Category Archives: Songs

We Are Stardust

The latest news from deep space is that scientists believe the explosion of a supernova at the center of our galaxy generated enough cosmic dust to make everything on Earth 7,000 times over, including us.

But then that should come as no surprise, since the noted scientific researcher Joni Mitchell, along with her lab assistants Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young detailed our connection to stardust back in 1970.

Long before that (but after that supernova explosion), Hoagy Carmichael was using chords to depict stardust, and Mitchell Parish provided some elegantly twisty lyrics to turn the focus of the song outward and back on itself at the same time.

Strangely, because it is a work of art and doesn’t have any particular physical qualities outside of the paper its notes and words are written on, the Carmichael/Parish song Stardust is actually one feature of our cultural landscape that’s NOT made of stardust. But that couldn’t protect the song from some savage treatment – me trying to wrangle it into something that reflects this latest bit of astronomical information:

Sometimes I wonder how the stuff
that makes us up, came to be around.
Floating free, scientists agree,
some dust congealed to me and you.

When we were brand new,
drifting in a constellation!
Ah, but that was long ago,
and our coagulation means that to stardust we belong.

Exploding ancient stars
gave off some light, and a lot of stuff.
The stuff survived. Later we arrived.
I can’t explain it, nor can you.

I believe they know
So let’s all just say it’s so.
We’re stardust, you and me,
Debris from chaos, long ago.

What are you made of?

Space Shanties

Today’s post comes from Captain Billy, skipper of the pirate ship Muskellunge.

Ahoy!

Me an’ me boys is crazy-excited t’ hear that NASA has discovered a underground ocean on th’ largest moon of Jupiter!

Not that we’s lookin’ fer other seas t’ sail, on account of this one here is fine, an’ plenty large enough. Plus, a Jovian Lunar ocean with a roof over it made of 95 miles of ice raises serious questions about navigation an’ winds an’ how tall can yer mast be t’ keep from scrapin’ th’ underside.

There’s no disagreement among me boys on this point – a ocean up in the stars don’t have th’ same allure as th’ one under the stars that we all enjoys so much.

But th’ possibilities is what has us thrilled.

If there’s oceans out there orbitin’ that vast gas giant, then what’s there t’ prevent there from bein’ Jupiter pirates? An’ if there’s Jupiter pirates, don’t it follow that there’d be Jupiter grog an’ Jupiter booty?

All of it incredibly massive, of course!

So naturally our imaginations ran away wit’ us, an we began t’ wonder what sort of sea shanty we might sing up there if we went, even though there’s no way we’d go (so don’t ask)!

Th’ song we made up is t’ th’ tune of one of our home world favorites – Stormalong.

O we’re sailin’ under an icy dome.
Way,hay, Ganymede.
We’re a long long way from our Earthly home.
Aye aye we’re on Ganymede.

An’ there ain’t no wind for to fill our sails
Way, hay, Ganymede.
It ain’t clear what sailin’ here entails.
Aye aye we’re on Ganymede.

But the ocean’s salty an’ dark and deep.
Way, hay, Ganymede.
If there’s monsters in it, let them sleep!
Aye aye we’re on Ganymede.

If there’s fishes swimmin’ beneath our feet
Way, hay, Ganymede
Please be slow an’ fat an’ O.K. to eat.
Aye Aye we’re on Ganymede.

Though it’s scary here an’ th’ water’s cold,
Way, hay, Ganymede
May the seas be calm an’ the booty gold!
Aye Aye we’re on Ganymede.

When you’re far away, what song reminds you of home?

The Galaxy Hillbillies

The discovery of a gigantic black hole from the dawn of time has me feeling a bit like that small town boy who thought his world was pretty huge, until he found out about New York City.

We’re such small potatoes, universe-wise, the only way I can get my head around it is through the lens of the literature of my youth – TV show theme songs.

So these scientists was lookin’ at a big black hole,
though goin’ to visit wasn’t anybody’s goal.
The one that they found – was as wide as it was tall …
It made everyone feel impossibly small.

A massive hole. In vast space. Texas trench.

It was further away than a lot they’d seen before
It was large as the sun plus a dozen billion more.
They said “this is bigger than an older hole should be,”
An’ they added it all up to another mystery.

Dawn of time. Ancient gas. Quasars.

What’s the biggest city you visited as a youth, and what effect did it have on you?  

Steam & Stress

Header photo by Olaf Tausch

I actually found it quite troubling to learn that saunas protect middle-aged men against heart attacks.

Apparently the evidence is irrefutable. It’s at a climate-change level of certainty – the Finns have been right all along about their culture built around a box of heat. Regularly sweating in the sauna can, for a time, forestall the reaper.

As a man well into the prime heart-attack years, I am suddenly faced with a discouraging and stressful choice between going to sit in a stifling room for a time nearly every single day with a bunch of strangers – other drippy men in towels struggling to breathe the same super heated moist air – or an early death.

As Jack Benny replied when told by a mugger, “Your money or your life!”, the answer is … “I’m thinking.”

And for Trail Baboons this will immediately remind you of early Keillor – the strange saga of The Finn Who Would Not Sauna.

You can only choose one – excessive heat or painful cold. Which will it be?

O Crispiness!

Header photo by Cameron Strandberg from Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, Canada

I like my potatoes crispy whether they are french fries, hash browns or chips.

But when they’re in the ground in places like California and Colorado, I’d like them to get a little water. That could become harder in the years ahead, especially since NASA researchers now say a “megadrought” may be ahead in the western and central plains states.

This is all connected to climate change and our unfortunate habits of consumption, which we (including me) can’t seem to shake.

Somehow it has me thinking about the poem Katherine Lee Bates wrote in the summer of 1893 after drawing inspiration from the view atop Pikes Peak in Colorado – one of the areas destined to suffer under the coming Great Dehumidification.

We know her words today as the lyrics to “America the Beautiful,” though by 2050 it might make more sense to change it up a bit.

O beautiful for cloudless skies,
for parched and scorching sands,
for burning mountain tragedies
for cracked and blistering hands!
America! America!
There’s no place dry as thee!
We’ve earned a good Sahara-hood
From L.A. to D.C.

The land at first was green and lush
Indians, thanks a lot!
But after shove had come to push
It started getting hot.
America! America!
We filled the air with gas.
And made the rate exacerbate.
De-moisturized! Alas!

O Mega-drought! The experts say
if we eschew our cars,
we might, calamity delay.
But that’s not who we are!
America! America!
We’d rather face the thirst,
than pay the toll through self-control
so prepare for the worst!

What’s your favorite anthem?

Forbidden Prehistoric Love

Header image: "Le Moustier" by Charles R. Knight -Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

New conclusions reached about a 2008 archaeological find support the notion that we humans  mixed genes with our near-relatives, the Neanderthals, many thousands of years ago.

We weren’t that different.  Contrary to popular belief the so-called “cavemen” had brains that were roughly the same size as ours, and our developmental speed was similar.

My favorite line from the Live Science article is this one:

Probably the most debated aspect of Neanderthal life in recent years is whether or not they interbred with humans. The answer remains ambiguous, with scholarly opinions ranging from belief that they definitely interbred to belief that the two groups didn’t exist on earth at the same time.

I’ve known couples just like that – hard to believe they could exist on earth at the same time.

Thoughts about a human-Neanderthal love affair lead to so many questions, not the least of which is how to pitch your woo to a near-but-not human partner.

“Interbreeding” is such an ugly term, I decided it would be a fitting challenge to try to work it into one of the the prettiest love songs I know.

You have such broad and stocky features,
the ridge across your brow seems so strong.

Our lips (I have to stoop to reach yours)
are whispering, perhaps, that our love is wrong.

The way you wield a club. Your ugly scar.
A hot Neanderthal is what you are!

Ice age! It feels so cold and lonely.
But this age can be more tender and kind.
When interbreeding’s on my mind.

Alas, it is tough to keep the romance alive between such mismatched characters when fire and tools are all they have in common.

What  artifact might fuel speculation about your extinct love affairs?

Gone Viral

I’ve always had a great time at Disneyland, so it’s sad and unsettling to hear that over 40 of California’s 60 or so cases of measles can be traced to the Anaheim theme park. Apparently there are more people walking around the U.S. who aren’t vaccinated, and at crowded scenes like Disneyland they’re encountering others, including some from overseas, who also haven’t been vaccinated.

But you’re on vacation and preoccupied with fun, so the only potential infection that comes to mind is the musical earworm – a song that gets lodged in your head.

And once you’ve got this in you, it can become a handy device to remember the symptoms to look out for.

It’s a runny nose, its a stale, dry cough
it’s a crimson throat. Every swallow’s tough.
It’s a fever that’s light
And you just don’t feel right
You’ve got mousles after all.

Yes, it’s mousles after all.
Caught it off a castle wall!
Left by Hans from Niedernhall!
It’s a small, small world!

It’s conjunctivitis. You want a nap.
It’s some blotchy rashes that overlap.
Feeling pretty obscene, wish you’d had your vaccine.
You’ve got mousles after all.

You’ve got Mousles after all!
Sat in mucous at Toad Hall.
Shouldn’t be here with y’all.
It’s a small, small world!

What did you bring home from vacation?