17. David Bowie, “Ashes to Ashes” (1980):
After more than a decade, during which he’d struggled with drug addiction, Bowie revisits the world of “Space Oddity” and Major Tom. The revelation that “Major Tom’s a junkie” is often interpreted as treating the protagonist’s outer-space predicament as a metaphor for the danger of drug addiction, while the maternal warning “you’d better not mess with Major Tom” might imply that the protagonist himself represents that danger; but while those are both legitimate readings, Bowie in one interview suggested nearly the reverse reading, namely that drug addiction might be a metaphor for the outer-space predicament rather than vice versa:
I was thinking of how I was going to place Major Tom in this 10 years on … what would be the complete dissolution of the great dream that was being propounded when they shot him into space. The great technology … capable of putting him up there, but when he did get up there, he wasn’t quite sure why he’d been put there …. We come to him 10 years later and find the whole thing has soured, because there was no reason for putting him up there… The most disastrous thing I could think of is that he finds solace in some kind of heroin-type drug, actually cosmic space feeding him: an addiction. He wants to return to the womb from whence he came.
But it’s my impression that Bowie in interviews tended to say whatever came into his head, so I don’t really think this interpretation is any more authoritative than the others.
And continuing the theme of junkies in space:
18. Leslie Fish, “Some Kind of Hero” (1989)
Where Major Tom despairs of “stay[ing] clean tonight,” lamenting that he’s “never done good things” and “never done bad things,” this next song gives us a heroic addict who “finally died clean,” with “a smile on her lips”:
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