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Sunday, May 25, 2014

A "Surprise" for Astronaut Story Musgrave

In our continuing saga of singing for astronauts, Kathy and I had the honor of staging a surprise musical tribute to astronaut Story Musgrave.  Dr. Story's list of  accomplishments read on and on like the exploits of a superman. This is the guy who repaired the Hubble Telescope. Try doing that extremely technical work in a space suit with the earth wheeling over your head at 17,000 mph. Screw up once and it's "Game over man!".

The city of Petaluma had made a formal declaration that Saturday, May 17, 2014 be "Story Musgrave Day" and Mayor David Glass and other dignitaries were on hand to give him a plaque honoring his many years of service. 

Kathy and I were stealthily positioned  in the Walnut Park gazebo waiting as he and as his entourage came around the corner. As he approached the stage unaware, we launched into "Rocket Man" with everyone around joining on the chorus.  A big smile spread over his face like a kid at his own surprise birthday party.

The guy has nerves of steel and a very warm heart. He hugged everybody before he was presented the plaque. It was a thrill to give him a disk our original "space rock" songs, and he accepted the gift like we gave him the keys to the city.

After years of opening for astronauts I've noticed some things they have in common. A light-hearted enthusiasm and politeness seems to animate them. 
All those hours of circling the Earth seems to whittle away at the human ego. They have internalized how rare and vulnerable we all are in the vastness of space.

While we were talking with Story Musgrave a thought occurred to me...he should run for president. 
What a great leader he would make! 

Monday, May 12, 2014

Paying Musical Tribute to Dr. Timothy Ferris

On May 10th, Kathy and I opened for renowned scientist and author Dr. Timothy Ferris at the Santa Rosa Junior College in Petaluma. He was given an award for all his achievements, and Saturday, May 10th, 2014 was declared Timothy Ferris Day in Petaluma.

What a thrill to sing to him the song we wrote that was inspired by his book 'Coming of Age in the Milky Way'. We sang the chorus with the audience waving their books to the rhythm of the song. I'll always remember that!

So here's a guy who worked on one of the top missions NASA ever did: Voyager 1 and Voyager 2. They were all young men in those days including the late great Carl Sagan. Dr. Ferris was in charge of producing the "Golden Record" which compiled descriptions of the human race, our location in the galaxy, and a fascinating collection of music including Mozart, World music, some blues by Blind Willy Johnson, and rock n roll Chuck Berry's "Johnny Be Good". I guess Carl didn't want that one in there. I'm glad he was outvoted on that one. 

If I had my way, and since it was 1977, I would have put the Moody Blues "Question", or some of Dark Side of the Moon on it. How about you? Here's a link to read more about what's on the discs.

The Voyager spacecraft (which are the size of small semis!) were hastily put together when a NASA scientist realized that a rare planetary line-up was about to happen that would make it possible to send a probe up--that would not only take amazing photographs--but would be flung by Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn at tremendous speeds...a million miles a day! Washington blew their minds when they funded not one, but two probes!
So that's a combination of presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter giving the thumbs up on this one. We gotta work together folks!

Voyager 1 and 2 are currently leaving the Solar System on their immortal journey across the galaxy. They are expected to outlive the Earth. Now that's a hit song!

I sat with the Ferris' after the event, and Carolyn Ferris confided with me that she really liked my lyrics and expressed relief that we weren't hokey. I understand that! Writing about this stuff requires the songwriter to find out how things feel on an authentic emotional level. 'No feeling and you get hokey'; it's a law of songwriting.

At the end, I thanked Dr. Ferris for all his hard work and inspiration. I also said that for me the Voyager missions were a metaphor for all the higher instincts of our species. Think of it, in 1977 at the height of the Cold War, when a nuclear war seemed almost inevitable, these two spacecraft were launched with a hope for a more peaceful future and a general view of a friendly universe.  Now that's inspirational!
Metaquizzically yours,
Jim Ocean