As a borderline moon worshipper, I was enjoying most of the enthusiasm for the 50th anniversary of the moon landing last week (especially this thread of moon images, these vintage moon-crazy ads, gas station maps, and these poems about the moon) but another thing I was enjoying was digging up testimonials from people who were less-than-enthusiastic about it in 1969.
The New Yorker reprinted a Talk of the Town piece in which E.B. White wrote about planting the American flag:
What a pity that in our moment of triumph we did not forswear the familiar Iwo Jima scene and plant instead a device acceptable to all: a limp white handkerchief, perhaps, symbol of the common cold, which, like the moon, affects us all, unites us all.
And later, recounts this bar scene:
“Damn!” the same voice said. “I hope those Whiteys never come back. They might just decide to stay there, too.”
“Nah,” a female voice said. “You can be sure the white man don’t want to live up there. It’s got no gold, it’s got no silver, it’s got no oil. And ain’t that what Whitey wants? He don’t want no part of all that rock up there.”
I love Gil Scott-Heron’s “White on the Moon,” which Jody Rosen called “one of the greatest, funniest pieces of protest art in any medium”:
I can’t pay no doctor bills
But whitey’s on the moon
Ten years from now I’ll be payin’ still
While whitey’s on the moon
The man just upped my rent last night
Cause whitey’s on the moon
No hot water, no toilets, no lights
But whitey’s on the moon
I also like W.H. Auden’s grumpy poem “Moon Landing.” One of my favorite verses:
A grand gesture. But what does it period?
What does it osse? We were always adroiter
with objects than lives, and more facile
at courage than kindness
I’m fascinated by Michael Collins, the astronaut who orbited the moon alone while Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong did their thing on the surface. I laughed at this bit in his NPR interview:
SIMON: Do you ever look up at the moon nowadays?
COLLINS: Not on purpose, no. I’ll be walking down, shuffling down the sidewalk after dark. And all of a sudden, I’ll kind of look up and go, whoa.
COLLINS: Oh, I went there one time.
At least, like Auden said:
no engine can shift my perspective.
Unsmudged, thank God, my Moon still queens the Heavens…”
* * *
Well, here we are, a half century later, and little has changed:
Life imitates comedy.
The moon landing happened during the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, and my favorite part of documentary Summer of Soul is a brilliant montage of juxtaposed reactions:
Which culminates with this joke from the comedian Redd Foxx:
UPDATE 2023/04/27: Here’s another fun one: Pablo Picasso quoted in the New York Times on July 21, 1969: