Monday, July 20, 2009
Take Your Protein Pills and Put Your Helmet On: David Bowie's "Space Oddity"
It would be a shame to let the 40th anniversary of man's landing on the moon pass without giving a shoutout to Major Tom, David Bowie's fictional astronaut made famous in his brilliant debut "Space Oddity."
In addition to eerily capturing the feeling of liftoff and the courage, lonliness, awe and alienation that accompany space travel (or so I would imagine), Bowie cannily gives a nod to the inevitable crass commercialism that follows suit:
This is Ground Control to Major Tom
You've really made the grade
And the papers want to know whose shirt you wear
Now it's time to leave the capsule if you dare
"Space Oddity," which also nods to Stanley Kubrick's mind-blowing masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey, was rush-released in 1969 to capitalize on its au courant nature, and this simple video captures the mood of the song perfectly. Bowie, with his otherworldly presence, strums his guitar surrounded by recording equipment which could easily pass for an Apollo 11 control panel.
Many of the astronauts who walked on the moon had trouble readjusting to life back on earth. Second-Man-on-the-Moon Buzz Aldrin, pictured above, struggled for years with alcoholism and once punched out a conspiracy theorist who told him his whole life was a lie.
Thus, it was a masterstroke for Bowie to pick up Major Tom's story 11 years later with "Ashes to Ashes" from the great (perhaps Bowie's last great) 1980 album Scary Monsters. Major Tom, faded from the front page, was now a junkie in a padded cell.
Let us also take a moment to pay tribute to Walter Cronkite, who passed away last week and so memorably captured the spirit of John Q. Public when he covered the moon landing on CBS.
And if you believe the whole space travel thing was just one giant conspiracy, keeping a fake moon landing under wraps for 40 years is almost as impressive as actually going there. RIP WC.
And that's the way it is.