drive The Big Car’, as well as ‘Pablo Picasso’, and ‘Try Some, Buy Some’.

Live performances

David Bowie performed ‘She’ll Drive The Big Car’ live on just seventeen occasions, making it one of the least-played songs on A Reality Tour.

Its live debut was on 19 August 2003 at The Chance in Poughkeepsie, New York. Two more performances followed before the release of Reality, on 5 September in Saint-Denis for the France 2 TV show Trafic.musique, and three days later at London’s Riverside Studios, where the album was played in full to an audience of BowieNet members.

‘She’ll Drive The Big Car’ was last performed on 24 January 24 at the General Motors Place in Vancouver, Canada.

Previous song: ‘Looking For Water’
Next song: ‘Days’