Life on Mars, David Bowie


Paul Anka’s My way is very similar in meaning to Edith Piaf’s Non, je ne regrette rien (with its music coming from Comme d’habitude; Seems like the Americans of the 70s had some certain obsession with French culture). It is about a man facing his end of time, but feeling no regret about the life he has lived.

My question is, why was Bowie’s Life on Mars considered a parody to My way? Is it because such life acclaimed by Paul Anka as worthy is denounced by Bowie, for he had “lived it ten times or more” and got so sick of it that he even asked for a “life on mars”?

Although Bowie himself elaborated the song’s meaning in 1971 and then again in 1977, its cryptic lyrics is still open to different interpretations.

In fact, inspired by the lyrics, I did write a short fiction and gave it the same name. It was about a schoolboy who lives in his fantasy of gay love affair after reading so much danmei. One day, he woke up to the reality that he is just an ugly loser with an unrequited love for a straight guy. Ironically, he decided to become a danmei writer at the time, and this subsequently repeats the problematic cycle of fantasy among the gay community.

Jessica Lange sang this song beautifully with a deep German accent in AHS: Freak Show. Her rendition evoked in me a certain empathy, and if there is any common theme in the tragedies of my fictional character, Jessica Lange’s Elsa Mars and David Bowie’s girl with the mousy hair, then that must be disillusionment. My gay character failed to preserve his fantasy of being a good-looking desired bottom; Elsa Mars realized that she is not that good a singer and cannot revive her long-lost fame; and Bowie’s muse succumbed to her traumatic family life from which she can no longer escape by the simulation of cinema.

The thing is, there is a correlation between being disillusioned and being a philosophical pessimist. Wasn’t it said by Nietzsche that we are all condemned to some sort of life mission by the teacher of the purpose of existence? People keep fooling themselves by ideologies. Workers will be on strike when Lennon (or Lenin) is on sale again. Balzac does not believe in progress (and equality, either). So it is totally understandable to spit in the eyes of fools as they ask us to focus on those meaningless causes.

David Bowie had lived his life probably as a nihilist. Would such a man, in his end of time, bother talking about whether his life was well lived or not? It’s been four years since the release of Blackstar, and should my optimism count, there must have already been an answer to such question.

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