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This song can be seen as a sequel to Bowie's 1969 hit, "Space Oddity
." It revisits the fictional astronaut, Major Tom, who is now in space. He has regained communication with Ground Control and tells them he is happy, but they deem him nothing but a "junkie, strung out in heavens high, hitting an all-time low." Fans believe this to be Bowie's autobiographical piece about his fight against drug abuse and other personal demons.
The closing refrain of this song, "My mama said to get things done, you'd better not mess with Major Tom," suggests that in order to make the best of the future, one should not dwell on the past. It has also been suggested that "Space Oddity" was a thinly veiled reference to a drug trip, and that "Ashes to Ashes" is hinting that in order to move on, Bowie must kick these drug habits. (thanks, Jason - Watford, England)
In his 2003 interview with Performing Songwriter magazine, Bowie explains that the song "Inchworm," which was sung by Danny Kaye in the 1952 movie Hans Christian Andersen, was a big influence on "Ashes To Ashes." Said Bowie: "I loved it as a kid and it's stayed with me forever. I keep going back to it. You wouldn't believe the amount of my songs that have sort of spun off that one song. Not that you'd really recognize it. Something like 'Ashes to Ashes' wouldn't have happened if it hadn't have been for 'Inchworm.' There's a child's nursery rhyme element in it, and there's something so sad and mournful and poignant about it. It kept bringing me back to the feelings of those pure thoughts of sadness that you have as a child, and how they're so identifiable even when you're an adult. There's a connection that can be made between being a somewhat lost five-year old and feeling a little abandoned and having the same feeling when you're in your twenties. And it was that song that did that for me."
The music video for "Ashes to Ashes" features Bowie dressed as Pierrot in a variety of bizarre situations. Steve Strange of the New Wave band, Visage, cameos. Bowie has said the shot of himself and other characters marching towards the camera in front of a bulldozer symbolizes "oncoming violence." During this scene, the characters behind Bowie are not bowing, but simply trying to pull their gowns away from the bulldozer so they don't get stuck! This, and many other images in the video suggest that Bowie may be trying to bury the various personas he developed.
The video, which Bowie directed with David Mallet, cost £250,000 to produce, making it the most expensive music video ever made at the time. It was released a year before MTV went on the air.
In 1983, Peter Schilling released "Major Tom (I'm Coming Home)," which is based on the Major Tom character. It was a rare instance of someone making a sequel to a song by another artist.
This was sampled on Samantha Mumba's "Body II Body." Bowie gave his seal of approval to Samantha's song, but a lot of his fans hated it. (thanks, Adam - Dewsbury, England)
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