Once upon a time, I heard this story on NPR’s “This American Life.”
The show takes the classifieds from one Sunday edition of the “Chicago Sun-Times“ and one edition of the local alternative weekly “Chicago Reader,” and fills a program with stories that come from the ads, getting a portrait of the whole city.
Episode 223: “Classifieds” originally aired on Oct. 11, 2002.
The bit that caught my attention started about 22 minutes in. I do not want to spoil it, but you know how sometimes in the classified ads one person will be seeking something which another person will be offering? And it is especially sad in the musicians section of the classifieds, where there might be a drummer seeking a band, and on the same page, a band seeking a drummer. “This American Life“ plays matchmaker and forms a one-day band out of the musicians in the classifieds. Producer Starlee Kine tells what happens, with the help of Jon Langford, a musician who already has a band, the Mekons. Mostly, that paragraph came from NPR’s website.
You can hear the one-day band’s rendition of Elton John’s “Rocket Man”.
There is one part in the story where the theremin player and the angry violinist go in to record. The music is so simple and it makes me feel the same way I feel when I hear the cry of a peacock or watch the end of “Saving Private Ryan.” It is not depressing, but rather … plaintive.
And did you know Ray Bradbury’s 1951 book “The Illustrated Man” was the inspiration for this song? Bradbury collected seventeen of his short sci-fi stories that explore the nature of humanity and published them together, along with a ‘new’ one. While none of the stories has a plot or character connection with the next, a recurring theme is the conflict of the cold mechanics of technology and human psychology. The stories are all tied together by the “illustrated man”, a vagabond covered in tattoos. The man’s animated tattoos, allegedly created by a woman from the future, each tell a different tale, including one named “The Rocket Man.”
An astronaut goes off into space for three months at a time, only returning to earth for three consecutive days to spend time with his wife and son. The son also holds an interest in one day becoming an astronaut. Talking with his father, the son learns of the constant battle the astronaut faces with yearning for the stars at home, while also yearning for home while in space. The man has attempted to quit and stay at home with his family several times, as he realizes his constant absence has nearly destroyed his wife. At the end of the story the father takes off into space one last time, only to meet his end by the sun, causing his wife and son to live their lives at night to avoid that reminder. Most of those two paragraphs came from Wikipedia.
I really like this NPR piece because no matter what genre of music you play, in the end we are all musicians. And the point of being a musician is to make the world a better place, right? Through celebration or calling attention to the issues. The way I look at it, we ultimately all want the same things.
The way I look at it, Major Tom (or whatever the rocket man’s name is) went up for the same reason: happiness. Going up into space is just a job for him, but he goes to provide for his wife. That is how I read into it, anyway. And he says he has a child as well. Whatever his mission in space is, he is going to make life on Earth better for his family.
We are all just one family, right? We should help one another be happy, right?
So we should collaborate, no matter what genre of music we prefer, on making this world a better one, right? I think it is worth it. Even if it takes a long, long time.
And you never know. You might just find you are not the man, or woman, you thought you were at all.