leejohnson's current selection is:
Rocket Man
by Elton John


Using the tag sentence "The Fiction Responding to Fiction series considers the influence that a short story has on another writer", Laura Spence-Ash (of the "Ploughshares Blog at Emerson College") applies its principle to both Ray Bradbury's sci-fi story and Elton John's same-titled smash hit record in a posting from 2017:


Fiction Responding to Fiction: Ray Bradbury and Elton John

Forty-five years ago this week [April 17th 2017], Elton John's single "Rocket Man (I Think It's Going to Be a Long, Long Time)" was released. Rising to the sixth spot on the Billboard [Hot 100] and included in the album "Honky Chateau", the song is a classic example of early Seventies 'soft rock'. Co-written by John and Bernie Taupin, the song is based on the science fiction short story "Rocket Man" by Ray Bradbury, published in "The Illustrated Man" [magazine] in 1951. Both the story and the song are reflective of their times. Somewhat fortuitously, the single "Rocket Man" was released the same week as the 'Apollo 16' launch, and echoes of the story can still be found on the surface of the moon.

Bradbury's story was written in the shadow of World War II, seven years before NASA was established by President Eisenhower. It is narrated by Doug, a fourteen-year-old boy, whose father travels to space for three months at a time. During the present moment of the story, the father is home, and yet the story pivots between the father's desire to be in space and to be at home with his family. Lilly, Doug's mother, has learned to deal with her husband's absence by pretending. She describes this to Doug as follows:

"When he went off into space ten years ago, I said to myself, 'He's dead. Or as good as dead. So think of him dead. And when he comes back, three or four times a year, it's not him at all, it's only a pleasant little memory or a dream. And if a memory or a dream stops, it can't hurt half as much. So most of the time I think of him dead ...'"

The first thing that Doug does after his father returns is to steal his suitcase and explore its contents. In his father's uniform, he finds evidence of the life his father leads so far away: "I smelled the planet Mars, an iron smell, and the planet Venus, a green ivy smell, and the planet Mercury, a scene of sulphur and fire; and I could smell the milky Moon and the hardness of stars." Doug's father tries hard not to show his son the allure of his work. But, occasionally, it slips out as he shows his true allegiances: "It's the best thing in a lifetime of best things."

And then he leaves again, this time never to return. A messenger arrives, and we learn that "His ship had fallen into the sun." We know this is coming, and yet reading that line remains devastating every time. We hold onto hope that he will return, that he will choose family over career.

In the re-formulating of the story into song, John and Taupin changed the narrative point-of-view. The story is now told by the 'rocket man' himself, and the son doesn't appear. The pervasive theme is loneliness, which seems to be a necessary by-product of the working man. That first line - "She packed my bags last night pre-flight" - is notable for the unnamed "she" who appears to be eager, or at least ready, for the narrator to leave. The striking consonance of that line means that it is instantly memorable after being scanned; once the melody is known, it's almost impossible to read that line without singing along.

[ Read on: http://blog.pshares.org/index.php/fiction-responding-to-fiction-ray-bradbury-and-elton-john/ ]


When you think of nailed-on British Number Ones, you would surely automatically include today's single release (I know I did before researching it). Not so! It got to No. 2 on June 3rd 1972 and no further (though it actually hung around at No. 5 for three weeks before and after it hit that spot). Its berth in the US Billboard Hot 100 is mentioned above.

It notably accompanies attempts by several Seventies-era artistes to capture the mysticism and vacuum emptiness of space; others just as famous who tried to describe its particular fascination included David Bowie with "Space Oddity", and 'The Carpenters' with "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft" (you will probably be able to think of a few more from the 1970s too involving musical journeys into that vastness).
1972 - DJM Records - United Kingdom - Officially titled "Rocket Man (I Think It's Going to Be a Long, Long Time)", and taken from the album "Honky Chateau".
Posted: 14th May 2019
Born in 1954, leaving education by 1972, 'glam' was my thing, "Ziggy" Bowie my hero. I was even the only guy in my town with the haircut (though not the carrot red colouring!). Therefore every seventh selection is a Bowie track.
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