How high the tune? Moonbeams and melodies

You can look into the moon, deeply and for a long time. When it’s full it can hold you spellbound. At other phases, such as crescent, it can conjure a rambling of the mind. When you look into the night, you don’t have to blink, you don’t have to worry about retina damage, as if you were looking into the sun. You can just stare into the moon’s cratered face and be carried away to other worlds. You can bathe in its moonlight, walk in its shadows, let its light in the darkness drop into your soul, seep into your life. You could write a song about it all.

And from July 20, 1969, you could look up and think, men have walked upon it. Humans did not just leave their town or country, they left their planet. They became the aliens, travelling almost 400,000 kilometres to plant a flag, say a few words, collect some rock samples, and come home. Mission accomplished. Several more trips by humans were made, a few more moonwalkers bounced in the light gravity, but then robots took over. They beeped their data back home, and the moon stayed its course, as it has done for 4.5 billion years, when something as likely as big as Mars hit the Earth. The chunk that sheared off became the moon. And yet despite its magnetism it is moving from us, by about an inch a year. And yet we still sing about it.

We have used the moon as a guide, myth-maker, muse. This pull towards the moon runs through music.

We have used the moon as a guide, myth-maker, muse. This pull towards the moon runs through music. Songwriters from jazz, country, rock, pop, folk and classical have been drawn into its orbit. You could call it a satellite of love. It’s been not so much “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”, but one journey of moonbeams and melody.

A short flight check of that journey might include:

Fly Me to the Moon, Bad Moon Rising, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Blue Moon, Moon River, Moonshadow, The Boy With a Moon and Star on His Head,  Walking on the Moon, Harvest Moon, Sisters of the Moon, Moonlight Drive, Blue Moon of Kentucky, The Whole of the Moon, Dark Side of the Moon (album), How High the Moon, Can’t Fight the Moonlight, Moondance, Man on the Moon, By the Light of the Silvery Moon, Moon in the Mirror, Silvery Moon, Shepherd Moons, The Rising of the Moon, Dancing in the Moonlight, Marquee Moon, Moonage Daydream, Moonlight Sonata, Pink Moon,  Howling at the Moon, Au Clair de la Lune.

All tidal rhythms, and for mine, the soundwaves washed over me with Judy Collins’s version of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. It transported me beyond the moon. It still does. The melding of her pure high voice, the simple beautiful melody and the evocative lyrics was a twining of golden thread. It reached into the heart, evocative and spellbinding.

See her how she flies
Golden sails across the sky
Close enough to touch
But careful if you try
Though she looks as warm as gold
The moon’s a harsh mistress
The moon can be so cold.

The song was written by Jimmy Webb. But the phrase was the title of a book by science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein. Webb told Penny Black music magazine:  “Robert Heinlein, was a kind of early mentor of mine. I started reading his books when I was eight years old. I was reading Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov and learning a great deal about the patois of the language itself and how these words were being used to create emotions. I was learning this from writers without even knowing it.

“The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” was one of the best titles I’ve ever heard in my life. I really am guilty of appropriating something from another writer. In this case I had contact with Robert A. Heinlein’s attorneys. I said, ‘I want to write a song with the title, “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”. Can you ask Mr Heinlein if it’s OK with him?’ They called me back and he said he had no objection to it.”

Thank you, Mr Heinlein. Thank you, Mr Webb.

At the height of the Cold War, US President John F. Kennedy, placed the race to the moon central to asserting a superiority over the Soviet Union. “We choose to go to the moon,” he declared in 1962, perhaps spurred on by the Soviets’ success in landing objects there from 1959.

But the love affair with landing people on the moon fizzled out, priorities changed, money went elsewhere. There were advances in technology through the lunar program, but now the robots can fill the gaps.

Except for this: Listen to the music, drink it in, and you are there. While there are voices to sing, the songs will never die out. The robot cannot do it.

Listen to Frank Sinatra or Diana Krall:

“Fly me to the moon
Let me play among the stars
Let me see what spring is like
On Jupiter and Mars.’’

Or Audrey Hepburn or Andy Williams:

 “Moon river wider than a mile
I’m crossing you in style someday
A dream maker
My heartbreaker.
Wherever you’re goin’, I’m goin’ that way.”

Or Les Paul and Mary Ford, and Emmylou Harris:

“Somewhere there’s music
How faint the tune
Somewhere there’s heaven
How high the moon.”

Look up into the night sky. Quite possibly, it could be a marvellous night for a moondance.

Image source: Flickr:Godsandidols

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