Our fascination with it, regardless how far we journey into it in the literal sense, is boundless – like space itself. What kid doesn’t include “astronaut” in his or her list of “What I wanna be when I grow up” responses? Even as adults, people line up, and pay big money, to be a part of space adventures, regardless of how silly or impractical each proposition might seem.
The phrase “space tourism” is now part of our shared vocabulary, and tech companies are in a race to see who can provide the first group trips to the moon, the space station, even Mars. Bizarre? Yes. Possible? Probably. Exciting? Absolutely.
Rock-and-rollers, aspiring stars themselves, have shared this fascination, often in song. But it’s the nerdiest of artists that really capture the essence of space and what it’s like to travel there. It’s through these artists we can connect the fantasy of space travel with the real (and tangible) world of music for our children.
Take David Bowie’s Space Oddity. As a child, I found the idea of a man floating alone in space while his family waited here on earth both frightening and irresistible. Elton’s “Rocket Man” had a similar effect textually, but the music, more contemporary pop than experimental space rock, left me a little cold. Bowie captured the fantasy and horror of a space mission gone wrong with swooshing effects and a dramatic countdown. Add to that this weirdo video, and you’ve got yourself a truly trippy assessment of space travel.
Though They Might Be Giants had a special relationship with NASA as sort of cultural ambassadors, and made this idea manifest with a few songs about space (including the awesome “See the Constellation”), I prefer the instrumental “Space Suit.”
It’s jaunty and features an accordion – What do accordions have to do with space? Who cares? – but the synthesizer shots and floaty sing-along section is what gets me thinking “space.” This is a great play piece for the younger set, as you can jump off furniture and pretend to be bouncing along the surface of the moon or shooting through the stratosphere.
The spacey mellowness of Kate Bush’s Hello Earth is somewhat lullabyish, but its depth of gorgeousity cannot be overstated.
The woman is a master of moods, and this song is no exception. Her voice seems to drift down from space, and the sweeping nature of this slowly developing song swells and dips like a spacecraft on its lonely journey. As the song progresses, we understand it’s more about our little planet than about traveling above it.
Of course, if you wanna get way out there, turn your kid on to Sun Ra’s Space is the Place. A jazz-funk epic, Ra’s masterpiece will open the mind of any youngster to the possibilities of music, and time and space travel. Sun Ra was into cosmic consciousness and the ability of music to connect with our minds and souls. As usual, he makes it worth the trip.
A little easier to grasp, The Police’s Walking on the Moon also freaked me out as a kid. Andy Summer’s delay-heavy guitar lines and Sting’s reverbed vocals sent my mind spinning, and I always worried that if I had the opportunity to walk on the moon, my leg would break.
But the idea of near-weightless skipping across the surface of the moon trumped my fear. Still wanna do it, in fact.
Finally, at least for now, is Pink Floyd’s Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun, a dark interpretive piece that, like the best space songs, aims to take you out of the earthly realm and into a large, well, space.
This may not appeal to older kids, who like a solid back beat and an attractive lead singer, but for younger, less jaded children, the way this song develops — peaking in the middle with a virtual explosion of sound, then lilting into a spacey synth section — it’s a wondrous romp.
See also: Astronomy Domine.