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Rocket men

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Elton John was invited to NASA's Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, Texas in the spring of 1972, following the success of his hit "Rocket Man."
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And all the science, I don’t understand. It’s just my job five days a week.” – “Rocket Man” by Elton John (Honky Chateau album 1972)

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Synchromystically speaking, Elton John's 1972 hit "Rocket Man" happens to be playing on my office stereo. That struck me due to President Donald Trump's recent references to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un's Trumpian nickname, "Little Rocket Man." 

Childish, of course, considering we're talking about nuclear weapons, or ... "fire and fury." Weaponry that will turn the planet into the equivalent of suburban Albuquerque ... and you know what Bugs Bunny always said about Albuquerque ...

But for over a year now Elton John's classic, melancholy hit from the year of my birth has been worming its way into my brain for quite a bit now. But for reasons beyond it being a brilliantly-crafted pop song that makes you want to weep at certain moments. It's such a song of its era. And yet it still resonates. Think about this - humans have (allegedly) not set foot on the surface of the Moon since December 1972, the very same year "Rocket Man" was burning up the charts. 

Seems like yesterday ...


NASA Apollo astronauts training in the California desert in their lunar-surface "Wonderbug" for the upcoming "manned" Moon mission! (Sid and Marty Krofft)

Curious, isn't it? And our good pal Christopher Knowles, in a post this very day at The Secret Sun, opines about NASA wanting to study the previously unknown characteristics of Moon dust, or somesuch (Check out Dave McGowan's "Wagging the Moondoggie" series, as well - great info there that he got out before his death). But wait, didn't we study Moon rocks and dust ad nauseum back in those gauzy days when Nixon's Plumbers were stopping "leaks," particularly after Daniel Ellsberg and the "Pentagon Papers?" The same topic of a recently-released film called The Post? Secret history ... of, umm ... the Vietnam War. And more!

Wait, that book "primary color" swash cover triggered me. Something "synchronistic" ... hmmm ....

or maybe it was here ...

Writes the sagacious Mr. Knowles: “Apollo was a propaganda circus meant to take people's minds off all the crazy crap going on in the country at the time. It worked pretty well until everyone got bored with it.

If anyone's really been to the Moon they never went in those ridiculous Apollo tinkertoys. They went in the kind of hardware that seems to be getting ready to be rolled out of Area 51, the stuff videographers in Las Vegas have been seeing flying around over Groom Lake the past few years. 

And they sure as shit weren't ever playing golf and doing donuts in their space-buggy up there.” (Emphasis ours)

Well, we couldn't agree more. Forget Alan Shepard's "smuggled" six iron golf club on a '71 mission (or that time the recently-deceased astronaut John Young smuggled a corned beef sandwich aboard a Gemini flight, much to Gus Grissom's digust), what was up with the Moon buggies? For the "they-faked-the-Moon-landing" crowd, that is the one where NASA was just flipping the bird at a public that was increasingly disinterested in blast-offs and splashdowns. 

No one has ever been able to adequately explain to me just how the hell they got those Moon buggies up there? Maybe like Wonderbug, NASA's junked-out, anthropomorphic "Schlepcar" transformed into the crimefighting "Wonderbug" of my childhood, at the sound of a magic horn that sounded like a a cavalry charge ... or maybe the latest theme song from the James Bond franchise ...

Even 007 was in on the joke. 

Perhaps I could ask Jim Bridenstine, the Tulsa-based reactionary Republican congressman and suspected "flat-earther" who bested my cousin John Sullivan for the role of representing Oklahoma's 1st congressional district. Now that he appears to be heading to NASA to work as the "Never A Straight Answer" agency's new "administrator" and well-paid liar who promises to not let the "Apollo,etc." cat out of the bag, I think he's a shoo-in.. After all, they still have rubes to fool.

After all, Trump, when he was inaugurated (shortly after Melania held an expression on her face that reminded me of someone who learned a close friend or family member had just died) told the world that Trumplandia's Space Cadet squadron in Houston and Cape Canaveral would be sure to send all-American Maj. Tony Nelson of Cocoa Beach, Florida to "unlock the mysteries of space." 


And not only that, Trump - echoing first "man on the Moon" Buzz Aldrin, who has taken on an almost mystical magus persona in recent years, dreamily talking about monoliths on Martian moons and such, and being evacuated to New Zealand last year after an "incident" in Antarctica, to be treated by a doctor named ... David Bowie!!! - wants humans on Mars in the middle of the next decade. 

A tall order, we know. But humans have an uncanny ability of doing things that seem, well, impossible!

But then recalling Bridenstine's "no-shows" at the Oklahoma Press Association's annual legislative ass-kissing events (run by a guy who called me a "nutjob" for asking tough questions), I doubt he'll be taking questions from this reporter any time soon. As for Trump, Bridenstine did actually show up at the 2016 OPA confab to let reporters know he intended to support Trump. 

As we reported at the time: "The decision is now binary. Either you are for Donald Trump or you are for Hillary Clinton,” Bridenstine said. “And here in the state of Oklahoma I don’t see how we could rally behind someone who is continuing to advance policies that are very damaging to all of our constituents."

Herr Bridenstine will fit right in in the upper echelons of the Trump Reich, involved, no doubt, in "damage control."


In my review of Tom Doyle’s book about the 70’s-era Elton John, Captain Fantastic, he writes of “Rocket Man”:  It’s a song “filled with alienation and a sense of sad adventure.” Elton managed to excite the public – and even NASA, who tied the song to their Apollo 16 launch and even invited Elton, Taupin and the Elton John Band and entourage to Houston for a fun-filled visit.”

Fun-filled, indeed. Perhaps Elton John was told more about what was going on during that visit nearly 46 years ago than he has let on over the years. What do you want to bet that President Nixon knew what was going on during the Apollo missions (1969-72), which were bookended by David Bowie's "Space Oddity" (released in July 1969, around the time of the first manned Moon launch of Apollo 11 - AND - re-released as a single in January 1973, after the final manned Moon launch, Apollo 17, a month earlier - and becoming a big hit for Bowie stateside), a song that Bowie felt was stolen by Elton John when he wrote and recorded "Rocket Man." Author Tom Doyle notes that the "Starman" was "livid" about "Rocket Man," thinking it a ripoff of "Space Oddity." (Funny thing: The other day, when "Rocket Man" came on in the car, my kids argued about whether it was Elton John or David Bowie ...)

Lyrics to "Rocket Man" in Elton John's Honky Chateau CD booklet. (Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report)

But with the passage of time, there were no hard feelings. After Bowie's "ascension to the stars" in January 2016 (triggering the ongoing "Blackstar Event"), at the age of 69, Elton John performed with other musical "stars" at a Los Angeles Theater as part of a tribute to the dearly-departed Ziggy Stardust, performing an instrumental version of "Space Oddity," followed by "Rocket Man." He "dedicated it to the Starman himself," reported the UK Independent.

AND I THINK IT'S GOING TO BE A LONG, LONG TIME: Clip from moving, animated video for "Rocket Man." (EltonJohnVEVO)

I recall last year, when Oklahoma City's 90's alt-rock heroes The Nixons reunited for a couple of shows and performed a fantastic cover of "Rocket Man" as a screen behind the band featured images of rockets lifting off, landing and so forth. Later in the concert, images from the final episode of the original Twin Peaks series featured Laura Palmer, BOB, and Windom Earle in the Black Lodge. Of course that interdimensional realm is a reference to a dark place of evil and acknowledged by followers of Tibetan Buddhism and coffee slingers in labyrinth-filled New Harmony, Indiana, as it turns out ..,

WHAT YEAR IS IT? The Nixons in Oklahoma City on March 31, 2017. (Andrew W. Grffin / Red Dirt Report)

Arguably Elton John's most popular song, "Rocket Man" has been politicized (and tainted, in a way) by President Trump's endless use of it in his campaign events and his aforementioned schoolyard taunts of Kim Jong-un of North Korea.

The Washington Post, back in September, noted the "Rocket Man" link in a piece headlined "A brief history of President Trump and Elton John." 

"During the 2016 campaign, 'Rocket Man' was a go-to crowd-pleaser at more than a few of Trump's presidential rallies," writes reporter Helena Andrews-Dyer. "In fact, John's hit was played so many time that the singer himself weighed in. He told the (UK) Guardian that he hadn't given then-candidate Trump permission to use any of his songs.

The Rolling Stones asked Trump to stop using their hits, including 1969's "You Can't Always Get What You Want" and 1981's "Start Me Up," with the band's publicist saying in a press release: "The Rolling Stones have never given permission to the Trump campaign to use their songs and have requested that they cease all use immediately."

Donald Trump rallying his cryptofascist shock troops in Oklahoma City, alongside some missing link from Duck Dynasty. (Sarah Hussain / Red Dirt Report)

Not that the future Trumpenfuhrer gave a damn what Mick Jagger thought, even though the early and vaguely misogynistic Stones song "Heart of Stone" (?!?!) was played at his inaugural concert - as the intro. Message received. Crystal clear. What is it with Trump and the Stones? I'm a fan because my Dad introduced me to the band at a young age, although he's disappointed that the psychedelic and weirdly foppish Their Satanic Majesties Request is my favorite, over the gritty Exile on Main St. (his favorite). Oh well. 

As I wrote at the time: "As the Wikipedia entry for “Heart of Stone” notes is that “(t)he song sees the singer discuss his life as a womanizer, and how one girl in particular won’t break his heart.”

As the lyrics go: “There’s been so many girls that I’ve known / I’ve made so many cry, and still wonder why / Here comes a little girl / I see her walking down the street.”

Hello, Stormy Daniels!!! Please spank me with that copy of Forbes magazine, you vixen!

Oh, and here's a little payoff, sweetheart ... 

If only it had been MAD magazine and not Forbes ... 

I mean, you can't make this stuff up!

Team Trump played songs by Aerosmith and Adele, even though they wanted nothing to do with Trump and asked he not play their music at his state fairgrounds hate rallies. Again, Lil' Donnie stomped his feet and did what he wanted.

But those songs did not match "Rocket Man." That was the song that seemed to really excite the crowds, much to Elton John's horror, with the singer saying in a statement: "I don't really want my music to be involved in anything to do with an American election campaign. I'm British," Elton John said, adding, "I've met Donald Trump, he was very nice to me, it's nothing personal, his political views are his own, mine are very different. I'm not a Republican in a million years."

He would later add, at a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton, that Trump was a "barbarian." And they are, indeed, at the gates.

With Trump borrowing from Nixon's playbook, or attempting to, it feels like everything old is new again. We've seen this rerun before. Is impeachment on the horizon?

Perhaps the impetuous man-child will trigger a global thermonuclear war as a sort of distraction, kind of like the Moon landing hoaxes were orchestrated, as Christopher Knowles reminded us, to get America's mind off the insane meat grinder known as the Vietnam War and the other turbulent problems, assassinations and turmoil of that time.

JFK wasn't alive to see his promise of a "man on the Moon" by the end of the 1960's come to pass. LBJ and an assortment of vile gangsters with Top Secret clearance took care of that. And, with growing amounts of evidence and our increasingly short-term memories, I guess we didn't either. But dammit, we're going to try ... umm ... again. Cuz we did go. No, wait. We didn't. What you saw was a movie. One with OJ Simpson ... and Mark Twain impersonator Hal Holbrook ...

No. That wasn't the Moon. That was Mars. Buzz keeps telling us to "get our asses to Mars." But what then?

"Mars ain't the kind of place to raise your kids. In fact it's cold as hell. And there's no one there to raise them, if you did." 

We can always dream, right?

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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