the composer of the future meets the city of the future
May 14, 2013 4:29 PM   Subscribe

In 1985, Houston was preparing for a party: 1986 marked the city's 150th birthday, the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of Texas, and 25 years since the opening of NASA's Johnson Space Center, the hub around which the city's aerospace industry blossomed. In comes French synthesizer pioneer Jean Michel Jarre, the "composer of the future", known for his spectacular 1979 Bastille Day show that attracted a million people to Place de la Concorde, and for being the first Western musician to play China in 1981. With the Space Shuttle Challenger due to take off on mission STS-51-L in January, Jarre penned a piece for Mission Specialist and saxophonist Ron McNair to record in space. The nation watched as McNair and his crewmates prepared for their journey and waved goodbye, only to perish in a haunting and iconic explosion. As Houston mourned the loss of the seven crew, who called the city home during their preparation for spaceflight, Jarre wasn't sure if the upcoming festivities should be held, but was convinced by astronaut Bruce McCandless that the show must go on. On April 5, 1986, 1.5 million people gathered downtown to witness Rendez-vous Houston, a massive tribute to America's pioneering spirit that used the city as its backdrop.

The entire concert is also on YouTube – you don't get a sense of the scale or the visuals from this vantage point, but it's a pretty phenomenal set. Also, the traffic jam caused by the event inspired a memorable music video.
posted by avocet (19 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Postscript: the YouTube channel in the 51-L link in the post probably deserves an FPP of its own, it is an incredible archive of spaceflight coverage from the good old days of TV news. I've had Challenger on the brain since Chris Hadfield came home.
posted by avocet at 4:34 PM on May 14, 2013

I wore out a cassette tape of Magnetic Fields.

Yeah. Still a big fan of JMJ.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:36 PM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh wow! I remember hearing about this when I lived there in the late 90s and so wishing I could have seen it. I can't wait to check it out!
posted by treepour at 4:38 PM on May 14, 2013

I didn't get to see Houston, but I saw Jarre at La Defense in Paris on July 14, 1990.

Just.. wow.
posted by DreamerFi at 4:40 PM on May 14, 2013

Ah Jean Michael Jarre. How many times were my crusty punk friends endlessly annoyed by thee during my just_early_electronic phase? "No God damn it we are not listening to Ogygene again." "Dude I swear its like a whole different experience at 45rpm"
posted by mediocre at 4:50 PM on May 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

I was there. It was interesting to see all the major Houston freeways become a parking lot.

Oh wait, that happens every day. Never mind.
posted by fungible at 5:03 PM on May 14, 2013

Ahh, the good old days. JMJ, Mike Oldfield, Kraftwerk . . . Vangelis. He was one of the first to use a Fairlight, which was preeeeeetty awesome back then. Thanks for posting!
posted by nostrada at 5:05 PM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was there! At the perfect age of 15, when Jarre's music seemed awesome and any sort of outdoor event was a huge party. And it was so great. I forget the details, but I think I went with my not-girlfriend Katherine and we hung out somewhere along Allen Parkway.

What I remember most distinctly was the idea of all these roads and spaces being turned into a giant party, a place for people instead of cars. Houston is an intensely car-focussed city, so it seemed impossibly rare to be able to just walk around. There were a few nighttime bike rides along Allen Parkway around then too, same thing, really enjoyed that.
posted by Nelson at 5:11 PM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's useful to understand this context in terms of the price of oil, which had fallen heavily by 1986. Houston's economy was and is largely oil driven, so falling oil prices meant hard times in the city. Things got so bad all the city could do was print little bumper stickers that said "I'm Houston proud!" and everyone tried to ignore all the empty buildings that had been built and never occupied. That concert was a big moment for civic pride and happiness in an otherwise fairly bleak time for Houston.
posted by Nelson at 5:18 PM on May 14, 2013

I was there as well. It was a pretty awesome event for Houston at the time. I don't remember how I got there, but I'm pretty sure I didn't drive because I was tripping pretty heavily that night.
posted by Grumpy old geek at 5:59 PM on May 14, 2013

Thanks for this video. Friends and I drove back from UT to see it. Like Nelson, I was somewhere on Allen Parkway. It was a hell of a party.

As I remember, Jarre had a large spotlight pointed straight up that he used to control sound by waving his hands over it. It made for a very impressive sight against the backdrop of downtown Houston.
posted by jabo at 6:09 PM on May 14, 2013

I was in college and didn't do anything about it, but yeah, I remember it was happening. (As opposed to Challenger, where I know exactly where I was and what I was doing when I heard about it.) That year I was "inside the hedges", living on campus at Rice, and getting out to see things was hard.

Seconding Nelson's comment about the price of oil as relevant. "Lord, just give us one more oil boom. We promise we won't piss this one away!"
posted by immlass at 6:47 PM on May 14, 2013

Awesome vid.

A question: Does his fancy light-keyboard-synth thing actually do anything? From the music, it seems it's either not connected, or with significant lag (which might be due to YT video, I dunno)
posted by slater at 7:00 PM on May 14, 2013

This was the paragraph-length version of a paper I wrote on Challenger last year that I will eventually get around to publishing someday. I got to do a lot of awesome archival research on the JSC's influence on Houston and the 1986 downturn and all that with the help of the most badass reference librarian I've ever encountered, an endorsement coming from someone who does library reference part-time.

Wikipedia's article on the laser harp.
posted by avocet at 7:08 PM on May 14, 2013

Sigh. To turn the old "I was at Woodstock" thing on its head, I was definitely NOT there for Rendezvous Houston. I had to work that night, delivering pizzas, and I was just *smoldering* with resentment towards those stupid customers who should have been downtown where all the magic was going to happen. Everyone I knew (aside from my equally trapped and grumpy co-workers) went and they all said it was a pretty transcendent experience, feeling like the whole city had just melted into one big explosion of light and music and people.
posted by John Smallberries at 7:18 PM on May 14, 2013

What? No Daft Punk collaboration?
posted by pashdown at 8:36 PM on May 14, 2013

I have a hard time imagining any big event other than the Olympics or something else along those lines generating the kind of excitement that this event did. I was only 11 at the time, so I just remember the fireworks, but all the adults in the city were so damn excited about the whole thing!
posted by Bugbread at 8:51 PM on May 14, 2013

Thanks so much for posting this! I've been vaguely aware of this event--and very much aware of Jarre and the space program--so this is pretty amazing to actually see.
posted by graphnerd at 9:53 PM on May 14, 2013

"Lord, just give us one more oil boom. We promise we won't piss this one away!"

I remember seeing bumper stickers like that here in Calgary.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 1:45 AM on May 15, 2013

« Older "I'm interested in the way we tell stories about...   |   Actual game disc sold separately! Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments