“Space Oddity,” “Major Tom,” “Ashes to Ashes,” “Hallo Spaceboy” — David Bowie, Peter Schilling

Song of the Day for January 8, 2014
“I’ve never done good things. I’ve never done bad things. I never did anything out of the blue.”

Song of the Day for January 8, 2014Today is the day in 1642 that Galileo Galilei died at his villa near Florence, under house arrest for the heresy of defending heliocentrism. The Bible says the Earth is fixed to foundations and the Sun revolves around it. Galileo got into trouble for siding with Copernicus, who’d supported a heliocentric system a hundred years before. My favorite story about Galileo is probably apocryphal: As he was being led away from the Court of the Inquisition in July, 1633 to begin his house arrest, he allegedly muttered “Eppur si muove” (and yet it moves). Rascal. He might as well have said “Moondust will cover you.”

This is also the day in 1889 when Herman Hollerith patented his Tabulating Machine, an early electromechanical data processor that was used in the 1890 Census. Hollerith’s company later changed its name to International Business Machines (IBM).

Song of the Day for January 8, 2014How does Bowie fit in? We’re getting to Bowie.

When science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke and director Stanley Kubrick collaborated on the 1968 film “2001: A Space Odyssey,” it was to Galileo’s beloved Jupiter that the crew of Discovery 1 was heading, autopiloted by the computer H.A.L. 9000.

Advance the initials of “Hal” by just one letter of the alphabet and you’ve got IBM.

Kubrick’s movie and Clarke’s subsequent novelization inspired Bowie’s grandiose tale of an extraterrestrial tragedy, and he wrote “Space Oddity” in 1969.

Today is David Bowie’s 67th birthday. I didn’t realize this until I was ready to hit Publish on this story. Between Galileo and Hollerith and Bowie, well, we’re really going Into the Infinite today.

“Tell my wife I love her very much,” says Major Tom to Ground Control.

“She KNOWS,” says Ground Control, as if the Major won’t shut up about it.

11 years later, Bowie had bounced from London to Studio 54 to Berlin, and when he revisited Major Tom in “Ashes to Ashes,” the good Major had been wrung through the mill. Bowie called the song an epitaph for his 70’s personae. The video is spectral and arresting.

In 1983, German Peter Schilling released “Major Tom (Coming Home),” which continued the Major Tom legend from where “Space Oddity” left off, as if “Ashes to Ashes” never existed.

One might say “(Coming Home)” was the “Exorcist III” to “Space Oddity”s “The Exorcist.”


The German version of the song is not an exact translation, and is a little chilling.

“Earth below us, drifting, falling, floating weightless” becomes “Völlig losgelöst, von der Erde/
Schwebt das Raumschiff, völlig schwerelos” (Completely detached from the Earth hovers the weightless spaceship).

Later, where the English version says “This is my home; I’m coming home,” the German version translates to something like, “By all that you do not yet know, I’ll be cold.”

Finally, in a remix of Bowie’s “Hallo Spaceboy,” the Pet Shop Boys bring Major Tom back, using him as a soldier in a lifestyle war.

But Bowie’s original lyric (seen here in this amazing version from Berlin in 2002) doesn’t mention Major Tom at all.

Space Oddity” by David Bowie
Year: 1969
Composer: David Bowie


Ground Control to Major Tom:
Take your protein pills
and put your helmet on!

Ground Control to Major Tom
Commencing countdown,
engines on
Check ignition
and may God’s love be with you

Ten, Nine, Eight, Seven, Six, Five, Four, Three, Two, One, Liftoff

This is Ground Control
to Major Tom:
You’ve really made the grade
And the papers want to know whose shirts you wear
Now it’s time to leave the capsule
if you dare

This is Major Tom to Ground Control:
I’m stepping through the door
And I’m floating
in a most peculiar way
And the stars look very different today

For here
Am I sitting in a tin can
Far above the world
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s nothing I can do

Though I’m past
One hundred thousand miles
I’m feeling very still
And I think my spaceship knows which way to go
Tell my wife I love her very much
She Knows!

Ground Control to Major Tom
Your circuit’s dead,
There’s something wrong!
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you….

Here am I floating
round my tin can
Far above the Moon
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s nothing I can do.

Song of the Day for January 8, 2014Ashes To Ashes” by David Bowie
Year: 1980
Composer: David Bowie

Do you remember a guy that’s been
In such an early song
I’ve heard a rumour from Ground Control…
(Oh no, don’t say it’s true)

They got a message
from the Action Man
“I’m happy, hope you’re happy too
I’ve loved
all I’ve needed to love
Sordid details following…”

The shrieking of nothing is killing
Just pictures of Jap girls
In synthesis and I
Ain’t got no money and I ain’t got no hair
But I’m hoping to kick but the planet it’s glowing

Ashes to ashes, funk to funky
We know Major Tom’s a junkie
Strung out in heaven’s high
Hitting an all-time low

Time and again I tell myself
I’ll stay clean tonight
But the little green wheels are following me
Oh no, not again
I’m stuck with a valuable friend
“I’m happy, hope you’re happy too”
One flash of light
but no smoking pistol

I never done good things
I never done bad things
I never did anything out of the blue,
Want an axe to break the ice
Wanna come down right now

My mother said
to get things done
You’d better not mess
with Major Tom

Major Tom (Coming Home)” by Peter Schilling
Year: 1983
Composer: Peter Schilling


Standing there alone, the ship is waiting
All systems are go, are you sure?
Control is not convinced
But the computer has the evidence
No need to abort

The countdown starts

Watching in a trance, the crew is certain
Nothing left to chance, all is working
Trying to relax, up in the capsule
“Send me up a drink”, jokes Major Tom
The count goes on

4, 3, 2, 1
Earth below us, drifting falling
Floating weightless, calling calling home

Second stage is cut, we’re now in orbit
Stabilizers up, running perfect
Starting to collect, requested data
What will it effect, when all is done
Thinks Major Tom

Back at ground control, there is a problem
Go to rockets full, not responding
Hello Major Tom, are you receiving
Turn the thrusters on, we’re standing by
There’s no reply

4, 3, 2, 1
Earth below us, drifting, falling
Floating, weightless, calling, calling, home

Across the stratosphere
A final message, “Give my wife my love”
Then nothing more

Far beneath the ship, the world is mourning
They don’t realize, he’s alive
No one understands but Major Tom sees
Now the light commands, this is my home
I’m coming home

Earth below us, drifting, falling
Floating, weightless, coming home
Earth below us, drifting, falling
Floating, weightless, coming home

Earth below us, drifting, falling
Floating, weightless, coming, coming home

Hallo Spaceboy” by David Bowie
Year: 1996
Composer: David Bowie


(Hallo) Spaceboy, you’re sleepy now
Your silhouette is so stationary
You’re released but your custody calls
And I want to be free

Don’t you want to be free?
Do you like girls or boys?
It’s confusing these days
But Moondust will cover you
(Cover you)

This chaos is killing me

So bye bye love
Yeah bye bye love
Bye bye love
Yeah bye bye love

This chaos is killing me

And the chaos is calling me

Yeah bye bye love

This chaos is killing me
This chaos is killing me

Yeah bye bye love
Bye bye love
Good time love
Be sweet sweet dove
Bye bye Spaceboy
Bye bye love

Moondust will cover you!


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    • Old 'n' cranky on January 8, 2014 at 10:05 am
    • Reply

    Trash “Exorcist III,” will you? :-O

    Featuring as it does the SCARIEST MOMENT IN THE HISTORY OF CINEMA? (in the hospital, with that sheet-covered person suddenly lurches into the frame, chasing after that nurse and brandishing the bone shears?) Plus, I mean, Brad Dourif is an acting DEMIGOD–to whom you owe an apology.

    Wait. Unless, of course, you DO properly appreciate the film…in which case you’re giving “Major Tom (Coming Home)” way too much relatively credit.

    Now I’m confused.

    Look, let’s all just agree that you need to apologize to Brad Dourif, either way. Give him a call. Don’t be a big shot.

  1. I LOVE “Exorcist III” for just that reason in addition to the very enjoyable relationship between the cop and the priest — something that was also great about the first movie — and Father Karras’s cameo. And Brad Dourif was great in his 80’s horror actor incarnation (he was also Chucky). Still, I’ll give him a call. Wormtongue owes me money.

    • Old 'n' cranky on January 9, 2014 at 11:26 am
    • Reply

    Also: earlier this year, while working on “real-time social media response”/whatever-you-call-it for a Prominent Financial Institution (um…they’re a Bank, and they’re [cough] of America)…I came THIS CLOSE–like, within hours/inches–of successfully getting a video tribute posted to their social channels which featured “Major Tom (Coming Home)” song. (It was a salute to Commander Hadfield–remember him?–after his “Space Oddity” thing took the internets by storm…)

    Within a day or so we had a rough cut, client loved it. Talked to Schilling’s people in Germany and everything, they were into it. Even agreed on a reasonable fee for the licensing.

    But then the Canadian Space Agency wouldn’t/couldn’t license us the footage we had wanted to use, and we were dead in the water.

    True story.

    It would have been worth it, just to write a check to Peter Schilling that I knew came partially from my own taxes/TARP bail-out money.

    1. Was it because you’re always trying to license the image of Anne Murray’s face on the moon from the Canadian Space Agency? They were embarrassed when that was revealed to be a hoax. I’m sorry and not sorry that a bank that once charged me #350 for a Venti Mocha from Starbucks didn’t get the benefit of a schilling.

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