"Ashes to Ashes" as written by and David Bowie....
Do you remember a guy that's been
In such an early song
I've heard a rumor from ground control
Oh no, don't say it's true

They got a message from the action man
"I'm happy, hope you're happy too
I've loved all I've needed love
Sordid details following"

The shrieking of nothing is killing
Just pictures of Jap girls in synthesis and I
Ain't got no money and I ain't got no hair
But I'm hoping to kick but the planet it's glowing

Ashes to ashes, funk to funky
We know major tom's a junkie
Strung out in heaven's high
Hitting an all-time low

Time and again I tell myself
I'll stay clean tonight
But the little green wheels are following me
Oh no, not again
I'm stuck with a valuable friend
"I'm happy, hope you're happy too"
One flash of light but no smoking pistol

I never done good things
I never done bad things
I never did anything out of the blue, woh-o-oh
Want an axe to break the ice
Want to 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
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


Lyrics submitted by numb

"Ashes to Ashes [Single Version]" as written by David Bowie

Lyrics © EMI Music Publishing, TINTORETTO MUSIC

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Ashes to Ashes song meanings
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  • +6
    Song MeaningWow, so few people have made any attempt at looking at the meaning of the song. Jesus, guys, I'd expect this from the Linkin Park pages but this is one song that desperately needs reading closely to find any meaning.

    I think saying the song's about drugs is certainly selling it short a little bit, in the same way saying Space Oddity is about a fella in a rocket isn't giving that justice, either. There's a lot of references towards drugs, to be sure, but I think that's intended more as a backdrop for the lyrics than the meaning itself.

    Bowie has said this song was primarily about "wrapping up the seventies really for myself... [it] seemed a good enough epitaph for it". So it's a dirge, really, for all of Bowie's career up to 1980, and a look forward to his (then hopeful) career from then on in.

    I think to see that meaning, the central parts you need to look at are, well, first the beginning - "do you remember a guy/in such an early song", which from the start sets the meaning as looking back to Bowie's early career. The self-reflexivity of the song from the very beginning mean we're looking at the song as being about Bowie writing about himself. So it's very nostalgic.

    This is sharply contrasted with the chorus, "Ashes to ashes, funk to funky". Obviously, "ashes to ashes, dust to dust" is part of the Anglican Christian funeral service, and the pun with "funk" means we're attending the funeral of Bowie as a musician, not a person. It's meant to mean that we're waving goodbye to the "action man" of the start of the song.

    The most effective way to create a sharp dichotomy between Bowie's pre and post 80s material in one song is to do what was considered the impossible in his old songs. And what is more impossible than to bring back that eternally lost in space character, Major Tom? Bowie could have just as easily brought Ziggy Stardust back to life, or given the Thin White Duke a genuine soul, but there's another layer in making mention of Major Tom: being from Bowie's first ever hit, 11 years before, Major Tom had not only been lost in the story, but forgotten in time itself by Bowie's audience. Bowie even mentions this fact in the first line, making sure to ask "do you remember the guy...?"

    And so Bowie has done the impossible and brought his first ever character back from space and back into our minds. Now to finally end the first half of his career for good there is only one thing left to do: destroy major Tom for good, so the "impossible" can not be ever done again. And what better fate for Major Tom to ultimately suffer, than the same that Bowie suffered throughout the 70s himself? And here is where the drugs come in. By presenting Major Tom as a "junkie, strung out on heaven's high, hitting an all time low" (note the title of Low in that line, another bit of self-reflexivity), Bowie also creates an analogue for his old career, as well. In an almost Dorian Gray-esque way, Major Tom is now suffering the addiction and debilitation while Bowie himself can now start again.

    So the way I read it, Bowie tries "wrapping up the seventies" by bringing back his most impossibly lost character, and revealing that the intervening 11 years have treated him in the same way as they have Bowie himself. And finally, by concluding Major Tom's story, Bowie is left renewed, without the drugs, musical, and physical baggage of 11 years of musicianship.
    Appers66on June 22, 2009   Link
  • +3
    General CommentAshes to Ashes, Funk to Funky, We know Major Tom's a Junkie...does that mean Major Tom is strung out on smack? Not necessarily. There are many types of junkies, as Burroughs showed us in "Naked Lunch", and Bowie was a fan of Billy Burroughs. So, in the end, maybe Major Tom was just strung out on the beauty of space and how Earth looks from all the way up there. Makes sense when ya take into account, "I'm hoping to kick but the planet it glowing"

    All in all, one of my favorite 80s era Bowie tunes, and I am an admitted Bowie junkie.
    BigPoppaChidogon July 09, 2002   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI think people read far too much into lyrics.
    The lyrics are about addiction.
    He made a good song out of the life experience because that is what the artist does.
    The medium is music and words.
    Sometimes, the words do not have to mean anything much except to sort of reflect the subject matter in a very loose way, perhaps just because some words sound good together and loosely relate to the subject matter of the song.
    What is relevant is the interplay of melody, harmony, rhythm and word-play.
    Think 'The Owl and the Pussycat' or the 'Jabberwocky'
    People are always looking for meaning in their own lives....why not write a song and go and perform it then?
    You have to create your own meaning..."You are all individuals."
    " I'm not."
    robsy335on October 04, 2013   Link
  • +1
    General Comment...so, barely a handful of you have actually commented on the meaning of the song...maybe you all should find a hobby, go outside or something...
    ctxcolormoniteron May 31, 2004   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI feel like this is a victory song for Bowie. He, like Major Tom, had "hit an all-time low". And while Major Tom was not so fortunate, Bowie was able to make it to the other side of addiction.

    This song is the funeral for Major Tom, but Bowie is able to be the one singing it. If he'd died young, it was pretty much guaranteed that we'd be hearing endless mournful songs about Major Tom from other artists (other artists were already singing about Major Tom, after all. Think of Peter Schilling.). Bowie survived, however, and could end things on his own terms in his own way.

    So I really love this song. Not just because of the excellent music, but what it meant for Bowie as an artist. Things could have gone in a much, much worse direction for him but they didn't; this song is a reminder of that. It almost makes you proud of him.
    adieuadeeron April 17, 2014   Link
  • 0
    General Commentso, Mr. Bowie, are we led to believe that "Space Oddity" wasn't so much about an astronaut lost in space as it was about a heroin addict?

    still an excellent song, tho!
    roger wilcoon May 17, 2002   Link
  • 0
    General CommentAkasha's right. bowie IS married to the supermodel iman, after all. they kind of have a child . . .

    and i really fail to see how someone's sexual orientation changes the way their music sounds.

    ashes to ashes is a beautiful song, really. Bowie has such an amazing voice. his range is absolutley astonisting.
    eviLon June 19, 2002   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis song is awesome. I'm a big Bowie fan. I liked the A Perfect Circle cover, but it'd be amazing if they did a studio version.
    coldinhereon March 29, 2003   Link
  • 0
    General CommentWow Maddox, you listen to some pretty gay music to be criticizing Bowie.

    Slipknot and Korn? I would be very ashamed of myself if I listened to them. Everyone laugh at the fact he listens to horrible music, DO IT!
    tsucolon May 30, 2004   Link
  • 0
    My InterpretationSurely this song is about the paradox of having made it and being on top and still feeling like crap and having the same negative self-image and even greater self-doubt as when he was nothing. The self-image problem makes the jump to the drug abuse references easy.
    Think about how optimistic the music and the initial lyrics of Major Tom are. Sure, ours is a dystopian universe - the people who have the stage can't even change the world (planet earth is blue and there is nothing I can do) or really even save themselves by returning to earth (Can you hear me Major Tom) once they've made it out of the stratosphere (superstardom, that is). But, then to discover there is no such thing as happiness (I am happy, hope you're happy too) or love (sordid details to follow) only the shrieking of nothing our own inner voice which in Bowie's case was pretty low during much of the 70's. That's how you get "Strung out in heaven's high"(that is on top of the world) "hitting an all time low" (ironic, isn't it, dope addicted and suicidal for all that money and fame).
    montresoron December 30, 2010   Link

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