(originally posted 4/1/2021)
When people say that the Mojave Desert is hot, they aren’t kidding. Factor in that Tom was wearing a very good knockoff of the Apollo 11 A7L spacesuit and you can understand why he was sweating profusely.
Why he was walking in the Mojave Desert in a very good knockoff of the Apollo 11 A7L spacesuit is a bit harder to explain.
I will try anyway.
You see, Tom was perhaps the biggest fan of David Bowie on the planet. It was said that he was named after the Tom in Major Tom and since he could remember his favorite musician was Bowie. He knew every song word for word. What’s more, he knew where each song was recorded, the musicians who participated on each album and, most importantly, why each song was written.
As much as anyone can anyway. It could be argued that even Bowie couldn’t know that.*
Tom adored every note just the same.
You could say that the death of David Bowie was why Tom was walking in the desert to begin with.
It was not, as you might have suspected, that he was simply mourning his passing. Not entirely anyway. At least, he did not believe that to be the case. Complicated stuff.
Tom had wanted to be an astronaut. And yes, that was simply because he wanted to follow in the footsteps of Major Tom. And no, it wasn’t as simple as that… because Major Tom floated away. That would indicate that Tom wanted to float away.
At least not when he was trying to be an astronaut.
Or did he?
That’s neither here nor there at this point in time, he didn’t make the cut and his dreams of looking down on Earth came to an end.
Many people believe that Major Tom was simply a drug user and that Bowie used the imagery of being blasted off into space as a metaphor. You might even reckon a guess that Tom’s next step was to become a drug user.
He did not. Even after Bowie called Major Tom a junkie in Ashes to Ashes. He simply didn’t buy it. He knew better.
So life rolled on and so did Tom. Attending every concert he could and collecting everything he could find on Bowie.
Tom had put an Ipod into his helmet so he could listen to music as he walked through the desert. There were seven songs playing on a loop. The sand shifted under his feet. The heat was getting unbearable. His vision was beginning to get a blurry. He would have to sit down soon.
The video for Blackstar, the first song on Bowie’s last album, appears to show the final fate of Major Tom. The album was recorded during his losing battle with cancer and was released only days before his death.
Tom hated the album. Even worse, he didn’t understand it. Of course he understood the imagery that pervaded every song, that stuff was obvious. Every rock critic and dime-store poet scrutinized each lyric and held it up to the light and the dark. That much was easy.
What he didn’t understand was why he didn’t like it. It couldn’t be that Bowie had made a bad album. That couldn’t be a possibility. That would invalidate Tom’s entire understanding of the world around him.
It had to be him.
Tom had read that people that suffered strokes often had intense psychedelic experiences during the event. Sometimes these experiences led to certain insights, things made known to them that they previously hadn’t known.
He hoped that heatstroke would elicit the same reaction.
Eventually he had to sit. It would be fairer to say he collapsed. Gravity can be a bitch, especially at mid-day. He was happy that he ended up sitting very much like Major Tom in the Blackstar video.
So anyway… he died like that. Sitting in the desert.
“Seeing more and feeling less, saying no but meaning yes – this is all I ever meant. That’s the message that I sent.”
* “It could be argued that even Bowie couldn’t know that.” Definitely an understatement. We might know why we try and write something, but we have no idea of the meaning of what ends up coming out. This story started out as an attempt at understanding why I always cry at the end of Jojo Rabbit. And not some stoic tear trickling down my cheek, but great wracking sobs. Every time. The first time… holy shit. Go figure.