Major Tom

I just read your article about major tom and have found some evidence that major tom is real. It turns out that when the song was origionally wrote, Thomas Stafford was flying missions for NASA. But it turns out that he was a major at the time that the song was written, leading me to believe that Major Tom was actually Thomas Stafford and that this was a prediction by David Bowie of what could happen. The only reason that the other songs went out was that the first was soooo popular!:smack:

Link to Staff Report:

What’s the debate?

Hello Garethsspace. Welcome to the boards.

Just FYI, it is considered a courtesy to provide a link to the column you are commenting on.


Whether this should go in *Cafe Society *or Comment on Cecil’s Columns?

I was going to ask about the song. I would love to know the backstory to the song. If it turns out to be a real story, I would love that any more.

Darn that MKS commercial.

My roommate heard the Shiny Toy Guns version on that commercial and decided that it’d be a good idea to play it over and over in our apartment for 3 days. That was 2 weeks ago, and it’s still stuck in my head.

The column says specifically:

What’s your evidence that this is wrong?

It isn’t as if “Tom” is such a rare name that Bowie couldn’t have come up with it on his own, but Stafford was certainly a major and part of the space program before 1969 (see footnote to this article), so it’s remotely possible that Bowie could have borrowed his name. That still doesn’t mean the song is about him in any meaningful way. Bowie has said it was inspired in part by 2001: A Space Odyssey (duh), but mostly by the aimlessness and alienation he felt over just having been dumped.

This is pretty clearly a response to the Straight Dope Staff Report Was “Major Tom” the astronaut a real person?. While some such threads get sufficiently involved to be moved to Great Debates, the typical place to discuss such reports is in the forum on Comments on Staff Reports, which is where you will next find this thread.

[ /Modding ]

I’ve merged the two threads started about this into one thread. It might read funny.

samclem moderator who happened by…

On second look, I see that I didn’t link to the article after all.

I’ve edited a link to the Staff Report at the bottom of the OP.

Songbird wrote that many years ago; alas, she no longer participates in the Straight Dope, so it is unlikely that she’ll come here to comment.

Wiki has quite a bit on Major Tom, some of which overlaps with Songbird’s column:

Just to complicate matters, former British Prime Minister John Major’s father, Abraham Thomas Ball, was a music hall performer with the stage name of Tom Major, and David Bowie has claimed in interviews that he may have subconsciously based the name “Major Tom” on a half-remembered childhood memory of seeing Tom Major perform.

However, given that Ball/Major was born in 1879 and died in 1963, using the stage name Tom Major from 1901 onwards, whereas Bowie himself was not born until 1947, when Ball/Major was 68 and presumably long retired from performing {he had in fact become a manufacturer of garden gnomes}, the earliest Bowie could conceivably “remember seeing” Tom Major would have to have been around 1950. Alas for Bowie’s veracity, the dates simply don’t add up.

The Staff Report by Songbird is a bit misleading because it implies that the original Bowie song was an album track. The song, which was always called “Space Oddity,” was a huge hit single in the U.K. in 1969. (My memory says it got to number 1; Wiki says it got to number 5 in the U.K. charts, but as several different charts were in use in the U.K. at that time, we might both be right. In any case, it was a big hit in an era when singles chart hits mattered.)

Although it was on his album, I do not think the album itself sold well at the time (none of the other songs sounded anything like “Space Oddity,” or, indeed, like his later work). In fact, Bowie basically sank back into obscurity for about the next 3 years. Then, in 1972 he made a major comeback and established himself as a big star, and his new fans started buying up his older, previously obscure, records. At that time the original album with “Space Oddity” on it (initially called David Bowie in the U.K. and Man of Words/Man of Music in the U.S., where not even the single had been a real hit) was reissued under the title Space Oddity, presumably because many people still would have remembered the 1969 hit single.

I have always assumed that “Major Tom” was just intended as a generic astronaut name.

I never quite got why the press were so interested in his shirts. :smiley:

…bolding mine

Whoa! Is it possible he was also the inpiration for the Bowie’s infamous The Laughing Gnome!?

I’m pretty sure Space Oddity reached #5 on re-entry (:)) to the UK chart in September 1969, after spending one week at #48 before dropping out of the top 50 earlier in the month.

The song did reach #1 when reissued in September/October 1975.

And was the first record I ever bought. Off down to Woolworth’s with my mum and 50p saved from my pocket money, and great excitement all round. I felt so grown up.