Who the fuck is Major Tom?



Since 2016, he is no longer a physical component of our planet. David Bowie, and thus the backround knowledge of Major Tom. You can find a lot on the Internet, many descriptions, but only a few interpretations of the statement. Who was Major Tom, what did he want to tell us?

Major Tom has been a household name since 1969. But first of all, one has to emphasize that Major Tom is a fictional character. An art figure representing an astronaut. Major Tom was the first time mentioned in “Space Oddity”. Space Oddity is a song written and recorded by David Bowie himself. According to various online portals, the song is inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s movie “2001, A Space Odyssey”.

This is ground control to major Tom, you’ve really made the grade
And the papers want to know whose shirts you wear
Now it’s time to leave the capsule if you dare

This is major Tom to ground control, I’m stepping through the door
And I’m floating in a most peculiar way
And the stars look very different today
Here am I sitting in a tin can far above the world
Planet Earth is blue and there’s nothing I can do

Though I’m past one hundred thousand miles, I’m feeling very still
And I think my spaceship knows which way to go
Tell my wife I love her very much, she knows
Ground control to major Tom, your circuits dead, there’s something wrong
Can you hear me, major Tom?
Can you hear me, major Tom?
Can you hear me, major Tom?

David Bowie, Space Oddity, 1969, Trident Studios London, Phillips Rec.


Ashes to Ashes is the second song that alludes to Major Tom. Amongst others, it is one of the most well known Major Tom songs besides Space oddity. Written and recorded by David Bowie himself, that song was released in 1980. Ashes to Ashes was the second song to win 1st place in the UK charts (No.1 hit singles). Among other things, the music video was one of the most elaborate, innovative and expensive music videos of the 1980s.

Described by David Bowie, Major Tom represents his own personality in Ashes to Ashes. According to him, he was able to handle some of his 1970s excesses with this song.


I never done bad things
I never did anything out of the blue, woh-o-oh
Want an axe to break the ice
Wanna come down right now

Ashes to ashes, funk to funky
We know Major Tom’s a junkie
Strung out in heaven’s high
Hitting an all-time low

My mother said to get things done
You’d better not mess with Major Tom

David Bowie, Ashes to Ashes, 1980, The Powerstation NewYork (Studio), RCA Rec.


Major Tom is also described as Junkie, referred to David Bowies drug experiences of the 1970s. So Major Tom flies through the emptiness of space: “junkie, strung out at heavens high, hitting at all-time low” (David Bowie). The figure “Major Tom” is also mentioned in “Hallo Spaceboy”, “New Killer Star” and “Blackstar”.


Major Tom is an astronaut. Major Tom is a drug addict. Major Tom is an astronaut representing a junkie. Or what? This are all descriptions about the meaning of the song itself. But what is the real message. The message which is not shown in front of everyones eyes. The message you feel when you hear the song. There is not one, not two or more answers. We are talking about interpreatations.


Am I major Tom? Is your own mind meant with the name Major Tom? One mind, one soul, the own ego. You look into the distance, into the unknown, along with your own mind. The mind is the human, the rest is only a shell. Maybe it is not only David Bowies mind,  …Maybe even language has to be held of your own intellect, a ghost that resembles an astronaut buzzing around in the cool black of space. Everyone’s soul hovers in the cool black, after all, no one knows what to expect from the future. The future can be compared to infinity and infinity is like the cool black emptiness of space. Major Tom, a spirit, one’s own mind, worrying about the distant posterity. Not knowing what you are heading for, …comparable to a discoverer, an astronaut. Major Tom, nothing but one´s own dream buzzing around in the cool black of infinity.

„My Mama said, to get things done, you´d better not mess with Major Tom“ he sang. A song about a junkie, truly a junkie, also called Major Tom. Major Tom, not an astronaut, but a metaphor for the own mind and intellect . To create something, one should not mess with his mind, but be guided by it. Do not waste so much time by thinking about what’s coming, just live. Could that be the message from Ashes to Ashes? More specifically, Major Tom succumbed to his own agony. His own pain, the pain caused by the thought of the unknown. That incomparable sting that you feel when you think of the potential danger of the future. In the case of David Bowie, …A hole in the soul that could be only stuffed with drugs? A hole created by the fear which holds you in suspense. Major Tom, actually a tragic figure, yet so close to everyone’s fears. Major Tom, one´s own mind. Let yourself be guided by Major Tom and do not argue with him, has the same meaning like: “Do not fight with yourself”! Just glide through life and waste no brainwave for something useless. Let yourself be guided by intitutions of your own Major Tom.

The German singer Peter Schilling also sang in the 1980s of major Tom, who floats weightlessly in space. It is true that he also suffered shipwreck and floats in the cold of eternal nothingness. A name, different musicians and cultures. Major Tom is a ubiquitous term for the unimaginable, for providence and destiny. Don´t mess with Major Tom.

My mother said to get things done
You’d better not mess with Major Tom

My mother said to get things done
You’d better not mess with Major Tom

My mother said to get things done
You’d better not mess with Major Tom


While this may not apply to the real major Major Tom, it spreads nonetheless a message. Yet everyone can decide for themselves how to interpret this message.


About the Author

Tibor Spath