Bowie's Space Oddities


Bow-wow-ie (with tackle intact)

The Thin White Duke, Thomas Jerome Newton, Halloween Jack, Major Tom.  The identities are endless.  But there is only one David Bowie.

And what better excuse than the man’s 60th birthday for the Difference Engine to celebrate 6 science fictional extrapolations from Bowie’s magnificent canon.

Diamond Dogs

Post-apocalyptic science fiction album from 1974.  Bowie appears on the cover, of course, as half-man, half-dog.  A heady mix of Orwell’s 1984 and Bowie’s own dystopian vision of mutated life in a post-Bomb world.  The album featured its own lead character in Halloween Jack (hello, Tim Burton!), and the songs are truly inspired, ‘Big Brother’, ‘Sweet Thing’/’Candidate’, and the Isaac Hayes-inspired style of ‘1984’. And who can forget that the record company were forced to airbrush out Bowie’s canine tackle off the front cover.  Marvelous.

Space Oddity

Okay, so you think Kubrick’s timing was smart with A_Space_Odyssey%28film%29”>2001: A Space Odyssey?  Bowie’s was even better.  With a clear nod to Stanley’s masterpiece, this was his first hit single.  Major Tom, a fictional astronaut, becomes mysteriously lost in space.  The song is just as ambiguous and enigmatic as the film that inspired it.  Whither Major Tom?  Search me.  Released in Apollo 11 moon landing, the BBC featured the song in its television coverage of the first lunar landing in history.  Now that’s what I call product placement.

Life on Mars?

 

First released in 1971 from the album Hunky Dory.  The song has its origins when Bowie was asked to write English lyrics to the French song ‘Comme d’habitude’.  But Paul Anka beat him to it with ‘My Way’, later made famous by the great dark Frank Sinatra.  ‘Life on Mars?’ was Bowie’s retort to losing out on a fortune.  It has the same chord structure as ‘My Way’.  Indeed, as Bowie pointed out in an interview with the BBC, it is a modernist take on the Anka/Sinatra song.

‘Life on Mars’ has two parts. The first is about a young girl absconding to the cinema after a row with her parents.  The film turns out to be a ‘saddening bore/For she’s lived it ten times or more.’ The second half of the song is the voice of the filmmaker, who shares the same sense of dissatisfaction, with his creation (‘cause I wrote it ten times or more’).  The ‘is there life on Mars?’ refrain takes this disenchantment on board.  Both Bowie and the girl can’t believe that this is all there is to life on earth.

Besides, it also inspired the critically acclaimed BBC Wales-produced time travel police drama that graced our screens in 2006.  Soon to return!

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars

 

Ziggy was a Martian.  Okay, I know, he also ‘played guitar’ but his role on Earth was to liberate humanity from banality.  And the opiate drenched concept album from 1972 did just that.  From the opening track, ‘Five Years’, with its doom-laden portrayal of an Earth on an imminent collision course, to the heady optimism of ‘Starman’, the album is replete with SF. ‘Wham, bam, thank you ma’am’.

In 1997 Ziggy Stardust was named the 20th greatest album of all time in a ‘Music of the Millennium’ poll conducted by HMV, Channel 4, The Guardian and Classic FM. In 1998 Q magazine readers placed it at number 24, while in 2003 the TV network VH1 placed it at number 48. It was named the 35th best album ever made by Rolling Stone on their list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. In 2000 Q placed it at number 25 in its list of the 100 Greatest British Albums Ever.

In July 2003, for the album’s 30th anniversary, select songs were broadcast into deep space using a high-tech laser beam from Roswell, New Mexico.  Cosmic.
 
The Man Who Fell to Earth

 

In Nicholas Roeg’s cult SF film from 1976, Bowie plays Thomas Jerome Newton, an extraterrestrial on Earth looking for a way to save his drought-stricken planet, Anthea, by constructing a spaceship to ferry his people to ‘safety’.  Newton reveals that Earth will soon succumb to an enormous war when, in the upcoming presidential elections, the Republican Party will take power and transform the USA into a militaristic war-machine within ten years.  Hmmm.  The Antheans he will ferry to Earth will flourish and hopefully make use of their super-intellect to guide the Earth to peace, prosperity, and safety from the apocalypse.  We’re ready, brother!

Sunday

 

Sunday is the science fictional opening track from Bowie’s 2002 return-to-form album, Heathen.  I’ve no idea if its really SF, but in my mind it certainly is.  You simply must listen to it!

So, come on, gentle reader, what have I missed out?  Talk to me!



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