Watch David Bowie & Annie Lennox in Rehearsal, Singing “Under Pressure,” with Queen (1992)

It’s com­mon to feel like we know our artists, writ­ers, musi­cians, actors… we want so bad­ly to touch their lives in some way, as their lives touch ours. This over­whelm­ing desire is respon­si­ble for a huge mar­ket share of our mass media, from the most taste­less tabloid hit jobs to the most respect­ful long­form essays. Since David Bowie’s pass­ing, we’ve seen no short­age of the lat­ter, and thank­ful­ly lit­tle of the for­mer.

Vul­ture has col­lect­ed some of the best of these online trib­ute arti­cles and obit­u­ar­ies, and one in particular—Judy Berman’s “We Always Knew Who David Bowie Real­ly Was”—has res­onat­ed with me. Berman cuts through “all the clichés about how he was a chameleon or a shape-shifter or opaque or unknow­able” and shows some of the ways Bowie made him­self inti­mate­ly avail­able in his work.

Bowie’s self-rev­e­la­tion by way of the­atrics and cos­tume changes resem­bles the less intel­lec­tu­al, more emo­tion­al, vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty of his friend and col­lab­o­ra­tor Fred­die Mer­cury. Just as musi­cians around the world cel­e­brate, and mourn, Bowie now, he per­formed a sim­i­lar ser­vice for Mer­cury 24 years ago at Lon­don’s Wem­b­ley Sta­di­um for an audi­ence of 72,000 peo­ple, along with the remain­ing mem­bers of Queen and a full ros­ter of super­stars. Bowie did four songs in total, but the most poignant was cer­tain­ly “Under Pres­sure,” which he’d com­posed with Mer­cury 11 years ear­li­er. The song became, of course, a mas­sive hit (twice over, thanks to Vanil­la Ice’s appro­pri­a­tion). It’s wrench­ing lyrics also gave us yet more insight into Bowie’s per­son­al­i­ty: his fears, his sense, as Berman writes, “of how fleet­ing and insignif­i­cant one human life is in the grand scheme of the uni­verse,” and his defi­ance in the face of that knowl­edge.

In the video at the top of the post, you can see Bowie, Annie Lennox, John Dea­con, Roger Tay­lor, and Bri­an May rehears­ing “Under Pres­sure” for the Mer­cury trib­ute, with an audi­ence of just them­selves and a few crew peo­ple. Bowie has one of his regret­tably ubiq­ui­tous cig­a­rettes in hand and an enor­mous grin on his face as he watch­es Lennox belt out Mer­cury’s parts. The per­for­mance on show day, above, is pow­er­ful and pitch per­fect, but the loose, infor­mal rehearsal footage is more of a treat for those of us eager for as much of the unguard­ed Bowie as we can get. For even more stripped-down, behind-the-scenes Bowie, lis­ten to an a cap­pel­la ver­sion of “Under Pres­sure” with Mer­cury, and learn all about how that song came to be.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Lis­ten to Fred­die Mer­cury and David Bowie on the Iso­lat­ed Vocal Track for the Queen Hit ‘Under Pres­sure,’ 1981

The Mak­ing of Queen and David Bowie’s 1981 Hit “Under Pres­sure”: Demos, Stu­dio Ses­sions & More

David Bowie and Cher Sing Duet of “Young Amer­i­cans” and Oth­er Songs on 1975 Vari­ety Show

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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