Major Tom, Shootin’ Star
“Major Tom” by Peter Schilling from the album Error in the System
Fourth Week in June, 1983
The documented life of astronaut Major Tom could not have been an easy one. Launched into orbit by David Bowie’s 1969 “Space Oddity”, decried as a junkie in Bowie’s followup “Ashes to Ashes” in 1982, Major Tom also suffered the indignity of this 1983 bit of unauthorized biographical speculation. In “Major Tom (Coming Home)”, German artist Peter Schilling suggests that Major Tom signs off, sending love to his wife as in the original, but then somehow survives the failure of his space capsule and sings about coming home:
Earth below us,
Whatever training Major Tom may have undergone, it apparently taught him precious little about the extreme heat of atmospheric friction. Presumably, Major Tom’s philosophical ruminations occur prior to his vaporization during re-entry, although in reviewing the available literature on fictional rock spacefarers, there’s a remote possibility he lands safely in a field driving a parachute-equipped vintage automobile, as portrayed in Dan O’Bannon’s famous Heavy Metal magazine story and its animated counterpart.
None of this matters as much to me personally as the fact that, in
researching this Shreek, I was able to track down the original German version, entitled “Major Tom (Voellig Losgeloest)”. It sounds very much like the English-language version aired here in the states, with the same New Wave Berlin-wall-of-sound instrumentation and Schilling’s clipped vocal style. But I am partial to 1980’s German pop music for three reasons.
1) Nena’s original “99 Luftballons” sounds a lot cooler than “99 Red
Balloons”, because “Luft” sounds intense and meaningful and profane, even though all it means is “air.”
2) Taco was a German artist, and if you don’t think it takes massive balls to prance around on MTV singing Irving Berlin songs in the feyest possible manner, you’re a braver man than I am, Charlie Brown.
3) My most significant eighties memories are of my German friend Simone, though I did not meet her until 1990. She could wear a raspberry beret and get away with it, and many of my retro pop music memories are colored by her accented sing-alongs. She was beautiful, talented, and slightly insane, and she opened my head to a world of emotional and creative possibility in the brief time we had together stateside. Simone, this chorus is for you:
von der Erde
schwebt das Raumschiff
Best Part: When Major Tom, national hero and center of worldwide media attention, starts to wonder if his data-gathering mission has any practical value at all.
- Editor’s Note: This Shreek brought to you by Dale Dobson