Major Tom

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Major Tom is an astronaut referenced in David Bowie's songs "Space Oddity", "Ashes to Ashes", and "Hallo Spaceboy" (particularly in the remix by the Pet Shop Boys). Bowie's own interpretation of the character evolved throughout his career. 1969's "Space Oddity" depicts an astronaut who casually slips the bonds of the world to journey beyond the stars. In the 1980 song "Ashes to Ashes," Bowie reinterprets Major Tom as an oblique autobiographical symbol for himself. Major Tom is described as a "junkie, strung out in heavens high, hitting an all-time low". This lyric was interpreted as a play on the title of Bowie's 1977 album Low, which charted his withdrawal following his drug abuse in the United States. A short time later, there is another reversal of Major Tom's original withdrawal, turning 'outwards' or towards space.[1]

In 1983, Peter Schilling continued the story of Major Tom in his hit single "Major Tom (Coming Home)". Other artists who have subsequently made substantial contributions to the Major Tom story include K.I.A. and The Tea Party, among others. Due to some similarities in Elton John's "Rocket Man", there is a possible connection between the Rocket Man and Major Tom, a connection notably made by Bowie himself, who while singing Space Oddity in concert would sometimes call out, "Oh, Rocket Man!"[2]

Songs[edit]

In "Space Oddity", from the 1969 album David Bowie (later retitled Space Oddity), Major Tom's departure from Earth is successful and everything goes according to plan. At a certain point during the travel ('past one hundred thousand miles'), he thinks that "my spaceship knows which way to go" and proceed to say "Tell my wife I love her very much." Control then informs him, "Ground Control to Major Tom: your circuit's dead, there's something wrong" and attempt to reestablish contact with Major Tom. Tom's final words in the song (possibly not heard by Ground Control) are: "Here... am I sitting in my tin can, far above the world. Planet Earth is blue and there's nothing I can do."

In the 1969 music video version, David Bowie plays as Major Tom, Ground Control (GC), and the Countdown Announcer. When the lyrics "And the stars look very different today" are said, two lovely women appear, portraying either angels or aliens, or perhaps both. The moment "Though I'm past one hundred thousand miles, I'm feeling very still" are said, the two women can be seen removing Major Tom's helmet and spacesuit. Later a still fully outfitted Major Tom can be seen spinning around in space, with a panicked Ground Control attempting to contact him; the spinning Major Tom is either the reality of the situation, or Ground Control's imagination. The music video ends with Major Tom sitting in his tin can, far above the Moon, with the two women by his side in a ménage à trois style.[3]

In 1980, Bowie created a sequel entitled "Ashes to Ashes". The song was a Number 1 hit single and also appeared on his Number 1 LP Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps). The song doesn't actually say much about Major Tom, except to call him a "junkie" (slang for a person with a heroin addiction or other compulsive habit[4]). The context of the lyrics seems to indicate that the song is mainly about Bowie's own soul searching, rather than a literal continuation of the Major Tom story.

In Peter Schilling's 1983 song "Major Tom (Coming Home)" Tom sends a final message, "Give my wife my love..." with no transmissions back to Earth from that point. He then declares that he's "coming home", being commanded by the light, which can be taken to refer to the afterlife. The associated music video also shows an object falling back through the atmosphere, presumably either Major Tom or his ship. In this song the word "light" in "now the Light commands" is often heard or transcribed as "life" but the liner notes of the Error in the System LP (and the original German) confirm the word "light." The German-language version "Völlig losgelöst" is contained in Schilling's 1983 German LP Fehler im System. Both albums also contain a different song without lyrics entitled "Major Tom, Part II". In 1994, Schilling teamed with Bomm-Bastic to record a sped-up Techno-Trance Mix of "Major Tom (Coming Home)" that was released in English and German versions under the EP title of Major Tom '94.

Also in 1983, Schilling's song was recorded in French by Plastic Bertrand, but with slightly altered lyrics, in which Major Tom prefers to stay away from Earth and its selfishness and danger of nuclear war.

The title track of Matthew Wilder's 1984 LP Bouncin' Off the Walls tells a similar story of an unnamed character having a personal crisis while piloting a spacecraft: "Tell my family I love them.... I can't handle this at all.... May Day, I'm fallin'."[5] The connection to Major Tom is otherwise not stated.[citation needed]

In 1995, Bowie released a song entitled "Hallo Spaceboy" on his LP Outside. While this song itself does not directly reference Major Tom, references to Major Tom do appear in the remixed version that Bowie released with the Pet Shop Boys in 1996. The 1996 remix contains lyrics from "Space Oddity" that are sung by Pet Shop Boys vocalist Neil Tennant.

At the Drive-In's 2000 song "Cosmonaut" was sometimes introduced at live shows by a recorded "final message" from Major Tom before he dies in space. The message does not appear in the recorded version of "Cosmonaut", which itself has no apparent connection to Major Tom.

In 2002, K.I.A. created a song entitled "Mrs. Major Tom" on his Adieu Shinjuku Zulu album, where the song is sung by Larissa Gomes. Here the story is told from the perspective of Major Tom's wife left at home. The song was also sung (solo) by Sheryl Crow in a new arrangement on William Shatner's 2011 album Seeking Major Tom.

In 2004, The Tea Party created a song entitled "Empty Glass" on its Seven Circles album. The song is written from the perspective of an unnamed person who is questioning Major Tom intensely about the purpose of life. The song also references Ground Control and the Bowie phrases "star man" and "diamond dogs".

The New Zealand comedic folk duo Flight of the Conchords allude to the character in their 2008 tribute song "Bowie" where they place Bowie himself in space, and give him the rank of Lieutenant.

In 2011, Jimmy Fallon appeared on the "Piers Morgan Tonight" television program, playing the guitar and singing a broad parody of "Space Oddity" along the lines of: "This is Tim Tebow to Jesus Christ", using a Bowie-esque vocal style. He also performed the song on his late night talk show Late Night with Jimmy Fallon in the character of an amalgamation of Tim Tebow and David Bowie called "T-Bowie"

Major Tom also has had and continues to have passing references in other popular songs, such as: Five Star's 1986 song "Rain or Shine", Def Leppard's 1987 song "Rocket", Marilyn Manson's 1997 song "Apple of Sodom", Lorraine Bowen's 2002 song "Space", The Mars Volta's 2005 song "Cicatriz: Part III", Cold's 2005 song "Happens All The Time", Alphabeat's 2007 song "Fantastic 6", and The Cab's 2011 song "Angel with a Shotgun".

References in other media[edit]

There are several references to the character and the songs in the video game Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. A character otherwise known as Major Zero briefly used the codename Major Tom (although the character in-game describes his name as a reference to the movie The Great Escape). At one point in the game however, while Major Zero is using the Tom codename, calling him by codec causes Snake to recite the "Can you hear me Major Tom" section of lyrics from the song. An enemy boss known as The Fury was a former cosmonaut, and wears a protective uniform that resembles a space suit in battle. His final words upon his defeat are "I'm coming home.", a reference to Peter Schilling's song. The director of the game, Hideo Kojima, has mentioned these were intentional references, and originally planned to have "Space Oddity" and "Ashes to Ashes" play in the end credits of the game. Space exploration was intended to be one of the major themes early on during the development of the game, most of which was eclipsed in the final product, save for the prior mentioned Major Tom references and several lesser story elements.[citation needed]

Major Tom, and his partner 'The Action Man', are used as the names of two minor characters in the television program The Venture Bros. Major Tom (and later his ghost) play an important role in the episode "Ghosts of the Sargasso" where a flashback reveals he was killed in the crash landing of an experimental rocketship. A large part of the dialogue in the flashback scene is taken from the lyrics of "Space Oddity" and "Ashes to Ashes". Also, it is later revealed that The Action Man had gone on to marry Major Tom's widow.

In the television show Chaotic, a character has the name Tom Majors, and his username in the show is MajorTom. In the American remake of the television show Life on Mars, in a twist, Gene Hunt in 1973 turns out to be astronaut 'Major Tom' Tyler – Sam's father – in the conclusion.

Ladybird books published a series of children's books by Peter Longden titled 'The Adventures of Major Tom'. The heroes are a cat named Major Tom and his robot assistant Oddball.

In the British television show Red Dwarf series VIII, prior to lifting off in a space craft, Cat is asked to identify himself and gives the name "Major Tom".

Animal puppeteer group "Fluff & Such" has created a puppet video version of "Major Tom (Coming Home)".[6]

In an episode of Animaniacs, Wakko Warner used part of the lyrics.

In the iOS game Astronut from developer The Iconfactory, there is an achievement called 'Major Tom'. The player has to quit mid-game 20 times to acquire this achievement.

In the TV sitcom Friends, "Space Oddity" is referenced in "The One Where Ross Can't Flirt", where Chandler is seen performing the opening lines on a home video, and also in "The One After Vegas", in which Joey sings it to Phoebe after they have argued with each other.

In the film Mr. Deeds, "Space Oddity" is sung by Adam Sandler's character while on a helicopter ride travelling to New York City.

Illustrator Andrew Kolb has created a PDF illustrated children's book based on the song; a print version published by HarperCollins may appear in the future.[7]

In the TV drama series Breaking Bad during Season Four the leads find a recording of the character Gale (David Costabile) singing a camp karaoke version of Peter Schilling's "Major Tom (Coming Home)."

In the 2010 video game Alan Wake, the character Thomas Zane appears in a deep sea pressure diving suit, and Space Oddity plays during the credits for the second DLC episode for the Game.

In a Hong Kong online scientific horror novel "The Midnight After" the story was mainly focused on Major Tom and "Space Oddity" provided an idea to writer Mr.Pizza. The novel was later made into a movie and selected for the Panorama section at the 64th Berlin International Film Festival.[8]

In the popular video game League of Legends the character Corki says in one of his lines: "This is Major Tom to Ground Control." in a reference to a line in the song "Space Oddity"

In the TV show "Defying Gravity", Major Tom is the name of the astronauts bar.

"Space Oddity" was played during U2's 360 tour at the beginning of the concert as the band took to the stage.

In the video game "Dungeons of Dredmor," there is an enemy called "undead cosmonaut". This enemy's flavor text is a reference to Major Tom. The monster also has a unique variant called Major Tom.

French cartoonist Boulet had his character sing "Major Tom to Ground Control!" at the end of a 2013 blog post.[9]

Major Tom was referenced in the Looking for group web comic on page 700 [10]

In the video game SSX3, the character Nate Logan will reference the song "Space Oddity." Sometimes, while high in the air after going off a jump on his snowboard, he will say "This is Major Nate to Ground Control!"

In the 2013 film "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" produced by and starring Ben Stiller, the phrase "Ground Control to Major Tom" is a recurrent reference to Mitty's episodes of daydreaming. The song ("Space Oddity") motivates Mitty to go find the elusive photojournalist Sean O'Connell (Sean Penn). As he daydreams of his crush Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig) singing the song to him in a remote karaoke bar in Greenland, Mitty runs to catch a helicopter piloted by a very drunk and emotionally unstable man, he then begins a journey of self-discovery and personal growth.

In the 10/26/2004 comic strip "Pearls Before Swine," presidential candidate Rat proclaims, "I'm against gun control... in fact, I'm against all control... mind control, self control, birth control, remote control and ground control to Major Tom." [11]

In the 2014 film "Kid Cannabis" the phrase "Ground Control to Major Tom" is used as a Phrase via Walkie-Talkie.[12]

In the 2014 Song Supernova by Swollen Members there is the Verse 'Planet earth to Major Tom: Have the time of your Life'.[13]

In the drum corp Carolina Crown's 2014 show, "Out of This World", the lyrics are used in the pre-show as well in the third movement, where he says, "I'm coming home."

References[edit]

  1. ^ Roy Carr & Charles Shaar Murray (1981). Bowie: An Illustrated Record: pp.109–116
  2. ^ Was "Major Tom" the astronaut a real person? from The Straight Dope
  3. ^ "Space Oddity Original Video (1969)". YouTube. Retrieved 1 April 2014. 
  4. ^ "junkie". Urban Dictionary. Retrieved 5 November 2012. 
  5. ^ "Matthew Wilder - Bouncin' Off The Walls Lyrics". Kovideo.net. Retrieved 5 November 2012. 
  6. ^ "Fluff & Such Pawpet Productions". Fluffandsuch.com. Retrieved 5 November 2012. 
  7. ^ 'Space Oddity' reimagined as children's book (retrieved 1 September 2011)
  8. ^ (traditional Chinese (HK)) 那夜凌晨,我坐上了旺角開往大埔的紅Van, Facebook
  9. ^ Le long voyage by Boulet.
  10. ^ LFG page 700
  11. ^ Stephan Pastis, Lions and Tigers and Crocs, Oh My! A Pearls Before Swine Treasury, 2006, p. 213.
  12. ^ At 29:00 in the movie.
  13. ^ Supernova on Youtube

External links[edit]