The tune in the back of my head, when I’m running errands, taking a walk, in the shower, is often the same. It’s just on, the chord progression, and I start to hum. When it comes to my conscious attention, I wonder how it is possible that I’ve been running the same song in my head since 1982, the summer I played the Queen/David Bowie single “Under Pressure” on constant, endless repeat. 1982!

There have been other songs. A few things I learned on piano before I was 10 (“One Tin Soldier,” anyone?). There was the summer of “I will always love you.” Also Brian Eno’s “Music for Airports” and perhaps some Andrew Lloyd Weber I’d prefer not to specify. But so often, I realize, it’s Under Pressure on repeat.

If you know the tune, it may not be the part you’re thinking of, not that first catchy “dum dum dum dum de dum bum, dum dum dum dum de dum bum…” And not the big loud main repeat “Pressure! Pressing down on me, pressing down on you, no man ask for.” The part that floats up uninvited doesn’t come until the end, what online lyrics label the “outro.” It’s a slow, building, upward climbing melody, different from the rest of the song. I don’t usually hear the lyrics in my head, though I’ll give you the lyrics which might bring it to mind for you. Bowie sings this slowed-down, rising-up-the-scale, insistent refrain: “Cause Love’s such an old fashioned word, and love dares you to care for the people on the edge of the night. And love dares you to change our way of caring about ourselves. This is our last dance. This is our last dance. This is ourselves, under pressure.”

The last bit releases this section of the song, back into the deet deet deet of the main hook. I can sing the whole song to myself, but only the outro cycles in my background.

It’s a great song, haunting and beautiful. The repeating, building movement of the notes touches me. It’s tugging, insistent. And I’m moved by the lyrics, and the hope. But it’s hard not to wonder about what it means that I’ve cycled a song about pressure at the forefront of my playlist for nearly 40 years.

OK, I am a stress bunny, which is part of how I get things done. My lists pile up, an insistent climb not unlike the music builds. But surely I’m not always on the verge of the kind of pressure that “burns a building down, splits a family in two, puts people on streets.” I mean, am I?

Hm. Well there is a lot going on.

I have a teenager. I’m starting to think that teens are happier when they know you feel their pain, but they don’t really like empathy (at least mine doesn’t seem to). So when they manage to upset you, it calms them, like we’re taking on some of the emotional work and sharing the burden. There’s been a lot of sharing the burden in our house. 

And my dad’s dementia progresses, as Alzheimer’s does; the days he knows who I am are fewer and further apart.

My little guy had the flu for a week, which delayed and piled up other commitments.

Life is always piling on, and it never stops until it stops. So maybe it’s a good song to have on the loop. As Bowie croons just before the outro:

Can’t we give ourselves one more chance?
Why can’t we give love that one more chance?
Why can’t we give love, give love, give love, give love
Give love, give love, give love, give love?

… and of course he has the answer. And I guess it’s a sort of musical mantra I’ve been playing for many years.

‘Cause love’s such an old fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the edge of the night
And love dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves
This is our last dance
This is our last dance
This is ourselves under pressure
Under pressure