Melbourne, July 1969.
First things first. There are many, many moon songs. Not all of them are about rockets. Moon River, for example, from 1961, which should be filed under ‘A’ for Audrey rather than ‘A’ for Apollo. Then there’s Fly Me to the Moon, from the early 1950s, pre-dating even Sputnik 1. It was later co-opted by the Apollo program after Frank Sinatra released his version in 1964.
‘Buzz’ Aldrin claimed he used a portable cassette player to listen to it on the moon. Maybe. Later, of course, innumerable songs referenced lunar landings. The long list includes Bob Dylan. In License to Kill (1983) the Bobster warned us all “Man has invented his doom / First step was touching the moon”. Later came REM with the more literal (yet somewhat sceptical) Man on the Moon (1992).
But my favourite is one that seldom gets a mention. Doesn’t even have ‘Moon’ in the title.
It’s Sing Another Song, Boys, from Leonard Cohen’s third album, Songs of Love and Hate (1971), which has a dramatic, type-heavy black-and-white cover and (as I read once) greatly impressed a gawky teenager named Nick Cave, in country Victoria. It’s a raucous, shambolic, ranting wreck of a song, which ends with a well-oiled Leonard chanting instead of singing; a song that never made it into any of his greatest-hits collections. The third song on Side 2 (for those of us who still have the original vinyl version), Sing Another Song, Boys is sandwiched between a pair of much-better-known Cohen songs, Famous Blue Raincoat and Joan of Arc. But it has these lines:
Ah, they’ll never, they’ll never ever reach the moon,
At least not the one that we’re after.
Not the one we’re after … I’ve always loved that. It seems especially relevant now, 50 years on from that one small step, when adulation of astronauts seems to have shifted to a nagging question: what was it all for? Americans won the space race. So? Was it really just a costly diversion from a wretched decade for the USA, a way to distract attention from assassinations, race riots, student unrest and Vietnam? (Oh yes – Watergate was just around the corner, too.) Not the one we’re after … Imagine what might have been achieved if all that effort and technical wizardry had been aimed at alleviating poverty.
I still play the song from time to time. It’s a toe-tapper. Charlie Daniels played guitar on it, long before his devil went down to Georgia. When I play it these days I think of something said by Mike Collins – the only Apollo 11 astronaut who didn’t walk on the moon. He’s described how he thinks now of TWO moons, the one he sees – like everybody else – from his back garden and the other one, stark and forbidding, that he and a select group of others got to see up close.
I also like the way that my copy of Songs of Love and Hate shows the characteristic ghost shape of the LP inside on the cover. It’s an off-white circle on black. That’s right: it looks rather like the moon, half hidden on a dark night.