Why I have “Rocket Man” stuck in my head.
I was listening to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” – not on purpose; it just happened. “Ground Control to Major Tom”, he bleats.
Major Tom is in space. He goes on a spacewalk that goes wrong. He asks Ground Control to tell his wife he loves her very much, then something goes wrong and he is left in a helpless distant place:
“far above the moon,
planet earth is blue
and there’s nothing I can do.”
Then I thought to myself, hey, that’s totally reminiscent of “Rocket Man”, so I googled that to discover that Elton John’s song is based on a Ray Bradbury short story from 1951 of the same name.
It is about a mother and son who live together while the dad is a rocket man in space. He is away for months at a time and the mother confesses to her son that she lives as if her husband were dead, as she knows how risky his job is. She figures that she would find it easier to cope with his death if that is how she lives. The dad comes home for a spell in the story and confides in his son. He has an inner conflict. When he is home he wants to be in space and when he is in space he wants to be home. In space he always resolves to stay home the next time, and once home, he is itching to get away again:
“Don’t ever be a Rocket Man.”
“I mean it,” he said. “Because when you’re out there you want to be here,
and when you’re here you want to be out there. Don’t start that. Don’t let it
get hold of you.”
“You don’t know what it is. Every time I’m out there I think, If I ever get
back to Earth I’ll stay there; I’ll never go out again. But I go out, and I
guess I’ll always go out.”
“I’ve thought about being a Rocket Man for a long time,” I said.
Elton John’s song picks up on some of the ideas in the story. The character talks about his wife packing for him and the loneliness of space and the inhospitable nature of Mars and the long, long time that he will be away.
So, Ray Bradbury wrote the original story in 1951. David Bowie’s song came out in 1969. Elton John’s song came out in 1972. There were six manned moon landings between 1969 and 1974, I think.
Not that I think it’s necessarily connected, but the next song that lines itself up in my inner playlist is Gloria Gaynor, who seems to play the wife in “Rocket Man” in her song, “I will survive” which was released in 1978:
At first I was afraid I was petrified
Kept thinking I could never live without you by my side
But then I spent so many nights
Thinking how you did me wrong
And I grew strong
And I learned how to get along
And now you’re back
from outer space
I just walked in to find you here
with that sad look upon your face
I had enjoyed listening to Chris Hadfield’s version of Space Oddity, but just this week is has been withdrawn from YouTube, according to the news, because he only had been granted a year of the copyright. But I found a link to it:
I am no fan of music, much less 1970s space-themed pop, but despite this, I am intermittently singing, “Rocket Man!” and then forgetting how the rest of it goes, before breaking into little bits of “I will survive”…
I have also watched some interesting YouTubes about spacewalks and I am NEVER going on one!