Posted by: daveed | September 23, 2008

Oddities and ends

Now that I’m on this Space Odyssey vibe, I’m going to roll with it for a spell. See where it takes me…

"Major Tom" by MadRatStudio

Thinking about the film brings up recollections of listening to David Bowie’s haunting and trippy “Space Oddity”, one of the first pieces of music that had an emotional effect on me. It’s a haunting song, especially for someone like me with an active imagination, is prone to introspection, and enamored of sci-fi epics. (OK, maybe it really was about getting zonked on heroin; that interpretation would have been completely lost on me at the time.)

“Space Oddity” is so much a product of its time, obviously inspired by Kubrick’s masterpiece, but also derived from present day (for 1969) anxieties about space exploration. It’s a tale about a solitary astronaut blasting off into the Void and leaving everything behind forever. Beautifully constructed around a major-7ths and minor chords, the narration shifts between two distinct voices: “Ground Control” and the astronaut, “Major Tom”. The first, as the name implies, is grounded in science, achievement and celebrity, things that matter on Earth:

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

Next we hear from Tom as he acclimates to the strange orbital environment, followed by an inner monologue about isolation and helplessness. Then the song goes instrumental, marked by freer chord-play and soaring mellotron notes, before the story resumes with the mission failing and Tom forever adrift in space, lost to all.

For such a visually evocative song, it’s a pity that the music video is so underwhelming—just Bowie in his Ziggy-era plumage sitting on a stool, strumming on a guitar, with a couple of shots of an oscillator display. You know, to make it look “techie”. Weak.

There was an earlier cut that was apparently part of an experimental film that Bowie made but never released. This version isn’t nearly as musically interesting or mature. It’s campy, Beatles-esque, poppy. But has a far more intriguing video, with a low-budget, late-60s aesthetic of all things spacy: white backgrounds and uniforms, distorted views, official-looking labels, goofy helmets. And I like in the concluding shots the addition of space sirens leading Tom to a xeno-sexual nirvana. Sweet.

(Props to MadRatStudio for the image of the mixed-media art.)


  1. You might find this amusing if you havent seen it yet

    Bowies in space

  2. That’s great!

    (Shit, now I can’t get “Boh-wee’s in spay-hee-haysss” outta my head…)

  3. Hey Daveed, I appreciate you letting me know you used one of my images, (in future you might want to check with someone before you use their images, some might be upset otherwise) part of the inspiration for this particular piece was the Bowie song, I had it drifting in & out of my head as I worked on it. I also recently read the rest of the space odyssey series which I thought was very interesting. I’ll try & come back later to see the video tom linked to.

  4. Hey Gretchen, thanks for checking in! You made a great piece of art. And I apologize for not asking permission about image use first.

    With the Arthur C. Clarke series, I got through the first two, and enjoyed the novel 2010 much better than the film adaptation. I felt the film was trapped in its own Cold War perspective, whereas Clarke kept the story more about the unfolding mystery of life beyond Earth.

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