The Meaning of David Bowie’s “Starman”
David Bowie was a lifelong trailblazer, a confidant of the 70s counterculture and a messenger of cosmic proportions, all of which he wrapped up in his Ziggy Stardust single, “Starman”.
Like the rest of the landmark concept album, “Starman” sees Bowie paint the picture of a steward from another planet sent to our world to free our minds, hearts and dancing feet. Let the kids lose it, let the kids use it, let all the kids dancehe sings in the iconic song that has spanned decades in pop culture.
Full of life lessons, coming down easier with the adage of the other mundane character, the song comes from the perspective of someone listening to Starman on the radio, hoping to make the future brighter than their past.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders of Mars we go behind the meaning of the album’s single, “Starman.”
Meaning behind the lyrics
Bowie once had a conversation with writer William S. Burroughs, in which he described his own method of writing. He told the writer that his goal was always to reach young people.
He revealed that his young fans often send him renditions of his own lyrics, re-voiced in their own words. Youth, he said, was blessed with a sincere, forward-looking perspective that lent itself well to what he was trying to do in his music.
And that’s exactly the audience he wanted to reach with “Starman.”
I didn’t know what time it was
The lights were dim, oh, oh
I leaned on my radio, oh, oh
A cat was laying down a damn rock ‘n’ roll soul, he said
The song comes from the perspective of someone hearing Starman’s message on the radio. Despite the common trope of aliens coming to earth to destroy it, Bowie saw an opposing perspective, saying his Starman had come to enlighten them.
There’s a Starman waiting in the sky
He would like to come and meet us
But he thinks he’d blow us away
There’s a Starman waiting in the sky
He told us not to blow it
‘Cause he knows it’s all worth it
Enlighten them on what exactly? Just to have a good time, it seems, and let the youth lead the way. Starman is telling the world to “lose it” and give in to the music.
let the kids lose it
Let the children use it
Let all the kids boogie
Bowie’s drummer Woody Woodmansey spoke about his impressions of the song in a 2008 interview with Uncut Magazine, saying, “I love ‘Starman’ because it’s the concept of hope the song communicates. That “we’re not alone” and that “they” reach out to the kids, not the adults, and kind of tell them “go ahead”. “Let the kids boogie”—music and rock ‘n’ roll! It diverted attention from the depressing affairs of the 70s and made the future brighter. ‘Starman’ was Bowie’s first song since ‘Space Oddity’ with mass appeal. After ‘Starman’, everything changed.
In 1972, Bowie took the song to a new height of fame with a performance on the popular British television show, Top pops. In the performance, Bowie appeared as the flamboyantly haired Ziggy Stardust in a multicolored jumpsuit mesmerizing people with his stage presence.
The performance catapulted Bowie into stardom and proved hugely influential on an entire new generation of rock and rollers. Many musicians, especially other English artists, cite this performance as a moment of transformation.
Lol Tolhurst of The Cure wrote in her memoir, ‘I remember sitting on my couch at home with my mother, watching this show unfold, and the moment Bowie sang the line, ‘I had to phone someone so I chose you” he pointed straight at the camera, and I knew he was singing that line for me and everyone else like me. It was a call to arms that set me on the path I was soon to follow.
“Starman” has been used in so many ways in pop culture that it’s impossible to keep up.
In 2016, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders used the song prominently throughout his campaign to tie in with his slogan “A Future To Believe In”. Elsewhere, the dummy of Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster was named ‘Starman’ after Bowie’s song as it circled the sun on the Falcon Heavy rocket’s first test flight.
It has found its way onto the soundtracks of many films, including Matt Damon’s 2015 action flick The Martian as well as the new Disney/Pixar animated feature Light year.
Photo by Richard Creamer/Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images