This week, we all got a treat when Astronaut Chris Hadfield’s version of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity (from the International Space Station) went viral.
“Space Oddity” is indeed a classic. When Paste Magazine posted a list of the “Top 23 Greatest Sci-Fi Songs,” Bowie’s song was #1.
But I’m always a little wary when someone describes a song as “science fiction music.” My general sense has always been that anything labeled “sci-fi music” leans heavily toward the overly twee (“Particle Man” sing-a-longs) or toward the overly narrative (Operation: Mindcrime, anyone?).
I think there’s a huge place for music dealing with science-fiction themes, tropes, and ideas. And imagery. We can expand the definition to include some really great stuff if we include “SF imagery.” But telling a story in a song–or worse, a concept album–really doesn’t cut it for me. Why not just write a novella?
And, yet, we have Bowie’s beautiful, haunting song. Is it SF? I always heard it was a metaphor for drug use, and someone losing himself in a Syd Barrett kind of way. Out there. In his mind. Never coming back. The fact that you could listen to it and get two stories at once always appealed to me.
Of course, I’m not thinking any of that when I watch Hadfield’s video. I’m thinking “Wow. That’s real sense-of-wonder stuff.” And the song’s still great.