Major Tom

by Peter Schilling
from Error In The System (1983)

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 affect
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 are 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."

4, 3, 2, 1...
Earth below us
Drifting, falling
Floating weightless
Calling, calling home

added January 2000


Originally released in 1969 to coincide with the first moon landing, David Bowie's "Space Oddity" was hardly a celebration of man's efforts to reach the stars. The song tells the story of Major Tom, an astronaut who has "really made the grade," and the eyes of the world are on him as he is about to be blasted into space. But Major Tom's solo trip ends in tragedy, as he mysteriously informs ground control that "I'm feeling very still, and I think my spaceship knows which way to go. Tell my wife I love her very much..."

There are a number of takes on this early Bowie classic. One is that this is a song about self-destruction, a theme Bowie would return to in "Rock and Roll Suicide" and on his "Station to Station" album. Clearly Major Tom's demise seems to have been less an accident than a conscious decision to detach himself from the planet below. His circuit abruptly goes dead after his cryptic message to his wife, though there is little doubt that he is still conscious and in some degree of control.

Bowie himself may have shed light on the meaning of the song in 1980 with his follow-up, "Ashes to Ashes." It seems that some time after the disappearance of Major Tom ground control receives a message from the wayward astronaut: "I'm happy, hope you're happy too... I've loved all I've needed to love..." The opinion on earth seems to be that Major Tom is a "junkie, strung out in heaven's high," but hitting "an all-time low." The song is telling in the wake of Bowie's own battle with drugs, a struggle which saw him losing in the mid '70s as his body - like that of Iggy Pop, Mick Jagger, and other contemporaries - was showing clear signs of abuse. In the light of this later song, it would seem that Major Tom is a man who has made the painful transition from a feel-no-pain drug-cowboy to a strung-out junkie desperate to come back down to earth.

Peter Schilling's 1983 hit "Major Tom (I'm Coming Home)" is an excellent early '80s revision of the original "Space Oddity," complete with a techno beat and the obligatory synth work. It is logical that such a work should come from a German artist, as much of Bowie's drying-out period was spent in Berlin. Just as Bowie became an important influence on German musicians, Bowie's work in the late '70s was heavily influenced by his experiences in Germany, from his "Heroes" album disparagingly championing lovers divided by the Berlin Wall, to his soundtrack for a German film about young Berlin heroine addict "Christiane F."

added January 2000 (source)

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