Archive | July, 2019

SciFi SongFest, Songs 7-8

In honour(?) of the Fourth of July, two rather sanguinary songs about revolutions, in the wake of a global overpopulation crisis and a nuclear war respectively. The two songs share a determined indifference to the schemes of rulers: “We are not your friends / we don’t give a damn for what you’re saying,” says one; “if now we don’t obey you / why should you find it strange? / we lived this long without you / and we see no need to change” says the other.

As for the ending of “We Are Hungry Men” – well, what’s the Fourth of July without a picnic?

7. David Bowie, “We Are Hungry Men” (1967)

8. Leslie Fish, “Hello! Remember Us” (1989)

Leslie Fish is perhaps America’s most prominent filksinger. (“Filksongs,” originating as a typo for “folksongs,” are a type of genre-related songs based within science-fiction fandom.) She’s also an anarchist, as you might guess from this next song.

Imagine “Hello! Remember Us” as a sequel to Dr. Strangelove (where the ruling elite retreat underground as the world burns), and a fulfillment of that film’s closing promise: “We’ll meet again.”

More complicatedly, we could see it as almost a sequel to Atlas Shrugged, from the standpoint of everyone left outside Galt’s Gulch during the collapse. “We are going back to the world,” says Galt at the novel’s end. Oh yeah? those who survived the collapse might be imagined as replying to those seeking to “claim [their] kingdom”: “We know what dreams you harbored / come kiss them all goodbye.”

SciFi SongFest, Songs 5-6

Two songs about satellites – in one case “misty and far away,” in another case a bit too close for comfort.

5. David Bowie, “Looking for Satellites” (1997)

(Is the title “Looking for Satellites” a reference to a GPS error message? Civilian GPS was much less common when this song was written, but it did exist.)

6. Devo, “Space Junk” (1978):

The line “I never touched her” raises suspicions….

Like a Streak of Light He Leaves Just in Time

I just got out of the new Spider-Man movie (which was really fun).

I can’t get over the fact that after 10 years of MCU movies, most of the audience still leaves before the post-credits scene.

And tonight, those who left before the post-credits scene included the TWO AUDIENCE MEMBERS DRESSED AS SPIDER-MAN.


SciFi SongFest, Songs 3-4

3. David Bowie, “Oh You Pretty Things” (1971):

In 1964’s “Times They Are A-Changin’,” Bob Dylan sang:

Come mothers and fathers throughout the land
and don’t criticize what you can’t understand
your sons and your daughters are beyond your command
your old road is rapidly agin’ ….

Seven years later, in “Changes,” Bowie would sing in similar vein:

And these children that you spit on
as they try to change their worlds
are immune to your consultations …
Turn and face the strange ….
Don’t tell them to grow up and out of it ….

At one level, Bowie’s “Oh You Pretty Things,” from the same year, shares the identical youth-revolt message:

Look out at your children
see their faces in golden rays
don’t kid yourself they belong to you
they’re the start of a coming race

But this time the youth revolt is described in science-fiction metaphors of a new species supplanting the old (“Homo sapiens have outgrown their use …. gotta make way for the Homo superior”) and of an alien invasion (not the following year’s friendly sparkling Starman, sequestering himself to refrain from blowing our minds, but a terrifying “hand reaching down” from a “crack in the sky”). The song echoes Bulwer-Lytton’s The Coming Race (though his genetic supermen came from a crack in the ground rather than from one in the sky), H. G. Wells’s Food of the Gods (in which a rising generation of giants, intended as metaphors for the new social order, do battle with their parents’ generation, with the young giants’ leader described as “a great black outline against the starry sky, a great black outline that threatened with one mighty gesture the firmament of heaven”), Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End (where aliens in orbit cause the next generation of human children to become superhuman and lose all connection with previous humanity), and, once again, 2001: A Space Odyssey (with its hyper-evolved, no-longer-human Starchild arriving in the skies above Earth with an unknown purpose).

The song shifts among multiple perspectives on its topic. a) In the lines quoted above, Bowie is addressing the parents on behalf of the children. But b) he also addresses the children on behalf of the parents: “Oh you pretty things / don’t you know you’re driving your mamas and papas insane.” (The line is also a joke on “Pretty Things” and “The Mamas and the Papas” as names of popular contemporary bands.) And the song also takes on, in its opening lines, c) the perspective of the parents themselves, for whom the rising generation are nightmarish alien invaders disrupting the previous generation’s comfortable breakfast routine. Strikingly, we never get to hear unambiguously from d) the children themselves.

The “strangers” might be a nod to Camus; the “puzzled man” is usually thought to be Nietzsche (which fits with the “Homo superior” theme – though “puzzled” never particularly struck me as Nietzsche’s go-to style); and the lines about the “world to come / where the books were found by the Golden Ones” have been seen as a reference to Ayn Rand’s Anthem, where two humans in the far future, one nicknamed the “Golden One,” escape from the stifling conformity of their society and come across ancient books from our own time period wherein they rediscover the concept of individuality – though I don’t know of any evidence that Bowie read Anthem. (Still, he was a voracious reader, so who knows?)

A different version:

4. Deadmau5, “The Veldt” (2012)

Continuing the theme of unsettling youth revolt, Deadmau5’s “The Veldt” is based on Ray Bradbury’s famous story of the same name, in which two children grow so engrossed in the computer-simulated African savannah in their bedroom that when their parents try to make them leave, the children program the room’s lions to kill them.

SciFi SongFest, Songs 1-2

As I hinted yesterday, I’m following up my month of Leonard Cohen songs with a series of songs with science-fiction themes. As with the Cohen series, I’ll post two songs per day. (Think of it as a kind of “science fiction double feature,” to coin a phrase.) (Also, note that – again as in the Cohen series – dates given are the year of the song’s initial release, which may be different from the year of composition and/or the year of the particular recording used.)

There’ll be a few differences from the Cohen series, however. One is that this series will last longer than a month. (How long? Until I get sick of it, or too busy. No promises.) For another: I can’t think of any major pop star who has engaged with science-fiction themes more frequently than David Bowie (including, e.g., bits of slang from A Clockwork Orange in non-sci-fi-themed songs I’m not planning to post, such as “Suffragette City” and “Girl Loves Me”). So for the first month and a half or so, I’ll be pairing a Bowie song with a non-Bowie song for each post – attempting a thematic pairing when possible, but it won’t always be. But the series will then continue without Bowie for probably a month or two more. Maybe.

Moreover, while the Cohen series represented, broadly speaking, my favourite Cohen songs, this series isn’t necessarily going to encompass my favourite Bowie songs. While there’s certainly overlap between the sets “Bowie songs with science-fiction themes” and “my favourite Bowie songs,” the intersection is much smaller than either set separately – even interpreting “science fiction” generously, as I intend to (probably a bit more generously with the Bowie songs than with the non-Bowie songs).

I’ll once again be trying for a mix of more and less well-known songs, earlier and later songs, etc. There’ll be a bit more commentary from me this time than was the case for the Cohen series, but I expect commentary will still be the exception rather than the rule.

Turning in passing from Bowie’s sci-fi musical career to his sci-fi film career, I’m sorry that he never got to play the two Michael Moorcock characters (actually two aspects of a single character – long story) he would have been perfect for: Elric of Melniboné, the pale, thin, elven, melancholy, doomed prince-swordsman-adventurer; and Jerry Cornelius, the manic, pill-popping, dimension-hopping, hip, bewildered, androgynous, messianic, rock-and-roll commedia dell’ arte English assassin.

But at least Bowie did get to play the enigmatic alien visitor Thomas Jerome Newton in The Man Who Fell to Earth and the manipulative, seductive Goblin King in Labyrinth, both of whom are kind of in the relevant ballpark.

Anyway, proceeding to our first pair of songs:

1. David Bowie, “Starman” (1972):

The benevolent Starman who might “blow our minds” if he descends is a kind of amalgam of the Martian messiah in Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land (even if Bowie dismissed that book as “too flower-powery” – take that, Lt. Heinlein, you’re too flower-powery for Ziggy Stardust!) and the Starchild who appears above the earth at the end of 2001: Space Odyssey; and the Starman’s call to “let all the children boogie” and “don’t tell your papa” seems flower-powery enough, a utopian vision of the 1960s youth revolt. Moreover, the suggestion that we can induce him to land on earth if we ourselves “sparkle” in response to his visible light in orbit overhead is reminiscent of the lines from Hair:

Good morning starshine
the earth says hello
you twinkle above us
we twinkle below

On the other hand, the Starman’s warning to humanity “not to blow it” is perhaps an echo of the somewhat sterner alien emissary in The Day the Earth Stood Still.

But the song’s central conceit – a terrestrial radio picking up subversive messages from a benevolent extraterrestrial source in orbit – seems above all to prefigure Philip K. Dick’s novels Radio Free Albemuth and VALIS of several years later. Perhaps Dick was influenced by Bowie; or perhaps both were influenced by the famous opening lines of the Outer Limits tv show: “There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission.”

Or maybe all three of them were picking up some hazy cosmic jive from … the Twilight Zone. Or, sorry, the Outer Limits.

A different version:

2. Parliament, “P. Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up)” (1975):

On a similar theme of a friendly alien force taking over terrestrial radio transmissions, with a more explicit reference to the Outer Limits opening (and a passing nod to David “Boowie”):

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