The Long Winters: “The Commander Thinks Aloud”
“The radio is on and Houston knows the score. Can you feel it? We’re almost home.”
It’s hard to believe that it’s been eight years since I heard the inaugural version of this song played over the sad, wonky speakers of the Borders Books & Music that I worked at back in 2004. And while the version of the song that one short year later would find itself leading off The Long Winters’ Ultimatum EP would prove to sound a bit different sonically and musically than the song I first heard on my pre-ordered copy of The Future Dictionary Of America, the sentiment and the power behind it’s words and meaning remained absolutely unchanged.
In the past year, John Roderick has shared an immeasurable amount of his thoughts, wisdom and laughs with one of my personal heroes, Merlin Mann, on their brilliant podcast, Roderick On The Line. In turn, he has traversed the path from being a songwriter, writer and musician that I’ve greatly enjoyed and appreciated over the years to a human being that I truly admire on a number of different levels.
This week marks the first anniversary of the dynamic duo’s podcast and in celebration, they’ve re-posted the episode of Back To Work (another of Merlin’s not to be missed podcasts) that was the origin of what would eventually become Roderick On The Line. In that fateful episode, John beautifully explained the motivation behind his writing of “The Commander Thinks Aloud” and how it tied to the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster of 2003:
“The Columbia was an event that was actual and big and you couldn’t metaphor-ize it. You couldn’t use a metaphor because any metaphor you would use would be smaller than the actual thing. And as I was writing the song, I realized that the Columbia was an actual event that you could both talk about in really small, discrete, little scenes and also, it functioned as a kind of reverse metaphor. What happened to them on that spaceship and how that spaceship crash affected us all in little ways was like a relationship breaking up or like one person’s life, kind of seen from beginning to end. So, it was sort of a reverse of what normal songwriting would look like.”
So, do yourself a favor right now. Shut off all of your distraction devices, go find a quiet place where you can be alone for a while, pull on a pair of headphones, close your eyes and in the immortal words of Jason Molina: “Listen.”
[The Ultimatum EP was released by Barsuk in 2005] [Photo by Victoria VanBruinisse]
I’m one of those people that it usually takes listening to a song a few times to really get the meaning behind the lyrics or to really get the story the songwriter is trying to tell. But with this song, it was an emotional punch in the gut right from the start and I vividly remember fighting back tears by the end of the song.