Telstar (Original Recording – 1962)


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Monday, March 31, 2014           10:04 AM

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What is it about this Tornados track that makes me play it again and again?  It could be that it was inspired by a dream Joe Meek had. It could be that the inspiration for the title was the launching of the first Telstar Telecommunications Satellite launched into orbit on July 10th, 1962. Did you know?—the Telstar (or ‘geosynchronous-orbiting satellite’), or rather the idea behind it, originated in an Arthur C. Clarke story! The science fiction and the rocket launchings of the 1960’s broke my childish mind into fireworks-like dreams of flight, exploration, and technology. If you are interested in learning more about the song, watch “Telstar: The Joe Meek Story” (2008)—it is an excellent film and a real slice of history, painlessly presented by a very entertaining director.

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Judging from the dreams it calls up from deep in my memory, the AM radio playing on the dashboard of my parents’ station wagon while we drove home from Jones Beach, I heard it at a time when I was happy in the way only children can be happy. One of five siblings, I was usually rolling around in the back of the wagon, avoiding the back-seat infighting (and the ensuing parental yelling).

Those trips to Jones Beach were happy, but they were full of fear, too. The waves could sometimes become (to my young eyes) skyscrapers of water, looming above, letting me know I’d be crushed and rolled and dragged over the rough surface beneath the water. I often wondered whether I’d be let back up again before my breath gave out.

Sometimes there was sky-writing!

Sometimes there was sky-writing!

And there was separation anxiety, too. Jones Beach was huge, disappearing into the horizon in either direction, thousands of families and friends laying out the towels that made the space temporarily their own. All the new ‘portable radios’ were tuned to the same AM station (Cousin Brucey) and the songs followed along wherever one went.

There were regularly spaced Life Guard Towers every hundred yards or so. If the waves tumbled me too far along the shore I would be faced with a beach that looked exactly like the one from which I had walked down to the surf.

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The only difference would be that my family was nowhere to be seen. This was a tricky little trap, for me at least—if all my siblings were in the water (which was always) I’d be looking for our blanket and cooler—not much to go on in the ‘Where’s Waldo’ world of Jones Beach in High Summer.

Plus, if I chose to go the wrong way, the result was getting further from my goal instead of closer. In the end, my mom usually had to yell at her confused, lost-looking little boy from her place beneath the Sun Umbrella. O, yeah. I forgot to mention, almost everyone had eight-foot-tall sun umbrellas—like patio umbrellas, but with a big spike for sticking it into the sand.

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But aside from all that, I loved Jones Beach. Ice cream and hot dogs and soda never tasted so good—even if the line at the Snack Concession was stupendously long. The sand was perfect for sculpture and construction—and the ebb and flow of the tide made everything transient—even if it wasn’t kicked over by some other kid.

But just imagine it—the TV was full of ‘space race’ news, the beach was full of joy, and the music coming out of all the radios was futuristic and new—but none compared to “Telstar”. We have become overly familiar with synthesized sounds—in the 1960s it was unheard of except for “Telstar”. To hear in the music itself the sound of electronics—it was a Pentecostal experience, but for the ears instead of the tongues. From that point on, I was less and less interested in acoustic music (and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t alone in that) and more and more craving the sounds of synth.

And that was actually a logical progression—one of the draws of rock n’ roll was the electrified sound of the guitars and the reverb, wah, and other effects added to the players’ or vocalists’ amplified sounds. But nothing says Synth like a keyboard.

I remember playing Wendy Carlos’ “Switched-On Bach” for my family, expecting them to be as enthralled with the sound (and the idea) as I was. But my Uncle John said it sounded like Alvin and the Chipmunks playing classical music. Everyone roared with laughter—and I was nearly in tears. What can I say? Music has always been very important to me.

The things music can do never cease to amaze me—it can make a chill go down my spine; it can make the hair on my arms stand up; it can bring me near tears; it can make me jump up and start dancing; it can make me laugh, sing along, howl along (if drunk enough), and even make me stare into space, lost in the wonder of it. I haven’t been to Jones Beach in decades—but music can still take me there.

 

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