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February 12, 2003 12:09 AM   Subscribe

Doing some research on the submarine Thresher,I found a song written by Phil Ochs about the tragedy. I don't think it hit the charts like Gordon Lightfoots' song regarding the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald. It then occurred to me that there probably will not be a song about the space shuttle Columbia. Why not?
posted by JohnR (17 comments total)
You know... if you want to make a Columbia tribute, there are steps you can take.

Of course... the more involved answer to your (interesting) question is... The men on the Edmund Fitzgerald, and the men on the Thresher were from the working class. To some degree (right or wrong) eulogizing members of the scientific elite has less... romance.

Case in point... blues musicians of the early 20th century penned many songs making light of the sinking of the Titanic. To many in the poor, rural South it was a case of a privileged class getting their comeuppance. (A rather tame, but pointed version can be found here... check the last verse especially... "Fare the well" is almost certainly ironic).

Interesting question, though... I'm interested to hear what others think.
posted by cadastral at 12:23 AM on February 12, 2003

People died on a space shuttle while re-entering the atmosphere which is a task thats attached to great risk and sometimes things dont go as smoothly as we would like them too, tune in on channel 8! Goo goo g' joob
posted by Satapher at 12:24 AM on February 12, 2003

There's a few songs already on the September 11 and Space Shuttle music website. A quote from one of the writers:

If you would like to see a video to a song I wrote to reflect on the Space Shuttle Columbia Accident visit www.cdomusic.com I saw the shuttle at 11:00. By noon, the song was written. By the next day it was recorded and on-line. I am a Christian who has written over 250 songs but God still amazes me despite me when He drops stuff in your Spirit. When God gives us something, He really gives it to us even when we don't deserve it. I think our music should be honoring to God and relevant to people as well. What do you think?
posted by Jairus at 12:26 AM on February 12, 2003

there probably will not be a song about the space shuttle Columbia.

Any song or a popular song? There are Challenger-related songs out there. I'm guessing that since the Columbia "event" happened less than two weeks ago, the songs haven't bubbled up to the surface yet (or even been written).
posted by gluechunk at 12:27 AM on February 12, 2003

Speaking of maritime disaster songs by Phil Ochs... "The Scorpion Departs But Never Returns."

There's less popular music about world events these days, period. A disaster must be either novel or on an unprecedented scale in order for songs about it to achieve any kind of popular success (exhibit 1: Sept. 11).
posted by hippugeek at 12:37 AM on February 12, 2003

There is a song by a fairly obscure Australian band called Ratcat. They were briefly "huge" in Australia in the early 90's.

Anyway, it's called Away From This World and, although not being specifically about the Challenger disaster, it has a haunting background commentary of radio communications between NASA ground control and the Shuttle in the seconds leading up to the disaster. The final bit of the song is purely the radio communication. No singing. No music...

flight controllers here looking very carefully at the situation, obviously a major malfunction..... we have no down link..... we have a report from the flight dynamics officer that the vehicle has exploded, flight director confirms that. we are looking at, er, checking with the recovery forces to see, er, what can be done at this point.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 12:46 AM on February 12, 2003

There's always Major Tom and Space Oddity if you need a song about space disasters...like now. I'm sure there will be a tribute album in the next few months, or at least a tribute song by someone (a country star? a rocker? a science nerd? sting? peter gabriel? TMBG?).
posted by mathowie at 1:10 AM on February 12, 2003

More on the Australian rock scene, but this time dealing with submarines!

Another band, Australian Crawl, had a hit with the (great) song Reckless. Part of the song goes,

A Russian sub beneath the Arctic
Burke and Wills and camels
Initials in the tree...

Now, any Aussie worth his salt will understand the last two lines, but what's with the Russian sub? Can anyone help me? It has something to do with being reckless.

Did they die? Did they come out of it by the skin of their balls? Anyone know?
posted by uncanny hengeman at 1:17 AM on February 12, 2003

Why not?

Probably technology. It's hard to give poetic license and imagination free reign when the images are on a televised loop and inundate the internet.

Were there many popular tributes to the first shuttle disaster?
posted by hama7 at 1:28 AM on February 12, 2003

Rocket Man by Elton John? Great post idea, JohnR.

Phil Ochs was also discussed here.
posted by madamjujujive at 4:25 AM on February 12, 2003

A song that's stuck with me since the early '80s is, at least superficially, about submarines.
posted by alumshubby at 4:27 AM on February 12, 2003

I think songs about nautical disasters are only a small piece of something much larger ... there's an old - perhaps even ancient - tradition of maritime music. For almost as long as men have been going to sea, they've been singing about it. Some of the music has been romantic (songs about missing loved ones, of strange lands one visited, of the open ocean), and others functional (the original sea shanties came about as a means of coordinating crews that had to orchestrate their activities ... e.i., while rowing, or furling sails).

There have been a few odd songs about space travel (Ground control to Major Thom?), but no real tradition exists.
posted by MidasMulligan at 4:28 AM on February 12, 2003

Because Phil Ochs is dead and they don't make 'em like that anymore.

A relevant Ochs quote (paraphrased from memory): "A protest song is a song that's specific enough that it can't be mistaken for bullshit."

And, what MidasMulligan said.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 5:13 AM on February 12, 2003

I concurr with mathowie: I've always thought "Space Oddity" makes a great tribute to any fallen astronaut. I wonder what do real astronauts think of it, though. The character Major Tom certainly seems to reflect their true attitude: calm and lucid even when facing trouble (and a space junkie to boot). An old friend from my old days workking at the European space industry mentioned recently that if danger was detected before the orbiter started the descent, there is always a Soyuz rescue capsule ready to launch and rendez-vous with the Shuttle (I think the measure is in place intended for the International Space Station). But it has only space for 3 people in it. Everybody in the industry agrees on one thing: no astronaut would volunteer to get in the bail capsule and leave part of the team behind, even in the face on inminent death. Major Toms indeed.
posted by magullo at 7:37 AM on February 12, 2003

what's with the Russian sub? Can anyone help me?

Perhaps they're talking about the Kursk?
posted by biscotti at 11:05 AM on February 12, 2003

This guys early big hit was almost his eulogy
posted by thomcatspike at 12:33 PM on February 14, 2003

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