Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Tres: Day 95
Sat. May 4, 2013

“Ashes to Ashes”
David Bowie; Grant Lee Philips & the Section Quartet

1980; 2006

“♫ Want
an axe to
the ice/
wanna come
down right
My first ever memory of David Bowie was seeing him dressed up in the sorrowful pierrot’s costume on Mars in the video for “Ashes to Ashes.” He looked like an alien but there was something about his voice and the lyrics that stuck with me. He seemed otherworldly and strange. Bowie’s eccentric persona struck a riff in the imagination of this very weird child. And I loved changing the words to the closing stanza of “Ashes to Ashes.” I’d walk around our casa and sing at the top of the lungs, much to my Mami’s annoyance, (with apologies to Bowie) “My mama said to get things done you better not fuck with major tom…” At the time I thought it was funny and to this day I feel like it fits better than “mess” but that’s me and my childish imagination.

Looking back in Nicholas Pegg’s The Complete Bowie, Bowie said this about “Ashes to Ashes,” “When I originally wrote Major Tom, I was very pragmatic and self-opinionated lad that thought he knew all about the great American dream and when it started and when it should stop. Here we had the great blast of American technological know-how shoving this guy into space, but once he gets there he’s not quite sure why he’s there. And that’s where I left him.” Later The Thin White Duke admitted his goal with writing a song sequel for Major Tom, “I was wrapping up the seventies for myself, and that seemed a good epitaph for it—that we lost him, he’s out there somewhere, we’ll leave him be.”

But we never want to let Major Tom be, we resurrect “Ashes to Ashes,” when we long for a four minute lyrical mind trip into space with Bowie’s very clever pop song. It’s no coincidence Bowie originally dubbed this hit single from 1980’s Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) as an, “ode to childhood, if you like, a popular nursery rhyme […] about spacemen becoming junkies.” I wasn’t the only one who had a lyrical connection to “Ashes to Ashes,” former Grant Lee Buffalo singer/songwriter Grant Lee Phillips admitted his love all things Bowie when he said; ““Ashes to Ashes” was an important song to me when it came out. I covered it maybe five years ago, but it just didn’t make sense in the context of this album. I’ve since gone back and recorded it with a string quartet, and it makes more sense like that. For whatever reason, an album demands to be what it’s going to be, and unfortunately—well, fortunately—I only have so much say about it. They’re like living things.”
I have to thank Bowie and especially, Grant Lee Phillips for his lovely tribute of “Ashes to Ashes;” more than just your average cover song, Phillips actually re-imagined Bowie’s 1980’s classic with String Quartet. Even though Bowie wrote “Ashes to Ashes” about ‘ spaceman junkies,’ today I heard Bowie’s hit single with new ears, As I’m mourning the loss of my sister-in-law, it’s no exaggeration that Phillips rendition of “Ashes to Ashes” with the Section Quartet saved my life today by literally bringing some calming light to my otherwise darkened day.
More than just a song for junkies, Phillips cover with the Section Quartet takes Bowie’s original “Ashes to Ashes” to new heights. I implore you to take this interstellar ride with this new stringed sensation. Phillips vintage re-imagining of “Ashes to Ashes” may not make Major Tom respectable. At least I can find comfort and peace of mind in the guise of this beautifully twisted pop song.

Grant Lee Phillips and the Section Quartet – “Ashes to Ashes” [click on link & enjoy]

And for you Bowie purists here’s the original David Mallet directed video: