Rocket Men: “Lonely” Astronauts in Popular Music

Hey, The American Astronaut, a film-noir musical about a steampunk astronaut, isn’t the most widely known astronaut in music. I got to feeling nostalgic about Major Tom and other Musical Odes to Astronauts and found a few that I thought you might enjoy.

Most of these songs characterize the astronaut as lonely and eventually disconnected–disconnected from family as he leaves, disconnected from Earth, and in a few of the songs, disconnected from the spaceship as well, as he floats out into the nothing of space. Bowie’s song was in 1969, timed to coincide with the first moon landing; Elton John’s in 1972 and Peter Schilling’s in 1983. I add Duran Duran’s Astronaut as a contrast–he’s “leaving with an astronaut” which makes the song much more about coupling than de-coupling. And then, the opening to “Enterprise”–“Faith of the Heart” that celebrates astronauts as parts of teams.

I think the lonely/together idea is interesting when you talk about astronauts. Are we starting to see astronauts not as those who leave community, but those who are creating community? The first three songs are about leaving, about separating, and about not trusting Ground Control and where they might be sending humans. The other two, perhaps, are seeing the adventurous side of being an astronaut again, certainly about being part of a larger community which connects all the aviation pioneers in a long line of exploration and pushing out into space–which according to Star Trek– is densely populated.

Welcome, “lonely” astronaut!

Below: David Bowie “Space Oddity”; Elton John, “Rocket Man”; Peter Schilling “Major Tom”; Duran Duran “Astronaut” and Russell Watson’s “Faith of the Heart,” the opening to the TV series “Enterprise.”

For more on the story of Major Tom and the first three songs, try this link to the Straight Dope on Was there really a Major Tom?

3 thoughts on “Rocket Men: “Lonely” Astronauts in Popular Music

  1. daveed September 24, 2008 / 9:59

    Great post. It’s interesting how the tone of these song changed from melancholy in the 70s to the rah-rah romanticism of teh “Enterprise” theme (a song I absolutely can’t stand, btw).

    Anyway, there’s an earlier cut of “Space Oddity” that is more musically poppy and upbeat. (The lyrics are unchanged).

    Other songs which might be about astronauts, though I suspect not, are the Byrds’ “Eight Miles High” and Ass Ponys “Astronaut”.

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