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 good things)
I never done bad things (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

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, edited by demosthenes2

Ashes To Ashes Lyrics as written by David Bowie

Lyrics © Royalty Network, O/B/O DistroKid, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Songtrust Ave, Warner Chappell Music, Inc.

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Ashes to Ashes song meanings
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  • +19
    Song Meaning

    Wow, 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
  • +8
    General Comment

    Ashes 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
  • +4
    General Comment

    I 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 18, 2014   Link
  • +2
    My Interpretation

    Surely 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 31, 2010   Link
  • +2
    My Interpretation

    Bowie has stated several times that the song is an Edwardian-type nursery rhyme summation of his career (to that point). It was the 80s and he was looking back at his career/life.

    The video: The Joey outfit and the ballerina girl, harking back to his time in a Commedia DelArte mime troupe (Pierrot, Columbine).

    Bowie says the digger truck was a symbol of advancing violence (love machine rumbles through desolation row)

    Location was Beachy Head, an infamous suicide spot, a reference to Major Tom's suicide in Space Oddity

    Padded Cell, a reference to his brother's time in a Hospital for the Mentally Ill

    He wears Green Ziggy Stardust boots, again a reference to his past career.

    Lyrics "Do you remember a guy that's been in such an early song". Obviously a simple reference to Space Oddity.

    "Pictures of Jap Girls in synthesis". Kabuki reference, the girls in Kabuki theatre are played by boys. Transformed with make up.

    "Ain't got no money, ain't got no hair". Reference to the mid 70s. Skint after the Mainman fiasco even after selling lots of records. No hair - reference to Man Who Fell To Earth.

    "Hoping to kick". Obviously a drug reference, he is trying to get off drugs that dominated his life in the 70s

    "Funk to Funky". Young Americans/Station To Station era music reference; although he purposefully sings it "fun to funky"

    "Hitting an all time Low". Reference to Low Album

    "I'm stuck with a valuable friend". This is Major Tom. Makes him a lot of money (royalties); and hope by sticking with him for this song that he will remain valuable.

    "Never did anything out of the blue". Bowie admitting his music is rather calculated rather than spontaneous.

    "Want to come down right now". Another obvious drug reference

    "My mamma said". Obviously, a reference to the Nursery Rhyme "My Mamma said" (same tune). Bowie (via his mother) considers that Major Tom is a bad influence, despite him being a valuable friend. Bowie is ending the 70s and to get things done, needs to leave the characters and music of the 70s behind.

    I think it is quite obviously a looking back and wrapping up of the 70s - his characters, music, drugs etc

    wellardon December 21, 2012   Link
  • +2
    General Comment

    I wonder if the line 'Oh no, not again' (which no one's seemed to talk about) is possibly a nod to Douglas Adams and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy or just coincidence?

    I'd like to think Bowie was referencing that great scene over Magrathea...

    grenon June 26, 2016   Link
  • +1
    General Comment

    Wow 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 31, 2004   Link
  • +1
    General Comment

    I 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
  • 0
    General Comment

    so, 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 Comment

    the end of the song is the key, "My mother said to get things done You'd better not mess with Major Tom". In other words don't mess with heroin.

    globalon June 06, 2002   Link

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