David Bowie’s Where Are We Now video creates a cruise ship riddle

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The release of David Bowie’s haunting new single – which I am catching up on now I’m back from the Caribbean – brought back a number of poignant memories.
The video returned me briefly to Potzdamer Platz, Nurnburgerstrasse, Haupstrasse, and the KaDeWe in Berlin, where Bowie recorded three albums in the 1970s.
It also brought back memories of the night in June 1973 when I interviewed him after the last of four sold-out performances as Ziggy Stardust on stage at Birmingham Town Hall.
Bouncing around in a blue boiler suit, with crooked teeth which had not yet benefitted from cosmetic correction, he chain-smoked his way through a packet of Gitanes as he told me of his plans to record the Pin Ups album, but kept quiet about his plans to retire – which he announced on stage at the Hammersmith Odeon a few days later.
bowie.jpgFull of clues, references and allusions – most of which probably mean nothing – The Where are We Now video raised a question. Why, in the only shots of Bowie in which he is seen full-length, rather than with his face projected on a rag doll. is he wearing a T-shirt with the name of a cruise ship on the front?
Some less enlightened fans have suggested the T-shirt is connected with a 1944 operetta adapted from the music of Edvard Grieg; they have ignored the fact that the writing says: “m/s Song of Norway” and it must, therefore, be a reference to the ship built in 1970.
songofnorway.jpgLaunched in 1970, it was the first of three almost-identical 724-passenger cruise ships (above) built for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines; sailing from Miami it carried 10,000 passengers in its first five months of operation. It was so successful that in 1978 it returned to the shipyard in Finland where it was built in order to be lengthened with the insertion of a new mid-section and the addition of another 150 cabins.
Years later, in the 1990s, the vessel sailed the Mediterranean in Airtours colours, as the Sundream. And if you’re wondering in (almost) the words of Bowie’s song “where is it now,” it was sold last year to a Chinese casino operator.
But why would Bowie want to remember the ship? He was famously reluctant to fly, and travelled to and from Berlin by train. He crossed the Atlantic in the liner Queen Elizabeth 2, and on board the SS France – which in 1979 was renamed SS Norway. Did he ever sail on Song of Norway? Or has he perhaps confused the two ships?
If anyone knows, please update me.

By | 2017-06-15T15:59:40+00:00 14 January 2013|Cruise News|6 Comments

About the Author:

John Honeywell is a travel writer specialising in cruise ships and cruise travel. Winner of CLIA UK's Contribution to Cruise award 2017.

6 Comments

  1. William Shaw 6 July 2013 at 8:50 pm - Reply

    As many have already said , the Song of Norway t-shirt David wears in Where Are We Now could well be a reference to the classic operetta of the same name – written in 1944 and/or the movie released in 1970 which was loosely based on the operetta. It has also been noted that a woman called Hermione Farthingale, then the great love of David’s life, left him in 1969 to be in a film. It was said that David never got over it.
    Others have suggested that the t-shirt might also be a reference to the Norwegian cruise ship, Song of Norway,as it is quite possible David thinks fondly of trips on the ship at some time in his past.
    However,while I feel the message on David’s shirt could well be a subconscious reference to all of those key moments of his eventful life, on another level I believe David is making a subliminal reference to the Norwegian National Anthem – Ja,vi elsker dette landet – which means “Yes,we love this country” , also known as Song For Norway.
    So, why would David make a subliminal reference to the Norwegian National Anthem?
    First of all, I believe the operetta “Song of Norway” takes its name from the Norwegian National Anthem ( Song For Norway ) as one of the three main characters in the 1944 operetta, Rikard Nordaak actually wrote the music for the Norwegian anthem.
    Secondly,following my extensive and painstaking work on David’s gift of 42 words on TND Word Search, here on his official Facebook page, which strongly suggests David cares deeply about human rights issues, I further believe David is making a subliminal connection to the man that wrote the lyrics to the anthem – Rikard Nordaak’s cousin and 1903 Nobel Prize in Literature, Bjornstjerne Bjornson.
    From his youth and forwards, Bjornstjerne Bjornson became a vivid spokesman for the Left-wing movement in Norway and between 1857 – 1868, Bjornson wrote peasant novels “to create a new saga in the light of the peasant” as he put it.
    Importantly, his outspoken political opinions eventually brought him up on a charge of high treason, forcing him to take refuge in Germany for a spell, before returning to Norway where he published a mystical drama, titled ” Beyond Powers” to great success.
    To summarise.
    Creative and outspoken, Bjornstjerne Bjornson was obviously an influential writer and great motivator in his time. a man of the people and champion of the underdog. All virtues I feel David would appreciate and admire in any historical figure.
    Significantly, the powerful and uplifting lyrics to Song For Norway demonstrate Bjornson’s passion for Jesus Christ, which again, is a trait David would very much approve of, given his own admiration for Our Lord. The song also includes references to Olaff II the King of Norway, who was canonised by Pope Alexander IIII – which made him universally recognised as a Saint by the Catholic Church in 1164 for the significant role he played in establishing Christianity in Norway.
    Song For Norway : Verse 7
    Norwegian man in house and cabin,
    thank your great God!
    The country he wanted to protect,
    although things looked dark
    All the fights fathers have fought,
    and the mothers have wept,
    The Lord has quietly moved
    so we won our rights.
    …………. …… . ….. ….. …… …….
    In conclusion, I believe David wore the shirt with the slogan Song of Norway, as a subliminal link to all of the above but in tribute to Our Lord, Jesus Christ in particular.
    Finally, if this has piqued your interest, then please check out my other theories in relation to David’s gift of 42 words on TND Word Search.
    Thank you for your kind attention.
    ( This has been updated from my previous post on July 2nd to include additional material and my conclusion as to why David wore the t-shirt in the first instance )

  2. wok 3 November 2013 at 2:38 pm - Reply

    it is indeed the name of a cruise ship but the significance is that the woman who left him went on to star in a movie adaptation of song of norway (she left him to go be famous). as a coincidence i think the ship of that name was christened shortly after this time.

  3. alex 3 February 2014 at 12:07 am - Reply

    song of norway was the name of the movie that his girlfriend hermione farthingale stared in shortly after leaving him. it is said that he never really got over her. the song, “song for Hermione” was also written about her. seeing as the video in question is a reflection of his earlier life one can only presume that the t shirt is a cryptic reference to her. hope this was of help

  4. Katharine Gregory 19 January 2016 at 5:46 pm - Reply

    It is reference to his former girlfriend Heroine, who left him to appear in the musical of the same name. No cruise ships, sorry!

    • Marck Menke 15 April 2016 at 1:17 am - Reply

      The actual phrase on the shirt “m/s Song of Norway” does refer to a ship, presumably the well-known cruise ship. Whether it is also intended to be a vague reference to Hermione Farthingale has not been determined. About eighteen years before the release of The Next Day, in 1996 or so, the ship was sold and it’s name was changed from ‘Song of Norway’ to something else. Did Bowie take a cruise many years previous and decided to wear an old tee-shirt from the trip? It would be interesting to know if tee-shirts in that style were ever actually sold or given to passengers by the cruise line.

  5. Brian 2 October 2016 at 12:22 am - Reply

    In 1986 – 1987 I worked onboard Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines M/S Song of America in the Gift Shops and we sold the exact same shirts that David is wearing in that photo in both navy blue and in white. I still have one exactly like David’s but with M/S Song of America printed on it. The then four ships in the RCCL fleet all were under contract to the same Gift Shop operator (Florida Export, now renamed Starboard) and carried the same items, but with each ship having their name printed on items such as tee shirts, coffee mugs, beach towels, and so on. The “M/S” by the way, stands for “Motor Ship” just like “S/S” stands for “Steam Ship”. David’s M/S Song of Norway tee shirt could only have been purchased onboard the M/S Song of Norway. Hope this has been helpful.

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