Where Have All The Astronauts Gone?

September 15, 2012

I entered school a mere half-decade after humans first set foot on the moon and, at the time, astronaut was a trendy career aspiration for kids our age.

Astronaut was a very cool gig.

You worked in space.

(the job sold itself on that alone)

Sometimes you returned home and found a bottle on the beach where you landed with Barbara Eden trapped inside.

Sometimes you ended up on a planet dominated by talking apes.

Space was the final frontier and it was full of possibilities.

In the early ’70s, we kids were led to believe that the future would resemble the world of the Jetsons.

Alas, the last moon landing had occurred in 1972 and the most important walk on the moon in our future was the one which The Police would sing about.

(it’s a great song, but not quite as cool as day shuttles to the moon while sophisticatedly and futuristically sipping Tang)

Being mobile but still diaper clad in 1969, I have no recollection of Neil Armstrong stepping onto the lunar surface. It had to have been mind-boggling.

My only memory of the Apollo missions was hearing about a deranged, elderly aunt in Florida who had been to a few of the launches, an accomplishment that elevated her to quasi-celebrity status within the family.

By the ’80s, everyone was preoccupied by Rubik’s Cube, Jell-O Pudding Pops, and MTV and space was forgotten.

None of us became astronauts.

Here are four space-age songs…

Elton John – Rocket Man
from Honky Château (1972)

Sir Elton didn’t exactly do the profession of astronaut any favors with Rocket Man, making it sound about as appealing as working the fry station at a fast food joint. It’s cold, it’s lonely, and he readily admits he doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing.

But, as a song, it’s a classic.

The Police – Walking On The Moon
from Reggatta de Blanc (1979)

Sparse and chilly, with a reggae vibe that was elemental to the sound of The Police, Walking On The Moon indeed captures the mood that I can imagine would be fitting for a stroll on the lunar surface.

If the next human to set foot on the moon is a music fan who lived through the ’80s, will they be able to do so and not have this song playing in their head?

A Flock Of Seagulls – A Space Age Love Song
from A Flock Of Seagulls (1982)

Even folks who lived through the ’80s probably remember A Flock Of Seagulls for no more than their debut hit I Ran (So Far Away), which was a Top Ten single, and lead singer Mike Score’s gravity-defying hair.

That’s too bad as I thought that the band’s blend of spacey synthesizers, effects-laden guitar, and sci-fi lyrics made for an engaging and interesting sound that stood out from a lot of their contemporaries and merited more than a footnote.

Though it wasn’t as successful as I Ran, I favored A Space Age Love Song from the moment I heard the full album. The song is breathtakingly wooshy and, at the time, it had a sonic vibe that sounded as if it might indeed be perfect for a romantic encounter in a future filled with jet packs and laser blasters.

Peter Schilling – Major Tom (Coming Home)
from Error In The System (1983)

In the autumn of ’83, I had opted to take German in hopes of a trans-Atlantic trip. That autumn, I had also discovered 97X, which had recently taken to the air as one of the first modern rock stations in the US.

So, my ears pricked up when the station began playing Major Tom (Coming Home) by the German musician Peter Schilling.

(I seem to recall that there was a German version which they would play)

Months later, Major Tom – a loose continuation of the tale of the character from David Bowie’s Space Oddity – was released in the States and became Schilling’s lone Top 40 hit and one of the more fondly remembered tracks of the period.