••• The International Writers Magazine - Our 20th Year: Reality Check USA
+ READERS RESPONSES 7.29.19
JULY 20, 1969
The Apollo 11 Moon Landing at 50
This is the first of a non-concurrent three-part series on major events in our recent history which will be commemorating their fiftieth anniversary this summer. As they approached, it turns out, for me, the memories of these significant dates brought vivid childhood reflections that have remained with me and would be integral to my view of self, America, and society at large.
I'm a rocket man, burning out his fuse up here alone.
- Bernie Taupin
I am six years old in July of 1969. Living in the middle apartment in a three-family pre-war brownstone owned by my mother’s parents in the Bronx, NY. So far this has been a year of awaking for me. There has already been a moment etched into my psyche forever. It became a bit of an obsessive one, back when I still watched professional football, back when Joe Namath was more than a mere mortal. Actually, that second part more than lingers for me. The NY Jets won the Super Bowl in January of that year. This happened. Really. I still harbor the most unerringly strong recollections of the last few minutes of that game. Mostly through the nervous joy my father experienced. I was there, with him. This giant, this hero, Namath, a cultural and athletic professional lighting rod and also sometimes the Jets quarterback with his white shoes, eye-black and tufts of hair peeking out of his helmet would become something of an avatar of my father, as he paced in and out of the room mumbling to himself about time. We watched that day as Namath obliterated myths to create his own. And now, six months later – an eternity for a kid – I am wrapping my mind around a human being walking on the moon. So says my mother, since, in a way, this is her Super Bowl. The ramp up, the launch, the whole thing. Man, my mom is way into this.
Years after these sweltering hot NYC summer evenings, while rummaging through boxes stuffed in attics and garages throughout our constant moving around NJ into Westchester, et al, I would find the Life Magazine cover with Neil Armstrong standing on the lunar surface. The camera and the man who joined him as the first humans to traverse the moon, Buzz Aldrin reflected in his space helmet was always an eerie sight. My mom even kept that week’s TV Guide. For you kids, this was the Internet for television when people still watched it on a screen housed in a piece of furniture that was the centerpiece of your living rooms. This is a woman who kept nothing. If I turned my head for a moment, it was gone. My mom was no hoarder. But of all the stuff that happened historically when I was a kid, beside Lee Harvey Oswald being murdered on our box inside the furniture, the Apollo 11 moon landing was my mom’s touchstone.
From a six year-old’s perspective, this whole concept is kind of out there. So much so, I stand for an inordinate amount of time in front of our front stoop looking up into the illuminated night sky the evening of July 19 staring at it. I cannot be sure it was a full moon that evening, but it was more than half visible in the city glow above our street. It was so stark white against the ebony background, so flat, two-dimensional. Almost fake. My mind races. There are people heading there to hang out. Right now. This is as much as it was understood by me, with all of my Major Matt Mason stuff, my green alien figures and plastic spaceships. When you’re six you assume people have been flying around all over space in the cartoons you’re fed or the science fiction that passes for actual news. But even so, it is odd to see this glistening orb up in the sky and to know that someone…tomorrow…is going to be tooling around on it.
Now, forget me for a minute – which I know is hard in this space since I more or less interject myself into everything I write here – but try and consider the world without having at least conceived of space travel? Today, we don’t even give it a second thought, since we went to the moon pretty much every year after 1969 until the mid-seventies. We actually took for granted having humans playing golf and driving buggies up there. Or at least we told ourselves that and maybe even (and I am one of the occasional skeptics here) told ourselves it never happened.
My pal, author Rich Cohen, who I got to know a few years ago when we were both working on music books – his, the Stones, mine, Warren Zevon – just had a piece published in the latest Paris Review about these ubiquitous conspiracy theories regarding the events of July 20, 1969. Much of this hoo-ha surrounds fellow Bronx-native and film genius Stanley Kubrick and his masterworks, 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Shining, the former being the first anyone had seen of weightlessness and the cold, frightening, soul-crushing nothingness of space and the inhumanity of the computers and machines that take us there and what that entails for our species in the long, long, long run. That film was released in 1968 and what it foretold was eerily familiar to those who eventually would travel there.
To that end, this is what Cohen wrote as a sidebar to his theme that got on top of me while I was working on this column: “I’ve met three of the twelve men who walked on the moon. They had one important thing in common when I looked into their eyes: they were all bonkers.”
This is where the imagination of that six year-old boy and the grandiosity of America in the Cold War Era meets the flesh and bone of those who were actually a part of the Apollo 11 mission. How much of this – seeing the earth as a fading marble in the distance, the silence of space against the instruments beeping and flashing around them in their “floating tin can” as David Bowie would write and release that same year as “Space Oddity”, a nice musical play on Kubrick’s horrors of rapid, mind-bending technological and spiritual evolution – would mess with their, well, everything. Later, this idea of taking the deep-seeded fears of isolation within humanity and the constant battle waged between the ego of the hairless ape and the vastness of the universe became part of our culture. We, the searchers fueled by our Manifest Destiny, going beyond the stars, where we cannot comprehend, and come back different. Very different. Or, as Cohen, mused, bonkers.
We were all bonkers in 1969. Crazy shit happened. The Jets, eighteen to twenty-three point underdogs would win the first ever named Super Bowl and soon the NY Mets, having been the laughing stock of all sports the year I was born, just seven seasons earlier, would capture all of our hearts on the way to an amazing World Series victory that October. Then other crazy, crazy shit that will come in just a few weeks, which I will broach in parts two and three of these connected columns, illustrates how much humanity can simultaneously elevate and devastate itself down here. We were, in many ways, different. A seal was broken on us, on America, on science and faith and pride and fear, as it had on race and gender and generation.
And it is down here, on July 20, 1969 that we all watched a man in a weird, rumpled white space suit hop his way down a ladder and take “one small step for man but one giant leap for mankind” and hang out on that translucent sphere perched high, high, high above Van Ness Avenue. The night you can view these crackling black and white images being flashed on the box inside the furniture while also looking out your window to try and rationalize all of this. How is this happening? It is pretty damn exciting. It is pretty damn frightening.
July 20, 1969.
© James Campion July 20th 2019
READERS RESPONSES 29th July 2019
This is a frightening prospect. (ESCLAVE IN UTERO – Issue: 5/21/19) States denying women their rights under the constitution from a party that has constantly used fear of the federal government on gun rights under the same document. I believe now the GOP has become so radicalized it is beyond the mainstream and must be stopped. Nearly 70% of Americans support Roe v Wade and a woman’s right to choose her healthcare. Now that the Supreme Court is stacked with right wing fanatics we must fight diligently over the next days and weeks and months and years to not take this right for granted. It is imperative that we constantly fight for our freedoms, because they are NOT free! They come with the blood, sweat and tears of our foremothers and all of their hard work to stand up for us to even have the vote or any rights in the workplace, which are still not close to equal. Let us not hand it back to religious zealots and fear mongers. The war on women has never ended. It goes on every day. We must wake up to that fact. Wake our daughters up to it. We are under siege. Time to vote our conscience. Vote our rights.
Wonderful piece. The only thing is—my abortion rights offend your sensibilities. Your gun rights deny me my life.
What do you expect when we elected a thrice-married asshole who bragged on tape about assaulting women?
Dude, you lose any right to complain about perceived government intrusions after you slept through Barry O’s administration featuring Lois Lerner’s open season on conservative organizations and Eric Holder’s “wingman” style of running the Justice Department.
Your complaints ring hollow based on prior action.
There are only two issues that can bury the Republican Party going forward over the next year or so, especially in the 2020 election season, any chipping away of Roe v Wade and the legal eradication of the ACA by right-wing stacked appellate courts. This will be a political bridge too far for their continued shell game with our rights and health care. They always talk to the middle but govern and use the courts to the far right. There will be a reckoning if either of these things go. And it will be severe and likely cost them the senate, which will be teetering next year and this president with his 40% approval ratings and under water in swing states. All the talk of impeachment and obstruction of justice and Russia and paying off porn stars and bringing us to the brink of war time and again and apologizing for despots in Saudi Arabia and North Korea and his daily racist rants will matter none – as they apparently do now – if Roe v Wade gets dinged or Obamacare goes.
I love how Reality Check is always ahead of the curve on these stories. This attack from southern bigoted states on women’s rights has been going on for some time and it is building to a saturation point now. It is right we are made aware of this from prescient commentators such as yourself. This is beyond a woman’s issue. This is an American citizen issue. The federal government having control of our bodies is so far beyond science fiction it begs the question on whether anyone even believes in the concept of personal freedoms anymore. Not the Republicans. There is a War on Women. Wake the fuck up.
Scary stuff indeed.
This is an incredible overview of how the Mexican government, the villains in the delusional world of Dumb Trump, takes our president to the cleaners every single time (THE MEXICAN FLIP OFF – Issue: 6/19/19). I’ve often wondered how his chronic lying would be so obviously uncovered and the entire “Build a wall and have Mexico pay for it” was the biggie. That one was always a joke and I love when Trumpsists casually dismiss his idiocy and his lying as him “not meaning it” or it was somehow a symbol or a metaphor for something. This is a man who can barely form sentences and knows six words. I am sure he is whipping off the odd quips in his time between golfing, woofing down fast food and watching Fox News.
While I think you have something there that Trump merely needs an enemy, so he will keep eating Mexico’s shit, but what about him kissing Kim Jong-un’s ass every chance he gets or this obsession he has with Putin or his bowing to the Saudi King like a bitch? Not really sure it is strategic. I think, as you have written quite a bit here, Trump is simply stupid and has no idea what he is doing. There really isn’t any point of trying to explain it. He is simply a doofus and so he does doofus things and unfortunately he is no longer bringing just shame to his family and his business but America. And in the end this will be the latest in all of our sins.
I think what you ae trying to say with this column is that Mexico is using Trump, not the other way around. I see what you’re doing. That’s good and all, but I think it must be exhausting to have to deal with your neighbor to the north all the time when most of what the racists are worried about are Central American refugees and not the rapists and murderers that the president has called most Mexicans. And while it is entertaining and even interesting to consider the way Mexico has led this jerk-off by the nose like a puppy for three years now, I would think they would want a competent statesman and not a slobbering goon to run the United States of America.
Do yourself no favors and “like” this idiot at www.facebook.com/jc.author or, if you dare, follow on Twitter (@FearNoArt) and Instagram (@jamescampion)
James Campion is the Managing Editor of The Reality Check News & Information Desk and the author of “Deep Tank Jersey”, “Fear No Art”, “Trailing Jesus”, "Midnight For Cinderella" and “Y”. and his new book, “Shout It Out Loud – The Story of KISS’s Destroyer and the Making of an American Icon”.
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