Category Archives: Music

What is Most Covered Song of All Time?

alex atkins bookshelf musicSome songs are so admired by fellow musicians that they can help but honor it by recording it, adding their own spin to the famous song. Some of the covers are inspired, some are dubious, and some are outright disasters. Of course, purists always prefer the original song. Hey, why mess with a classic? So what is the most covered or recorded song of all time? Think Beatles. Have you guessed it? Here is the first verse: “Yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away. Now it looks as though they’re here to stay. Oh, I believe in yesterday.” That’s it — “Yesterday,” which was released in 1965 on the album Help!

In the song, the narrator/singer regrets something he said to his loved one that leads to their breakup. Musicians must really dig sad love songs, because “Yesterday” has been covered more than 2,200 times! The song’s melody popped into Paul McCartney head while he was sleeping. When he woke up, he rushed to the piano and played it to make sure he wouldn’t forget it. Later he and John Lennon developed the lyrics we all recognize today. So before the song had lyrics and a title it was simply referred to as “Scrambled Eggs.” In terms of royalties, the BBC reported that as of 2012, the Beatles’ “Yesterday” had earned more than $25 million! Who knew that a lover’s lament could be so lucrative?

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: Who is Major Tom in the Bowie Songs?
The Meaning of I Dreamed a Dream
Origin of the Beatles Name
How Rock Bands Got Their Names
The Most Misinterpreted Songs
Best Books for Music Lovers

The Best Books About The Beatles

For further reading: The Beatles Lyrics: The Stories Behind the Music, Including the Handwritten Drafts of More Than 100 Classic Beatles Songs by Hunter Davies (2015)
All The Songs: The Story Behind Every Beatles Release by Philippe Margotin (2013)
A Hard Day’s Write: The Stories Behind Every Beatles Song by Steve Turner (2005)
From Me To You: Songs the Beatles Covered and Songs They Gave Away by Brian Southall (2014)
100 Best Beatles Songs by Stephen Spines and Michael Lewis (2004)

Songs that Inspire: Don’t Let the Moment Pass

alex atkins bookshelf music“Youth has its glory,” wrote Lois Kaufman in The Ageless Soul, “but it is only as we begin to grow older that we can fully appreciate the fullness that life has to offer. We have gained  more freedom and flexibility, and the opportunity to venture into fields that perhaps never seemed to be available to us before. New perspectives bring new challenges and new successes well. We do not worry so much about failure, because we have learned to persevere. This is the ‘daylight saving time’ of life, the time to take advantage of every hour, and to give meaning to every minute.” It is this realization that was the inspiration for Eric Woolfson’s beautiful and poignant ballad, “Don’t Let the Moment Pass” from the stage musical Freudiana, based on the life of Sigmund Freud, that premiered in Vienna in 1990. Woolfson’s timeless metaphorical lyrics and lush orchestration paired with Marti Webb’s tender and, at the song’s crescendo, soaring vocals delivers a song that is sure to touch your soul. It is no wonder why the song is often played at weddings, celebrating the importance of love and living each moment to the fullest.

Progressive rock fans may recognize the name Woolfson. Woolfson (1945-2009) was one of the founders of the very innovative progressive rock band, the Alan Parsons Project (APP), that sold more than 50 million albums worldwide — without ever going on tour. The music from the musical was released on the album Freudiana. The original material for Freudiana was to be for APP’s 11th studio album, however due to creative differences with Alan Parsons, Woolfson, and Brian Bolly, a frequent collaborator of Andrew Lloyd Weber, adapted the songs for a musical. Alan Parsons wrote one song on Freudiana and produced the album. Several guest vocalists that collaborated on many prior APP albums also sang on the album. Another APP song with a similar theme (the wisdom of age), and equally as beautiful, is “Old and Wise” from the Eye in the Sky album (1982), featuring the powerful vocals of Colin Blunstone and soulful saxophone work by legendary Mel Collins.

Below are the lyrics of “Don’t Let the Moment Pass” from the album Freudiana.

Don’t Let the Moment Pass by Eric Woolfson

This golden day will be mine
For every moment in time
If time should lose her way

A symphony in the night
Of stars that dance in the light
And music far away

They say that love is but a dance
Don’t let the music fade away
Don’t let the moment pass

Without reason or rhyme
The sweet bouquet of the wine
Will vanish in the air

The innocence of the rose
She leaves where she goes
For all the world to share

Some days when clouds are drifting by
I open my eyes and watch them go
And wonder where they fly

Some nights Orion runs too fast
I look to the stars as if to say
Don’t let the moment pass

But soon a golden age is past
Just when it seemed that miracles
Where not too much to ask

And though the world may turn too fast
If it should seem like paradise
Don’t let the moment pass

Share your thoughts about the song in the comments section.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

For further reading: The Ageless Soul: Golden Pathways to Wisdom by Lois Kaufman

Read related posts: The Story Behind the Cat’s in the Cradle
The Meaning of I Dreamed a Dream
Songs that Inspire: I Look to You

The song can be heard here:

The School Shooting that Inspired Elton John’s Song, Ticking

alex atkins bookshelf musicThere was a time in the history of America when mass shootings, particularly senseless and shocking school shootings, were not so commonplace. The 1960s was a time of peace, harmony, hope, and free love, punctuated by protests that espoused the sanctity of human life and strongly denounced war and violence. Make Love — Not War. Perhaps that era is best epitomized by that famous uplifting Coke commercial of teenagers coming together to sing “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.” Things were groovy, man. But one horrific event in 1966 — long before the heartbreaking tragedies at Parkland, Sandy Hook, Columbine, and Virginia Tech — shattered that innocence and inspired a famous music artist and his talented lyricist to write a song about it.

When Elton John sat down to perform this song at a concert in Exeter, England in July of 2003, he turned to the audience and introduced it this way: “We’re going to do a slightly more serious song now. This song was written for an album in the early 70s called Caribou [released in 1974]. It’s a song that deals with violence in America in about the year 1973. When Bernie [Taupin] wrote the song, we thought things would get better — not worse. Well, here we are 30 years on, down the line, and things have gotten worse. And so the song is more relevant [now] than when it was written and its called Ticking.”

It has been suggested that Bernie Taupin wrote Ticking as a response to the movie “Targets” [or “Before I Die” released in 1968], a thriller directed by Peter Bogdanovich. The film focuses on Bobby Thompson, a seemingly normal, quiet young man, who is a Vietnam vet and gun collector, and works as an insurance agent. One morning he just snaps and proceeds to kill his wife, his mother and a delivery boy. Then he climbs on top of an oil storage tank adjacent to a freeway and begins shooting at passing cars. The police begin closing in on Thompson and he makes an escape, finding his way to a drive-in theatre. The gunman shoots the projectionist and then begins shooting at the patrons. Thompson is finally captured by the police after being subdued by an aging actor, played by Boris Karloff. (Yes, of Frankenstein fame.)

Bogdanovich’s film is based on the shocking and horrific University of Texas tower shooting (also referred to as the University of Texas Clock Tower massacre) in Austin, Texas. On August 1, 1966, 11:25 am, Charles Whitman (1941-1966)  climbed to the observation deck (28th floor) of the Main Building tower and opened fire, targeting people on campus and a nearby city street where students hung out. The shooting spree, that lasted about 90 minutes, killed 18 people and injured 31 others. Whitman was shot and killed by police that afternoon. Up until then, this was considered the deadliest mass shooting in American history [today, it ranks as the eighth deadliest mass shooting].

Sadly, in the context of increased gun violence and far too many tragic mass shootings in America, the backstory and details seem all too familiar today: Whitman was a seemingly normal young man, 25 years old, a intelligent (IQ of 139), an Eagle Scout, who joined the Marines. He did very well in the military, earning a Good Conduct medal, a Sharpshooter’s Badge, and a Marine Corps Expedition medal. In 1961, he earned a scholarship to study architectural engineering at the University of Texas. There he met and married his wife, Kathleen Frances Leissner (1943-1966), an education major. Doing these years, Whitman struggled with a gambling addiction. His grades suffered, he lost his scholarship, and he was ordered to active duty at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. In 1963, he was court-martialed for gambling, usury, possession of a personal firearm on base, and threatening another officer. He was demoted and eventually honorably discharged at the end of 1964. Whitman returned to the University of Texas to complete his architectural engineering degree. He worked as a bill collector, bank teller, and traffic surveyor. But Whitman’ marriage began to crumble as he became violent and sought help for what he described in his daily journal “overwhelming violent impulses.” He was losing himself, overwhelmed by frequent “unusual and irrational thoughts.” Whitman even sought help, meeting with a psychiatrist at the university clinic to complain that he was haunted by a morbid fantasy of shooting people with a deer rifle from the top of a tower. Those red flags, unfortunately, were missed.

At some point on July 31, 1966, Whitman just snapped. At 6:45 pm, he began typing up a suicide note. He began: “I do not quite understand what it is that compels me to type this letter. Perhaps it is to leave some vague reason for the actions I have recently performed. I do not really understand myself these days. I am supposed to be an average reasonable and intelligent young man. However, lately (I cannot recall when it started) I have been a victim of many unusual and irrational thoughts. These thoughts constantly recur, and it requires a tremendous mental effort to concentrate on useful and progressive tasks.” Soon after midnight he drove to his mother’s house and stabbed her in the heart. He returned to his house, to kill Kathleen, by stabbing her three times in the heart as she slept. In the morning he visited several stores to fulfill his lethal shopping list: at a hardware store, he purchased an M1 carbine (a lightweight semi-automatic rifle) and carbine magazines; at a gun shop, he purchased more carbine magazines and boxes of ammunition; and at Sears he bought a Sears Model 60 12-guage semi-automatic shotgun. Whitman returned home and placed these items along with 6 more guns, supplies (food, coffee, aspirin, water, knives, binoculars, radio, toilet paper, razor, and deodorant) into a footlocker and placed it on a hand truck. He drove to campus and reached the Main Building at the University of Texas at 11:25. Before reaching the observation deck, Whitman killed 2 employees and injured another one. The first shots rang out at 11:48 am. Initially, people mistook the sound of gun shots for construction noise, since there was construction site nearby. Four minutes later, a history professor realized that these were actually gun shots. Soon after police began to arrive. Eventually they made their way up to the top of the building, and one brave officer rushed at Whitman and shot him at point-blank range, killing him instantly. The time was 1:24 pm.

Let us now return to Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s song, Ticking. Although John and Taupin are best known for their top-40 hits, their genius is most often found in what DJ’s refer to as “deep cuts” — the songs that are neglected by radio stations, and appreciated by true aficionados. Ticking is no exception: it is an example of Taupin’s brilliant storytelling that is heightened by Elton John’s haunting melody and searing vocals. The title is a reference to the ticking of the clock of the proverbial “ticking time bomb.” The phrase, that appeared as early as 1893, means a person or situation that will likely become harmful or very dangerous in the future. The story begins with Taupin taunting us with a wonderful juxtaposition of the past and the present: we are presented with the image of a child who was a very good student and flash forward to the moment that his parents are notified of their child’s death. It immediately begs the question: what happened here?

Taupin then leads us through the life and qualities (namely, the ones law enforcement profilers recognize: narcissistic traits, paranoid ideation, and passionate hatred) of the troubled protagonist, taken right out of the news stories we have come to read in the wake of most of the most disturbing mass shootings. We learn that he is “a male caucasian” who seems to be a normal person, a quiet child, a good student, not competitive, obedient, grown up straight and true blue, repentant.” We get a sense that he has been brought up by a pious, and perhaps overbearing mother: “Grow up straight and true blue / Run along to bed… Don’t every ride on the Devil’s knee / Pay your penance well, my child, fear where Angels tread… Now you’ll never get to Heaven.” But the young man has felt alone, isolated and haunted with “strange notions in his head,” perhaps paranoia, that others “mean to do [him] harm” since childhood. At some point “his brain just snapped” and the troubled young man storms into a bar in Queens, the “Kicking Mule,” and kills fourteen innocent people. The police are called in, and soon after, the media descends on the scene and begins reporting: the scene is sealed, schools are closed and children are sent home. [Presumably, this is the time when politicians who value guns — and gun lobby money — more than human lives broadcast their two futile, trite messages: our prayers go out to the victims and thanks to the first-responders.] The police surround the bar, pleading for the gunman to surrender and come out with “hands held high.” As soon as he does, the police shoot him: “But they pumped you full of rifle shells as you stepped out the door / Oh you danced in death like a marionette on the vengeance of the law.” Although the song conveys that justice is quickly served; it leaves you with a haunting image — a mother’s admonition coupled with the ticking of the clock. The suggestion here is that there is alway another time bomb in the making: when will the next one explode? Hear it. Ticking. Ticking. Ticking…


Ticking (music by Elton John; lyrics by Bernie Taupin)

“An extremely quiet child” they called you in your school reports
“He’s always taken interest in the subjects that he’s taught”
So what was it that brought the squad car screaming up your drive
To notify your parents of the manner in which you diedAt St. Patricks every Sunday, Father Fletcher heard your sins
“Oh, he’s unconcerned with competition he never cares to win”
But blood stained a young hand that never held a gun
And his parents never thought of him as their troubled son”Now you’ll never get to Heaven” Mama said
Remember Mama said
Ticking, ticking
“Grow up straight and true blue
Run along to bed”
Hear it, hear it, ticking, tickingThey had you holed up in a downtown bar screaming for a priest
Some gook said “His brain’s just snapped” then someone called the police
You’d knifed a Negro waiter who had tried to calm you down
Oh you’d pulled a gun and told them all to lay still on the groundPromising to hurt no one, providing they were still
A young man tried to make a break, with tear-filled eyes you killed
That gun butt felt so smooth and warm cradled in your palm
Oh your childhood cried out in your head “they mean to do you harm”

“Don’t ever ride on the devil’s knee” Mama said
Remember mama said
Ticking, ticking
“Pay your penance well, my child
Fear where angels tread”
Hear it, hear it, ticking, ticking

Within an hour the news had reached the media machine
A male caucasian with a gun had gone berserk in Queens
The area had been sealed off, the kids sent home from school
Fourteen people lying dead in a bar they called the Kicking Mule

Oh they pleaded to your sanity for the sake of those inside
“Throw out your gun, walk out slow just keep your hands held high”
But they pumped you full of rifle shells as you stepped out the door
Oh you danced in death like a marionette on the vengeance of the law

“You’ve slept too long in silence” Mama said
Remember Mama said
Ticking, ticking
“Crazy boy, you’ll only wind up with strange notions in your head”
Hear it, hear it, ticking, ticking

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: Who is Major Tom in the Bowie Songs?
The Meaning of I Dreamed a Dream
Origin of the Beatles Name
How Rock Bands Got Their Names
The Most Misinterpreted Songs
Best Books for Music Lovers
What is the Meaning of Elton John’s Rocket Man?

For further reading:

Is There a Heaven?

alex atkins bookshelf musicImagine you are a father and your six-year old daughter, who is exposed to man’s inhumanity to man on a daily basis (broadcast on television and the internet), comes to you horrified; with a quivering voice she asks, “How can evil like this exist? Is there something better than this…? Papa, is there a heaven?” Those are challenging questions for adults to ask, let alone a child of six years. Throughout mankind’s existence, some very wise individuals have wrestled with these difficult questions. But here you are. How should you answer?

She’s not looking for a philosophical, psychological, or religious treatise. She is looking for some sliver of hope in what appears to be a cruel, violent world. It’s moments like this that you turn to poetry. As U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins noted so eloquently, “In times of crisis, poems, not paintings or ballet, are what people habitually reach for… The formalized language of poetry can ritualize experience and provide emotional focus… Poetry also can assure us that we are not alone; others, some of them long dead, have felt what we are feeling.” To that, I would add: and have thought what we are thinking.

However if you are Chris Rea, a talented singer-songwriter and guitarist, you write your daughter a beautiful, eloquent song that attempts to arrive at an answer and comfort her. Rea’s touching song, “Tell Me There’s A Heaven,” appearing on the paradoxically titled album “The Road to Hell” (1989) was inspired by such an event in his life, when his daughter Josephine was trying to make sense of a news report from South Africa about a man who was burned alive. Rea’s poignant words (sung in his iconic deep, gravelly voice) and music provide a reassuring message that is both haunting and hopeful. And just like Saint Expert’s classic fable, The Little Prince, Rea’s memorable song is not just for children — it speaks to adults, particularly those who have grown cynical or disillusioned about humanity. This song is a beacon of hope in an otherwise dark landscape, scarred by what seems to be an unending cycle of violence, hatred, and intolerance. For those who have suffered and lost their lives needlessly through violence, we can only hope that “they [the departed] sit with God in paradise/with angels’ wings… [and] they’re all happy now.”

As a child I asked that question: “Is there a heaven?” As an adult, as a father, who has witnessed those who have slipped away far too early and unjustly, I have had to answer that question: I tell her that it’s true. Because, sometimes, it’s the only thing that makes sense. If we can imagine a paradise where others are happy now, it just might give us the strength to muddle through the mayhem and the madness of this world. And if we can imagine a paradise, it helps us look at the face of a teary-eyed six-year-old and say that there is a place called heaven; a joyful place — in the distant future — for me and you…

Here are the lyrics to “Tell Me There’s a Heaven” by Chris Rea:

The little girl she said to me
What are these things that I can see
Each night when I come home from school
And mama calls me in for tea

Oh every night a baby dies
And every night a mama cries
What makes those men do what they do
To make that person black and blue

Grandpa says their happy now
They sit with God in paradise
With angels’ wings and still somehow
It makes me feel like ice

Tell me there’s a heaven
Tell me that it’s true
Tell me there’s a reason
Why I’m seeing what I do

Tell me there’s a heaven
Where all those people go
Tell me they’re all happy now
Papa tell me that it’s so

So do I tell her that it’s true
That there’s a place for me and you
Where hungry children smile and say
We wouldn’t have no other way

That every painful crack of bones
Is a step along the way
Every wrong done is a game plan
To that great and joyful day

And I’m looking at the father and the son
And I’m looking at the mother and the daughter
And I’m watching them in tears of pain
And I’m watching them suffer

Don’t tell that little girl
Tell me
Tell me there’s a heaven
Tell me that it’s true
Tell me there’s a reason
Why I’m seeing what I do

Tell me there’s a heaven
Where all those people go
Tell me they’re all happy now
Papa tell me that it’s so

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: The Meaning of I Dreamed a Dream
The Poem I Turn To
Why We Read Poetry
How To Grieve for a Lost Friend
Best Books on Eulogies

For further reading: The Poem I Turn To: Actors & Directors Present Poetry That Inspires Them edited by Jason Shinder

How Much Does Mariah Carey Earn from “All I Want for Christmas is You”

alex atkins bookshelf musicFor music artists, Christmas songs are like a one-year membership to the Jelly of Month Club, that prompted Cousin Eddie Griswald in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation to remark, “Clark, that’s the gift that keeps on giving the whole year.” Take for example Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” — one of the highest grossing Christmas songs of all time. Carey wrote the song with collaborator Walter Afanasieff in about 15 minutes and included it as one of ten tracks on her best-selling album “Merry Christmas” released in 1994. To date, that one four-minute song has earned Carey more than $60 million dollars in royalty — an average of about $2.6 million per year. Not bad for less than hour’s worth of work.

Carey’s Christmas album has consistently been in the Billboard top ten best-selling Christmas albums for more than two decades. Currently, “Merry Christmas” ranks number seven on Billboard’s list, having sold more than 5.5 million albums. Using Nielsen SoundScan data, “Merry Christmas” ranks number three, with sales of more than 5.3 million albums. Worldwide, the album has sold more than 15 million units. Not only has the song been purchased millions of times, it receives a ton of airplay each year on radio and streaming services. On Spotify alone, the song has been played more than 210 million times!

No doubt, “Merry Christmas” has made Mariah very merry every Christmas, as she counts her millions all the way to the bank.

Read related posts: Best Christmas Songs
Best-Selling Christmas Albums

The Story Behind Same Old Lang Syne by Dan Fogelberg
What is the Meaning of Auld Lang Syne?
The Origin of the Name Scrooge
The Inspiration for Dickens’s A Christmas Carol
What is a First Edition of A Christmas Carol Worth?
A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life

A Christmas Carol by the Numbers

For further reading:

What is the Meaning of Elton John’s Rocket Man?

alex atkins bookshelf musicRocket Man, released in 1972, is one of Elton John’s signature songs and certainly one of his most successful songs, which climbed the singles charts to number 6 in the U.S. and number 2 in the UK. The lyrics of Rocket Man were written by lyricist and poet Bernie Taupin, John’s talented collaborator since 1967. There were two key influences that helped to shape the song in Taupin’s imagination. First, the successful Apollo missions, particularly Apollo 11 that landed men on the moon in 1969, captured the imagination of the nation; every kid in America wanted to be an astronaut. In the span of a less than a decade, the concept of space travel made the giant leap from science fiction to reality. The second influence was the emergence of music from emerging artists that was redefining the sound of rock with innovative instrumentation and lyrics that explored man’s exploration of space, the final frontier. There were two songs, in particular, that made an impact on Taupin.

One year before man stepped foot on the moon, Americans had already been to the moon — via Stanley Kubrick’s cinematic masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey — a film that continues to inspire filmmakers today. The screenplay was based on a short story, “The Sentinel,” written by Arthur C. Clarke. Clarke and Kubrick collaborated on the screenplay and the novel (based on the screenplay) that was released after the movie’s premiere. Its depiction of space travel and thought-provoking scientific and philosophical themes mesmerized audiences around the globe. Moreover, in one film, Kubrick redefined the cinematic experience, raising special effects and brilliant story-telling to new heights.

One of the impressionable people sitting in a darkened theatre watching Kubrick’s film was a young man named David Bowie. In an interview, Bowie explained, “[Space Oddity] was written because of going to see the film 2001, which I found amazing. I was out of my gourd anyway, I was very stoned when I went to see it, several times, and it was really a revelation to me. It got the song flowing.” The song, featured on the album David Bowie (1969), was about an astronaut, Major Tom, who travels into space, loses communication with ground control, and is stranded in space “floating ’round my tin can/far above the moon… And there is nothing I can do.” Presumably, he runs out of oxygen and perishes.

A year later, the psychedelic folk band, Pearls Before Swine, released the album The Use of Ashes in 1970. Working in the same milieu as Bowie, songwriter Tom Rapp found his inspiration in the short story “The Rocket Man” in the collection of short stories titled The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury published in 1951. The story is told from the perspective of a young boy who, naturally, wants to be an astronaut like his father. For the past ten years, the father has visited his wife and son for a short stay (three days) in between three-month long space trips. The father is sad that his relationship to his wife has deteriorated. As any father would, he warns his son about his profession — don’t become a rocket man; you’ll never be happy — if you’re home, you yearn for space; if you are in space, you will yearn for home; it is a vicious circle. Rapp’s song tells a similar story about regret and loss: a young boy talks about his father who is an astronaut and how he and his mother worry about his father’s safety (“My father was a rocket man / He often went to Jupiter or Mercury, to Venus or to Mars / My mother and I would watch the sky / And wonder if a falling star / Was a ship becoming ashes with a rocket man inside.” The father was torn between visiting distant planets and the stars and spending time with his family. At some point, the father perishes: “One day they told us the sun had flared and taken him inside.” The song ends with the pain that the mother and son feel when they look up at the sky and are reminded of their loss: “My mother and I / Never went out / Unless the sky was cloudy or the sun was blotted out / Or to escape the pain / We only went out when it rained.”

In several interviews, Taupin has revealed that the Pearls Before Swine version of Rocket Man was the inspiration for his version. All three space songs, Space Oddity, Pearls Before Swine’s Rocket Man, and Elton John’s Rocket Man share the same subject, an astronaut traveling in space, and share some of the same themes: isolation, dedication, self-reliance, ambivalence, regret, and mortality. And musically, Space Oddity and John’s Rocket Man both utilize the spacey sort of sounds of the slide guitar and synthesizer. Thematically, like Space Oddity, John’s Rocket Man is told from the perspective of the astronaut. Taupin’s astronaut is traveling to Mars as part of a scientific mission. The astronaut reflects on the lengthy journeys (“On such a timeless flight / And I think it’s gonna be a long long time / ‘Till touch down brings me round again”) and the impact it has on him: he misses his home and family (“I miss the earth so much I miss my wife / It’s lonely out in space.”) and the challenges he faces dealing with the monotony (“And all this science I don’t understand / It’s just my job five days a week”). The astronaut senses that the long journeys into space are changing him, impacting his psyche, his mental health: “I’m not the man they think I am at home / Oh no no no I’m a rocket man / Rocket man burning out his fuse up here alone.” Moreover, the narrator expresses his ambivalence, revealing a sense of triumph as well as defeat, by declaring several times, “I’m the Rocket Man.” The song ends by emphasizing the eternity of the flight, perhaps wondering if he will ever return home: “And I think it’s gonna be a long long time…”

In an insightful essay on the meaning of Rocket Man, the editors of Shmoop, describe the Rocket Man as an iconic American archetype, specifically that of the “cowboy”: “Elton John’s Rocket Man is a conflicted cowboy kind of character, torn between his love of the frontierlike realm of space and his home down on the range. When he’s at home on Earth, he yearns to be ‘high as a kite,’ soaring from Mars to Venus to Mercury. But when he’s in space, he misses the Earth: the blue sky, the warm sun, the salt wind, his wife. Space is both ‘lonely’ and ‘timeless.’ And yet while he never seems at ease with his lot in life, he is totally accepting of it for all of its flaws; it is his very identity: ‘I’m a rocket man.'” From there, they compare the rocket man to the idealized masculine man, as represented in the Western canon of literature (“the masculine man is defined by ‘courage’ (according to Cicero), self-reliance, and adherence to the law.”) But more appropriately, they compare the conflicted cowboy to Ulysses from Lord Alfred Tennyson’s poem of the same name (based, of course, on Homer’s epic The Odyssey) who is caught between the obligations of his duties as a Greek warrior and as a family man (husband and father). This is a brilliant insight: both Ulysses and the Rocket Man place duty before family, and are committed to completing their missions, willing to sacrifice time with their family (Ulysses asserts: “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield”) — and ultimately willing to sacrifice their own lives. The editors conclude: “these sacrifices somehow enrich the idea of being a rocket man, sticking it out alone in the name of essential masculine ideals.”

While we are on the topic of Tennyson’s poem, it is important to understand that the poem was written in 1833 as an elegy for a close college friend, Arthur Henry Hallam who died that year. In an interview, Tennyson explained that the poem expressed his own “need of going forward and braving the struggle of life” after the loss of his dear friend. And similarly, Elton John’s Rocket Man is also an elegy; both the poem and the song evoke a profound sense of sadness, knowing that in Ulysses’s words “death closes all.”

On a another level, Elton John’s Rocket Man underscores the paradox of the American Dream. The American Dream was first defined by James Adams in his book, The Epic of America, published in 1931. Adams wrote: “[The American Dream] is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement….  It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.” Rooted in the ideals of the Declaration of Independence (equality, democracy, liberty, democracy, and opportunity), the American Dream is the promise of social mobility for men and women and their children; that is to say, America provides parents the opportunities to support their families through work, so that they and their children will have a better life than their parents. The paradox represented in John’s Rocket Man — as well as Bradbury’s short story and Rapp’s Rocket Man — is this: in order to support his family, the narrator must perform a job that pulls him away from his family; sadly he cannot raise his kids if he is not home. It is an age-old struggle: the choice between career (or work) work and family. The paradox of the American Dream is one of the most compelling themes of Elton John’s Rocket Man and why the song is as relevant today as it was almost half a century ago.

Read related posts: Who is Major Tom in the Bowie Songs?
The Meaning of I Dreamed a Dream
Origin of the Beatles Name
How Rock Bands Got Their Names
The Most Misinterpreted Songs
Best Books for Music Lovers

For further reading: Tennyson (Everyman Library Pocket Poet Series) by Lord Alfred Tennyson
Captain Fantastic: Elton John’s Stellar Trip Through the 70s by Tom Doyle
The American Dream: A Cultural History by Lawrence Samuel

Day Jobs of Famous Musicians 2

alex atkins bookshelf musicBefore they packed concert halls and stadiums around the globe, many musicians held rather typical, boring — and sometimes very unusual jobs — early in their careers to make ends meet. They went from humble jobs that paid a few dollars an hour to earning millions of dollars per year. Not a bad career path. The inspirational lesson here is: early jobs in life should not define you — nor limit you; dream big. Here is a list of famous musicians and the jobs they had before they became wealthy and famous.

James Brown: worked at a shoe shine stand
Jeff Buckley: hotel receptionist
Kurt Cobain: janitor
Phil Collins: movie extra
Chris Cornell (Soundgarden): Cleaning fish guts at Seattle fish markets
Jonathan Davis (Korn): embalmer at funeral home
Snoop Dogg: grocery bagger
Fergie (Black Eyed Peas): voiceover
Boy George: grocery bagger
Nick Hammer (Death Cab for Cutie): sanitation worker
Jon Bon Jovi: assembled Christmas decorations day
B.B. King: tractor
Nicki Minaj: waitress
Alanis Morissette: envelope stuffer
Morrissey: office clerk
Keith Richards: ballboy at a tennis club
Gene Simmons: assistant to a fashion magazine editor
Eddie Van Halen: painted addresses on sidewalk curbs
Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam): security guard at a hotel

Read related posts: Day Jobs of Famous Musicians
The Day Job of Famous Writers
Random Fascinating Facts About Authors
Random Fascinating Facts About Authors 2

Inventions Predicted by Famous Authors
Sleeping Habits of Famous Authors


For further reading:

%d bloggers like this: