This track is in part a tribute to American conceptual artist Chris Burden (April 11, 1946 - May 10, 2015), who once famously nailed himself to a Volkswagen Beetle. Bowie wrote the lyrics in Berlin's Hansa Studio by the Wall while recording his Heroes album.
Joe the lion Went to the bar A couple of drinks on the house and he said 'Tell you who you are if you nail me to my car'
Burden's famous Trans-Fixed piece took place on April 23, 1974 at Speedway Avenue in Venice, California. For his work, the artist lay face up on a Volkswagen and had nails hammered into both of his hands.
Joe the lion Made of iron
Burden lay on the Volkswagen, in the cruciform position. Bowie likens him here to a cross of iron.
Bowie borrowed the bass line from another of his songs, the Hunky Dory track "Changes."