This week at Popdose, the Like, Omigod! Digging Through the ‘80s Pop Culture Box series — an epic trawl through the seven-disc set from Rhino — reaches its halfway point. Now, it’s no secret that I’ve had a lead role on this project. The columns are in a round-table format, and are credited to the staff collectively, but I’ve been taking point on these pieces.
In fact, I can now reveal that Jon Cummings, Dw. Dunphy, and Dave Lifton have no independent existence, and that they are in fact pseudonyms that I have been employing for years. (I’m still not sure about Dan Wiencek. Sometimes I think he’s real, but I might have made him up, too, and then forgotten about him.)
Well, no. But I have been doing the work of compiling and formatting the discourse, which take place via an email list — taking a series of monologues and stitching them into something that resembles an actual conversation. Some of the hard work is done in the email threads themselves, shaping the flow and direction of the conversation as it happens, but a lot of it is done afterward, in the edits. Minor stuff, mostly. I find that creating a conversational flow is less about what gets said, and more about placement; tweaks to play up callbacks to earlier comments, positioning interjections and interruptions, inserting running jokes and leading questions.
I’ve always got a lot to say — no surprise there — but I try not to dominate the discourse. Which is why, at the last minute, I ended up cutting a long chunk from this week’s discussion of “Major Tom (Coming Home).” I want to run it here, though; in part because if I didn’t run it somewhere, I would be second-guessing myself — Did I really cut this for space, or because it made me uncomfortable to put it out there? — and in part because I still think it’s hilariously wrong-headed. And 100% true.
Holy mackerel, you guys, I’ve been doing this critic bullshit for a long time. I kept a journal when I was a teenager, and I dimly remembered writing something about this song; I thought the notebook must be long gone, but no — I just found it in a box in the basement, having survived thirty years and six times moving house. Let’s have a look...And that’s that. Just be grateful that I spared you all my utterly clueless “interpretation” of “Ashes To Ashes.” There’s a lot I’ll do for a laugh, but I still have some sense of shame.
Oh, God. I actually write about it as the capstone of The Major Tom Trilogy. 700+ words. I just typed it all out and I think my eyes are bleeding, and I can’t feel my legs. Guys, are you still there? I feel cold... so very cold...
The name of Major Tom is well-known to hard-core David Bowie connoisseurs, and now to fans of “New Music.” The unfortunate astronaut was Bowie’s first “persona,” the subject of his first success in 1969. before the Thin White Duke, before the Man who Sold the World — even before Ziggy Stardust — there was Major Tom....
….Although the first two chronicles of the luckless spaceman were created entirely by Bowie, and haven’t been played on mainstream radio for years, the third and most recent was conceived independently of Bowie’s guidance and approval, and can be heard by any casual listener to “New Music.” The song is “Major Tom (Coming Home),” and it was created by a German named Peter Schilling. It recounts the events of “Space Oddity,” but is an incredible leap from it stylistically. Whereas Bowie’s trip is a rambling composition, held together by wild guitar as spacey as its subject, Schilling’s version is a tight rhythmic package, a nervous, twangy high-speed musical piece. It hums with synthesizers. Its deft, terse lyrics are delivered with a cockeyed nervous energy that swells towards the end into a glorious release — but when the release comes it is not in a rush of pent-up violence, but in a beautiful promise of peace.
....Schilling, though working with an established subject, has made his work more touching than the original: his viewpoint lets us get into Major Tom’s head, and to sympathize with him. He doubts his mission: “Starting to collect requested data / What will it effect, when all is done? / thinks Major Tom.” Bowie’s cerebral detached viewpoint stresses the alienation of humans in space, but Schilling remembers that it is humans in space.
....“Major Tom (Coming Home)” is gloriously triumphant, while “Space Oddity” is ultimately depressing. Let’s face it, you’d rather hear about becoming more than human than about deep-space death, thus, Schilling’s piece is that rarity of rarities: the remake better than the original.
You know, if I had a spaceship, I would fly it faster than the speed of light, just so I could go back in time and punch my teenaged self right in the fucking face.
In the meantime, rejoice in the news that Lego has released a David Bowie minifig. At least, I'm pretending it's Bowie.