Read the rest of David Bowie Tribute Week here.
Douglas Martin read every Ziggy comic for due diligence.
“I mean, on a surface level, it’s about a guy getting lost in space. But the more I think about it, the more I consider it to be about a man passing on into the afterlife.”
My friend Natalie and I were lying on her bed, looking at the small cluster of glow-in-the-dark stars she had stuck to her ceiling. The word “friend” is kind of an oversimplification; we had a very complicated relationship. It was partly a friendship, partly a romance, one of those deals where you and another person are clearly in love but can’t seem to make a relationship work. Natalie loved David Bowie; among her copious tattoos, she had a small Ziggy Stardust thunderbolt tattooed on the right side of her pelvis.
Natalie put me onto a lot of great music I’d never sat down and listened to before. I can credit the Velvet Underground being one of my all-time favorite bands because of her. But this was by no means the first time I had heard “Space Oddity.” In fact, it was, even then, my favorite Bowie song. After an expertly rolled blunt, however, she put on this single (the version with “The Man Who Sold the World” as a b-side, my other favorite Bowie tune) and we had a deep discussion about Major Tom’s final adventure.
In Natalie’s assessment, Ground Control were the doctors huddling around a hospital bed occupied by a person in critical condition, but I argued, “What about the point where they say it’s safe for him to leave the capsule? Wouldn’t it be more plausible if it were God, or whatever higher power is out there, saying it’s okay to step into the light?” She didn’t argue against that point, but she had no answer for it.
Major Tom steps through the door, and that’s where I could see the metaphor taking shape. Earth is far off in the distance, the major is weightless, “and the stars look very different today.” As the song is about to swell to its climax, he relays a very important message to his wife, its meaning she is already aware of. He knows he’ll never step foot on Earth again.
I thought a lot about our “Space Oddity” conversation when Natalie committed suicide a few years later.
She wrote me a letter without a subject header, and in the parts that weren’t confused or depressed or had misdirected anger (at me, at various people in her life), it was elegiac in a very beautiful way. Most of the stuff, as you might imagine, is way too personal to parse out on a music website, or any website for that matter. She told me she was going into space, and I knew what she meant.
She signed off by writing, “I’ve really made the grade.” I collapsed into tears on my desk.
I’ve experienced losing a couple other loved ones since Natalie’s passing, my mother and my father. Though each of these deaths affected me in very different ways, there were points where I heard “Space Oddity” in my head and envisioned my mother, my father, and a woman I was in love with crossing over into the afterlife. I did the same again late last night, when I read the news of his death.
In the room by myself, I said aloud, “Mr. Bowie, you’ve really made the grade.”