Kevin (erf_) wrote,

  • Music:

he's not the man they think he is at home, oh no no no

Buzz Aldrin: second man to walk on the moon. The reason why everyone born in the 1970s wanted to grow up to be an astronaut. More than merely the unfortunate protagonist of America's most famous thinly veiled fuck-you to the Soviet Union, he was a pioneer for humanity, and a restorer of faith in the power of civilization to accomplish great things. Our country lionized him and the rest of the Apollo 11 team as champions of democracy, living examples of what the fulfillment of Americal ideals could do--the glossy coffee-table Life Magazine retrospective First on the Moon, republished over and over since 1976, makes them no less than folk heroes.

But who, songwriters and terrible sci-fi authors have asked since 1969, is the man behind the helmet? Surely there is more to the Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong than their poofy white spacesuits and the reflection of the Earth in their eerie, globe-like visors. Surely, despite their hilariously action-figure names, these folks used to be that guy your aunt used to date or that bearded dude at the bar. Postmodern romantics, swept up in the drama of the Apollo landings, have long speculated about these details, spinning tragic and highly symbolic Life After Apollo tales of the 1970s American zeitgeist through figures as mythological to them as Abraham Lincoln and Superman.

The problem with all these experiments in cultural navel-gazing, of course, is that unlike Abraham Lincoln and (pre-Apocalypse pre-Crisis) Superman, Buzz Aldrin is still with us--and he is, indeed, a man, not a mere historical icon. An introspective, intelligent, and highly eloquent individual (if his gorgeous recollection of the first moonwalk is any indication), Aldrin is perfectly capable of telling his own damn story. And you know what? He does.

The truth, while less interesting than what fiction leaves us, is arguably more compelling in concept--a sad tale of alcoholism and depression, tinged with bitterness over being the second man on the moon (never mind Michael Collins, who despite being part of the team never got to walk on the moon at all). I guess it's kind of understandable--once you've beaten the rest of humanity minus Neil Armstrong to the moon, it's all downhill from there. You're never going to top that. Success is the ultimate curse of the overachiever (which Aldrin very much is), and postmodernism imitates life.

(A terrible short story I once read had an drunken Aldrin archetype-alike ranting in a bar, "I went to the moon once, you know! The fuckin' moon! I was a fucking astronaut!" and everyone just thinks he's nuts. Closer to reality than the author of that story intended, I bet. Who these days would recognize Buzz Aldrin without the spacesuit?)

That's something really great about this book: Buzz Aldrin, his name cemented in history as one of the first men to walk on the moon, writes his autobiography about everything that happens after. That alone makes me want to track down this book and give it a try.

Things you might not have known about Mr. Lightyear Aldrin:

  • Buzz is his legal first name.
  • He's a Presbyterian elder, and he has the remarkable distinction of being the first person to take communion on the moon. (He did it quietly, so as not to make a stir.)
  • You know those people who keep insisting the Apollo moon landings were a hoax? One of them stalked Buzz for a while, and confronted him outside a hotel, demanding that Buzz swear on a Bible that Buzz had actually walked on the moon. Buzz punched the guy in the face. It was awesome.
Tags: reading, space
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