Great Gig in the Sky

Between 1968 and 1972, nine American spacecraft voyaged to the Moon and 12 men walked upon its surface. These twelve are still the only human beings to have stood on the Moon. Earlier this year, I watched the excellent documentary In the Shadow of the Moon, a film that brings together the surviving crew members from the Apollo missions and allows them to tell their story. Unfortunately the reclusive Neil Armstrong is absent, but the amusing anecdotes told by his friends give great insight into his character (he comes across as a pretty cool guy).  I strongly recommend this movie (which you can rent from Alice in Videoland).  The “rarely seen footage” is beautiful and compelling. The astronauts are all refreshingly down to earth, and I found it interesting how their experience in space shaped their personal philosophies.  The danger of the early missions was really brought home to me – amazing to think what they achieved with such limited technology.

Seeing the movie sparked my interest in all things lunar, especially the intriguing Armstrong. Although I was initially put off by the words “authorised biography” (yawn), I read James Hanson’s  First Man : the life of Neil A. Armstrong and was happily surprised. The book is well researched, with great detail and I learned a lot about the man.  Armstrong also features in Moon Dust : in search of the men who fell to earth,  Andrew Smith’s attempt to track down and interview the moonwalkers.  His tales present a rather darker view of the moon experience, but is very entertaining.

One thing In the Shadow of the Moon doesn’t dwell on are the politics behind the Apollo voyages.  The Soviet- U.S. space race reflected the political climate of the 50s and 60s, when both nations were wanting to establish themselves as superpowers.  The book Dark Side of the Moon explores how the American government seized on the moon flights as a way of boosting public morale after World War II.  Again, it is a worthwhile read.

Stay Beautiful – Richey Edwards and the Manic Street Preachers

Now might seem an odd time for a flurry of obituaries for someone who was last seen in February 1995. But Richey Edwards of the band the Manic Street Preachers has only now been declared dead.

I think I had heard their sublime song Motorcycle Emptiness, but it took hearing the killer track 4st 7lb on the compilation Really free compilation to draw me into the Manics. They had a profound effect on me. Not only did they rock, but they were ultra intelligent and literary, with lyrics by Richey and Nicky Wire teeming with so many ideas and concepts it seemed a struggle to fit them into the container of the music.

They also courted controversy, claiming they would sell more records then Guns n Roses then break up, got into arguments with other bands, Richey carved the words 4 Real into his arm in front of a music journo.

I went down the fan route of buying cd singles and extended mixes, clipping magazine articles, t-shirts, all that stuff. The Holy Bible is the single most powerful album I’ve ever heard. And I strongly recall the day I went into Echo to pick up some new item when the Manics fan behind the counter said “Have you heard about Richey?” I hadn’t.

Richey seemed like a fragile soul, and in his last months his always slender rock star physique became wraithlike, he shaved his head, and immersed himself too deep in the horrors of which he wrote (especially the Holocaust – a recurrent theme).

You always mistook fists for flowers
Welcome welcome soldier smiling
Funeral march for agony’s last edge
6 million screaming souls
Maybe misery – maybe nothing at all
Lives that wouldn’t have changed a thing
Never counted – never mattered – never be (The intense humming of evil)

The band has carried on, and achieved success without Richey, but he is never forgotten by the band or his fans. The Manics new album will feature his words:

All the songs we are recording are lyrics left to us by Richey. Finally it feels like the right time to use them … It’s a record that celebrates the genius of his words, full of love, anger, intelligence and respect.