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This Day: February 24

February 24, 2010

On this day in 1986, Voyager 2 undertook its first fly by of Uranus. And as a boy in his “space stage”, the vision (both real and computer generated) from the probe captured my imagination. The whole Voyager program has an impact on wider public consciousness, from the fictitious Voyager 6 in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, to the X-Files and the Moody Blues album, Long Distance Voyager.

On Bob Geldolf’s Thinking Voyager 2 Type Things, released in 1990 on the Vegartarians of Love album, the probe becomes a metaphor for existence, life, aging and death:

Voyager 2 where are you now
Looking back at home and weeping
Cold and alone in the dark void
Winding down and bleeping
Ever dimmer ever thinner
Feebly cheeping in the solar winds

Early on in the song, Geldolf namechecks Irish novelist and playwright Brendan Behan, who drank himself into an early grave at 41. Behan, a man who found fame a burden is the launchpad for Geldolf’s internal monologue on Voyager as an example of the wonderful achievements of the human race, but how all such achievements cannot overcome the finality of death.

This may seem fatalistic, after all surely Voyager is as lost as Behan, but somehow at the moment Geldolf realises he too will be lost, he comes alive. There is still life to be had until the end, and the joke may be on existence itself:

I’m thinking it’s a cheap price that we pay for existance

One doesn’t have to have the wonders of a Voyager or the talent of a Behan to live.

Musically, the song meanders, floating in a folk milieu of accordions and fiddles, earthy but hazy; the pulse of the music is held together with a simple mandolin phrase.

It’s a pleasant voyage, with nary the dread of many songs concerned with such big questions. Ultimately it is Geldolf giving Voyager 2 some consolations – its duty maybe over, but there may be “icecream worlds” and “electric orange skies” to be discovered yet.

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