Monday, August 11, 2008

Not all NASA-themed novelty disco songs sucked
Chicken Little didn't lie

As a musician who is interviewed by journalists, and as a journalist who interviews musicians, I know all about a question that every music writer learns in Music Journalism 101. Musicians dislike the question because it isn't a very good one:

What are your influences?

Musicians dread the question because they know music writers may not like the answer. For example, I am an alternative country singer, so I might plausibly respond as the writer likely believes I will: Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Hank Williams. Senior.

But although I admire those artists tremendously, musicians who have influenced me at least as much include ones I loved when I was a kid: Styx, Donna Summer, Thomas Dolby. And there are more contemporary sounds I like that might not make sense as country influences: Kelly Clarkson, Outkast, the Whitewater polka artist Steve Meisner. But I suspect those answers wouldn't end up in the article. Or if they did, they would be only the punchline of a not very illuminating joke.

The point is that, for this musician at least, there's no telling what will influence me musically. Which brings me to today's featured track.

Years ago I blogged about being moved when I identify songs I dimly remember from childhood. That happened just the other day when I played a 45 given to me as a present by my very thoughtful boyfriend: The Astronuts, "Skylab Is Falling." Incredibly, he turned the record up on eBay based on my pitifully vague description. It is a novelty disco song I remembered, if faintly, from the summer of 1979, when the pioneering American space station Skylab crashed to earth. I was 8.

Actually, all I recalled was the title refrain, fraught with pathos. But the memory of Skylab's demise stayed with me, and years later I mentioned the event in a song of my own, the Junkers' "Susan B. Anthony Dollar Rag," about the ill-fated coin:

Now 1979 was the year for disaster
Three Mile Island was ailin', Skylab met the master
And ol' Brezhnev said Hey, I never been to sunny Afghanistan

Those are all events I remember from that year, and indeed they are my earliest political memories. And for my memory of Skylab's falling I can thank the Astronuts, whose charming, propulsive disco ditty planted the seed for what has turned out to be a lifelong fascination with manned spaceflight. But that's another blog entry.

The Astronuts - Skylab Is Falling

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