Sure, I could be like the rest of the blogosphere and comment upon Microsoft’s attempted slurping up of Yahoo! If it goes through, it no doubt has ramifications for every single man, woman and child with a computer that accesses the internets.
But that’s not important right now. What is important is that NASA has decided — for the first time ever — to beam a song into space.
And even more important: they’ve chosen the wrong song. Whatever will the aliens think?
So here’s the deal:
On Monday, NASA will beam The Beatles’ “Across the Universe” into the heavens, using its Deep Space Network of antennas, which is ordinarily dedicated to functions such as radioastronomy observations, or communicating with distant interplanetary probes.
There are so many things wrong with this, I don’t even know where to begin. So let’s start with the song. Not only is “Across The Universe,” like, the 352nd best Beatles song, it’s not even about outer space! If you want to be charitable, you can say that it’s about the calming effects of mediation, but I know John Lennon acid lyrics when I hear them.
Nope, this is like the widespread appropriation of songs like “The One I Love” as love songs just because of the title. I guess that it makes sense for folks to use songs like that at weddings, but NASA is supposed to be smarter. Especially when they can google the lyrics just like I did. Hey NASA, there is this technology called the “internets” — use it to read the goddamn lyrics of the songs you are using to make your big gestures!!
What really sucks about this is that there is a song which is a contemporary of “Across The Universe” which is absolutely perfect for being beamed via NASAs Deep Space Nine (or whatever its called). That song is, of course, the transplendent “C.T.A.-102” by The Byrds.
C.T.A. 102 year over year receiving you
Signals tell us that you’re there
We can hear them loud and clear
We just want to let you know
That we’re ready for to go
Out into the universe, we don’t care who’s been there first
On a radio telescope
Science tells us that there’s hope
Life on other planets might exist
PERFECT! And not only is it all done up with the jangly guitar and block harmonies that made The Byrds the best band to come from 1960’s California (oh yes they were), but the end of the song actually has the aliens listening to that exact song!! And liking it, of course. That’s right: all of the jokes and scenarios that people are imagining for this were already thought of and recorded over four decades ago.
This is just the latest in a long series of indignities that The Byrds have suffered at the hands of the Beatles, which began with George Harrison stealing their guitar sound for “A Hard Days Night” and obviously continues to this day.
I will concede, of course, that The Beatles were in every way the superior band, and obviously one of the major cultural forces of the 20th Century — and therefore a perfect choice for a publicity stunt like this — while The Byrds — well, The Byrds wrote “Eight Miles High,” which is better than any single Beatles song. Even “She Said, She Said” (though just barely.)
In the end, it comes down to a single question — the one that Roger McGuinn answered when he wrote “CTA-102”: will the aliens like the song we beam to them? In the case of “Across The Universe,” that answer is an emphatic hell no!! They’ll be laughing at it. They’ll realize that it’s just a metaphor in a situation when specifics are very much called for.
My guess is that the aliens will wonder what the frack we were thinking using an obvious drug song. Maybe they’ll think that we’re all on drugs and therefore easier to conquer! Not because we’re all on drugs, but we used such a wussy-assed drug song for first contact! I mean, if we are going to use a drug song from a 60s band (because anything later would be right out, of course, since nothing musically good every happened after the 1960s), why not something like “Tomorrow Never Knows,” or “White Light/White Heat?” At least those songs might scare the aliens off.
All of that is why “Across The Universe” is in every way a sucky choice for the first song to be beamed into outer space, and I call upon NASA to reconsider and use “CTA-102” instead.
Either that, or “Hey, Mr. Spaceman.”
Rick Sparks says
I would have voted for that “AMERICA – F*** YEAH!!!!” song from “Team America: World Police.” Let those little green dudes know what’s UP!
YES, I’m kidding.
I was going to do a whole list of other songs that would be more appropriate than “Across The Universe,” but I got lazy.
Hee, even “Children of The Sun” by Billy Thorpe would be more on target.
Ah this is a great thread! Speaking of inappropriate songs at the wrong moment, how many times have you heard “One” at a wedding? I love Bono (or maybe The Edge’s) comment when told this was a frequent occurrence at American weddings: “Oh god, has anyone LISTENED to the lyrics??”
But my vote for a good song for NASA would of course have to be Rush’s “Countdown” from the album “Signals.” Oh man, I wish I could attach the song here. It’s NASA’s frackin’ theme song!!!!
Eric Lever says
The Beatles didn’t steal the Byrds’ guitar sound for “A Hard Days Night.” The Beatles recorded “A Hard Days Night” in early 1964. The Byrds weren’t even a group at that time. Roger McGuinn didn’t even own an electric guitar in early 1964. He was a folk singer. In fact, one of the things that made Roger McGuinn and David Crosby decide to buy electric guitars and play rock and roll was seeing the movie “A Hard Days Night.”
If you’re going to write the kind of article you wrote — making sweeping historical comparisons about the Beatles and the Byrds — at least do a little research. Otherwise you just sound like an idiot. Any serious Beatles fan or Byrds fan would get this chronology right.
Eric, you are mostly correct (a lot of sources I read have McGuinn’s conversion date pre-dating the release of “A Hard Days Night”), but you’re missing the larger point: it was, you know, a joke. Maybe not necessarily a good joke, but a joke nevertheless. (And the reason I don’t really think it was all that great of a joke was that I say a “long list of indignities,” but I only mention that single one. A good joke, would have, of course, mentioned three, with the last one being high-larious. I was hoping to come up with more, but I didn’t.)
Do you honestly think I was writing a scholarly paper comparing the Beatles and Byrds?
I mean, all of my opinions are my opinions (and I suspect that you’re offended by the whiff of any kind anti-Beatles sentiment more than anything else and jumped on my joke as a way to discredit my opinons), but I would think that the suggestion that NASA use “White Light/White Heat” just might also be a clue as to the overall tone of the piece.
Also, I happen to have Roger McGuinn right here, and this is what he says:
“Eric, you know nothing of my work.”
btw McGuinn recently did a killer cover version of Harrison’s “If I Needed Someone” ~ google “rogermcguinn.com” …
Eric Lever says
No, I wasn’t offended by your anti-Beatles sentiment. People have been gently dismissing the Beatles for decades, it doesn’t concern me in the least. But here’s the thing — you are entitled to your opinions. But a fact is a fact. Had you said that REVOLVER was heavily influenced by the Byrds, and in some ways not as good as the Byrds, I would have said, “Fine — I disagree but this guy is entitled to his opinion.” But when you start jumbling years and events around, it’s a different matter. You see pal, you yourself may know the real story — but imagine someone who is new to all this, who reads your column, and comes away with a totally distorted view of what really happened? That’s what happens when people spread misinformation. That’s what you did, and that’s what I’m calling you on — not your opinions which are yours to express however you wish.
How about Harry Nilsson’s “I Wanted to Be A Spaceman”?
Really? Your problem is that somebody might get a distorted view of the History Of The Beatles because they consider me an authoritative source?
As opposed to the other 546,689,681 biographies currently out there?
Well, that totally changes things.
Here are some more little-known facts about The Beatles:
The Beatles stole “I Wanna Be Your Man” from The Rolling Stones.
Bob Dylan gave them the concepts for their harmonies and chord changes.
Syd Barrett is an un-credited co-writer of “Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite”
Paul McCartney had never heard “California Girls” when they recorded “Back in the U.S.S.R.” He had actually intended it to be an answer song to “Eight Miles High” (“I can write a plane song, too”) You see, The Beatles and The Byrds spent much of the 1960s locked in mortal combat: like the 1960s equivalent of the Blur-Oasis battle, but not nearly as epic. It was John Lennon who suggested that ” Ukraine girls really knocked me out” bit. And Brian Wilson was so pissed off that he stopped working on “Smile” right then and there.
The love you make and take is, in fact, an unbalanced equation.
I’m sure that there are others, but I don’t want to spend the rest of the afternoon thinking them up.
Seriously now, do you know what the best history of the Beatles ever written is? “Paperback Writer,” by Mark Shipper. It’s a fictional biography written over 30 years ago (and climaxes with their reunion — opening for the Sex Pistols in 1978) that captures their spirit better than any dreary recitation of facts ever will.
Fuck the Byrds
Byrds? Beatles? They're nothing without Dylan says
Just thought you might like to know that ‘Eight Miles High’ is not about planes(they only fly 30k feet usually) but in fact a song about drugs. Just like you think Across the Universe. So congratulations.
Y’all are so cute, not really paying attention to what I wrote and stuff. I didn’t propose that NASA use “Eight Miles High” instead of “Across The Universe,” I just said that it was better than any Beatles song, even “She Said, She Said.”
So, for the purposes of NASA, it doesn’t really matter what it’s about.
But just for the Fuck the Byrds of it (and JD, I like your style!), let’s see what the Byrds themselves had to say about it:
Apparently, in fact, it’s exactly about planes. So “nothing without Dylan” that would make you, er, wrong.
Unless, of course, you were making a joke, then, HA HA HA HA!
Also, I always thought that Husker Du’s “Dead Set on Destruction” was an answer song to “Eight Miles High.”
And just because this post is getting a lot of traffic from Expecting Rain, I figured that I would post a link to That’s What I Like: Bob Dylan from late 2006.
Feel free to leave nasty comments on that one, too!!
Tim G. says
The lyrics to Across the Universe have maybe one part of a verse that would be relevant:
Earl Camembert says
My sources are reporting that the folks around Polaris would rather hear “Secret Seed” by The Residents or all three glorious movements of 4’33” by John Cage.
Eric Lever says
I get it now. You just the sad clown with the soft sense of humor, you mean well and you just want everyone to have a laugh. No harm, no foul. So peace on
you Bozo and may you live long.
Finally! As a matter of fact, I was the one who inspired Smokey to write that song!
It was during our Army days, and we were peeling onions in the mess hall laughing about some joke he made and I sez to Smokey, I sez: “you know what Smokes, I think that isn’t anything sadder than someone with no sense of humor” and he just looked at me with the onion tears streaming down my face and said, “I can think of one thing.”
jim (aka bozo)…..
fun reading between your article and the fallout below it.
FWIW, my understanding is that ATU was used because it tied in with the DVD release of the movie/musical thing that I definitely don’t want to watch — beatlephile that I am.
“children of the SU-uuun!!!!!” that song sounded so COOL back in ’79. I didn’t know that billy thorpe died just about a year ago.