For some time there has been an eccentric link between rock music — particularly British rock music, it seems — and science fiction — most specifically to space travel science fiction. Perhaps David Bowie’s Space Oddity is the earliest well-known example of a pop song telling a story of space travel.
Although Bowie later sang “we know Major Tom’s a junkie”, calling into question the science fiction of the song, Commander Chris Hadfield firmly returned Space Oddity to space travel with his farewell rendition from the International Space Station.
Elton John and Bernie Taupin came up with the quite Bradburyesque Rocket Man, memorably covered by Kate Bush and less memorably by William Shatner.
In ’39, Queen’s Dr. Brian May wrote and sang a surprisingly moving science fiction poem about the tragedy of time dilation during extended space voyages. There’s a hint of Science Fiction in Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and I suspect Supertramp did something of this nature, but memory of moments of my life listening to Supertramp are strangely blank. One must also think of ELO and of Boston’s flying saucer guitar album covers. The reunited Beatl — I mean Klaatu made a career out of science fiction and fictionalized science, from their initial hit ode to an early pneumatic subway to their space travel concepts Hope and Magentalane.
And, of course, there are the Science Fiction treatments of Rick Wakeman, Alan Parsons and American Jeff Wayne.
For decades rock musicians have been attracted to science fiction themes, and, unknown to much of the public until Hadfield’s collaboration with The Barenaked Ladies early in his stint on the Space Station, Astronauts have long had a hobby of forming their own rock bands.
After Hadfield’s surprise YouTube dropping from orbit of Space Oddity, I wondered whether real Space Rock would be a one (or two) hit wonder. But a few days ago, Alan Parsons added a new twist, dedicating a live performance in Rome of Eye in the Sky to Italian astronaut (and unintentional space aquanaut) Luca Parmitano.
Science Fiction has become everyday reality — Rocket Men have become Space Rockers and pop music is bringing science to the masses. We live in the Science Fiction world we used to read about.
Decades ago Cosmonaut Alexey Leonov began to use his art to bring the experience of space exploration to the earthbound and Moonwalker Alan Bean has continued to produce magnificent paintings of his lunar experiences for us to wonder at. Although many may not know it, art has been a part of the experience of space exploration from the earliest days, and the art of Chris Hadfield, his music and photos, have brought the wonders space exploration, of science, technology and engineering to the attention of more of us on Earth than ever before. The beautiful photographs being beamed down to us every day by Astronauts Karen Nyberg and Luca Parmitano continue the necessary expression of their rare experiences through art. I’m certain that ever more young people will be inspired by the wonders of exploration in science and art.
Karen Nyberg is also a painter and a pianist. I wonder what surprise she has coming for us. I keep hoping for something involving astrophysicist Dr. Brian May, an orbiting artist astronaut, and ’39.
Update September 29, 2015: The space people keeps reaching out to their fellow Spaceship Earth crew members with music. Last week Italian astronaut and space endurance record holder Samantha Cristoforetti turned DJ and hosted a podcast of music connected to space for Radio Everyone. A very interesting listen.