Ground Control to Major Tom from Space
A scene from "2001: A Space Odyssey." 2001
Back in 2013, astronaut Chris Hadfield performed a cover of one of Bowie's most famous songs, "Space Oddity, " from aboard the International Space Station. The ISS was a fitting venue for a performance of the space-themed song, but there's a lot more behind "Space Oddity" than most people know.
"Space Oddity" came out in 1969, the same year American astronauts landed on the moon, prompting many to think the lunar landing inspired the song.
However, Bowie revealed in 2003 interview with the magazine Performing Songwriter that it was actually inspired by the 1968 science-fiction film "2001: A Space Odyssey":
In England, it was always presumed that it was written about the space landing, because it kind of came to prominence around the same time. But it actually wasn't. It was written because of going to see the film 2001, which I found amazing. I was out of my gourd anyway, I was very stoned when I went to see it, several times, and it was really a revelation to me. It got the song flowing.
It's easy to see the similarities if you watch the official music video and compare it to the film. The music video uses similar lighting and has a similar vibe to "2001: A Space Odyssey."
But some have gone on to analyze the song further. The lyrics describe the fictional Major Tom who blasts off into space, but then loses connection with ground control, and gets lost. Bowie was a known drug user at the time, so many have speculated that the song could be metaphor for a drug overdose.
And it's fair to say the music video (and "2001: A Space Odyssey" for that matter) has a pretty trippy vibe.
"Ashes to ashes / funk to funky / We know Major Tom's a junkie / Strung out in heaven's high / Hitting an all-time low, " the chorus goes.
Still, the accidental association with the moon landing may have been solidified when, according to Bowie, "Space Oddity" was used as background music for the historic event on British television. As he told Performing Songwriter in 2003:
I'm sure they really weren’t listening to the lyric at all (laughs). It wasn't a pleasant thing to juxtapose against a moon landing. Of course, I was overjoyed that they did.