Ground Control to Major Tom

Time-travel dramedy SPEED OF LIFE makes its Texas Premiere with Other Worlds Orbiter on Wednesday, August 28th (7:30pm) at Galaxy Highland Theatre. Tickets available now!

There are major tragedies in everyone’s life that they can recall — where they were and how they reacted when they heard terrible news. For example, 9/11 and the Challenger Shuttle explosion are ingrained in my brain.

I’ve met people who spoke passionately about their personal memories upon the news of the death of Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, Lou Reed, Lemmy of Motorhead.

For me, the musical icon’s death who I’ve been most moved by has been David Bowie - it came across my Facebook feed on January 10, 2016, leaving me stunned and in disbelief. “It’s not possible -- it has to be a hoax” I shouted. Once the realization set in, all I could do was cry and listen to the beloved Bowie songs I grew up with. That night I joined a packed theater at Alamo Drafthouse Lakeline thanks to James Pound who threw together an impromptu David Bowie dance party. We sang and danced together in the aisles, replacing our tears with sweat and smiles.

Recent news of an upcoming TV series adaptation of David Bowie’s 1976 classic SciFi film THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH, along with the catalyst in our Orbiter Screening of SPEED OF LIFE, brought back tears and memories of Bowie’s death.

bowiemovie.jpg

Bowie starred in the original film as Thomas Jerome Newton, an alien posing as a human in an attempt to save his home planet.

Alex Kurtzman, who has previously worked on STAR TREK, and Jenny Lumet (RACHEL GETTING MARRIED) are the writers, executive producers, and co-showrunners of the new series. Kurtzman will also direct.

Interestingly, Bowie was heavily influenced by science and technology in his music and other creative endeavors. His song “Space Oddity,” which was inspired by Stanley Kubrick's film 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968), is about the launch of a fictional astronaut, Major Tom. The song was released during the “Space Race” era — on July 11, 1969, just five days prior to the launch of the United States' Apollo 11 mission, with the first manned moon landing on July 20, 1969. Watch the official video for Bowie’s “Space Oddity” below:

Before Bowie became THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH on film in 1976, he’d already manifested his own androgynous persona as an alien on Earth with the 1972 quintessential concept album “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.” In my opinion, the album is best experienced in its entirety.

Standout SciFi-related tracks from the album include “Moonage Daydream," “Starman,” and of course “Ziggy Stardust” — supposedly Bowie was partially influenced to create the character of Ziggy after his interactions with singer Vince Taylor, who was convinced that he was part god, part alien.

I can’t reference the Spiders from Mars without thinking of one of my favorite Bowie songs of all time, “Life on Mars.” Released in 1973, it is a vividly surreal SciFi anthem combining abstract lyrics with a emotional melody. The music video may seem minimalistic, but the switch from color to black and white makes for an intriguing contrast in Bowie’s appearance and performance.

Meanwhile, what happened to our astronaut Major Tom? Did he meet his death upon re-entry into the atmosphere, or is he still somewhere in space?

Although “Space Oddity” also alludes to the demise of the astronaut, Major Tom reappears in 1980 in the hauntingly evocative song "Ashes to Ashes."

"My mother said, to get things done, you'd better not mess with Major Tom"

Directed by Bowie and David Mallet, the music video for “Ashes to Ashes” is burned into my memory cells. Bowie in his Pierrot costume along with Visage’s Steve Strange and other members of the London’s Blitz Kids and the New Romantic music movement. The androgynous costumes and makeup along with the incorporation of solarised colour and black and white video contributes an otherworldly quality to the music video seen below:

As Gary Oldman stated in his speech at the Brit Awards tribute, David Bowie was “the very definition, the living embodiment of that singular word: icon.”

David Bowie was an icon to fans and his fellow artists worldwide, as evidenced by many covers of his music both during his lifetime and postmortem. The 1982 Bauhaus cover of Ziggy Stardust serves as a visual time capsule of the post-punk/gothic rock era of the Eighties.

Some of my favorite covers of Bowie’s iconic songs are from AMERICAN HORROR STORY: FREAK SHOW, with an outstanding performance by Jessica Lange as Elsa Mars. Lange performed “Life on Mars” in the season premiere and “Heroes” as the literal final curtain call for her character. Lange’s suit and makeup is an homage to Bowie’s ice blue suit and makeup from the original music video of “Life on Mars."

Of all the musical artists who performed Bowie’s songs as a tribute in the weeks following his death, by far the live performance of progressive rock musician Steven Wilson covering “Space Oddity” most strikes an emotional chord. I hope that one day I can watch this version that Wilson and Ninet Tayeb made without crying, but I don’t think that will be in the near future.

As astutely put by writer Kirsty Diana Smith, “although David Bowie could die a mortal death, he will never truly cease to exist.” I certainly agree that he’ll always be somewhere in the universe, just as he created timeless characters that exist beyond the stars.