“Ground Control to Major Tom…”-from “Space Oddity”, Written and Performed by David Bowie (1969)
When we learned of the passing of David Bowie, my wife and I were still embroiled in the debate on the fate of Major Tom. This has been a twenty-five year exchange of varying ideas on the whether a fictional character in a song survived his space mission. I contend that in the song’s lyrics: “For here am I sitting in a tin can/Far above the world/Planet Earth is blue/And there’s nothing I can do,” Major Tom has made an active decision not to return to Earth and he sets off on a true Space Odyssey. My wife states that Major Tom’s ship has experienced a malfunction in the vein of “Apollo 13” and that he goes to his demise.
Regardless of our playful squabble, “Space Oddity” stands as a classic song by the late, great David Bowie. He was an icon of innovation and pushed boundaries beyond limitation. Even as I write that last sentence in regards to David Bowie, it does not seem to do him justice.
Let’s take a turn here. #BeBowie: Appreciation of Innovation and Space Oddity
What does it mean to #BeBowie? Can I contain the his essence and impact in a mere hashtag?
- Shift personas from Ziggy Stardust to Aladdin Zane to the Thin White Duke? Of course, #BeBowie.
- Sing a Christmas Carol with Bing Crosby on television? Absolutely, #BeBowie
- Mindfully invent a new genre of music to push the 20th Century into the 21st Century thirty years prior? Why, sure! #BeBowie
- Portray the Goblin King in a children’s film directed by Jim Henson? Yes and #BeBowie
- Write, record and produce an album knowing that my death is imminent and release it on my birthday? Most definitely so! #BeBowie
- Retire from touring, recording and live performance and hide in plain sight as a father and husband? You better believe it! #BeBowie
David Bowie’s music challenged me on so many different levels. I grew up with David Bowie in the MTV-Era of “Let’s Dance.” I marveled at his abrupt and unabashed turn into being one-fourth of a band in the criminally-ignored stint known as Tin Machine. His 1970s performance on “Soul Train” was my first exposure to David Bowie and his impact has remained with me.
As a classroom teacher in the mid-1990s, I donned my #BeBowie Cape and shared “Space Oddity” as my opening lesson in an English III class. Sharing music as a portal to literary analysis is always risky and doing it on the first day of school is even riskier. I shared with my students who were raised in an era of Pearl Jam, Nirvana and the Fugees to enter the interpretative debate my wife and I had. I used “Space Oddity” as a vehicle for them to explore and push the boundaries of literary analysis. Our discussion served as the catalyst for a classroom community of creative discourse.
STEAM is innovation. I believe David Bowie would be right at home in the ethos of STEAM. He was a STEAM Innovator. If he were walking the hallways of the Education Closet Community, he might even question and challenge our intentions and even encourage us to push the creative mindset even more in our schools. I imagine Bowie appreciating the creative drive that melds the elements of STEAM into a classroom that inspires, uplifts and empowers our students to be innovators in their own right. That inspired push in which David Bowie always defaulted to created an infinite impact on so many individuals. His music is timeless, challenging and resonating.
Even though, the saga of Major Tom continues in a later song by David Bowie entitled “Ashes to Ashes,” my wife still stands by her interpretation. Somewhere, David Bowie is shaking his head in amusement.
Sean Gaillard is the Principal of John F. Kennedy High School in Winston-Salem, NC. He is also the co-founder of the Twitter chats #EdBeat and #Read4Fun. He is the founder of the popular #CelebrateMonday hashtag that encourages all educators to start their week in the positive.