The Final Frontier
It's the final frontier, the place, the ultimate real estate, although our attempts to 'conquer' it seem laughable in the cosmic scheme of things. Space, we think it will offer refuge when this place has been sapped of it's resources. Somewhere Out There is a place, we like to imagine, where we can start afresh, build a new home, and perhaps get it right with regards to Future life this time.
On the next planet there will be no pollution, no war, no starvation, and a transport system that works. Everyone will wear shiny suits and meals will come in tablet-form. Interiors will be spotless, the populace will be healthy, and there must, inevitably, be a mysterious obelisk, perhaps on the dark side, which holds the key to The Meaning of Life, if only we can find the damn thing. Unfortunately, there will also be either a strange life-force which begins to contaminate our minds with evil thoughts to the point where we all kill each other, or a war between Earthlings and the alien race which claims ownership over the planet and has been away for a thousand years looking for somewhere else to live. Malicious robots will ignore Asimov's 'laws' and turn against us and we will become their slaves until a freedom fighter organises a rebel army that will reclaim man's right to rule everything, machines and animals.
Oh well, the journey is everything, as some wise religious sect probably says. But more than that, anticipation of the journey involves dreams of the destination as we ideally imagine it will be, so I suggest we make the most of this time. See your life, and the lives of the next few generations, as one long evening before the next day's travel. We are excited, we fantasise about how things will be, we drool over pictures in NASA's brochure and hope, perhaps, that when we get there, we won't be staying next to a building sight.
We make music celebrating Space as the place to be, and when we get there, en masse, we know that there will be no acoustic guitars, not even Joe Meek-sounding electric ones. Instead, all sound will be computerised in various forms. It will be Ambient, chaotic, or 4/4-driven. Thanks to personal stereos, sound already forms an 'architectural' membrane in which we can move around, but when we finally get Out There, perhaps that sound can be transformed into a liveable space, forming angular monolithic dwellings courtesy of Underground Resistance, or soft shapes after Eno. You can have a Dom And Roland-style fortress, or uniformed mock-Pop creation after Howard Jones.
In 1983, the Jonzun Crew got "Lost In Space", and you can hear their reports back to ground control on the new CD reissue that's part of Tommy Boy's '20th Anniversary' series. Looking back down the time tunnel, '83 looks like another planet, a place where four black men could wear ridiculously glitzy outfits that combine the camp Wild West with the three muskateers and god knows what else. Body-poppin' street activity meets showbiz razamatazz in a panto production of programmed percussion and string synthesisers - yeehah! When the light of a disco glitterball hits the Jonzun Crew's gear, the reflection is, indeed, more brilliant than the sun, and Kodwo Eshun could give you a theory about it, I'm sure.
The first (and last) electro-concept album? Almost - minus deep thought, pretention, dark-side-of-the-moon dreaming, or interplanetary surrealistic lyrics as if Michael Jonzun was a lad insane. Space viewed through his shaded eyes is a place where Dr Funkentein's creation walks with more bounce to the ounce, despite zero gravity conditions. This album must be one of the best ever released by Tommy Boy in 1983. Perhaps it's the only electro-boogie album ever made, and it might deserve a place in the history of 20th century music for that reason alone. It comes to us now, in 2001, as one of our deep probes carrying "Johnny B Goode" might appear to an alien race who've been around the intergalactic block a few times - laughable, antiquated, but priceless and, yes, pleasurable too. You can't help but feel a glow of something inside as soon as "We Are The Jonzun Crew" kicks off in all it's percussive, keyboard-handclappin'-vocoderised glory - Latin disco in space! They are the Jonzun Crew and, you know what? - they are here to rock you.
Laughter in the machine is a recurring theme, just so you understand that this isn't an entirely serious stab at cosmic exploration. The trick is to take the genius of Parliament's Bernie Worrell and transform his sublime gothic granduer into washes of pure Pop melody. It works brilliantly on the opening track. Next comes acknowledgement of Ra's contribution to the space race, "Space Is The Place". The Crew get quite nasty here, trading disco Dick Whittington for something as dark as Darth Vadar - watch out, he's behind you! Attempts to computerise The Funk have rarely worked better than they do on this track, even when it's lightened by steel drum effects and the ever-present Pop sensibility.
"Electro Boogie Encounter" reminds us of how close to Disco in the dancehall time continuum 1983 still was. "Get on up and dance"? Well, Jonzun wouldn't claim to have been a lyricist on par with Bobby Womack, would he? "Ground Control" sounds, initially, like a very stupid electro "Space Oddity" - sample lyric: - heeeey! Y'know, they just don't write 'em like this anymore. After several plays, however, the track grows in stature to the point where it takes it's rightful place alongside the greatest space compositions of all time ((Holsts's effort, Bowie's, The Floyd's, Coltrane...honest). Jane says this album reminds her of the "for-mash-get-Smash" laughing aliens advert. Typical woman, undermining the case for this being a work of compositionsal/lyrical magnificence. I mean, just listen to "Space Cowboy"
"We will be travelling faster than the speed of light / We must go whether it is wrong or right"
Yeah, we know, Space is the Place, but when we get there, won't it be a bit of a let down? You know what'll happen, we'll fuck whatever planet good and proper like we have dear Mother earth and have to look for another rock to get all parasitical on - shucks, I'm such a cynic. Well, what do you think? Has all this been a big success, or have we gone a little wrong somewhere? How can we tell? You know, don't you, that we live in the ultimate Big Brother house, and that Out There somewhere, little green men are, one day, going to vote all us human beanz out (by the way, on the subject, has anyone got a transcription of what Vanessa Feltz wrote, exactly, on that table? I'm dying to know because I think it could form some kind of cult-ural legendary text on a par with 'Helter Skelter' but, being longer, also being far more profound and meaningful).
So, we've got to go. We know it; They know it and, meanwhile, like Jack Dee, we're currently doing our best to escape, leaving the animals to do whatever they like once we're gone. We've built ships that have taken us as far as the other side of the intergalatic fence (or atmosphere, as I believe it'' known), but like Jack, we're forced to come back, although, unlike him, we've never been 'caught', only found wanting when it comes to getting very far because, well, we're not bright enough to crack the space travel thing. To Them, our efforts must look as stupid as Jack's scraping the ground with a rake in the hope of digging a tunnel.
Not that They actually exist, of course. The 'aliens' are simply a creation of our own imagination because we hate to think that we're all alone in Space. There has to be someone else around, surely. Like anyone who stays in too much with no-one for company, we go crazy. We have other people, but what good are they? Other people are just replicants of ourselves, obviously, because the things that matter, the essential core of existence and what we do with it, we already know about. Other people, every one of them, suffer the same unbearable lightness of being (cheers, Milan). Oh sure, there are people living very different kinds of lives all around the world, but unless you get to know and decide to live with an Eskimo or African tribesman, they won't change your life.
The cosmic clock's tick-tocking away and if we don't think that, one day, it'll be time to Go, men in white protective suits do, and as pawns in the world domination game, they're being moved around by the all-powerful who have booked their seats because they really do know that this place can't sustain us for too much longer. The environment's getting more fucked up by the year, the resources aren't infinite and, besides, there's a lot of heavy shit whizzing around Out There and one day a chunk of it will probably smack into this one that we live on and that will be that.
The Final Days on Earth will look like the evacuation of Saigon; people reaching up for the ladders that hang from ships that are set to carry the last ones off-world. These people will be the ones who weren't allocated tickets (you didn't think you'd just be able to buy one, did you?). Only the useful need apply (teachers, tradesmen/women, doctors & nurses, scientists, teachers, politicians and, of course, celebrities, and drones to do the menial chores) - if you think that covers everyone, think again. What use are non-industrialised tribes? What use are artists? What use are slackers and skivers and part-time anti-work ethic wasters? If you can't think about things that are constructive, practical, you know, useful, forget it.
© Robin Tomens 2001