The Martians

Sometimes hearing a certain tune is enough to bring up an image, a memory, a certain emotion that became inseparably connected to this song. “Life on Mars” by David Bowie always makes me think of one of the first scenes from a British TV series, named after this song. In this scene, the protagonist wakes up after a major accident, finding himself in a strange new world. I see his dazed face (brilliantly played by John Simm), surrounded by the desolation of urban outskirts, accompanied by the cold and clear notes of Bowie’s song. In this scene, music is not just a soundtrack – it is a bridge from our world to the land of shadows (the fact that the song keeps on playing while the hero is unconscious is not a coincidence). A year after the series ended, a sequel “Ashes to Ashes” came out, and just like Bowie’s song that stripped the romantic aura from “Space Oddity,” the mythology of the series was also reinterpreted by the showrunners.  The chaotic and beautiful epoch of the 1970s was now over, and it was replaced with rougher and down to earth 1980s.

sam life on mars1

I have already mentioned in my other essays that life often presents us with unexpected parallels, usually involving things that you are equally fond of. That’s why, when I saw Michael C. Hall performing “Ashes to Ashes” at Bowie’s tribute concert, I could not help but think of his major role in the “Dexter” TV series, where he played a hero inhabiting a terrible and surreal world. For me, the similarity of “Mars” and “Dexter” protagonists is visible on a typological level, i.e. the way their personalities are formed – both of them are renegades, aliens, strange and very talented people, and both of them become what they are due to tragic circumstances.

In “Dexter” I was amazed by the hero’s catlike, almost animal grace, and the perfect commandment of his body. Knowing nothing about Michael’s past, I guessed that he must have had some kind of ballet or acrobatic background. And indeed, it turned out that he played in several Broadway shows, including the role of Emcee in “Cabaret” in New York as well as “Hedwig” musical (another Broadway show). And finally, he played a leading role in “Lazarus,” a production staged several months before Bowie’s death, based on his songs.

When David Bowie met Michael C. Hall for the first time (Michael auditioned for a role in “Lazarus”), he asked him, “what is it with you?”, thus referring to the fact that somehow the majority of projects where Michael was engaged tackled the topic of death. Hall played one of the owners of the funeral home in the series “Six Feet Under,” the serial killer in “Dexter,” and then was about to be cast as a person who cannot die (“Lazarus”). Moreover, in real life, Hall battled the same disease as Bowie – only Michael did survive.

This audition was probably the most major event of Michael’s life; but then, according to his own story, when he started singing, he suddenly heard someone singing along the second part; turning to the audience, he realized that it was David Bowie himself.

“And I thought: ‘OK, this is it. I have nothing left to fear.’ And that…. was an amazing day. I kept it together, but when he left, I was alone in the apartment and my legs went out, and I sort of fell to the floor. I’ve never met someone for whom I had such reverence. And the thing about meeting him was not just that I knew him, because I was so familiar with his music, but, because of the resonance of his music and the way it affects anyone who comes to love it, there was a sense that he knew me.” (*)

I always try to avoid comparing an original song performance to the interpretation; and yet, when I hear Hall singing Bowie’s songs I can’t help but feel how appropriate and natural his covers are, because of this actor’s stunning versatility. His Dexter – a monster, a “un-man,” a child born out of blood – overlaps with Bowie’s alien hero, a “man who fell to earth.” And therefore, when singing David’s songs, Michael combines the vibes of Bowie’s genius with his own unique life experience.


Katya Neklyudova, 2018 / 2019

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