19 August 2011

1980: David Bowie On Ashes To Ashes: "A 1980s Nursery Rhyme"...

1980 was a great year for David Bowie. Haunted by some Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) he brought us the brilliant Ashes To Ashes and Fashion. The videos (or promo's or whatever we called them back then) for these songs were very excellent indeed and nudged us on towards the video age and the New Romantic era.

I was particularly startled by the Ashes To Ashes video and song. David returned to good old Major Tom from 1969's Space Oddity.

My mother said to get things done you'd better not mess with Major Tom...

What a difference just over a decade had made! The super cool, spaced-out hippie Major Tom of 1969 was a junkie in 1980.

The video, complete with inky black sea and oddball characters trailed by a JCB, was unlike anything I'd ever seen before.

As for exactly what the song and video mean, David Bowie has said an awful lot over the years, making me rather confused. However, his original explanation from 1980 is the one I find most interesting. Major Tom had been launched in 1969, the year Man landed on the Moon. The song became a hit in the July of that year. By the time Bowie returned to Major Tom, when work began on Scary Monsters in early 1980, more than ten years had passed and times and attitudes had changed.

Bowie said:

"When I was thinking of how I was going to place Major Tom in this, hence ten years later on, what would be the complete disillusion with the great dream that was being propounded when they shot him into space ten years ago, and had got such wonderful ideas. This great technology was capable of putting him up there, when he did get up there, he wasn't quite sure why he'd been put there and we left him there. But now we come to him ten years later and we find that the whole thing has soured because there was no reason for putting him up there. It was an ego, a technological ego which got him up there for no specific reason and just added more disaster because it was a potpourri of technical ideas, so the most disastrous thing I could think of is that he finds solace only in some kind of heroin type drug that the cosmic space itself is feeding him with, an addiction, and he wants now to return to the womb from whence he came.

"It's also a nursery rhyme. It's very much a 1980s nursery rhyme. I think 1980s nursery rhymes will have a lot to do with the 1880s/1890s nursery rhymes which were all rather horrid and had little boys with their ears being cut off and stuff like that. Well, I think we're getting round to that again. I think the idea of the Sesame Street nice nursery rhyme is possibly outdated - unfortunately."

Hmmm... but the 1980s child, the girls at least, were bombarded by the cutest of the cute, Cabbage Patch Dolls, Care Bears, My Little Pony, Keypers, Sylvanian Families - to name but a few... and I can't recall any new nursery rhymes at all. Well, apart from this one, obviously.

Probably best to simply enjoy the song for what it is - a flash of pure Bowie genius.

Hear the 1980 Bowie interview, in which he gives insights into the inspirations for various Scary Monsters tracks - including Ashes To Ashes, below.

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