The death of those we love is a rite of passage in every human’s life. We may not understand it, we may be angry, sad or relieved, and it may make us suddenly aware of our own mortality. That realisation is another marker in itself. Another is the death of people your own age, this underlines our essential fragility.
Then there is the death of those more famous people you have always liked, even though you have never met them, people who are public property through their creations.
Everyone in a generation remembers where they were when they heard the news of the death of Kennedy, Hendrix, Elvis, Lennon, Strummer-take your pick, it will define your place in the timeline that is the big parade of humankind. (I just want to say for me it was Elvis, 1977, I was in The Queens Arms in Widnes, a Wednesday night I think, and the barman told us he’d just heard it on the news. We could not believe it, Elvis had always been there.)
Where am I going with all this you may ask, on a blog that deals with graphic novels?
Well, I was at the Purbeck Folk Festival this last weekend and on the Saturday night, I was watching The Mother Ukers, three older men playing ukuleles. It was about 10.30pm and they were just about to play their version of Space Oddity and almost as an aside they introduced the song with the news that Neil Armstrong had died that day.
I spent the rest of their set thinking about that news. I never met the man, I only really knew him for one thing, one tremendous event. I thought of Buzz Aldrin on After Hours, a Channel 4 late night chat show in the 1980’s, talking about the Moon Landing and how Armstrong had taken over the control of the Lunar Module and landed it with twenty seconds worth of fuel to spare.
I thought about how everyone Armstrong met must have wanted to ask him about that one event, those few fleeting hours in a long a rich life. It is no wonder he withdrew from the public gaze and became an academic.
For some people the whole event was just another date in a history book, it was and was not. It was the culmination of many years of hard work by an army of humans. The trouble was there was no next step. It was essentially a sideshow to the Cold War.
That’s all I wanted to say today, yes I know it’s me mourning the possibilities of my youth. I don’t care. I am leaving you with a poem:
On Hearing the Death of Neil Armstrong
Before he spoke that causal throwaway line,
The swallowing clouds,
Congregated to conceal from prying eyes.
But earlier I had seen it, a pearl perfection,
The quarter Green Corn Moon.
On the way back to my tent,
My head torch shines a circle on to the ground,
Each contour of the soil the moon’s sad face.