Tag Archives: Lee Hamilton

I’m not the man they think I am at home.

In this edition: Elton John’s Rocket Man gives me a lot to think about. Ray Bradbury was a great writer. Period. Rain rockets on Syria or reboot the rhetoric? Must ideology reign supreme?

Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going to Be a Long, Long Time)

She packed my bags last night, pre-flight.
Zero hour, nine a.m.
And I’m gonna be high as a kite by then.

I miss the Earth so much, I miss my wife.
It’s lonely out in space.
On such a timeless flight.

And I think it’s gonna be a long, long time,
’til touch down brings me round again to find,
I’m not the man they think I am at home,
Oh no, no, no, I’m a rocket man.
Rocket man, burning out his fuse up here alone.

[Repeat chorus]

Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids,
In fact it’s cold as hell,
And there’s no one there to raise them if you did.

And all this science, I don’t understand,
It’s just my job five days a week,
A rocket man, a rocket man.

[Chorus repeats twice]

And I think it’s gonna be a long, long time
’til touch down brings me round again to find,
I’m not the man they think I am at home,
Oh no, no, no, I’m a rocket man.
Rocket man, burning out his fuse up here alone.

And I think it’s gonna be a long, long time
And I think it’s gonna be a long, long time

— Written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin, performed by Elton John (1972)

A little joke in my last post about a lyric “hold me closer, Tony Danza” had me thinking about Elton John and then I heard this song on the classic rock station. It’s from 1972’s Honky Chateau album. This album is generally considered to be part of Taupin and John’s early period that culminated with Yellow Brick Road and the completion of Elton John’s transition from singer-songwriter in the mold of James Taylor to the flamboyant, fame-conscious, glam-saturated (and sexually ambiguous) !Elton John!

Born Reginald Kenneth Dwight in 1947, Elton John began playing piano in clubs at the age of 15 and was apparently a prodigy, picking out songs by ear on the piano at the age of 3. Like many in England, he worked in R&B style music originally. He played with Long John Baldry and was recorded on Baldry’s “Don’t Try to Lay No Boogie Woogie” a song that’s overdue for a resurgence into the culture! If you have six and half minutes the YouTube below is great fun.

Bernie Taupin was John’s songwriting partner and lyricist. The first stanza came to him while on a long drive and he reportedly repeated it for 2 hours in his head until he got someplace to write it down. The inspiration is attributed to Ray Bradbury’s “Rocket Man” short story. This story appeared in the collection “The Illustrated Man.” The prologue and stories in that work are concise and beautiful pieces, often with surprising emotional depth. I’m not sure about the copyright issues but the entire work is housed in PDF here: http://greenhumanities.edublogs.org/files/2012/09/Bradbury-Illustrated-Man-1wytglb.pdf. Here are the first two paragraphs of the prologue:

It was a warm afternoon in early September when I first met the Illustrated Man. Walking along an asphalt road, I was on the final leg of a two weeks’ walking tour of Wisconsin. Late in the afternoon I stopped, ate some pork, beans, and a doughnut, and was preparing to stretch out and read when the Illustrated Man walked over the hill and stood for a moment against the sky.

I didn’t know he was Illustrated then. I only knew that he was tall, once well muscled, but now, for some reason, going to fat. I recall that his arms were long, and the hands thick, but that his face was like a child’s, set upon a massive body.

In six sentences Bradbury is able to introduce the characters and set the scene while piquing our curiosity as well. Pretty awesome. In the Rocket Man story a husband is gone three months at a time doing the dangerous work of piloting rockets between planets. His wife fears for him, and wants him to stay at home while his son wants to follow in his footsteps. The father promises that it is one last run, but doesn’t make it home.

The resonance of the song for Taupin and John was probably to the rocketing trajectory of fame and wealth and for John, the challenges of international touring. The song and album was recorded at the Château d’Hérouville, a 1740 French château located near Paris that housed a recording studio. John’s road band played on the album, featuring Davey Johnstone on acoustic guitar, slide guitar, and ethereal effects, Nigel Olsson on drums, and Dee Murray on bass. Both Olsson and Murray had played with that incubator of British talent, The Spencer Davis Group. Interestingly, the record label hadn’t allowed the touring band to play on albums prior to this one. Olsson, Murray, and Johnstone do the backing vocals on the track with a lot of polish.

Here’s a quiet version of the song recorded in concert in 1972.


Before the next week is up it’s likely that Barack Obama will be the rocket man raining Cruise Missiles down on Damascus. God oh God we hope that this lesson about painting yourself into a corner with off-handed statements takes deep root. In August 2012 Obama remarked that the use of a “whole bunch” of chemical weapons would cross a “red line,” triggering “enormous consequences.” (Picture air quotes) This statement went much further than aides had planned according to statements to the New York Times. We now know that chemical weapons have been used, that it’s certain that it’s no false flag operation but a deliberate and provocative escalation by the Assad regime, and the president is stuck between the choices of killing Syrians to punish the killing of Syrians and opening the door to the unfettered use of chemical weapons in warfare.

Many question whether it even makes sense to feel the need for retribution when the action only killed the equivalent of a week’s worth of the typical Syrian civil war’s casualties. Or we wonder if death and maiming by chemical weapons is so different from the outcomes of shelling and the tragic losses of life and limb occurring in the ongoing warfare. The answer is not clear, to me at least.

President Obama spoke from the Rose Garden Saturday afternoon (August 31, 2013), pressing his case for military action against the Syrian regime and calling the chemical attack that claimed more than 1,400 lives in Syria 10 days ago “a menace that must be confronted.” Last week he’d stated, “What message will we send if a dictator can gas hundreds of children to death in plain sight and pay no price?” But the president also made it clear he does not want to proceed alone and will seek authorization and support for a limited strike from Congress. This is certainly a prudent approach that only challenges the “wisdom” of hawks like presidential loser and old fogie Senator John McCain who characterized the move as something that would make Assad “euphoric” on Sunday’s Face the Nation program. We know by now that the a-holes will find the way to criticize Obama regardless of the decision but it’s politically clever for Obama to transfer the debate to Congress and share the consequences with them. It’s undoubtedly good for the American people as we would want to move away from the policies of presidents to act militarily without Congressional approval except in exceptional circumstances.

In the end, I’m certain we will retaliate in some way. And once again, our actions will simultaneously punish the enemy (and possibly innocents) and strengthen the anti-U.S. sentiments of some Syrians and others in the region.

The Syrian opposition is not a united front. It’s made up of several large armies with many smaller factions and no centralized structure. That’s one reason why the U.S. has not thrown more support to these factions. In addition to that, there are 2.5 million Christians in Syria. Under Assad, who aligns himself with Iran, they were not persecuted and tended to be among the better educated, white-collar class of Syrians. While one of the largest opposition groups portrays themselves as non-sectarian, others are anti-Christian Islamic factions including some loyal to Al Qaeda in Iraq, putting the Syrian Christians in potential danger.

Adding to political confusion, the U.S. supported Sunni anti-Assad groups as early as 2007 and retired NATO Secretary General Wesley Clark has said that a memo from the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense just a few weeks after 9/11 revealed plans to “attack and destroy the governments in 7 countries in five years”, starting with Iraq and moving on to “Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran.” This was part of the neo-conservative plan to protect the West’s access to oil and gas from the region. While America is less aware of the clandestine operations of the CIA and State Department worldwide, the countries targeted are not.

LB_RuleOnce again Lee Hamilton blows me away. Lee Hamilton is director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University Bloomington and was a conservative Democrat member of the House for 34 years. In a piece recently published he described the differences between today’s Congress and the Congresses he had witnessed. In my view, problems arose first when the move to apply “sunlight” to pork projects ended nearly all of the practice. In the past, these were the ingredients of compromise and could be tolerated if not outrageous. The second is that extreme views are sufficiently funded to make or break candidates, limiting the spectrum of thought with cult-like adherence to the ideology of the campaign financiers.

In his words, conservatives are characterized by:

  • A heavy emphasis on liberty, individual freedom, and self-reliance.
  • Lack of confidence in government’s ability to play a role in improving society or the economy.
  • A view of government as destructive, and a force that undermines our basic freedoms.
  • Fear of centralized power.
  • Opposition to redistribution of any kind.
  • Rejection of any new government programs, support for existing government programs they’d rather see cut, raising taxes, or imposing new regulations on the private sector.

On the other hand, liberals:

  • Want to use government to narrow economic disparities and help those at the bottom of the income scale.
  • See government as a way to provide equality of opportunity for all.
  • Support government’s role in promoting the individuals’ responsibility to the community around them.
  • Have more confidence in government as a constructive force.
  • Have no trouble with the notion of expanding government’s scope to improve Americans’ lives.
  • Think government can expand freedom when it’s properly applied, by reining in the power of monied interests.
  • Have less confidence in the market to solve all problems, understanding that the private sector has a predatory side that can have huge impact on the society and environment.

We as Americans, in general, don’t hold one position or the other absolutely but instead find ourselves somewhere on the scale between the two extremes issue by issue. Our leaders don’t recognize this and are guided by the hands that hold out the money. We need to expect more–pragmatism above all else. Ideological loyalty is not and probably never will serve us well as at most, it can only meet the needs of a fraction of the total population.

Congressman Hamilton’s full essay is here: http://congress.indiana.edu/washington-ideology-need-not-reign-supreme.

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