About the Rocket Man
WORDS: MYLES E. JOHNSON | ART: LOVEIS WISE
“If you can develop an atomic bomb, I'm sure you can develop an altered destiny."Sun Ra
The times are on fire. I have questions, although my faith in them being answered is slowly diminishing. The one that most haunts me as of recently is, Who is The Rocket Man?During President Trump’s address to the U.N. Assembly, he talked about North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s rockets: “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.” Words are on fire, too. Watching the speech reminded me of being in a car accident when you are the passenger: out of control, not at fault, but just as surely destined for demise as the one behind the wheel. It has always been this way, many people will say. However, feelings mean things too. Despite it always being this way, it has not always felt this way. Feelings may seem like a frivolous thing to concern yourself with when there are many objective, material challenges we face. But feelings matter. The future of the fifth grader going to school with their age appropriate anxieties, plus the fear of The Rocket Man destroying everything before you begin to know life beyond your backyard matters. These feelings will birth toxic adults. This feeling is valid in both children and adults. These feelings are what I find most concerning as of recently and hard to name.
Who is The Rocket Man? President Trump? Kim Jong-un? Both?To many music lovers, including myself, the phrase was instantly recognizable. “Rocket Man” is the title of the cosmic ballad penned and performed by Elton John. He sings: And I think it's gonna be a long, long time / 'Till touch down brings me round again to find / I'm not the man they think I am at home. This is the egotistical dictator theme song when you listen to the song contextualized inside of this political moment. The story of the man so enticed by the mysterious nature of power and the need to keep up appearances to those that admire and loathe him, and the anxiety around the ones at home (family, friends, enemies, the general public) discovering who they really are. Who is The Rocket Man? President Trump? Kim Jong-un? Both? I think all answers are correct. Elton John’s lullaby about space travel has become the soundtrack of nuclear threats. Buzzfeed News asked Sir Elton John’s publicist, Fran Curtis, if the singer had any reaction to President Trump utilizing his hit song as political verbal ammo. Curtis responded, “We have no comment for you." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DtVBCG6ThDk “Rocket Man” is an original song, but it was not an original idea. Elton John was so moved by Ray Bradbury’s story that he used it to create a song that soon became one of his biggest hits.The story is told through the voice of his son who dreams of one day being a Rocket Man like his father. I was in fifth grade when I discovered Ray Bradbury’s book of short stories entitled “The Illustrated Man” in the speculative fiction genre. The story “The Rocket Man” was one of my favorites in the collection. It was the first time I had encountered a great story with a sad ending. Before this story, I was under the impression that all good stories had to have happy endings. I know now that the best stories do not have to end happily, just honestly. Bradbury’s “The Rocket Man” is the futuristic story of a man placed between his home life as a husband and father, and his career as a space adventurer. He comes home to a wife steeped in mourning because she copes with having a husband with such a dangerous job by pretending he is already dead. The wife speaks about her coping mechanism to her son: “When he went off into space ten years ago, I said to myself, ‘He’s dead.’ Or as good as dead. So think of him dead. And when he comes back, three or four times a year, it’s not him at all, it’s only a pleasant little memory or a dream. And if a memory stops or a dream stops, it can’t hurt half as much.” This is what I was doing in America prior to 2017. I had already known America to be dead and any moment of justice, freedom, or joy wasn’t real. It was just a memory or a dream, so when domination snaps me back into reality like it did when Trayvon Martin died or November 2016, it didn’t hurt as much.
This is the feeling that some of the even most pessimistic radicals are feeling during the Trump era.The project we refer to as America is The Rocket Man. Accrediting it to one single, violent man is doing a disservice to the death we’re experiencing. In Bradbury’s “The Rocket Man”, the wife muses that if she were to discover he died on a bright planet or any visible constellations she would not be able to view it without being overwhelmed by sadness for the loss of her dear husband. His actual death was even more devastating. The Rocket Man’s ship fell into the sun: “And the sun was big and merciless, and it was always in the sky and you couldn’t get away from it.” This is the feeling that some of the even most pessimistic radicals are feeling during the Trump era, despite scholarship and experience that this domination has always been present and this destiny has always been inevitable. This is the feeling that I am overwhelmed with and why I sympathize with our children who must live with it. We knew America was dying, but we had no idea She would fall into the sun. She could have drowned in neo-liberal negotiations, buried next to Atlantis. She could have been swallowed quickly in black and brown revenge. She could have been sunk by the Earth wanting her land back. She did not, however. She fell into the sun and President Trump is that reminder. He is big. He is merciless, and always in the sky. The fire is constantly coming through your window, into your living room. The warmth is on your neck. There is a funeral happening on my eyelashes. This, the reminder of America’s death in the form of a presidency is something you can’t get away from.