Is There Life on Mars?

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these. I suppose I got caught up in other projects and works and didn’t feel much up for analysis. I do apologize! As per request of r/musictheory, I give you David Bowie’s:

Life on Mars

There were numerous questions about this piece on the music theory subreddit some time ago. “Just what is David doing here?” many wondered. It’s so dreamy! It’s so alien! Yet, so beautiful! Are there any other songs like it?

To which the answer is yes, yes there are. Well, sort of–-at least harmonically. Bowie admitted that he took what was the sheet music to Comme D’habitude, a French song that would later be turned into that Sinatra song, put some lyrics on top of it, lost out to some hack songwriter named Paul Anka, and wrote Life on Mars almost out of spite. I use that phrase lightly, though. I do believe it was less out of spite and more out of “Well, shit, I guess I might as well do something with it and see what I can come up with. Sounds like a good time!”

Here, Bowie explains it a bit better:

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A Night Outside

I walked out onto the patio with a glass of wine in my hand. On a bench was a young woman smoking a cigarette. I sat across from her and said hi. We talked for a little bit then she said to me,

“Can you do me a favor?” and I said “Sure.”

She was a lady, after all. If maybe a bit young, unshapely, frizzy hair up in a bun (it was a wet winter)—at least she wasn’t a man.

“Can you get me a glass of wine?” she asked me.

“Oh…Sorry, no. I can’t.”

“Oh…Okay then. It’s just, I started this cigarette, and forgot to get my drink, and–”

“Wait, how old are you?”


“Oh! Okay. I though you were, like, sixteen, and you snuck in, and you were trying to get me to buy some shit, and I’m not going off to jail or anything. Who knows these days…”

“Oh! Haha, no, no, not at all…God, thank you! I didn’t know I looked so young. That makes me happy. I just was smoking and now here I am, and I can’t go inside…”

“Alright, well, you got cash? What do you want?”

“Yeah, uhm,” she fumbled through her bag, “here’s five, get me a glass of the house white—it’s exactly five.”

“Alright then.”

I went inside, bought her the wine (the bartender smiled at me, remarking how quick I had finished my drink), and went back outside.

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The Iceberg Mind

Jeb McKinney sat in the bathtub. His wrinkled, withered body was being washed by his oldest, Sandy. He stared at the granite wall as his daughter lifted his arm, scrubbed, put down his arm, lifted the other, scrubbed, put that one down, too, and continued in this fashion until they were finished.

Sometimes, though, thankfully not this morning, Jeb would get confused, frightened and embarrassed all at once. He couldn’t possibly lash out at his daughter—the thought could never cross the tender man’s mind. He had always been a sweet, considerate soul—Sandy had loved him for this since the day she was born—but in more trying moments he would be brash, boorish and unhinged, flailing about the room, making a fuss and yelling as loud as he could “Why?! Why do I have to bathe, damn it? Just let it be, if I can’t do it myself, there’s no use! I don’t smell anything! To hell with the others who can! I think I smell fine! No, no need to go out if I have to bathe first…To hell with the grocery store, the doctor and the rest!”

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