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Chapter VIII

05/31/10

Excerpt from Playboy Magazine March, 1976

Interview with David Bowie

 

Playboy: Tell us about Major Tom. 

David Bowie: Space Oddity.  Everyone wants to know about that.  You’d think I’d get tired of telling this story, but I don’t.  I wouldn’t be giving this interview if it weren’t for this story. 

PB: And this all came from a chance encounter with Major Tom? 

DB: I would say more fortuitous than chance.  Growing up in Britain after the war was difficult at times.  It was a few years after my family moved to Bromley.  Sputnik 1 fell out of orbit and crashed to the earth.  Major Tom was there to make sure that it burned up as it reentered and to destroy anything that might pose a danger.  I saw him that day.  He was only there for a second, but he was there.  Seeing him in news reels and hearing about him on the radio wasn’t the same as seeing him there – in the flesh.  It’s not something you could ever forget. 

PB: I wouldn’t think so.  You’re not the only person to have been inspired by him.  Why do you think he has such an impact on people, or the world for that matter?

DB: He represents something we aren’t yet.  He’s a stronger and better version of us.   Humans.  When we see him, we see what we aspire to be made flesh. 

PB: Is there a direct connection between the song and Major Tom?

DB: Well, not a direct connection.  It’s not really his story, but more of my idea of his story. 

PB: Tell us your version of his story. 

DB: Well, it’s all on the album, now isn’t it? 

PB: True, but could you give a bit of explanation to your vision?

DB: As I see him, Major Tom is an astronaut that leaves Earth in search of hope to save his world.  His spaceship hits a cosmic anomaly and is never heard from again.  As Major Tom loses contact with Earth, all he can think is that he’s failed them.  They had pinned all their hopes on him, and he fails.  The Earth is destroyed. 

PB: That’s pretty depressing and rather fatalistic.  Why do you feel this is his origin?  Why not something happier?  More heroic? 

DB: It all makes sense when you look at it.  The world is on the brink of war every other week.  We don’t live in happy times.  As I said before, growing up in Britain after World War II doesn’t give you the most positive outlook on life.  There’s a concurrent feeling of hopelessness and desolation.  You see people around you all the time, but there’s no connection between you.  It’s like living in a world made up of billions of little worlds.  Yes, it’s depressing, but only because we’ve made it that way. 

PB: This sounds more like the plot of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars.

DB: It is.  They’re connected, aren’t they?  Ziggy is myself as Major Tom.  I’m trying to save my world in the same way he tried to save his, unfortunately with the same results.  The difference is that in reality we have him. 

PB: Ok, I think this is where most people get confused between Major Tom and Ziggy Stardust. 

DB: I don’t think I could make it more clear than what’s on the albums.  If you listen to them – I mean, really listen to them – you can hear it. 

PB: Okay.  I think we’ve gotten slightly off track here.  We were talking about how Major Tom influenced you.  You said in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine that you came up with the idea for Ziggy Stardust seeing Major Tom that day.  You were 10 years old at the time, right? 

DB: Right.  Well, it wasn’t Ziggy Stardust then. At the time it was Captain Starburst.  I would run around zapping bad guys with my raygun and saving the people of the world.  As time went on, I realized that Captain Starburst was more than just a child’s spaceman fantasy.  He meant something.  He was a beacon of hope.  He was something we needed.  As I stripped him to his essence, Captain Starburst became Ziggy Stardust.  

PB: Interesting.  Now, I want to get into the androgyny of Ziggy Stardust and your own sexuality, but I have one last question about Major Tom.  Everything about the spaceman seems to be surrounded in mystery.  Among the countless rumors, is that he’s from another planet.  Do you believe that?  What are your thoughts on alien life?

DB: He’s not from of this Earth, but he’s definitely human.  Alien life?  No.  At least, I certainly hope not.  Movies and books always portray aliens as having technology far superior than ours.  They are aggressive, and have very little use for the Earth as a whole or its inhabitants.  It’s nice to dream about such things, but it’s best they stay as dreams.  If there is life out there, I hope we never find them.  For our sakes, I hope they never find us. 

*****

 

            Celia woke with a mild jolt that made her sit straight up in bed.  The room was dark, for midday.  She was surprised that her mom and Charles had let her sleep in.  Any other time, Charles would have been in her room sometime in the night trying to get her to eat something and open up about whatever it was that was bothering her.  This time they left her alone.  Celia thought that it would make her happy if they would just leave her to figure out her own problems, but it didn’t.  Instead, she felt a little saddened that they didn’t even make an attempt. 

            Celia walked out into the bright hallway and treaded down the carpeted walk to the stairs.  As she leisurely made her way down the stairs, she could hear the sounds of the tv echoing off the walls.  From the bottom of the steps she could see Charles and her mother watching wide-eyed with ridiculous grins.  Jonni caught her daughter’s image out the corner of her eye and waived her over. 

            “CeCe, honey.  It’s on!” Jonni practically squealed.  Celia walked over to them and plopped down in the chair next to the couch. 

            On tv was the first episode of VH1’s I Love the Superheroes.  Celia couldn’t believe how excited her parent’s were.  It was embarrassing to her.  It’s not like this was something new or foreign to them.  They lived a good part of their lives either among superheroes or as a superhero.  Celia looked over at them and shook her head in shame. 

            On tv, the title jingle played, and computer generated heroes flew past the title screen.  The title logo was broken into pieces by a gloved punch that came from off screen.  The image cut to has been actors and wannabe comedians making snide comments and failed jokes about some of the lesser heroes.  Footage from the tv show Bigfoot played on screen, and Jonni jumped and giggled. 

            “Anyone remember this guy?” said the show’s narrator.  “What’s a hero doing acting?” 

            “I wouldn’t really call that acting.” said one of the comedians on the screen. “Ok. Charles Reinhart used to be a member of the group the Championaires and went by the name Wooly Mammoth.  After the group disbanded, he went to Hollywood and became the star of a television series called Bigfoot.  The basic plot was, a hunter is chasing down Bigfoot cause he believes that the monster killed his son.  So, every week, someone encounters Bigfoot, and at first they’re scared.  And they’re like: Oh no, a big walking man-bear, or something.  Then they see that he’s friendly and he helps them from some kinda trouble.  Of course, the hunter is close on his trail, and right as he gets close to killing Bigfoot, he gets away with help from his new friend.” 

            The screen cut to another wannabe celebrity who tossed in their two cents.   

            “This series only lasted about ten episodes, but they were so ridiculous.  I remember laughing at them even as a kid cause they were so bad.  In one episode, he helped a battered wife find the courage to leave her husband.” 

            The camera panned to another person. 

            “My favorite episode was the one where he helped the kid get off drugs.  In the end of the episode, the kid’s standing at the edge of the forest waving saying: ‘Thank you, Mr. Bigfoot.’” 

            “Ok,” Charles butted in.  “In the shows defense, I didn’t help him get off drugs.  I beat up the dealer that was keeping him hooked.”  Celia cut her eyes at him. 

            “Tell me you’re joking?” she said. 

            “It was the 80’s, honey.  Nancy Reagan had everybody doing an anti-drug episode.” 

            Celia rolled her eyes and turned back to the television.  The showed had moved on from the Bigfoot tv series, but was still talking about Wooly Mammoth.  The narrator started the lame joke assault again by posing a question about Wooly Mammoth’s attire. 

             “While we’re on the subject of Wooly Mammoth – What’s he wearing under all that fur?” 

            “What is he wearing under there?” started the first person.  Celia recognized him as a former child actor who hadn’t done much work as an adult.  Most of his screen time came in the form of mugshots and an occasional starring role in a straight to dvd movie.  “Is he wearing anything?  I mean, what kinda hero runs around commando style?  Just hanging around all the time.” 

            “Yeah,” started another.  “I don’t think he really was a hero.  I think he was just a hairy exhibitionist.” 

            The two commentators began to banter back and forth.  The images on tv switched between the two of them.    

            “I’m surprise there isn’t any footage of Wooly Mammoth’s ‘trunk’ peeking out of the forest, if you get what I mean.” 

            The camera cut to Charles and Jonni sitting together.  Charles’ balding head shows to the world for the first time.  As he watched, he unconsciously reached up and rubbed his hairless spot. 

            Jonni bounced up and down on the couch.  She reached around Charles and gave him a big hug and a kiss on the cheek. 

            “They left us in!  They didn’t cut us out!” she exclaimed. 

            On the screen, Charles smiled as he held up a large triangular shaped support cup. 

            “I wasn’t completely naked.  I wore this over my fragiles.  It’s self adhesive and stays in place for hours.  I just had to make sure I shaved my immediate area.  When I transformed into Wooly Mammoth, the hair along my lower torso and thighs grew so long you couldn’t see it.  Voila!” 

            Celia couldn’t take anymore.  She stood up and walked out of the room.  Jonni and Charles looked at each other.  Charles titled his head towards the kitchen, and Jonni got up and followed after her. 

            “You hungry?” Jonni asked as she walked to the refrigerator.  Celia was sitting at the kitchen table looking out the window at the backyard.  Jonni took two sodas out of the fridge and walked over to the table.  She set a soda down next to Celia. 

            “Is there something you want to talk about?”  Jonni asked.  She opened her soda and took a swallow. 

            “Those people were making fun of you and da – Charles.  How can you just laugh at that?” Celia blurted.  She looked her mom’s reflection in the window.  Jonni shrugged her shoulders. 

            “What else are we gonna do?  It is what it is.” 

            “How can you be so blasé about everything?  You were so taken by the idea of superheroes and wanting to know them when you were young, and look what happened.  They took advantage of you.  Charles used to be a hero.  He used to save people, and he didn’t ask for anything in return.  Unlike some people.  These people don’t care about you, or what happened to you.  They just think you’re some kind of joke!” 

            “First off, I wasn’t some innocent naïve little girl.  I know you don’t want to hear this, but I knew exactly what I was getting into.  Sure, I got caught up in everything, but that was my choice and I could have left at any time.  In fact, when I did give up that life, it was my choice, and not because someone made me, or because I didn’t have anywhere else to go.  There are a lot of things that I’ve never written about, and never will.  I’ve been apart of some pretty amazing things.  I was there when…  I was there with the heroes when a lot of them fell.  I saw their pain.  I felt their grief.” 

            Jonni started to cry a bit.  Her book only scratched the surface of the life she lived.  She gave the people the sensationalism that they craved, the dark side to the superheroes, and served herself up as a harlot so that their images could still shine bright, despite being tarnished.  There was so much about them that she wasn’t allowed to speak on.  Some things she didn’t want to.  The one thing she swore never to do was to make them seem human.  Vulnerable.  They could be egotistical, self serving, womanizers, and even drug addicts, but they could never be shown as weak.  The public needed them to be strong.  The world needed them to be strong.  They had to be seen as better than us.  We relied on them to do all the things we could not.  They gave the world hope.  If they were seen as being just like everyone else, then there was no hope.  We were all doomed. 

            Celia turned to her mom.  She reached out and held the soda between her hands.  She pulled it closer, but didn’t open it. 

            “I can’t take them making fun of you anymore.” Celia said. 

            “Is that why you got in a fight yesterday?  Trying to protect us?” Jonni asked. 

            Celia’s eyes closed, and her head dropped. 

            “The principal called.  He said you were being suspended for a day.” 

            “I guess that’s why you let me sleep in.” 

            “You don’t need to protect us.  We can take care of ourselves.”  Jonni took another sip of her soda.  She reached across the table and opened Celia’s for her.  “Now, the principal wants to see us tomorrow morning.  He said that you broke Francesca’s phone and her ipod.  Her father wants us to replace them.” 

            “She’s lying!” Celia spat.  “I never touched her stuff!  I just wanted her to shut up.  I wanted to knock that smug little grin off her face.  And I wanted to rip that stupid t-shirt off of her.” 

            “Yeah.” Jonni sighed.  “They want us to replace that, too.  I’ve already gone online and ordered a new one.  I’m having it shipped directly to their house.” 

            “This isn’t fair.” cried Celia.  “This is all his fault!  All of it!”  Celia got up from the table and headed back to the stairs. 

            Jonni watched her daughter storm away.  She prayed that one day she would understand.  After everything Jonni had seen.  All that she knew.  Things go by so fast.  If only there was a way to let Celia know how little time they had left. 

            Charles poked his head around the doorframe.  Jonni looked at him and forced a smile.  Charles walked into the kitchen and stood behind her.  He put his hands on her shoulders and gently massaged them. 

            “I wish I could be her real father.” Charles said softly.  Jonni reached up and held his right hand. 

            “I know.” 

*****

 

            “Caroline!” screamed Carline’s father.  He stomped through the house flipping on light switches and opening doors.  “Caroline, you come out here right this minute!” 

            Caroline followed behind her father.  She reached out to grab him, but her hands passed right through his clothes.  She tried to scream.  Her mouth opened wide but nothing came out.  She tried again, over and over; her fist bawled up under her chin.  Tears rolled down her cheeks.  What was happening to her? 

            “Caroline!  Your mother and I are getting sick of this little game of yours.” Her dad said angrily.  “I am not in the mood for your little hide and seek crap tonight” 

            Caroline didn’t understand what was going on.  She wasn’t doing anything.  She was right there next to him.  It wasn’t her fault he couldn’t see her, or hear her.  She was trying.  She wanted him to see her, to know that she was right there all along. 

            “Did you find her?” Caroline’s mom called from upstairs. 

            “No.  I don’t know where that little girl is hiding.  Why does she keep doing this?  What the hell’s her problem?”  Her father opened the downstairs closet door for the third time. 

            ‘I don’t understand.” said her mother.  “She keeps pulling these disappearing acts on us and then pretends like she not doing it.” 

            “Three months she’s been doing this.” said Caroline’s father.  “And that stupid shrink hasn’t done anything to stop it.”  Caroline’s parents went back upstairs. 

            “You know, it’s one thing to play games around the house, but when she pulls this crap out in public…  It took me fifteen minutes to find her the other day at Wal-Mart.  Going up and down the aisles.  Aahhh!” Caroline’s father cried out.  “I finally had to tell someone that she was missing, again.  I just wish I knew what her problem was.” 

            Caroline’s father opened the door to her bedroom and went inside.  He looked under the bed and in the closet.  Caroline followed behind her parents.  She climbed up on top of the bed and waived her arms.  She tried to jump up and down, but her feet kept sinking into the bed.  She continued to waive her arms and tried to scream: “Here!  Here!  I’m over…

            “Here!” shouted Caroline.  She was standing on her bed, dressed in her pajamas.  Her father ran over to her.  He snatched her off the bed and onto the floor. 

            “Where have you been, young lady?  Answer me!” 

            Caroline was scared.  She was happy that her parents could see her again, but was afraid to answer.  She had been telling them for months that she was always right there, but they couldn’t see her.  Her psychologist took her words to mean that she felt ignored by her parents and said that it was all just a cry for attention. 

            Caroline didn’t answer her father.  There wasn’t anything she could say. 

            Her father turned her over his knee and raised his hand to spank her.  He held his hand in the air; trembling with fear and anger.  He had been spanking her or grounding her with every incident and she still hadn’t stopped. 

            Caroline’s father slowly lowered his hand and took her off his lap.  He got up and walked to the door with her mother in tow.  He turned off the light and shut the door without saying another word. 

            Caroline changed her clothes.  She grabbed her backpack and emptied out all of her school work and books.  She stuffed the pack with as much clothes as she could.  She went downstairs and filled the rest of the pack with snacks and other food.

            Caroline snuck out the backdoor into the darkness of the late night.  Her parents would never see her again.

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