David Bowie: Life on Mars?

In questa canzone lenta che appartiene alla fase Ziggy Stardust di Bowie si fondono elementi del glam rock a un testo ricco di simbolismo e analisi sociale, oltre a presentare una discussione esistenziale sul potere dell’arte per evadere dalla realtà.

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Daniel Francis

Speaker (UK accent)

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Perhaps the most emblematic of David Bowie’s songs, 1973’s Life On Mars? is about a girl who has already become disillusioned with life. Sent away by her father as her parents loudly argue, she goes to the cinema on her own. She is, however, irritated when the film does not provide the escapism she is looking for. In the chorus Bowie describes violent scenes on the screen, from a fight at a dance to a policeman assaulting an innocent man. This, ironically, is just what the girl is trying to get away from. The final line is a plea for something beyond what the girl is familiar with.

In the second verse Bowie criticises how society has evolved. Mickey Mouse is now a cow, sacred and untouchable, or a cash cow, a commercial entity. He puns on the names Lennon and Lenin, indicating communism has also become commercialised, and disses tourism, where millions escape to the same place. He also claims patriotic Britain is inaccessible to the working classes.

Lyrically the song is mostly in the present simple, with some present continuous and present perfect. Discussing the song, Bowie said it is “a sensitive young girl being told that there’s a far greater life somewhere, and she’s bitterly disappointed that she doesn’t have access to it.” The chords used are those of French song Comme d’Habitude by Claude François; in 1968 Bowie was asked to write English lyrics for it, which were rejected. Instead, Paul Anka adapted it and wrote My Way, a song made famous by Frank Sinatra.

life on mars?

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 Lennon’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?

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