A Staff Report from the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board

Followup: Isn't Bowie's "Rocket Man" based on a Ray Bradbury story?

Dear Straight Dope:

In reference to the "Major Tom" column. You mentioned Elton John's song Rocketmen alluding to Major Tom but I think you will find Elton John's song resembles Ray Bradbury's short story of the same name more than David Bowie's "Space Oddity." It's been awhile since I've read Bradbury's "Rocketman" but the I was under the impression that Elton and Bernie wrote it based on Bradbury's work.

By all accounts, John and Taupin's "Rocket Man" was definitely influenced by Ray Bradury's "The Rocket Man," published in 1965 in his "R is for Rocket" collection of short stories.

Bradbury's hero is a professional Rocket Man who makes three-month-treks to "Saturn, Neptune and Pluto" and who has such a wanderlust he finds it virtually impossible to stay at home. When he finally decides the "next trip" is his last (though he can't tell his wife, they have a real communication problem), his prophecy becomes all too real as his ship falls into the sun, and he dies.

However, there are still some significant similarities between "Space Oddity" and "Rocket Man." In both stories the lead characters are obviously very much in love with their wives ("Tell my wife I love her very much"; "I miss my wife"), both share a fair amount of fame for their outer-space activities ("The papers want to know whose shirts you wear"; "I'm not the man they think I am at home") and both are struggling with job stress ("I'm feeling very still"; "It's lonely out in space").

We'll just have to wait until John or Taupin tell us everything that influenced their song.

And I think it's gonna be a long, long time ...

We also got a letter from someone who questioned which album Space Oddity appeared on. Here's some information about that.

Space Oddity was originally released as a single (with The Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud on the "B" side) in July of 1969 by Philips in the U.K. The album David Bowie was released in the UK that same year, which was very confusing since his original debut album was also called David Bowie (Released June 2, 1967 by Philips in the UK). When it came to the U.S., the album was released as "Man of Words/Man of Music," and then re-titled "Space Oddity" when re-released in 1972.

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