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How “Life on Mars?” Changed My Life

By James McKinney

By James McKinneyPublished 4 years ago 4 min read
The song’s Album

A year ago I was in a dark time. Everything seemed to fall apart around me. The one thing I could never figure out was, why? Whenever something collapses, usually there is a physical reasoning behind it. I was lost in my thoughts until I discovered this song, “Life on Mars,” written by David Bowie for the album “Hunky Dory.” This dramatic, intense piece of music reflects upon how our lives become the world around us. It was after examining the lyrics of this song that I realized this was my reasoning; I had been taken by the modern world.

Let me elaborate. Bowie wrote the lyrics to this song to give the message that our lives become the what is around us; mainly entertainment and unrealistic things; that we become characters in a twisted movie. I started by analyzing the chorus; the main meaning of the song. Read the lyrics to the chorus of the song, and try to understand where I’m coming from.

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?”

Starting off with the first few lines, Bowie lists off things we would see in movies. Sailors fighting, cavemen, the lawman beating up the wrong guy. All of these represent what our lives become. But the one line that made me realize what I was fighting against was “Wonder if he’ll ever know/He’s in the best selling show.

To me, this means that we become a part of the show as we dive farther and farther into the unrealistic things around us. We become lost, even clueless in a world we don’t recognize. I was lost. I was scared of what I had become. I was in the best selling show, simply a character. A puppet on a string. Even Bowie himself, in his last performance, sings with a hopeful note in his voice, knowing he will soon be freed from the chains of modern life. But even after being freed, he worries as to what lies ahead.

But then came the unanswered question; Is there life on Mars? I believe Bowie was, with this question, asking, Is this the best we can do? Is this all we can achieve in our lives? At that time, whatever I was doing was not my best, not what I wanted to achieve; I realized I could improve. I had to.

David Bowie; The writer of “Life on Mars?”

I then knew I had to bring myself together. I had to change my way of life. Living as a character was not what I wanted. This is what made me feel broken. It was the constant feeling of being trapped in the world of the unreal.

Continuing to analyze the song, I realized the meaning of the first verse. “And she's hooked to the silver screen/But the film is a saddening bore/For she's lived it ten times or more.” The girl in the first verse is living the same struggle of constant repetition; of being a character. I made an even deeper connection to the song.

The song was actually written as a sort of revenge against the famed vocalist Frank Sinatra. Before Bowie’s career was really kickstarted, he worked for a company that wrote english lyrics for foreign songs. This particular french song, entitled “Comme d'habitude." He originally wrote it as a song called “Even a Fool Learns to Love,” but after Frank Sinatra rejected his lines and wrote his own, entitled “My Way,” Bowie took his revenge and wrote “Life on Mars?”

Frank Sinatra

Even more, this act of revenge which sparked something beautiful is what I had to recreate. Could this song be my signal from the higher powers to fix myself? I had to take revenge on the modern world and break free, becoming a new person who was different, better, independent from the strings I once was attached to. I had to break free (go ahead a reference Queen here). All jokes aside, it was my call from something to do something about it.

And still to this day, whenever I act fron pressures around me, or give in to the prison cell of a society I live in, I ask myself, Is there life on Mars?

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