Fort Worth band Cut Throat Finches' new concept album In Event of Moon Disaster is centered on an idea imagining that NASA astronauts made it to the moon, but never made it back home.
Making an album with this image as the central, driving concept took more than just historical research. It called for real introspection to imagine what this kind of tragedy would have meant for the nation and how it would've affected us today.
The imagined half-success of reaching the moon but not coming home has its basis in a very real history event from 1969. A month before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon, NASA liaison and Apollo 8 astronaut Frank Borman contacted speechwriter William Safire to draft a statement for President Richard Nixon to use in the event that the lunar module failed to launch from the surface and stranded the Apollo 11 astronauts on the moon forever.
"My niece (and Cut Throat Finches drummer) Draya (Ruse) is an avid reader," singer and guitarist Sean Russell says. "When she came across the speech, she was really inspired by it, and she brought it to me and said we should write a song about this."
At just under 150 words, the speech is absolutely devastating, conveying resignation to the idea that the astronauts are dying, in present tense, and to be mourned, in future tense:
"These two men are laying down their lives in mankind's most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding. They will be mourned by their families and friends; they will be mourned by their nation; they will be mourned by the people of the world; they will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send two of her sons into the unknown."
The speech is read in full in the album's final moments by The Ticket's Danny Balis, doing his best Bill Curtis impression.
"I wonder if they really knew what the odds were like riding in the equivalent of a coffee can run by something less powerful than your iPhone." — Sean Russell, on the moon landing
For Balis, getting the chance to read the speech on the album allowed him to feel the gravity of a moment that never occurred as if it actually did.
"I was asked not to do a '60s transatlantic newsman voice, but I still wanted it to sound era-specific," Balis says. "I took more of a Bill Curtis approach — serious, yet classic. I had no idea that the speech even existed, so it was cool to feel like I was reading it for the first time, like the event had actually happened that way."
Says Russell, "I kind of imagine the worst-case scenario as a president or a leader of mass or anything like that, trying to explain that these two men are either going to starve, dehydrate and die or freeze to death, and there's nothing anyone can do or there's no rescue, there's no anything."
Clearly, it was kept from public knowledge just how dangerous and uncertain the Apollo 11 mission really was. Even now, just a little over 50 years since the astronauts returned home successfully, the danger and the dream work behind the mission are not lost on Russell.
"I wonder if they really knew what the odds were like riding in the equivalent of a coffee can run by something less powerful than your iPhone," Russell says of the astronauts. "And yet it's got to get you to the moon and back based on the math by hundreds of egos."
The album's A-side begins with "Ignition," a song firmly planted in the band's familiar stomping grounds of good old-fashioned American rock 'n' roll, ending with "Take Off," which could easily fit into the Foo Fighters' catalog. Things take a drastic turn on the album's B-side, where Cut Throat Finches really test the boundaries of their musical past and future. "Other Space" gradually lifts the album into the spacey sounds of British prog-rock, which goes on until the record stops spinning.
Given the current political moment, not to mention the fact that Cut Throat Finches are following up their dystopian album Polite Conversation, it seems to be no coincidence that In Event of Moon Disaster is about what we as a country can achieve if we put aside thoughtlessness and carelessness — even if that achievement is only a half-success.