Robots Dancing on the Moon…
Written by Jimmy
Two years ago today, I was writing about our summer Spanish Jam (click here). This was the first time we had played with my brother and got me thinking about our first album and a our song Major Matt Mason. I thought it might be fun to take a multi-media look back at it. So here we go.
Basic Background: Song is about growing up in Southern California in the 60′s when all the little kids were obsessed with the future and pretty convinced that we’d all be living on the moon by 2000 (which seemed a VERY VERY long way away). Sadly it doesn’t work out so well for the singer…. Here’s the song:
And here’s a link to the lyrics: click here. Now let’s take you through line by line – don’t worry it starts slow but picks up quickly .. lyrics are always bold and in italics.
Sgt Storm and Major Matt Mason…
This refers to two of the main characters is the Mattel Major Matt Mason toy series, which was inspired by the Apollo Missions to get a man on the moon. I was 8 when we landed and we all had about 8 astraunauts each and the more spoiled of us had a space station, lunar lander and rover and assorted space ships. My mom sewed some sleeping backs for me so we could have our little space men have sleep overs on the moon. Here’s an advertisement for Major Matt Mason:
Sir Graves Gastley and Diver Dan
This refers to the two favorite TV shows of my friends. Sir Graves Ghastley was a vampire that hosted midnite horror shows on Saturday nights. Every boys’ sleepover involved building a tent around the TV set and watching Sir Graves Ghastley, trying to scare ourselves ’til we wet ourselves. Here’s a typical opening of a show:
Batman surfing off Redondo Beach
In the 1960′s, there was a fantastically camp TV show called Batman. We all loved it. One episode, Surf’s Up, was about Batman surfing and it took place at Torrance Beach (which was next to Redondo Beach, which worked better lyrically). Believe it or not, my elementary school let us get out of school and have a field trip to watch the show being made! Adam West, who played Batman was great and I got is autograph. The actor who played Robin, Burt Ward, was a total jerk to all of us – very cheecky for a bloody side kick. I was happy they dropped Robin from the movie series. Here’s the surfing scene:
Living in Tomorrowland
This refers to the area of Disneyland called Tomorrow Land. My father was in the military and the original Disneyland held Military-only evenings where we could go to Disneyland from 6-10PM and ride every ride dozens of times because there were so view people. We were always at Disneyland during the summers. The big attraction during this time was Carousel of Progress, which we thought was telling us exactly what the future would be. Here’s the video of the whole attraction – if you go to 15:30 you’ll see the ‘future’ which is sung in with ‘There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow’. Also fairly funny to look at the ‘present’ just before that. Looks pretty ancient:
Believe it or not, we really believed in this future and in all our classes at school we were asked to do ‘future’ project, usually building the city of tomorrow. That always involved a Monorail, usually space ships rather than cars, etc… We truly believed that our future was going to be the Jetsons, which was our favourite cartoon:
The fact is the future turned out to be far more fantastic and proves my theory of ‘futuring’ – we always over estimate the changes that can occur to infrastructure (changing out the auto for planes) but wildly underestimate the changes that can happen independent of infrastructure (the iPhone and its eco-system relative to the Star Trek communicator).
So the first verse sets up the whole idea of a little 8 year old living in this fantastic dream world where we believed the future was going to one of fantastic innovation and travel.
And the second verse just re-enforces that…
Sleeping nights with Major Matt Masons
Lunar Modules Spread Round My Room
Flying Cars with Mr George Jetson
Robot’s dancin’ on the Moon.
George Jetson was the ‘father figure’ Jetson, the Fred Flintstone of his clan.
Calling out to Mr George Jetsen
Beam me up I’m ready for flight
Looking Back from tomorrow land
My future never looked so bright
First hint that not all is well in Tomorrow Land. Our hero wants to get ‘beamed up’ (obvious reference to Star Trek) and now makes it clear that ‘looking back’ things didn’t work out all that well. So things start to go a bit dark…
Sgt Storm and Major Matt Mason
CCR blarin’ from my brothers van.
CCR is, of course, Clearance Clearwater Revival, who at the time was leading with a lot of protest songs against Vietnam. My brother refers to Lew, our blues guitarist on If I Were a Little Birdie. He’s 10 years older and was definitely a child of the sixties with his Volkswagen Van and acts of rebellion. Of course, I worshiped him. Here’s CCR and Fortunate Son, which is important context:
Fireworks fired Redondo Beach
Living in tomorrow land
This is dual reference. First, we did go every 4th of July to Redondo Beach to watch the fireworks and could set off our own. But it is also meant to be a reference to the Robert F Kennedy assassination which took place in LA around the time of this verse. My brother watched it unfold live and woke us all up. He was killed right after the California Primary:
Things are looking less good in Tomorrow Land.
Vietnam and Mr Dick Nixon
Body counts on the nightly news
Obvious reference to the Vietnam War and our wonderful president – elected in 1968, probably because Robert was killed. To gain support for the war, the government was in the habit of reporting body counts of Viet Cong killed. My brother used to also put the count of US soldiers killed on our refrigerator. Here’s a sampling of ‘body count reporting’:
These silly adults from Planet Earth
Are barely keeping us amused.
Trying to keep the reference point the 8-9 year old, who, still lost in his world of tomorrow land, finds all this stuff amusing and annoying. if you play all day thinking you are on the moon, it gets pretty easy to believe your parents are ‘silly adults from planet earth.’
So now we get all dark and depressing. We repeat the Chorus and then quickly tell the story of the next 20 years of our tomorrow land boy and it ain’t pretty…
By now, I should have had a family
By now, we should have lived on Mars
But the major didn’t know,
the fall of Saigon would take my brother Joe.
So, this little boy lost his brother in the war (thank goodness I didn’t!) and all his dreams of space travel were proven to be illusions.
The Japanese Would Make my Steel Plant Close
In 70′s and 80′s the economic enemy wasn’t the Chinese, it was the Japanese. They were especially good at steel and forced closures of most of the US Steel industry. Sadly, our poor singer was caught up in all this and left unemployed.
I’d Shovel Columbia Up my nose
And lose a bad decade with Jackie Rose
And on and on and on it goes…
So the sad truth of this song is it is roughly true and refers to my best friend at the time in Southern California. We had a great time in elementary school. I then moved away and he continued to go to school in Southern California, got caught in the drug scene, and ended up dying of an overdose in his mid thirties, ‘shoveling Columbia up his nose and losing a decade’. His brother didn’t die in Viet Nam, but he lost a lot of jobs. The inspiration of the song was to tell the two stories – the innocence of his youth and the wonder at which he longed for the future and the reality of the life that followed and the broken dreams. When we go to LA we often visit his wonderful mother who deserved far more.
The song closes reminding us what might have been for our friend and how bright it all seemed…
Sgt Storm and Major Matt Mason
Sir Graves Ghastly and Diver Dan
Batman Surfing off Redondo Beach
Living in Tomorrow land
Sleeping Nights with Major Matt Mason
Lunar modules spread round my room
Flying cars with Mr George Jetson
Robot’s Dancing on the Moon
Calling out to Mr George Jetson
Beam me up I’m ready for flight
Looking back from Tomorrow Land
My future never looked so Bright
The final image I have of my friend Vincent is they beamed him up and he’s a Robot Dancin’ on the Moon.