It's a God-awful small affair
To the girl with the mousy hair
But her mummy is yelling "No"
And her daddy has told her to go

But her friend is nowhere to be seen
Now she walks through her sunken dream
To the seat with the clearest view
And she's hooked to the silver screen

But the film is a saddening bore
For she's lived it ten times or more
She could spit in the eyes of fools
As they ask her to focus on

Sailors fighting in the dance hall
Oh man! Look at those cavemen go
It's the freakiest show
Take a look at the lawman
Beating up the wrong guy
Oh man, wonder if he'll ever know
He's in the best selling show
Is there life on Mars?

It's on America's tortured brow
That Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow
Now the workers have struck for fame
'Cause Lenin's on sale again
See the mice in their million hordes
From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads
Rule Britannia is out of bounds
To my mother, my dog, and clowns
But the film is a saddening bore
'Cause I wrote it ten times or more
It's about to be writ again
As I ask you to focus on

Sailors fighting in the dance hall
Oh man! Look at those cavemen go
It's the freakiest show
Take a look at the lawman
Beating up the wrong guy
Oh man, wonder if he'll ever know
He's in the best selling show
Is there life on Mars?

Lyrics submitted by numb, edited by Smxxch, Mellow_Harsher, Waterlord, aljosa95, BowieTheStarman

Life On Mars? Lyrics as written by David Bowie

Lyrics © Ultra Tunes, BMG Rights Management, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner Chappell Music, Inc.

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Life on Mars? song meanings
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  • +28
    My InterpretationThis song is all about how our entertainment, movies, music, TV, has become so all-encompassing and important that our very lives have begun to mimic it.

    The first verse focuses on “the girl with the mousy hair.” She’s got drama, and it’s a big surprise with who; her parents. This song came out in ’71, so the whole baby-boomer rebellion thing was popular. Now, to deal with her drama, she seeks entertainment, escape. But it’s a “bore”. She rejects it, or should, thus setting up the youth as valiant, righteous rebels.

    But wait. Is her rebellion original? (She’s lived it ten times or more) Is it what she truly thinks, what she feels deep down, or is this rebellion merely an expression of values that the media has taught her to value? Bowie deliberately chooses not to answer this.

    The chorus again treats our theme. At the beginning, you think Bowie is describing entertainment in general, things actors do in movies, and cavemen, something that could only exist in a movie. But by the end of the chorus, one line throws us off completely: “Wonder if he’ll ever know he’s in the best selling show.” Why would an actor not know he or she was in a movie? By bestselling show, it seems he means the “movie” that is our life, the drama that takes up our daily lives. This is deliberately confusing. He chose to talk about two things at the same time on purpose.

    The last line in the chorus, “Is there life on Mars,” can be seen as a very clever reference to Orson Welles’s broadcast of War of the Worlds. The show was made famous for causing an actual public panic because of its realistic newscasts describing an alien invasion. Although it was a radio show, people actually thought there was an alien invasion, fitting perfectly with our theme.

    The next verse moves on to more general commentary but sticks with the theme. Mickey Mouse, a popular figure in children’s entertainment, is personified as having grown up, and it’s not pretty. He’s a “cow,” a decidedly negative adjective. Metaphors congruent with the main theme are boundless here, but I think Bowie meant to contrast the image (the entertainment ideal, the perfect actors with their perfect makeup, Mickey’s happy adventures) with the reality behind the image (our lives can mimic, but never achieve the perfection that the plot of a movie has) by personifying Mickey. The simile is genius because, in reality, people grow old, but Mickey looks the same every time you re-watch an episode of Mickey’s playhouse. If Mickey can grow old, then he is “real.” But that can’t be true, as he’s a cartoon. The lines between entertainment and reality are again blurred.
    The next line is the clearest Bowie gets in the song. He says, “The workers have struck for fame because Lennon’s on sale again.” He obviously means to say that the working class is only invigorated in their struggle because the entertainment industry (John Lennon, but Lenin works just the same) has sold them entertainment telling them that they’ve been wronged, exploited, etc, which is ironic because they prop up the same system that exploits them by consuming its products. The next few lines go on to describe the extent of the problem: the whole of the westernized world (From America to Ibiza, an island off of Spain, to the Norfolk Broads, in England).

    Bowie’s song is a post-modern critique of pop culture. He is saying that the westernized, capitalist democracies of the 20th century have produced entertainment and consumables that have eclipsed the very life they were spawned from, leading one to question whether it is entertainment that comes from reality or reality that mimics entertainment. Is there even a difference anymore?

    And for the crowing piece of this metaphorical masterpiece: Where does this critique appear but in the very popular culture it is critiquing? Surely it is intentional -- it represents Bowie’s acknowledgment of the complete annexation of reality by entertainment. The irony is palpable, and we can answer the question posed it the end of the previous paragraph: No.
    TheWildabeaston October 30, 2012   Link
  • +19
    General CommentThe question "Is there life on mars?" is, I think, like saying "Is this the best we can do? Help! Stop the world I want to get off!" I think he wrote it as a stream of consciousness. maybe not...
    georgyon August 06, 2002   Link
  • +16
    General CommentThroughout David Bowie’s song “Life On Mars?” Bowie looks down upon the idea of escapism through entertainment. Along with this idea, he also attempts to advise his listeners about the reality of this actual entertainment itself. As long as entertainment is involved, people want to experience things that they might not think is morally or ethically acceptable, based on their personal judgment and values. Bowie’s somewhat ambiguous lyrics allow the meaning of the song’s message to apply to anyone, and gives the song “Life On Mars?” an even deeper meaning to some of Bowie’s listeners.

    The Song “Life On Mars?” was written by David Bowie and released in 1971 on his “Hunky Dory” album. The album title “Hunky Dory” has a sarcastic tone to it, since the song “Life On Mars?” is about people trying to escape from reality. If everything really was “Hunky Dory,” people would not be seeking escapism. As the song begins, a piano is softly playing a tune, while the lyrics go on to describe a girl who has gotten into an argument with her parents:

    "It’s a God-awful small affair / to the girl with the mousy hair / but her mommy is yelling 'No' / and her daddy has told her to go."

    After this girl has the argument with her parents, a friend she was supposed to meet at the movies is not present. This friend could possibly be a date, which means that the argument could have been about this girl having a relationship. As ambiguous as the lyrics are, a concrete meaning of these lyrics is unattainable. The girl in the song sulks through her sorrows and proceeds to see a movie, despite the absence of her friend, in hopes of escaping the real world, even if it is only for a short period of time. However, this girl begins to notice that the movies she watches are not so much a fantasy, but just a big screen representation of things that go on in real life, and also possibly even her own. In effect, the girl becomes bored of watching this movie about the real world. The music in the song accentuates the girl’s feeling of being sick of these “movies”, by creating a dreadful or worried type of sound when the lyrics describe her being bored with the films’ content.

    "But her friend is nowhere to be seen / now she walks through her sunken dream / to the seat with the clearest view / and she’s hooked to the silver screen / but the film is a saddening bore / for she’s lived it ten times or more."

    As this first verse is about to end, the music begins to introduce an orchestral piece, which is ongoing throughout the chorus.

    The lyrics of the chorus describe a couple of films or shows that are provided as entertainment for the general public at the time, who wish to escape their lives momentarily, as the girl in this song does. The orchestral piece for the chorus, along with the appropriate lyrics, gives the listener a feel as if he or she were watching a show that would have been played in the past.

    "Sailors fighting in the dance hall / oh man! Look at those cavemen go / it’s the freakiest show / take a look at the lawman beating up the wrong guy / oh man! Wonder if he’ll ever know / he’s in the best-selling show / is there life on Mars?"

    As the chorus describes sailors fighting in a dance hall and a lawman, most likely either a police man or a lawyer, the listener can identify these events as something that are not so far-fetched from things that happen in real life routinely. Not only do these things happen frequently in real life, but these are also two examples of real life events that most people would think are morally and ethically wrong, yet would not wish to personally witness. Although most people look down on these real-world proceedings, the general public tends to cast their morals, values, and judgments aside when they have the desire to be entertained. As a result, people are ironically trying to escape the real world, through film productions that are based upon many real-world events. Bowie conveys this message when he describes the lawman.

    "Take a look at the lawman beating up the wrong guy / oh man! Wonder if he’ll ever know / he’s in the best-selling show."

    After the portrayal of this false sense of escaping, Bowie asks, “Is there life on Mars?” By doing so, David Bowie is using this question as an allusion, to basically ask a rhetorical question somewhere along the lines of “Is there really an escape of reality?” After this meaningful chorus, the music begins to fade to only the piano and drums as Bowie starts singing the second verse of the song.

    The second verse of “Life On Mars?” immediately begins with a satirical portrayal of Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse. “It’s on Amerika’s tortured brow / that Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow” (David Bowie Lyrics). These lyrics are symbolic of Walt Disney’s creation of Disneyland, so that he could create a family oriented place where people could escape to a world of magic. Bowie seems to negatively view Disney’s idea as one of capitalist ideals, comparing Mickey Mouse to a “cash cow,” meaning a “product or business unit that generates unusually high profit margins” (Cash Cow). Also, Walt Disney opened his “magic kingdom” in 1955, and had it strategically placed at the end of the first American freeway, Highway 110. When Bowie says “It’s on Amerika’s tortured brow,” he seems to be negatively referring to Disneyland in a way that America has to deal with people like Walt Disney, who are out to make large profits off of his fellow Americans who want to escape the real world. In contrast to that view, the next part of the lyrics claim that the workers, most likely blue-collar workers, “have struck for fame, ‘cause Lennon’s on sale again.” In 1970 the Beatles broke up, but almost immediately following, John Lennon began recording his first solo album, this album being yet another source of escapism through entertainment. As the second verse continues, Bowie begins to talk about people from all around the world in general.

    Bowie uses his diction to give off a pessimistic attitude towards people who are in search of escape from reality, when he sings, “See the mice in their million hordes / from Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads.” Bowie uses metaphor to compare the people who yearn for escapism to pests, and uses the word horde much like a negative epithet. Also, Ibiza is an island, and the Norfolk Broads is a chain of lakes in Great Britain. Both locations are connected by water, so it seems that this is Bowie’s version of the phrase “from sea to shining sea.” The following lyrics then refer to Rule Britannia, which used to be Great Britain’s national anthem. “Rule Britannia is out of bounds / to my mother, my dog, and clowns.” These lyrics are pertaining to a national anthem that is “out of bounds” because Bowie is getting a point across about escapism, but this is a national anthem, and not a source of entertainment. The lyrics further go on to sarcastically say that his mother, his dog, and clowns are all uninterested in this escapism. This is much like saying that if one does not seek escapism that he or she must be either an animal, who has no knowledge of entertainment, his mother, who has no reason to escape real life because she is already content with her life, or a clown who embraces the real world. In Bowie’s mind, the real clowns are the people who do use entertainment as a source of escapism.
    A closer look at the lyrics:

    It's a god-awful small affair The manifestation appears increasingly empty
    To the girl with the mousy hair to the ardent seeker (mousy hair = experienced 1st conscious shock)
    But her mummy is yelling "No" Nature would eat/use/control her,
    And her daddy has told her to go but the Conscious Circle of Humanity implants doubt.
    But her friend is nowhere to be seen Metanoia occurs in wilderness
    Now she walks through her sunken dream “Sunken”: the illusion is dropping
    To the seat with the clearest view Consciousness arises!
    And she's hooked to the silver screen Progressive re-engagement and
    But the film is a saddening bore disillusionment
    'Cause she's lived it ten times or more force her to confront emptiness,
    She could spit in the eyes of fools gradually building her resistance
    As they ask her to focus on to material and materialistic forces.

    Sailors fighting in the dance hall She comes to see life
    Oh man! Look at those cavemen go as a “tale told by an idiot,
    It's the freakiest show full of sound and fury,
    Take a look at the Lawman signifying
    Beating up the wrong guy nothing.”
    Oh man! Wonder if he'll ever know And she begins to see
    He's in the best selling show the Sleep.
    Is there life on Mars? She appeals for Salvation from its only possible source: beyond the World.

    It's on America's tortured brow It’s in the very heart of materialism
    That Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow that the Lie is most visible.
    Now the workers have struck for fame The ego (“fame”) claims of her negative I’s (Nature’s “workers”) subside.
    'Cause Lennon's on sale again Thanks to help from the Conscious Circle (“John Lennon”),
    See the mice in their million hordes she comes to see the Sleep
    From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads in which humanity is immersed.
    Rule Britannia is out of bounds Clarity (“Britannia”) can no longer be obscured by
    To my mother, my dog, and clowns outer Nature (“mother”), nor inner Nature (“dog”), nor dogma (“clowns”).
    But the film is a saddening bore She shifts to the Divine, subjective voice,
    'Cause I wrote it ten times or more realizing that the manifestation is a reflection of noumenon,
    It's about to be writ again a live, ongoing reflection,
    As I ask you to focus on and I am That

    But more...

    In the second verse, Bowie expands on the idea of the crass marketing machine. For this, he combines two great icons: America (capitalism, wealth, consumerism, etc.) and Disney ("It's on America's tortured brow/That Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow"). In these first two lines, he shows how commercialism (i.e. America) has corrupted what was once innocent and good (i.e. Mickey Mouse). "Now the workers have struck for fame/'Cause Lennon's on sale again" could be representing how even the most average people (workers -- as in factory workers) are buying into the machine ("trying to get famous). As WolfTickets said, John Lennon had put out his first solo album shortly before Hunky Dory was released, so a "if he can do it, then I can too!" mentality was likely prevalent among the people. "See the mice in their million hordes/From Ibeza to the Northland Broads" is showing how much land these people (who are as bland and common as mice) cover. In the next two lines, Bowie conveys that England has remained untouched, and will not be tainted by these boring people ("Rule Britannia is out of bounds/To my mother, my dog, and clowns"). The next four lines seem to be Bowie saying that he's afraid that he's as boring as the "mice" ("But the film" -- song -- "is a saddening bore"). He asks us, however, to keep listening as he tries to make it better ("It's about to be writ again/As I ask you to focus on").
    e: "Mickey Mouse": To many, Disney still symbolizes goodness, family values, innocence, etc., but that image is a a joke--"Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow" because its sparkling image of fairytale goodness is a deception; as a company, it treated its workers so poorly that they struck to get the share of attention they deserved. In a way, the tarnishing of Disney parallels the international view image of America going from world hero (after WWII) to an imperialistic, hedonistic, meddlesome country in decline--not saying I agree, but stating how the lyrics seem to me.
    A lot of people here have got stuck on the lines 'The workers have struck for fame, cos lennons on sale again'
    To undertand this I suspect you'd have had to live in the Britain of this songs period where the trade unions had become so powerful that virtual anarchy ruled, constant strikes as union leaders jockeyed for power ( fame ) . We had strikes over every cause imaginable that almost destroyed the economy. The workers were quite literally striking for 'fame' in placing their needs above all else leading to power cuts, dead bodies being piled up outside mortuaries and piles of uncollected garbage 15 feet high outside peoples houses. Bowie is probably being cynical about unions stroking over the release of a record - because thats how petty some ofthese strikes were in fact.

    The 'Mice in their million hordes' are us - the people on the planet - seen by the aliens as not much more than vermin - although amusing the way your pet hamster is.
    Militaries fighting in the world
    Oh man! Look at those idiots, (undeveloped men) go
    It’s the strangest thing
    Watch the US (the lawman) beat up the wrong country/nation (beating up Korea and Vietnam… or Cuba… all communist/socialist countries…)
    Oh man! Wonder if he’ll (the US or Britania) ever realize
    That he’s in the best selling show (war… etc the huge world wide media extravaganza)
    Is there life on Mars? (implying there isn’t life on earth… wanting to escape the repetitious violent behavior of men)
    Communism/Socialism isn’t that big of a deal to her (McCarthyism being what it was in the 50’s)
    To the girl with the mousy hair (the mice below are the socialists… so with socialist inclinations)
    Her mother says no … hates socialism adamantly (that generation’s response to communism… the fear of it, etc)
    Her father has told her to leave because she agrees with socialist ideas.
    Socialism doesn’t exist in the US/Britania (her friend)… not to be seen (perhaps Bowie is saying that true socialism doesn’t exist yet, it hasn’t been realized fully)
    Now she’s disenchanted with the world because socialism doesn’t exist (her sunken dream)
    To the seat with the clearest view… (saying that she’s sitting in the right place, has the right view… understands how things actually are has the right view of capitalism and the worlds problems)
    She watches the movie (the war… the patriotic sentiments, etc)
    But the war is a saddening boring thing
    Because she’s lived through the whole experience plenty of times before (she’s watching Vietnam? She saw what happened in Korea and Cuba?)
    She could spit in the eyes (tell off) the idiots (the people for the war)
    As they ask her to appreciate and pay attention to
    CapNemoon July 22, 2013   Link
  • +7
    General CommentOk heres a wild analysis. i believe this song is about a young girl from a disfunctional home who escapes her life through movies. Let's call her "mickey mouse". So in teh second verse Mickey has grown up and become a frumpy old made and she's a blue collar worker, her life is crap and not even the films she took solice in calm her but she still contiues to watch them wishing she lived in a world , any world, including mars, where two men would fight over her in a dance hall.
    harlanlovestoneon July 25, 2002   Link
  • +5
    General CommentRainbow8711 - You've caught a pun there. The same pun shows up in Don McLean's American Pie ("Lenin/Lennon read a book on Marx"). Lenin was one of the major players in the rise of Marxism as a philosophy in Russia, and John Lennon was enchanted with the work of Karl Marx, as well.

    So Lenin and Lennon in a sense become two faces of the same coin. One a political figure in Russia, one a popular English figure. Both proponents of Marxist ideals. The irony of Lennon, however, is that he was in many ways a commercial, capitalistic figure. The name can be seen as connecting both figures in one. Lennon is commercial, so when he speaks of the same ideas as Lenin he puts them on sale - he commercializes socialism.

    Of course, David Bowie was known at the time for being very deliberately hard to understand. So I might have that all balled up there.
    djingle djangoon April 27, 2003   Link
  • +5
    General CommentAbout this line:
    "...Mickey Mouse...
    Now the workers have struck for fame"

    This is a reference to the 1941 workers strike by Disney cartoonists and animators. Aside from low wages, one of their notable demands was to have their names appear in the film credits. Hence "workers have struck for fame".
    mnonmon April 17, 2005   Link
  • +5
    General CommentIn his book "The Complete David Bowie," Nicholas Pegg (p. 126) writes that Bowie described the song in 1971 as " A sensitive girl's reaction to the media." Pegg then writes: "After pausing for thought, he added 25 years later that 'I think she finds herself let down. I think she finds herself disappointed by reality. I think she sees that although she's living in the doldrums of reality, she's being told that there's a far greater life somewhere, and she's bitterly disappointed that she doesn't have access to it...I guess I would feel sorry for her now. I think I had empathy for her at the time.'" This is the comment of Bowie himself. One wonders if the ellipse or missing spot can be recovered, and if he would come on Songmeanings to discuss this with us mice! If we can sparkle, he may land tonight! I am still enchanted today by the possibility that it is Bowie that the girl is going to meet, and in the song he wrote the film. (Come, all mice and Mighty mice, and visit me at
    mmcdonaldon May 06, 2015   Link
  • +4
    General Commentactually i always believed (and still think it to be true) that the lyrics are reflecting the decaying american culture and the little person being swallowed in it.
    3ssenceon June 08, 2002   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI believe it simply has to do with the wonders of the imagination. This song isn't supposed to make sense - it's about things that couldn't happen.

    Let's start at the beginning. To a child, the imagination and a dream is every day life. But to an adult, the imagination isn't real. So the girl and her invisible friend ("But her friend is nowhere to be seen") goes off to dream on her own. The television is a bore because it's all the same...reruns, identical plots lines, etc.

    Then the chorus? The adventures the girl goes through in her own mind - her own television program.
    madluneon June 23, 2004   Link
  • +2
    General CommentFirst, I'm pretty sure the "workers have struck for fame/cos Lennon's on sale again line" is a slight jab at John Lennon, because a bit before Hunky Dory came out, Lennon put out his first real solo album, which included the proletariat-anthem "Working Class Hero", so Bowie's joking that, since Lennon is back, there's going to be a revolution.
    As far as the song as a whole, I tend to see it as a commentary on the blurring of the line between art and real life: the girl has lived the movie, Bowie has written what is happening to him, Lennon's working class song will cause a working class revolution, etc, and i think the "Is there life on Mars?" line means, you know, we've made so many movies and TV shows and songs about aliens, so are they as real as the other things we write and talk and sing about?
    WolfTicketson June 21, 2004   Link

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