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Ground Control to Major Tom

Lunar module Eagle lifting off from the lunar surface July 21, 1969.

Lunar module Eagle after lifting off from the lunar surface,  July 21, 1969. Photo by Michael Collins. Courtesy: NASA

Released on July 11, 1969, 5 days before NASA’s Apollo 11 mission successfully landed the first man on the moon, David Bowie’s song “Space Oddity” became the first major hit of his career, climbing to number 5 on the UK singles chart.  While the song cannot be solely  credited with  elevating Bowie to the pinnacle of rock stardom, it was certainly an important step on the way. It also foreshadows Bowie’s later approach to his stagecraft.  It is easy to see how Bowie could progress from creating the character of Major Tom floating through space in a “tin can,” to his creation of a fully realized stage persona such as the space alien Ziggy Stardust.

Portrait of David Bowie

David Bowie. Courtesy: RCA.

In the recorded interview below Bowie provides some insight into this working method by remarking that he had always found it easier to write songs for other recording artists than to write works for himself. His solution seems to have been to write for fictional characters, and then to pretend to be them live.

With these considerations in mind, I invite you to commemorate the anniversary of the first moon walk on July 20th by listening to the interview below from the Library of Congress’s Joe Smith Collection.