Sunday, August 26, 2012

Music Sunday: Moon Song Edition, in memory of Neil Armstrong

Today's Music Sunday is a little different, although not lacking in music.

As you've probably heard by now, Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, died yesterday. The word hero gets bandied about a lot these days, but as far as I'm concerned Armstrong is one man who really deserves that title. He landed the Lunar Module Eagle on the moon, flying it manually after the computer program that was designed to guide the landing turned out to be trying to put the lander down in a place where too many rocks made a landing dangerous. Of course, being a pilot, I suspect Armstrong was not all that disappointed or upset that he actually had to fly the lander, rather than having the computer do it for him. Just having the guts to go to the moon, much less the cool to take over like that and make a successful landing in such stressful circumstances, qualifies him for the title of "hero".

I think it is notable that after his return from the moon, Armstrong simply went about the rest of his life and didn't make a career out of having been the first human to walk on another planetary body. He could have ridden the adulation that came his way as a result of his accomplishment for as long as he wanted to. Instead, he came back and taught, sat on some corporate boards, participated in the spaceflight accident investigations after Apollo 13 failed to make its scheduled moon landing and after the Challenger disaster, and generally led his life. In the US culture of hero worship and celebrity adulation, I think it took a great deal of character not to fall into the trap of living the rest of his life off the fame he gained from being the first man on the moon.

Because it became a tradition at NASA to play musical wake-up calls for the astronauts on missions, I was going to share the wake-up music from the Apollo 11 mission as a tribute to Armstrong. However, it turns out that the wake-up calls on that mission consisted of news and sports reports rather than music, so instead, I'm going to share a few "moon" songs.

"Fly Me To The Moon", by Frank Sinatra, seemed a natural place to start. Two Apollo missions had flown to and orbited the moon before Apollo 11 made the first landing. But the Apollo 11 crew was the first to fly to the moon, rather than just to the vicinity of the moon.

And then, I thought it seemed appropriate to share Louis Armstrong's version of "Moon River":

The Police's "Walking on the Moon" also seemed like a natural song to share here, even though it isn't really all that much about walking on the actual moon:

The moon, of course, plays a role in a lot of songs. "June, spoon, moon" is sort of the classically stereotypical love-song formula, and has nothing to do with moon landings, of course. But I couldn't resist sharing a few more "moon" songs. Many of these songs are romantic in nature, of course. One of my favorites is "Moondance", by Van Morrison:

Cat Stevens's (Yusuf Islam) "Moonshadow" is a song I've liked ever since it first came out. At first listen, it seems awfully depressing, with lyrics about losing, well, just about everything. But then, when you listen to it more closely, it really is about looking on the positive side of every situation, no matter how dire. That is a difficult thing to do, but something I think more of us should try more often. This live performance is from 1976:

Sting's "Moon Over Bourbon Street" is another favorite of mine. This performance, from 2010, includes a symphony orchestra and is perhaps a little over-produced for my taste, but it's a good live interpretation of a very good song:

Not all songs about the moon are romantic (in whatever way you want to interpret that concept) or hopeful. "Bad Moon Rising", by Creedence Clearwater Revival, takes the opposite tack of exploring the theme of the moon as an ominous omen:

Neil Armstrong's family has requested that those who want to do something in remembrance of him do a very simple thing. On a clear night sometime soon, go outside look up at the Moon, think of Mr. Armstrong, and give him and the moon a wink. I can't think of a more appropriate way to remember a man who lived an ordinary life after doing such an extraordinary thing as being the first human to walk on another world.

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