Huffpost UK Culture uk
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

J.L. Sirisuk Headshot

A Tune that Impacted My Life - David Bowie's "Ashes to Ashes"

Posted: Updated:

My first crush was on a man wearing spandex pants and makeup. I was in primary school when I watched Labyrinth for the very first time, completely frightened of the red Fireys as they tossed their heads like footballs, yet entirely captivated by Jareth the goblin king as he danced around in tight pants whilst singing songs about babes. "Please kidnap me," I used to think, hoping the goblins would fetch me from my room at night and take me to a goblin world where David Bowie would sing to me. Forget Tim Curry in The Worst Witch, this man was excitingly wicked. However, this was not the moment that made an impact on my life - this would come many years later in the New Mexican desert and Bowie would indeed play a significant role on this occasion.

It was the year 2001 and I was on the brink of turning 19. Living in the mountains of Santa Fe, I listened to Tom Petty, Wilco, and Patsy Cline whilst firmly rooted in the rhythms of Americana. I wore dirt stained jeans and cowboy boots badly in need of repair and had come to the realisation that it was time to make some solid adult decisions. "To hell with it," I thought instead. I wasn't doing anything useful, wasn't moving towards anything productive. I was avoiding making any real choices about what to do next with my life, numb to the solitary and detached nature of my life up on the mountain. My friends and I were too young to buy booze, so our mischievous nature would send us driving into town at 1am to stock up on fizzy drinks, unhealthy treats, and cigarettes. It was said that the roads of Santa Fe were designed by a man riding backwards whilst drunk on his horse, and as we zigzagged our way across the dizzying narrow roads, we would sing along to Tom Petty's Damn the Torpedoes, or try to sound like monsters whilst crooning along to Tom Waits, gargling every note.

We usually listened to CDs in the car, but during one particular midnight drive we left the radio on, turning the dial this way and that in an attempt to satisfy the tastes of each person in the car. Radiohead? No, the front seat passenger wanted the Nirvana song that we had skipped maybe five stations earlier, or had it been Soundgarden that they preferred? I wasn't paying attention because I was too busy staring out the window. I always loved Santa Fe at night with its silence and eerie stillness. I sometimes felt that I was on another planet whilst trekking across the oddly twisting roads of the mountains, past adobe constructs and under endless sky above.

Suddenly, I heard what sounded like sonic beats or floating orbs of synth flashing in outer space, and then came a recognisable voice asking me if I remembered a guy that's been in such an early song, and the voice so high and disconnected sang, "I've heard a rumour from ground control, oh no, don't say it's true." It was David Bowie, except this time he was an astronaut and not a goblin king. My friends chatted away and I ignored them, tuning out their voices as I found myself entirely enraptured by a song that seemed to float outside of the vehicle itself and fill the entire night sky with its melody. The music was sinister, oddly creepy and cold with its slightly skewed synth beats and layering of sound. If outer space could sound like anything, it would sound precisely like this. Bowie's voice pulled me into the night air, luring me into an alien expanse of feeling, and as his voice floated from a high pitch and descended to something low and sexy, I envisioned Major Tom the space man floating and tumbling within the rhythms of his song. "Ashes to ashes, funk to funky, we know Major Tom's a junkie" went the chorus and I attached myself to the song's melancholic space explorer.

Ashes to Ashes became my personal soundtrack during a time when I feared coming down from a very high place, from atop the desert mountain where I had grown complacent, trapped in a familiar space. This song may not have impacted my life in an explicit way, but it accompanied me through an important part of it. It was that surreal, layered, and floating nature of sounds all intertwined, that carried me from a great height down to lower ground. I would put on my headphones and walk the hiking trail up to the water tower, lie on my back and look up at the dark sky, imagining myself wandering side by side with Major Tom towards an unknown and hidden pocket of space. Major Tom became my companion as he drifted through the galaxy and I drifted through a desert haze towards clarity. During this time in my life I had to make fundamental decisions, with the first being to move away from my detached existence on the desert mountain. "They got a message from the action man," goes the song and it was time for me to take action of my own. I decided to leave Santa Fe and travel a great distance across the Atlantic to foreign soil. As the plane ascended and I departed from New Mexico, I listened to Ashes to Ashes and allowed the melody to pour into me as I floated away to a new solid ground.