Chapter 6 - One Part Sci Fi and One Part Rock-N-Roll
Lesson: With great power comes great responsibility, and knowledge is the greatest form of power.
I’ve always been into science fiction and fantasy. As a kid, I greatly enjoyed learning about the unexplained (e.g., UFOs, freak phenomenon, hauntings, etc.) and superheroes. Thinking about these subjects made me feel two contradictory things: 1) we really can’t be as advanced as we think we are as a species since there is so much we can’t explain; and 2) it would be super cool if people could do superhuman feats.
I think we are getting smarter as a species. We can explain a whole heck off a lot more than we could 50 years ago. The irony is that indigenous peoples seem to have already known what we only now are able to prove through science. And, people can, indeed, be superhuman. Watching Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, Katie Ledecke and Simone Biles do what they do in the Olympics, watching a Cirque de Soleil show, watching Serena, Venus, Roger, Rafa and Novak dominate tennis and watching Stan Lee’s cable television series, Superhumans, serve as ample evidence.
Not surprisingly, many rock legends also touched on topics that dealt with science fiction and fantasy. I want to highlight a few of the artists/bands that dared to venture into this realm that is characterized by obscure: references; album/song titles; and song lyrics. My interpretation of the songs/albums featured in this chapter is probably going to be quite different than that of your typically “rowdy rocker,” but isn’t that the beauty of art? Someone creates, and then their creation actually creates thoughts and ideas in other people.
I’ll start by outlining my early interests in science fiction. There are many movies and TV shows that I watched as a kid: Lost in Space, Land of the Lost, Godzilla, Star Trek, Star Wars, Battlestar Gallactica (1978 & 2004), Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Boo Saturday Afternoon Horror Series, Kolchak – The Night Stalker, The Six Million Dollar Man, The Bionic Woman, The Man from Atlantis, The Greatest American Hero, Shazam, Isis, Flash Gordon, Batman (the Adam West version), Superman (the Christopher Reeves version) and, of course, the Saturday morning cartoon superhero shows of which my favorites were Spiderman and Superfriends. I still remember the theme song of the Spiderman animated series that I saw. It sounded very much to me like Led Zeppelin’s “How Many More Times” from Led Zeppelin 1.
I’ll focus my attention on what I consider to be the first sci-fi program on which I was hooked, a show called Space Giants, for English-speaking audiences. The show was a Japanese program that I viewed with Spanish over-dubs as part of a broadcast from a Mexican television station that we could view since we, quite literally, lived right on the border with Mexico. The version I saw was called Monstruos del Espacio (Monsters from Outer Space). Earth was under attack from an alien villain, Rodak, and his alien army who were intent on conquering Earth. Three friendly aliens, a father-mother-son combo, somehow ended up on Earth to protect it from this threat. Most notable was the dad who was a 50-ft golden robot named Goldar. Their communications with the human race occurred via a 10 year old boy who could summon them with a special whistle that they provided to him. One whistle summoned the boy, two whistles summoned the mom, and three whistles summoned Goldar.
It is Space Giants that I credit with not only my interest in science fiction but also with a few things that I have deduced about life: that in an infinitely large universe, other life forms must exist somewhere; and that forces of both good and evil exist in the world. I obviously could relate to the 10-year old main character who was probably only a few years older than me at the time. The show would make me dream of having such a wondrous experience myself, especially the part of having a 50-ft golden robot protector. As with most every alien invasion type-show, past and present, the humans find a way to win, even if it requires help from other extraterrestrials or superheroes.
I also remember feeling sad watching the last show when Rodak had been defeated and Goldar and his family had to return to their home planet. Forever etched in my brain is the image of the rockets flying through the not-so-high-tech interstellar scenery. It made me wonder why they had to leave. Didn’t they care about the boy’s feelings? Plus, what if another alien tried to do the same thing Rodak tried to do? I didn’t think about the fact that they were in a foreign place and separated from their own kind and their own culture. Today, I can better empathize with their needs since I had to leave my hometown and culture to venture out into the world. Although I never made it back to my hometown, I did make it back to Texas.
Chapter 6 Songs & Albums
“Sci Fi Rock-n-Roll” (Play List on Spotify)
”Hallo Spaceboy” (David Bowie)
Imaginos (Blue Oyster Cult)
Before venturing into the world of sci-fi rock-n-roll, I want to cover some territory in the area of motion pictures, particularly my favorite movies of all time, my favorite action movies, my favorite sci-fi movies and the movies of my favorite sci-fi directors. Just as with my lists of favorite songs, my list of favorite movies can help you understand the type of person that I am and why I’ve written the type of book that I’ve written. I could have limited the list to just to sci-fi movies, but I think that everything is better understood within a broader context.
My favorite movies of all-time are Hero, Cinema Paradiso, The Name of the Rose and Big Fish. The odd-man out on this list is Hero because it falls more in the action genre and the others are dramas that highlight how the lead male characters overcame their own personal challenges. The young boy, Toto, in Cinema Paradiso has got to be one of the most lovable characters of all time. The young boy escapes the small town where he grew up, a sentiment to which I can relate to, being a small town boy myself. Toto, once grown, revisits his town when his mom dies and laments that the world in which he previously lived has changed so much. Although it is not articulated, he is left wondering if he has some blame in the matter. The Christian Slater character in The Name of the Rose doubts his dedication to his vocation (i.e., being a monk) and, in Big Fish, the son of a dying father doubts whether he has lived up to his father’s expectations. The theme of doubt in one’s decisions and life trajectory are common themes in all of these, but, thankfully, the characters in these movies mostly reconcile these sentiments.
Hero is, in fact, my favorite movie of all time. The entire movie is a conversation between Jet Li’s nameless character and the King of Qin with flashbacks used to tell the story. Through the stories that they tell each other, the movie unfolds. The story is woven together masterfully. Jet Li’s character tells the story of how he killed a fugitive who aimed to kill the emperor and was delivering the assassin’s sword as proof. Jet Li’s character himself is actually an assassin who aims to kill the King, although this fact is unbeknownst to the King until Jet Li’s character is seated in close proximity (10 paces) of the King. Jet Li’s character has mastered an attack that cannot fail at this distance and, thus, no hope remains for the King. The King realizes his predicament and is powerless to do anything except to remain engaged in the dialogue. The conversation had by the two men lead Jet Li’s character to better understand the vision of the King, and he ultimately decides to spare the King’s life. Although Jet Li’s character is executed as an assassin, his burial is handled by the King as that of a war hero. The movie makes your allegiance to the characters shift multiple times and calls attention to the importance of considering and understanding the perspective of others.
My favorite action movies of all time (besides Hero) are Gladiator, 300 and Sucker Punch. I must recognize: the movies The Godfather 1 & 2; the Directors Guy Ritchie and Martin Scorsese whose movies have made a great impression on me throughout the years; and J.K. Rowling and the makers of the Harry Potter series of movies. In my opinion the Harry Potter series of movies (seven of them) is unrivaled in the quality of story-telling and movie-making. The movies I’ve just highlighted are thought-provoking about our own lives and character, not just about the characters being represented. They produce a different sentiment within us: “what would I do if I was in that situation” versus “I’m glad I’m not in that situation” (as in the mafia style movies). In Gladiator, Maximus wants justice to be served against the killer of Marcus Aurelius and his family, and in 300, the Spartans give their lives to slow down the attack of the massive Persian army and buy some time for Greece to mobilize its defenses. In the Harry Potter series, of course, it is the battle against “he who shall not be named” that serves as the theme that cuts across all seven films. How would we respond to such threats? Would we put our lives in harm’s way for a noble cause? Truly, the future is “altered” when people stand up for what they BELIEVE, sometimes even if the battle is lost.
Sucker Punch is the last action movie included in the list. I don’t include it just because of the attractive female leads in the movie but because of the great music-infused action sequences. Ultimately, I include mention of Sucker Punch here because the main message behind the film is not revealed until the final scene (spoiler alert). Basically, the person we believe to be the main character decides to sacrifice her life so that one of the other characters can live. The message being delivered is: “it is possible that you are NOT the most important actor in your own story.” If we are Christian, this should not be a foreign concept to us since one of Jesus’ main directives is “love your neighbor as yourself.” If you take this commandment to the extreme, if your neighbor’s life is at stake and you can do something about it, then you should. You should attempt to help them even if it means putting your own life at risk. You would do everything in your power to save your own life. If you “love your neighbor like yourself,” then you must defend your neighbor’s life to the same degree as your own.
Two of my favorite sci-fi directors are M. Night Shyamalan and Guillermo Del Toro, and it is their movies that I will highlight in this final section of my discourse on sci-fi movies. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the following sci-fi programs as being significant at different points in my life: Inception, the Matrix series, the Alien series, the Resident Evil series, Star Trek (original TV show and movies), Star Trek-The Next Generation (TV show and movies), The X-Files, Twin Peaks, Lost, Heroes, Fringe, 12 Monkeys (TV show and movie), The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones. But, since this sci-fi movie section is meant to provide context and not to be exhaustive, I will stick to Shyamalan and Del Toro in terms of the meaning derived from movies in this genre. Then we’ll transition to my long-awaited discussion of science fiction themes in rock music.
Shyamalan is probably the “king of the sucker punch.” He always keeps you guessing such that when there isn’t a surprise ending, we’re shocked at that. Some of the main themes that I like are of the “what if” variety: what if you were dead and didn’t realize it (The Sixth Sense); what if people could be super human…wouldn’t that mean that the other extreme would exist as well (i.e.,Unbreakable); what if nature decided to exact its revenge on us due to our irresponsibility (The Happening), and what if the world in which you live life does not resemble reality in any way shape or form (The Village).
A very important theme runs through Shyamalan’s Signs and Lady in the Water. The “what if” scenario with both movies is: “what if there were no coincidences and everything did happen for a reason?” Although it seems like a trite thing to say, especially when the chips are down, I can attest to the fact that good things come from the bad things we experience. Surviving Stanford helped me feel like I could survive anything, and I have. Running for public office helped me realize that I could be a successful (or relatively successful) public speaker. And, the kicker is, because I lost my election for Travis County Commissioner, I had to do some soul searching which eventually led to writing this book and to discovering that my way of dealing with emotions is quite a bit different from the way others deal with them. Ironically, the book writing has helped me grapple with the emotionally challenging circumstances that came to light because I started writing the book.
Del Toro also uses a sucker-punch-like technique. He challenges us by having us develop affection for unlikely heroes, but not in the creepy way that you might be drawn to: a teacher turned meth cook in Breaking Bad; serial killer-focused programs, like Hannibal or The Following; or the bizarre situations in American Horror Story. We grow to appreciate Hellboy because the character shows that even a creature emerging from the darkest place of all (i.e., hell) can be the master of his own destiny by utilizing free will. Similarly, we first abhor the Pan character in Pan’s Labyrinth but as the story unfolds we realize that Pan was actually challenging the young female lead character so that she could achieve true salvation. Pan was not 100% a devilish character. The movie challenges us to ponder the role that “the devil” actually plays in creation. I can’t make the same case for the movie, Mama, but I will say that by the end of that movie you can somewhat empathize with the ghost character, Mama, for the circumstances that led to her need to haunt the material world as well as for the mercy she exhibits in the final scene. This is empathy for a character that is the source of all of the horrific acts portrayed in the movie.
Although not everyone is into sci-fi, I wanted to demonstrate how one is able to glean something meaningful about life via this outlet. Sci-fi doesn’t just serve as an escape from reality, but in many ways the themes serve as a battery of tests that reveal bits and pieces of reality. Our human brains are wired in such a way that we both consciously and subconsciously patch together the bits and pieces of reality as we mature, and “real truth” begins to reveal itself to us. I think that this is part of the reason that we become grumpier as we age. While it is infuriating that younger people not only ignore the truth but actually ignore our attempts to reveal the truth, it should not be surprising that they ignore truth because they have not lived it. More and more, I have come to understand the dynamic at play. That doesn’t mean that I am any less grumpy, to which my kids would attest.
My Relationship with Characters from the Comic Book World
Before moving on to an examination of sci-fi themes in rock ‘n roll, I thought I’d delve into the arena of comic books for a bit. I wish I could say that I’ve been a comic book aficionado since I was a kid, but I came into the comic book world via an invitation from my good friend, Joe T (RIP) who was sponsoring a comic book club at Martin Middle School on Austin’s Eastside. He wanted me to be his side kick, a Robin of sorts. It was more like I was the butt of his jokes. So, yes, a Robin-like character. The kids loved the schtick. I didn’t mind since it made it fun for the kids. Those three years were a blast. Joe T would bring a variety of comics, some very rare. The kids would answer comic book trivia questions to get their pick of the lot. The kids would also get Moon Pies or some other throwback treat that Joe T would buy in bulk at Cost-Co or Sam’s. By the end of our 20 minute lunch-time gathering with the kids, they’d be worked up into a frenzy. My segment of the program was the joke of the day. It was almost always a dud, because all of the good comic book jokes are sort of dirty, so I couldn’t use them. That would not be appropriate for a middle school reading club. Plus, we probably would have been kicked out of the school, and my job at the school district may have been jeopardized.
It is in this backdrop that I started researching a variety of comic book characters and story lines. I had to get to the point that I knew more than the kids (or at least appeared to know more than the kids). Being the researcher that I am, I started studying the history of comics, watching comic book documentaries, and, of course, reading comic books. Heretofore, I had only watched cartoon series based on comic book superheroes on TV. Probably, Flash Gordon was my first favorite superhero, if you don’t count Goldar. I remember watching the black and white episodes of the Flash Gordon TV series. Around the same time, I probably began to see Superman in his own black and white TV series. The first cartoon series I remember watching was the Spiderman series that started in 1967 (but I clearly was not watching it in real time… I would have been only one year old in 1967). Batman (with Adam West) and Wonder Woman (with Linda Carter) were the first superhero TV series that I actually watched in color.
As I reflected on these early memories, I kept gravitating to Wonder Woman. I get this warm feeling in my chest when I think back to watching that particular program. I get a similar feeling when I think back to the shows, The Bionic Woman (Lindsay Wagner) and Isis (JoAnna Cameron). Having “a feeling” associated with any of my childhood memories is pretty unusual. I might remember having an emotional response towards a specific scene or situation in a movie or episode, but not to a specific character. The fact that they were all women, I think is instructive. In fact, as I studied comic books following my entre into the Martin Middle School comic book club, I arrived at Jean Grey from the X-Men series as my all-time favorite comic book character. I just described my history with comic book characters. How could Jean Grey beat out the other characters (male or female) whom I’ve known for a much longer period of time? This most definitely requires a harder look. In the previous paragraph, I made a big jump from the 1970’s era Wonder Woman character to the Jean Grey character that I’ve only just learned to appreciate in the last 6 years or so. Throughout college, grad school and thereafter, I have continued to enjoy shows that had strong female leads, including Deana Troy (Star Trek the Next Generation, 1987- 1994), Agent Scully (X-Files, 1993-2002), Max Guevara (Dark Angel, 2000-2002), Sidney Bristow (Alias, 2001-2006), Kate Austen (Lost, 2004-2010), Agent Dunham (Fringe, 2008-2013) and Daisy “Skye” Johnson/Quake (Agents of Shield, 2013 to Present). We also have seen many great female superhero characters in recent movies involving the X-Men (Mystique, Jena Grey, Storm, the White Queen) and The Avengers (with Black Widow being a stand out). When Wonder Woman made an appearance in the Batman vs. Superman movie, it was a very welcomed development and may have been the highlight of the movie (for me at least). The Gotham, Green Arrow, The Flash and Supergirl TV series all have strong female characters. It is good to see that emerge from the DC Comics side.
Three actresses that I’ll mention as superheroines are Zoe Saldana, Charlize Theron, and Michelle Rodriguez because of their tendency to kick @ss in movies. Zoe of course plays the Neytiri role in Avatar, the super heroine Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy, and the Uhura character in the post-2009 Start Trek movies. Charlize Theron played Aeon Flux, Atomic Blonde, the character Mary (in Hancock) and the Furiosa character in Mad Max Fury Road. Saldana and Theron are not to be messed with in these roles, so I feel that setting them apart is warranted. Michelle Rodriguez on the other hand has not had a specific role as a super heroine (but yet she has developed an image as a character you don’t “f” with, no matter what the movie, no matter what the role). She’s kicked @ss in so many different movies and in so many different ways, that one cannot help but be amazed.
The reason I chose to include Michelle Rodriguez in this comic book section is that I kept trying to think of a super hero role for her to play, and I couldn’t assign her to an existing comic book character. I just consider her to be Super Chicana, so I think that is the answer to my question about what super hero she could play. In am envisioning a comic strip about “The Adventures of Super Chicana.” I couldn’t help but envision that Super Chicana had a partner in crime (or the opposite of crime). As I continued to develop this concept, I concluded that her partner’s super hero name would be “Foxy Lady” (clearly, a rock-n-roll inspired name). So, this comic book series has now morphed into, “The Adventures of Super Chicana and Foxy Lady,” which sounds freakin’ awesome. I’ll let you guess as to who I might have in mind for the “Foxy Lady” character.
I swear this is going somewhere besides what may appear to be a theme of very attractive female leads in action movies. I harken back to this feeling that I mentioned that I felt when thinking back to the 1970’s Wonder Woman, Bionic Woman and Isis characters. It is as if I yearned for these female protectors in my life. It is a sentiment that reflected what my childhood was like (i.e., having a mom who was a strong female protector). These super-human characters appear to be a way of replicating the role my mom was playing, even if those characters were fictitious characters. Have I mentioned that I was a momma’s boy! Well, if I hadn’t said it before, then the cat is out of the bag.
This line of thinking about why I liked these kinds of characters provided a bit of an insight into the emotional condition that I possess. What appears to have happened very early on in my brain’s development is that a certain experience or condition appears to have led my brain to develop in such a way that I would grow to trust no one but myself. In order for me to trust someone, they would have to prove themselves trustworthy in a hundred different ways. The apparent standard that I developed to assess trustworthiness is that MY safety and security had to be THEIR prime concern. The only person in my life who could possibly meet that standard was my mother. I became a momma’s boy as a kid, because I knew she would have my back no matter what. I’m not sure I could say that about anyone else. After leaving the nest and going off to college, I suspect that I subconsciously yearned for that strong female protector which I found in strong female TV and movie characters. Do you think that maybe that affected how my relationships with women went? What woman wants to be with a guy who appears to need or want a protector? Ay Dios mio!
Leaving that aside for the moment (I’ll revisit brain development and emotional coping in more depth in the concluding chapter), I wanted to come back to my interest in the X-Men character, Jean Grey. She definitely plays the role of protector in a variety of X-Men story lines. Jean Grey serves in the role of protector for not just mutants, but for humanity itself, and, ultimately, for the entire universe. I would argue that Wonder Woman has served as a protector of humanity, but I haven’t yet found the issue where she saves the entire universe. I’ll keep researching that point about Wonder Woman to leave no stone unturned because my brain is telling me that abandoning Wonder Woman is a bad idea. Also, I hate to shift loyalties with regard to anything (evidenced by the fact that I remain a Dallas Cowboys fan to this day).
Jean Grey is actually one of the five original X-Men characters, and her first comic book identify was Marvel Girl. She did not emerge as a comic book character until 20 years after Wonder Woman, so she had some catching up to do. Marvel Girl’s superpowers is that she is telepathic (can read people’s minds) and telekinetic (she can control physical objects with her mind). From the very first time Dr. Charles Xavier (Professor X) encountered Jean, it was intimated that she had the potential for being the strongest of all X-Men. A trauma she had experienced as a child (i.e., seeing her best friend be killed) awoke her power. The grief-stricken Jean could not learn how to control her power due to her fragile emotional state, so Professor X, who is also telepathic, shielded Jean from being able to feel the grief associated with her friend’s death so that he could teach her how to control her power.
If you’ve watched the X-Men movies, then you know Jean Grey. She is a dependable member and an influential leader of the X-Men. However, if you watched X-Men III, then you don’t have a great opinion of her since she ends up on the opposite side of the X-Men in the struggle that ensues, killing a couple of very prominent characters in the process. The frustrating part of that movie is that it never really happened in any comic book storyline. In the movie, Professor X explains to Wolverine that there is very powerful force, called The Phoenix, that resides within Jean and that he has put a mental block on the force to contain its influence on Jean. That one explanation that is about 60 seconds long (if that) summarizes so many comic book issues that I won’t even begin to try to explain the references to what actually occurred in the comic book storylines. My point here is that you should not judge the character by her portrayal in X-Men: The Last Stand. The Phoenix Force part of the story is true, but it does not resemble the story in that movie in any way. I’ll try to explain what I feel you should know about Jean and the Phoenix Force, both the good and the bad.
The Phoenix Saga begins with an interstellar distress message to Professor X from Lilandra of the Shi’ar Empire, but the source of the message was not clear to him at the time. Lilandra has stolen the M’Kran crystal, one of her people’s holy relics, because her brother, the emperor seeks to harness its power. The crystal is so powerful that it might destroy several star systems were it to be breached. Lilandra has fled to our solar system to keep the crystal from her brother and to seek out the help of Professor X and the X-Men.
Jean Grey’s part of the story begins when the X-Men address a crisis at the U.S. Space Station that Professor X has sensed. In the Space Station, the X-Men encountered bounty hunters hired by the Emperor who are searching for Lilandra and the M’Krann crystal. In the ensuing battle between the X-Men and those who have assumed control of the station, the station is so damaged that it is on the verge of self-destructing. The X-Men are able to get to their space shuttle and escape the exploding space station but are thrust exceedingly close to sun. Jean Grey is piloting the shuttle and is overcome by the extreme radiation and cries out for help. None of the X-Men can hear or would even be able to help her, but something does come to her aid, The Phoenix Force.
I know that’s a lot of information to process, but I felt like I couldn’t start talking about the Phoenix Force without introducing how it became entangled with Jean Grey. A few things to know about the Phoenix Force is that it is the protector of the M’Kran crystal and that it is a being of pure energy. The Phoenix has no human like characteristics, so when it inhabits the body of Jean Grey it begins to experience emotions for the first time. The Emperor is able to successfully harness the power of the crystal, and the final battle in this saga is between the Phoenix and the Emperor. We learn that what gave the Phoenix the ability to defeat the Emperor was the strength of Jean’s emotional connection with her friends (the X-Men). The emotional connection Jean had with her friends allowed the Phoenix to identify the weakness in the Emperor. Although the comic book story itself does not mention the specific kinds of emotions from which the Phoenix drew, the animated series specifically has the Phoenix mention the following: wisdom, compassion, gentleness, innocence, courage and love. Armed with the power of human emotion, the Phoenix prevails. She prevails as a result of her ability to feel human emotions. You’ve got to be kidding me. I am challenged in feeling basic emotions, but the Phoenix Force uses her very brief interaction with them to save the galaxy? Ay Dios mio!
I guess we should have known that the Phoenix would return since the Phoenix is a mythical bird that tends to rise from the ashes. The aforementioned story is referred to as the Phoenix Saga. The next chapter in the story of the Phoenix is the Dark Phoenix Saga. Believe it or not, emotion plays a significant role once again. You think someone may be trying to tell me something? Again, as in the Phoenix Saga, the set up for the Dark Phoenix Saga may be a little more involved than the storyline that delivers the message I am trying to impart.
At the start of the Dark Phoenix Saga, Jean Grey has begun to have what she perceives to be time-jumps into the past where she appears to be leading a different life in a different time and place. She is concerned that she might get trapped in the past if those time-jumps don’t stop. It turns out the time-jumps are actually a figment of her imagination created by two members of the Hellfire Club, Emma Frost (a.k.a. the White Queen) and Jason Wyngarde (a.k.a. Mastermind). The Hellfire Club is a secret society of mutants who seek to take control of humanity. If they could succeed in turning Jean Grey to their side, she would be a valuable asset since she is considered to be one of the most powerful of the X-Men. They are also aware of Jean’s experiences as The Phoenix which gives pause to the White Queen. Jason Wyngarde is convinced that his mind control powers are strong enough to keep both Jean and The Phoenix in check.
Wyngarde succeeds in luring Jean Grey to the Hellfire Club with the ultimate plan being that they would have her serve as the Dark Queen for the Hellfire Club. Their efforts at controlling Jean certainly drew out her dark side, but it was the Dark Phoenix that was provoked. The Phoenix does not like it when clearly inferior beings try to exert influence or power over her. Eventually the Phoenix attacks Hellfire Club members themselves as well as the X-Men who have tracked Jean down and were attempting to rescue her. Wyngarde put so many negative thoughts and ideas into Jean’s head that the Phoenix felt exhilaration at the idea of exerting power over others. She is so energized that she transports herself to a nearby star system (a star system that is part of the Shi’ar Empire, coincidentally). In feeding on the sun for that star system, she destroys not only the star but also all of its surrounding planets, including its five billion inhabitants. This most certainly gets the attention of the Shi’ar who will now enter the battle to defeat the Phoenix. The Phoenix now has an insatiable appetite for power and threatens the Earth and all of humanity upon her return to the Earth.
The X-Men battle Dark Phoenix on Earth. They are no match for the awesome power of Dark Phoenix. Beast is able to place a brain wave scrambler on Dark Phoenix to allow Jean to gain control of her own body. Wolverine overpowers Jean and has an opportunity to kill her. Jean even asks him to kill her, but because the person he is now fighting is Jean Grey, Wolverine can’t. His hesitation allows Dark Phoenix to regain control and the battle resumes. Cyclops, Jean’s love interest, and Professor X join the battle. Cyclops tries speaking to Jean about the love and concern they have for each other, but Dark Phoenix is not having it. Professor X engages Dark Phoenix in an epic psychic battle, and with Jean’s help they contain Dark Phoenix. Just as things calm down, the entire team of X-Men is transported to a Shi’ar space vessel at the request of Empress Lilandra, who seeks to put Jean on trial for the destruction of a Shi’ar star system.
The X-Men now fight with Jean to save her life in a duel of honor between the X-Men and the Shi'ar Imperial Guard. The battle is fierce with no side seemingly gaining a significant advantage until … Dark Phoenix begins to reemerge. The X-Men pounce on her to help Jean retain control. Colossus has a chance to kill Jean, but he is unable to kill a friend. Cyclops, too, has a chance to end Jean’s life but he, too, prefers to believe that there is a way to defeat Dark Phoenix (and save Jean) and fails to act. Jean asks Cyclops to end her life. Feeling herself losing her internal battle to keep Dark Phoenix under psychic control, Jean Grey ends her own life. Thus, the Dark Phoenix saga ends with an act of self-sacrifice by Jean Grey to save the X-Men, the Earth, and the Universe. In a way, she felt that she deserved such a punishment for having enabled Dark Phoenix’ ability to heap destruction on so many living beings. Jean Grey most certainly qualifies as a strong female protector.
As you can imagine, the Phoenix will rise again. I won’t get into the intricacies of the actual storyline but will say it takes the Avengers and the Fantastic Four to make the discovery that Jean Grey was alive. They find a woman in a pod at the bottom of New York Harbor and eventually figured out that it was Marvel Girl (a.k.a. Jean Grey). When Jean reconnects with the X-Men, it is many years later and the Xavier School is no more due to the fact that Professor X has vanished. Marvel Girl reunites with the other four original X-Men (i.e., Cyclops, Beast, Angel and Iceman) to form a new band of X-Men referred to as X-Factor. Thus, not only does Jean Grey rise again, she also resurrects the group of X-Men that launched the entire X-Men series 16 years earlier. That is truly powerful stuff.
Hard Rockin’ Sci-Fi
Enough about films and comics and on to my favorite sci-fi songs and albums. The day after I began writing this chapter, I heard on a morning show the news that David Bowie had died after a prolonged battle with cancer (RIP). I had already picked several of his songs and the album, Ziggy Stardust, to feature in this chapter as a way of honoring his influence on my life. Unfortunately, it now must be a posthumous tribute. Clearly, there have been tributes by much more important figures than this father-of-two living on Austin’s Eastside, but I am grateful for the fact that I can do something to honor him (and others), no matter how small.
The song list for this chapter seems to me to be one of the strangest and is the one that changed most drastically throughout the process of writing this book. Bowie, Hendrix, Rush and Blue Oyster Cult have a great wealth of material that could have been included, and a great many bands have random sci-fi related songs that could have been included. In the end I opted to pick the songs and albums that spoke to me on an intellectual, philosophical and/or spiritual level. Some of the themes are “out there,” but what this chapter does is add to my 8th principle in the code of rock ‘n roll: pursue your dreams and passions with passion. Building on this chapter and Chapter 3 (I Dream Therefore I Am), it appears that a corollary to Principle 8 is simply… “don’t be afraid to dream (even if you are not going to pursue that dream”). The very act of dreaming has a positive effect on your life outcomes (and the life outcomes of others). As we will discover later in this chapter and in subsequent chapters, the positive effects of your dreaming may only be felt if your dreaming serves to expand human consciousness and understanding. Thus, as I suggested in my words of wisdom in Chapter 3, choose (your dreams) well.
To talk about getting spiritual strength from Judas Priest could probably start a riot somewhere, but their album Sad Wings of Destiny to this day remains one of my favorites of all time because it struck a spiritual nerve. I must have played it hundreds of times my junior year at Stanford. I blasted Victim of Changes so many times in my dorm room (Whitman House) and so loud, it is no wonder I didn’t get kicked out of the co-op. The album foreshadows some of the band’s future works, but this album was quite distinct in its subject matter and sound.
The two songs I’ve selected from Sad Wings of Destiny, “Dreamer Deceiver” and “Deceiver,” I consider to really be one song. They are songs that are forever entangled in my head. I can’t listen to one without the other (much like the Jane’s Addiction and R.E.M. songs discussed in the last chapter) and in fact the second song ends with a musical element from the first as if to say this is all part of the same story that we are trying to tell. The story begins when the character of the song is looking out the window of his house and observes a supernatural figure under a tree. This figure takes him on a journey and imparts knowledge about the universe. The crux of the knowledge imparted is that our minds are free if we would only realize that fact. The key to understanding this secret is to focus on the sound left behind after the Big Bang for it was there since the beginning of time, and it is there now and forevermore. Everything else is fleeting. The song has the most phenomenal vocals which I doubt can ever be duplicated, even by Rob Halford (Judas Priest’s vocalist) himself. The deception in the story stems from the fact that we allow things which are meaningless in the grand scheme of things to control our lives.
I’ll keep us in virtual outer space for the next few songs, starting with a series of songs by David Bowie about that familiar figure, Major Tom. In “Space Oddity,” the song which is most familiar to most rock aficionados, Major Tom is on a trip, virtual or actual, very far removed from Earth. He decides that because the Earth is so blue (i.e., sad), he may want to remain in the stillness of space and not in the madness of this world. In “Ashes to Ashes,” Major Tom, who we learn is actually a drug addict, has realized that there isn’t much that is either good or bad about being in outer space and wants to come back down to Earth. However, he can’t seem to find the path home. In “Hallo Spaceboy,” Major Tom (actually the Paddy character in Bowie’s album, Outside) is still spaced-out and a few friends seems to be saying their farewell to him because the chaos of that spaced-out world is too much for them to handle. And Major Tom is not heard from again (in Bowie’s compositions), at least to the extent that I am able to ascertain.
It’s a pretty easy segue from Major Tom’s situation to that of the The Door’s Lizard King. The Celebration of the Lizard King which was recorded as part of the Absolutely Live album, begins with a trip South of the border that finds the main character in the song waking up in a hotel room accompanied by a golden snake. The snake asks him to come on a journey with him (much like the Dreamer Deceiver in the Judas Priest song). It takes him to the top of a hill where he shows him a town of homes where everything is the same and all is, thus, not well. The daughters in this town have dreams/desires of their own, and the snake and Lizard King (the main character) offer them an escape to the mansion on the top of the hill where they can live out their dreams/desires. But when you try to escape the madness of the real world, it is possible to get burned both while you are away and when/if you return. But the Lizard King promises to keep them safe because “he can do anything.” So, take care when choosing to remain on “the edge” of anything.
I always consider the next song, “Third Stone from the Sun” by Jimi Hendrix, to be more of an instrumental. In fact, there is a quite lengthy, but muted, conversation going on. The song is ostensibly an alien’s perspective on how Earthlings choose to live their lives. Speaking to more of an American style of living (because I haven’t spent much time in other countries), our lives are madness, and we want more of it. I’ve often wondered that if there was other intelligent life watching our evolution and the methodical destruction of this Class M Planet (as it would be classified in the Star Trek series), if they would decide that a planet like ours is so precious that a primitive species such as ours should not be allowed to destroy it. The conclusion of the alien in “Third Stone from the Sun” is just that, to put an end to the human race. I’m not sure why, but I hear the voice of Tommy Chong (of the comedy duo, Cheech and Chong) in my head: “I dig your planet, man, but what you’re doing to it ain’t cool, man. Nah, man. It can’t go on that way, man. You blew it, man. You blew it! But, hey, you had a good time. Right, man!”
We move to the issue of immortality via the Queen song, “Princes of the Universe,” originally from the soundtrack to the movie, Highlander, and subsequently from the Queen album, Some Kind of Magic. While it is not clear if they are of extraterrestrial origins, the main characters of the movie, Highlander, are superhuman beings who can only die if they are beheaded. If one “Prince of the Universe” kills off another one, they absorb additional powers though a process called “the quickening.” The quest to be “the only one” left standing is essentially what the movie is about.
If asked if we want to die, I’m pretty sure most people would say “no.” But if asked why, I’m not sure good answers would be had. Why is immortality attractive to us? So, that we can accumulate wealth and power? The only thing that is unending in our reality is … the universe itself. Is it plausible to think that the universe is unending for the purpose of OUR accumulating personal wealth and power? No. The universe has a role to play, just as we (as a sentient life form) have a role to play. I believe the “sentient” part is the part of utmost importance. Some have argued that the universe itself may be sentient. So, evolving our consciousness may be the most important thing that we can/should do in terms of the advancement of our species and the universe. Yet we do what we do, and we live how we live, and, to repeat a prior statement that I’ve made, our evolution (i.e., individual and collective consciousness) remains frozen in space and time.
On the subject of “how we live,” Rush helps to take the discourse to a more practical level in the last two of the singles on this list: “Cygnus X-1: Book 1 - The Voyage” and “Cygnus X-1: Book 2 - Hemispheres.” I will begin by considering Book 2 first. This Rush composition continues the extraterrestrial adventure in this chapter, but offers up a balance between two opposing forces in the universe, love & reason. In this tale, Apollo represents reason (i.e the left hemisphere of the brain) and Dionysus represents love (i.e., the right hemisphere of the brain). In “Cygnus X-1: Book 1- The Voyage,” we discovered that Cygnus is a space explorer who was on a voyage to examine the origins of x-ray radiations emanating from the Cygnus constellation, with a black hole being presumed to be the source of this radiation. In Book 2, we learn that Cygnus has survived his encounter with the black hole, although the encounter has transformed him into a spiritual being of some kind. He returns to Earth in his new form and witnesses the terrible battle between Apollo and Dionysus and their followers.
From the vantage point of Olympus, the home of the gods to which Cygnus has found his way, Cygnus feels a complete and utter sense of devastation at what has become of the Earth resulting in his expression of a “silent scream.” Due to his new form of being, the silent scream can be felt by the battling gods. They ceased their battle, discussed with Cygnus the cause for his concern and were saddened by his view of what had come to pass. They decide to make Cygnus the god of balance so that humans may have an opportunity to access both reason and love in experiencing life. The opportunity is there, but humans have a choice in terms of where the balance is and how the balance is achieved. Although the choice is ours, it requires us, as individuals, to look within ourselves to determine where the right balance is for us. Without that inward focus and conscious intervention, the balance may be controlled more by our genetics and environment than by ourselves.
Let the truth of love be lighted
Let the love of truth shine clear
Sensibility, armed with sense and liberty
With the heart and mind united in a single perfect sphere
Having covered a lot of ground in terms of common sci-fi themes, my summary of the albums selected for this section will be from a much higher vantage point so as not to be too repetitive of subjects from this and previous chapters. An interesting similarity in the tales set forth in these albums is that there is a struggle for world salvation or against world domination. Aliens play the role of antagonists in the album by Blue Oyster Cult. In the case of Ziggy Stardust, The Warning and 2112, humans end up being their own worst enemies, on the one hand due to our destruction of the Earth’s natural resources and on the other as a result of repressive forces borne of human greed and thirst for power and control. The overarching challenge to the listener of these musical tales is, what would you do as a human being if these situations actually unfolded? Even more scary to consider: have they or are they already unfolding?
Is our destiny controlled by us or aliens?
The most extensively developed concept of the four, Imaginos comes to us by way of Blue Oyster Cult (BOC). The character, Imaginos, has his origins in the late 1960’s (in the compositions of Sandy Pearlman, a long-time BOC collaborator), and the songs that layout the mythology span two decades of recordings by the band. Imaginos was not presented as a story until the concept album, Imaginos, in 1988. Although this concept album was a presentation of previous BOC material, the songs are new recorded versions of the songs. The band had disbanded for a few years, and an attempt was made to reform the band. The recording pretty much excluded Al Bouchard, one of the original band members and vocalist. So, the recording may be regarded as a 3OC production (with special guests) instead of a true BOC production.
Imaginos is a tale so fantastic that I envision it as a Cirque de Soleil show, and the music really lends itself to that sort of presentation. Imaginos is a human/alien hybrid that is conceived by Les Invisibles (the invisible ones) who are an alien race that has had a presence on Earth since the time of the ancient Maya. This alien race is the source of expanded knowledge of the Maya and are the beings worshipped by the Blue Oyster Cult. The interesting thing about the name of BOC is that the significance of the band’s name unfolds as the career of the band unfolds. In the album, Fire of Unknown Origin, you see the first image of the “cult” (creepy yet cute little beings as shown on one of the best album covers ever) and in ETI (Extraterrestrial Live) you see the source of their worship (i.e., an alien being that is exiting a spaceship). It is not until this live album (10 years after BOC’s debut) that we begin to get an idea as to the “workings” of this cult, and this purpose appears to be integrally tied to the Imaginos mythology.
Imaginos, the character, is actually born in New Hampshire in the early 1800’s with the unique aspect of this child being his supernatural powers and not the place of birth, per se. Martin Popoff, author of Blue Oyster Cult Secrets Revealed, suggests that Imaginos’ life was meant to mirror, in certain aspects, the life of Jesus Christ, as a way of showing disdain for Jesus as a spiritually significant figure in history. Imaginos travels from the Northeastern US through New Orleans and Texas, eventually crossing over to Mexico and ending up in the Mayan territories of Mexico and Central America (which is, of course, where Les Invisibles made their presence known to humans). In Mayan country, Imaginos is given a black mirror, the Magna of Illusion, which provides a way to view the future that allows him to intervene and alter the course of human history.
Imaginos uses his knowledge and powers, that include the ability to assume different identities and to defy aging, to set in motion the series of events leading to World War I and, in essence, all subsequent global conflicts. The Magna of Illusion was taken from the “new” world to Europe where it was buried, forever poisoning not just the soil that surrounds it but the Earth itself. As if the evil infection that this poison causes in humans is not enough, Imaginos also imparts technological secrets to humans for the purpose of thwarting their continued evolution and to hasten the demise of the human race. Humans continue the within-species fight which of course flies in the face of how life has been able to evolve on this planet. In the album (or related storylines of BOC), no resolution is offered to counteract the machinations of Imaginos and Les Invisibles. This is clearly not a tale born of Hollywood which may be reason enough for me to give it two thumbs up.
Is our destiny controlled by us or bureaucratic rules and structures that are “infallible?”
The album, 2112, may be the one that saved Rush’s musical career. They were basically put on notice that if they didn’t produce a commercially viable album that they would be cut from the label. Instead of trying to record what they perceived the label to want, they recorded the album that they would have recorded regardless of the situation. At least, this way, they would go out with their artistic integrity intact. The record’s originality did not go unnoticed, more so through the building of a cult following than through album sales, and their musical career has continued to this very day with all or part of the 2112 suite being incorporated into nearly every Rush show since.
“2112” may be the longest of the epic songs that Rush has composed unless you count the entire Clockwork Angels album (2012) as one long suite, as I view it. This 20 minute plus song from 1976 eclipses the length of “By Tor & the Snow Dog” (1975), ‘Cygnus/Hemispheres” (1978), and “Xanadu” (1977). Combining “Xanadu,” “Cygnus/Hemispheres,” and “2112’ might make for another interesting Cirque de Soleil show. “2112” is the most hard driving of these epic songs and appears to be told by way of first person accounts expressed by different characters in the story (instead of being told by a narrator/observer). The main actors in this story are the main character (who is nameless), the priests from the Temple of Syrinx, and an invading force from the Solar Federation. The year is 2112 in a different planet (with twin moons) than our own, which may be a colony of Earth.
In terms of the story itself, the main character finds a guitar in a cave behind a water fall where he lives. Apparently, all music and artistic expression have been eliminated and “every facet of everyday life is regulated and directed” by the priests of the temple and their computers. Since peace has been had for nearly 50 years on the planet, no change in the functioning of society is welcomed by the priests. The main character shares the instrument he has found and the beautiful sounds it makes with the priests. It is a vehicle by which people “can make their own music” which is an exciting proposition for what he has now come to identify as a dull and lifeless world. Not surprisingly, the priests, who act ostensibly as bureaucrats, frown upon and destroy the newly discovery instrument leaving the main character devastated and disillusioned. He returns to his cave and has a dream in which he sees how wonderful life with art and music could be. Upon waking, he shares his feelings in a powerful Soliloquy:
The sleep is still in my eyes
The dream is still in my head
I heave a sign and sadly smile
I lie a while in be
I wish that it might come to pass
Not fade like all my dreams
Just think of what my life might be
In a world like I have seen
I don’t think I could carry on
Carry on this cold and empty life
The main character had been in the cave for days and his life was about to come to an end when…a military force from the Solar Federation came to intervene in this oppressive society. The Grande Finale of the song begins and represents (in an instrumental manner) a battle between the Federation’s forces and those of the oppressive regime. The Federation forces assume control of the planet, and we surmise that a more open and free society will ensue. What is not clear is whether the main character gets to see this new dawn or even knows that the takeover has occurred before his death. I don’t think the moral here is pray for an external force to intervene to fight your battles for you, but that you never give in to despair because we don’t know what the future holds. Don’t retreat to a cave, but live as you think you/we were meant to live.
Is our destiny … pre-destined and/or controlled by supernatural forces?
The Warning is the debut album by the band, Queensryche, that by no means is the bands most critically acclaimed work. It is by far my favorite album of theirs, and one of my favorite albums of all time. While the first two albums above (Imaginos & 2112) I envisioned as a Cirque de Soleil show (which tend to have limited dialogue), the story presented in The Warning I envision as a rock-infused action movie due to the multitude of perspectives presented and depth of the issues covered.
The story presented in The Warning is of an impending war between the forces of good (light) and evil (fire). The resistance fights for freedom (the light) and “the enforcer,” also referred to as the Child of Fire, seeks to conquer and control the world. A particular resistance fighter (who is unnamed) appears to be the main character through whose eyes we experience almost all of the story. The resistance fighter has received a critical message from a an oracle. The prophecy of an evil force rising to conquer the land has come to pass, and the battle for which the resistance has been preparing for many years (maybe even generations) must now be fought.
Part of the prophecy that is now unfolding includes the emergence of a heroic figure who has the power needed to defeat the enforcer. Faith in the assistance to be provided by the heroic figure is what motivates the resistance fighters. The idea being that they only need to hold off the enforcer’s army long enough for this heroic figure to fulfill his/her part of the bargain (prophecy). This heroic figure is slow in coming, and resistance fighters pray for deliverance and sanctuary which is not forthcoming. The people who reside in the cities (i.e., who are not part of the resistance but who have complied with the directives of the oppressive regime that have now been decimated by the armies of the enforcer) have seen the error in their ways, having given up their freedom and control for false reassurances that they have nothing to fear from the powers that be.
There is clearly a supernatural aspect to the story, which appears to purposefully contain biblical parallels. The advance warning of the enforcer (via prophecy) allows the resistance to mobilize ahead of the launch of the enforcer’s assault in order to defeat him before he reaches full strength. The enforcer is aware of the prophecy relating to the heroic figure and seeks to thwart the coming of this figure. The enforcer bears down on the people with brute force as a way to shake their faith. Without the strong faith of the people and the resistance, the heroic figure may not be able to enter this world and this scene.The faith of the resistance does not falter. Theirs is a cause worth fighting for, and they are willing to risk it all to succeed. As word reaches the resistance from the ranging conflicts in nearby lands, the resistance troops rally behind the following words of the resistance leader:
Throw down the chains of oppression that bind you
With the air of freedom the flame grows bright
We are the strong, the youth united
We are one, we are children of the light
So take hold of the flame
Don't you see life's a game
So take hold of the flame
You've got nothing to lose, but everything to gain
The remainder of the story appears to involve the resistance leader from the opening songs of the album. He received the prophecy, delivered the news of the prophecy to the high command, and then he led resistance forces into battle. My interpretation of the second to the last song, “Child of Fire,” is that the resistance leader directly battled the Enforcer and his army, and then was caught and taken prisoner. The first part of the song, “Child of Fire,” appears to be the resistance leader’s recollection of the incredible power and desire of the enforcer for victory on the battle field. The captured resistance leader is in the presence of the Enforcer when these images are running through his head but he is not afraid or deterred. He takes the opportunity to confront the Enforcer about his motives and methods.
Look around, is this the end that you have foreseen
The pain, the misery in us all
What was it that you knew? Will we one day learn it too
And together build another way, to the morning
Or will it ever come again
You've poisoned all our hopes
We have nothing now
And what of the children
What has this done to them?
I damn you for the pain that they must feel
But the captive remains strong in his hope that the heroic figure will come. If enough people call upon and believe in the ability of this heroic figure to play his expected role, then the captive chooses to continue believing that he/she will come. As humanity grows in its desire for the Child of Fire to be defeated, it is inevitable that the hero that is prophesied will come.
In the final song, “Roads to Madness,” the resistance leader has been beat down. The time has come for the resistance leader to be executed, and he is left wondering why the chosen one has not come. He wonders if his complete faith in the heroic figure was nothing more than madness. Suddenly, the battle that the resistance leader has hoped for (between the heroic figure and the Enforcer) commences and the forces of light have an easy time defeating the evil that has engulfed humanity, just as had been prophesied. But if this is sounding too much like a Hollywood ending, it would be if that were actually the end of the story. It turns out that the resistance leader was witnessing these events during his transition from life to death. Now, in death, he “understands.”
I myself added the part about the resistance leader’s “understanding” of what would come to pass at his time of death. Nothing in the lyrics suggests that he is o.k. with the fact that liberation only occurred in his mind as he crossed over to the next life. But I argue that the fact that he lived how he lived and believed what he believed, ultimately led to the desired ending. When we live our lives, we set certain things in motion that will either facilitate or hinder the outcome we seek. The resistance leader did not back down from the fight against evil when the prophecy was received or when the war commenced. He spoke truth to evil when he had a chance, and he did not abandon his faith in the coming of the heroic figure. Sometimes, we set the wheels in motion in our lifetime and won’t live to see if these actions bear fruit, but that does not mean the fruit will not be born. The fruit may very well come after our time is done in this life.
Of course, the song/band could be stating that belief in a savior to win your battles for you is madness (i.e., that the main character was only dreaming when the victory was achieved). And thus, faith only leads to madness or, simply ends up being a road to nowhere if not a road to madness. If this was the message, I would venture to say that the final battle scene in the song, “Roads to Madness,” would not have ever been written. When the resistance leader is taken to be executed, the execution would have driven home the point that his faith had been misguided. If that was the point, then this would have been the time to end the story and the song.
The final scene in the song (which starts at 7:20 and continues to the end of the song/album) must have had a purpose. As in “2112,” the final scene is a musical representation of a battle scene and not a battle described in lyrical terms. I don’t think this final battle was intended to leave the listener wondering whether the resistance leader was mad or foolish in his beliefs. If the songwriters wanted us to believe the character was mad, then he would have died looking like he had lived the life of a fool. But yet, the final battle scene occurs in the song, which I think means the resistance leader was vindicated. I am sure this point will be greatly contested as I have so incredibly read between the lines of this concept album.
Can rock-n-roll save the world?
I was originally going to start this sci-fi album section with Ziggy Stardust and end with The Warning. With David Bowie’s passing (RIP), I couldn’t bring myself to write the section on this particular album. As particular as Bowie was known to be, it was easy to feel that I could write without his judgment of my writing and interpretations. But, as with my personal interpretations of the work of other artists, I would welcome knowing whether they like the interpretation or if I am completely off-base or off-track. Sadly, that opportunity no longer exists with Bowie. Though I am relieved in some respect, I can’t help but feeling that if the truth that I gleaned from my reaction to Ziggy Stardust was challenged by Bowie, then maybe a different truth that was actually intended by this rock icon may have come to light. To Bowie, I do give my thanks and to Bowie and Bowie fans I ask that you consider my interpretation to be just that, one interpretation out of many possible interpretations. My interpretation of Ziggy Stardust has a great deal of meaning for me, personally, and for that I am grateful.
The three other albums I highlight in this section, I envisioned as performed in a Cirque de Soleil format or in an action movie format, but not Ziggy Stardust. Even though for most of my life I have considered this album to be a concept album involving aliens, a rock-n-roll band, and some wild imagery, it is so much more than that. The sci-fi connection in this case is the possible role that aliens might play in saving the Earth from its annihilation due to an impending environmental catastrophe. In the story, scientists have calculated that the life on Earth could only be sustained for five more years. The vehicle through which the aliens choose to communicate their willingness to help humanity is the rock-n-roll star, Ziggy Stardust, an unlikely medium to convincingly convey such a message.
Upon closely studying the message in the individual songs and album as a whole, there is a lingering question about whether Ziggy was not already dying a slow death because of how he was treated by society. One interpretation of Ziggy Stardust offered by Bowie himself is that Ziggy’s life itself had to be sacrificed so that the aliens could save the Earth (and ourselves) from impending doom. Ziggy may have not dreaded but welcomed the sacrifice of his life, not because the world would be saved, but because his suffering at the hands of his fellow humans would be over. Ironically, the salvation of the Earth by the aliens then becomes not a reason to celebrate but a means through which our messed up way of treating each other will actually be maintained. This storyline is most certainly not a typical Hollywood script, and I can’t even conceive (and don’t want to conceive, for some reason) what a story like this might look like on the screen or on the stage.
Just like Bowie did with the Major Tom series of songs that I described in an earlier section of this chapter, Bowie created a story that is not actually about the topic we think it is. Major Tom is not a story about space or an astronaut at all, it is a story about drug addiction, the things that draws us to it, and the mountains that must be travailed to get out of it. Likewise, Ziggy Stardust is not a story about space, aliens, or our planet’s environmental predicament. It is an indictment of us as human beings who often tend to act in ways that lack any form of understanding and compassion for our fellow man, particularly those who are different. Ziggy is perceived to be different and is treated/viewed as different by society. In the end, he was really just a person who wished to be loved, and the love never came.
The first category of songs on the Ziggy Stardust album that I’ll share are those through which Ziggy tells us about himself. Ziggy’s desire for love is evidenced in the songs, “Soul Love” and “Star.” In “Soul Love,” he outlines different kinds of love that he has observed in life, but he laments that the only love he has found thus far is “the love of love, and love is not loving.” The song, “Star,” includes a list of exciting things that he and his friends wanted to experience in life, and Ziggy wants to experience “transformation,” “wild mutation,” as well as “fall asleep at night,” and “fall in love all right” by becoming a rock-n-roll star [“Star”]. So it may not be stardom that Ziggy seeks. He wants to be transformed so that he can be comfortable with who he is and, ultimately find love. Rock-n-roll is the vehicle he identified for achieving his goals.
Ziggy gets to be a rock ‘n roll star, but that life has its ups and downs. The “high” from expressing yourself musically/artistically is dampened by the highs AND lows of addictions involving sex and drugs. “It ain’t easy to get to heaven, when you’re going down” [“It Ain’t Easy”]. In the songs, “Moonage Dream” and “Suffragette City,” he seeks refuge in sex or simply intimate contact with people. He’ll do anything for the comfort that comes in being held or from being told the things you most want to hear and feel the things you most want to feel. But these avenues for escape are not just pursued because they can be (i.e., for hedonistic purposes). What most people don’t appreciate is that Ziggy Stardust is really Lady Stardust inside. She is not just an act, this is who he is, and the only time he is at peace is when he is Lady Stardust. But his stage presence is mocked and ridiculed. And it is this reaction to his on-stage persona that leads him to hide the fact that this is how he identifies. The interesting thing about Lady Stardust is that this personal information about Ziggy is not shared by Ziggy himself, but apparently by a band member or other observer who really understands where Ziggy is coming from. Even though the crowd’s reaction to Lady Stardust is to that of a made-up character, the refrain of the song suggests that when performing as Lady Stardust all is good for Ziggy regardless of whether or not people are taking Lady Stardust seriously:
And he was alright, the band was altogether
Yes he was alright, the song went on forever
And he sang … all night long
The band member/observer perspective is echoed in the album’s title track, “Ziggy Stardust.” But here what is described is not a euphoric Lady Stardust but a lost soul who has lost complete control. Everyone could see that Ziggy was out of control, but no one cared enough to intervene, not even his band, the Spiders from Mars. The band did what rock-n-roll bands did, they had irreverent fun. Left to “hang-on to himself,” with no one to support him, the end for Ziggy could not be too far off.
Making love with his ego, Ziggy sucked up into his mind
Like a leper messiah
When the kids had killed the man, I had to break up the band
When I began to closely compare Lady Stardust and Ziggy Stardust, I realized that the whole premise of the sci-fi storyline was compromised. There are only two songs whose content I have yet to reference here, “Starman” and “Rock & Roll Suicide.” In the song, “Starman,” Ziggy receives the communication from a “starman” that he wants to come and help save the Earth and humanity. It is the only song the intimates at communication between Ziggy and the aliens. This song is the most surreal of all of the compositions on the album and leads you to wonder if the communication actually occurred or if was imagined or occurred while in a drug induced state. The tone at the end of “Ziggy Stardust” suggests that something unfortunate or tragic happens to Ziggy, so the logical conclusion when the album ends with the song, “Rock ‘n Roll Suicide,” is that a suicide may have actually occurred. But the suicide occurred not because Rock ‘n Roll had achieved the salvation of the Earth through the sacrifice of one of its own stars to the aliens, but due to Ziggy’s alienation and despair.
I will say this about the final song, “Rock ‘n Roll Suicide.” The lyrics do not describe conditions leading to the suicide of the main character. I believe Bowie himself is talking here to rock-n-roll artists who have chosen a profession with life threatening/altering risks in many corners and to all those who feel like they can’t express their true selves, particularly with regard to their sexuality or gender identity. He seeks to comfort with very powerful words and a very powerful song to avert another rock ‘n roll suicide.
Oh no love! You’re not alone
No matter what or who you’ve been
No matter when or where you’ve been
All the knives seem to lacerate your brain
I’ve had my share so I’ll help you with the pain
This song and album really do seem to have healing powers. I certainly think that anyone who feels different or alienated may find comfort and healing from Ziggy Stardust.
Reality is Stranger than Fiction
I realize that the point of this chapter may still be a bit unclear at this time. Besides conveying my favorite this-or-that, I was hoping that an examination of the serious topics addressed in these songs/albums/movies would tell us something about the topics that concern us as human beings, regardless of whether or not we are musicians, song-writers or simply sci-fi or rock aficionados. To the extent that we have uncovered a few possible theories, then we have succeeded.
I also wanted to convey the idea that the far-fetched may not actually be far-fetched based on what scientist are discovering about the universe in which we live. I’d like to share a few ideas from the following books which will challenge our views of reality and of what’s possible: The Hidden Reality (Greene), The Science of God (Schroeder), Science and the Akashic Field (Lazslo). Of course, we have already covered some ground in the scientific works referenced in the chapter on dreams (Chapter 3). The books referenced there pertained to the science of the very small while these pertain more to the science of the very large.
From the books by Greene and Schroeder I want to share some statistics that suggest that our universe is fine-tuned to support life. Early in his book, The Science of God, Schroeder shares the notion that if the energy created when the Big Bang occurred had deviated by one part in 10 to the 120th power, life in our universe would not be possible. This number is a 10 with 120 zeroes after it. This one stat alone gives us pause because it suggests design of the utmost precision. Other conditions of the universe to which he alludes are: the energy produced by the Big Bang, including the electromagnetic force; the strong nuclear force; the weak nuclear force; the strength of gravity; the amount of matter compared to antimatter; the temperature of the Big Bang; and the rate of expansion of the Big Bang. If these constants and/or the proportions relative to each other deviated by very small amounts then it would have negated the possibility of life because the universe could not have evolved to the state that we see today.
The characteristics of our Earth also are fine tuned for life. The distance from our sun and the trajectory of our orbit allow for the possibility of biological life on our planet. Here are a few facts whose particularities also support the evolution of a life-bearing planet:
“Earth contains just enough radioactivity to maintain its iron core in a molten state;”
“Earth’s gravity is strong enough to hold the needed gases of our atmosphere but weak enough to allow lighter noxious gases to escape into space;” and
Earth is positioned “at just the correct distance from our star so that our biosphere is warm enough to maintain water in its liquid, life-supporting, state but not too warm that it evaporates away into space.”
Although the conditions that led to life on this planet are very unique, it is by no means a true statement that life on this planet is an anomaly (i.e., that it is unique) even within our own universe. Ever since I learned that our universe was infinite, I quickly came to the conclusion that the human race cannot possibly be the only sentient life form to be found in the universe. It wasn’t just because I watched Space Giants and Star Trek at an early age that I believed in “alien” life. It is simply a logical conclusion as Mr. Spock might say. But in reading recent books on theoretical physics, as I am prone to do from time to time, it becomes clear that if you search the universe infinitely, then eventually you will find life. Not only will you find life, but you will find life in our own universe that appears to be a virtual copy of our own planet and of our own selves. These other worlds follow the laws of physics that govern our universe, but theoretical physics also suggests that there are universes besides our own that operate under a different set of rules given the initial conditions that set those universes in motion. The short of it is that we live in a multi-verse that is made up of many individual universes each of which may contain life.
Another logical way to approach the possibility of sentient life in our universe simply has to do with the age of our universe which has been estimated to be about 13.7 to 15 billion years old. The age of our planet is on the order of 4 billion years. Thus, our universe existed for 10 billion years before our planet even formed. Thus, if we know for a fact that it takes 4 billion years for sentient life to achieve our level of consciousness, then doesn’t it stand to reason that there may be life that is not only as advanced as ours but BILLIONS of years more advanced than our own? Can you even imagine how much more advanced our civilization would be in a billion years? This is actually possible since our sun has about 5 billion years worth of fuel left. The ironic part of this mental exercise is that in the next 50 to 100 years human beings could so harm this unique life-sustaining planet such that it may no longer support life. Our short tenure as a sentient life form (i.e., probably less than 50,000 years) may not even register as a blip in the history of the cosmos. It is time we get our collective heads out of our collective …
After a couple of short paragraphs, we have arrived at a place where we went from feeling special (because of the unique circumstances that led to life on our planet) to feeling insignificant because of the vastness and grandeur of our infinite universe and the existence of a multi-verse, So, which is it? Unique or ubiquitous? Ervin Laszlo posits that both are correct. The unique conditions that allowed sentient life to form on our planet are present in millions of other star systems, but he suggests it is not by chance that this is true. He argues that “we live in a cyclical creative/destructive multiverse,” wherein universes live and die. But the “information” created in each universe is not lost upon its death, it is recorded by the multi-verse and is used in the next iteration of universes that are to be born next. In essence, there is a cosmic DNA to which prior universes contributed and which informed the conditions that existed at the time of our universe’s birth. Our universe, in turn, contributes to this cosmic DNA thereby informing any universes that may be created henceforth in other parts of the multi-verse. In other words, there is an evolutionary cycle that occurs at a cosmic scale. Like the title of this section suggests, reality is stranger than fiction.
This “cosmic evolution” explains how it is that there might be the possibility of so many worlds with life-bearing potential. You don’t start with a blank slate when a universe is born and then begin rolling the dice to see if that particular universe reaches the point where it harbors life. The conditions of a subsequent universe factor in the lessons learned from all previous universes thus allowing life to proceed beyond the evolutionary reaches of previous universes. Because human beings are self-aware, it is safe to say that we live in a universe where life can advance to the point of being sentient. This potential for sentient life holds for our entire universe not just for our specific planet. Sentient life will spring-up in other parts of our universe, both close and far, because our universe is calibrated to support this kind of life form.
You may be wondering: why the focus on sentience or consciousness? Lazslo concurs with the idea that the universe is fine-tuned to support life, but adds that it is specifically fine-tuned to support a certain kind of life, the type of life that possesses consciousness, like human beings. He suggests that the evolutionary process that is fundamental to our universe has a very specific purpose which is to evolve consciousness to its full potential. So, universes increase in complexity through their evolution and sentient life increases in complexity through its evolution. The beauty of the “evolving universe” is that we are not in competition with other sentient life in the universe. The consciousness of other life forms is available to us because it is recorded in the DNA of the cosmos, and our consciousness is available to other life forms for the same reason. One life form cannot withhold its consciousness from another even if it is millions or billions of light years away. Even though we may never meet these other life forms, their advances in consciousness benefit us and our advances in consciousness benefit them. The universe itself does not allow for the withholding of knowledge that would allow consciousness to continue its evolutionary process.
Our particular species appears to be stuck with regard to the evolution of consciousness because we don’t care about the advancement of our consciousness but are preoccupied with the material aspects of our universe. And the purpose of the material world, if we get to the point where we can grasp the implications fully, IS SIMPLY TO help us realize that it is our consciousness and not the material world around us that is of greatest import. Things that you can’t touch are more important than the things that you can touch, including things that you can accumulate in great quantities. When parents/teachers tell children and youth to “use their noggin” we are actually giving the kind of advice the universe wants us to give them. Unfortunately, most of us only use our noggin as adults when we are made to do so. This is a travesty on so many different levels. Let us be contributors to the evolution of consciousness in our universe and not just moochers in that process, because no one likes a moocher.
My Daily Prayers
For the last few chapters of this book, I am going to share, in what hopefully is a useful manner, some of the specific prayers that I routinely offer to the Creator, Christ, Our Blessed Mother and the angels and saints. If you don’t care to learn about my prayer practices or you don’t want to hear me expound more about the multi-verse, go to the next chapter now.
This first prayer that I will share, I actually crafted based on the scientific research which I reference in this chapter. This specific prayer is offered to the Creator.
Please bring benevolence and compassion to our world through our Lord Jesus Christ
Please bring benevolence and compassion to our solar system through our Lord Jesus Christ
Please bring benevolence and compassion to our galaxy through our Lord Jesus Christ
Please bring benevolence and compassion to our observable universe through our Lord Jesus Christ
The two concepts that will help to understand where I’m coming from both relate to the idea that we live in a multi-verse which allows for an infinite number of universes. If we live in a multi-verse comprised of millions or billions of universes, then it is possible that a specific universe in the multi-verse meets the characteristics in my prayer (that a universe filled with benevolence and compassion actually exists). And if this universe exists, then it is possible that our universe is that universe for which I pray. There’s two ways to look at this. In a way, I may be trying to transport myself to that particular universe through prayer and meditation. Or, in praying and meditating, I may be trying to create the universe that I have envisioned. In Chapter 3, I shared that “what we believe” changes not only our thought patterns but also the physical world around us. It is not so outrageous a thought when you consider that our actions today affect what the future will look like. And if we promote benevolence and compassion in our world and if this helps our species survive (and evolve), then we are establishing the conditions for the continued evolution of our universe with a foundation on these principles.
The other concept I’ll touch on is the concept of an observable universe. As we’ve been taught, nothing travels faster than the speed of light. The only part of the infinite universe we can observe are those parts of the universe that are close enough for their light to have been able to reach us when the light from their stars or star formations began to shine. Thus, the part of our universe that we can observe from Earth is essentially the limit of our universe because we, physically, could not travel fast enough to reach beyond that outer boundary. I’ll call our observable universe a tiny-bubble universe. The totality of our universe is a “bubble universe” and our tiny-bubble universe sits inside of the larger bubble along with an infinite number of tiny-bubble universes. None of the other tiny-bubble universes in the broader universe in which we reside are observable to us and not reachable by us unless we find other ways by which to travel or communicate beyond the reaches of our observable universe.
I have shared research in this chapter that suggests that the purpose of the multi-verse (i.e., Creation) is the evolution of consciousness. My hope is that if we act with benevolence and compassion, we will continue the evolution of our consciousness (and our species). And if we can find a way to continue the evolutionary process for our consciousness then we will be helping Creation to fulfill its purpose. Because Creation is so designed to support the evolution of consciousness, then it will become an ally for us in that process, and the chances for the continuation of our species will increase. Chapters 9 and 10 will explain why I think that benevolence and compassion are two characteristics that are worth promoting for humanity. Stay tuned.
Science and the Akashic Field, Ervin Laszlo (2004)
The Hidden Reality, Brian Greene (2011)
The Science of God, Gerald Schroeder (1997)
The View from the Center of the Universe, Joel R Primack and Nancy Ellen Abrams (2006)