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Souvenir – Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark April 3, 2012

Posted by thelastsongiheard in Binoculars, Deep Sky Objects, Equipment, Myths & Legends, Open Clusters, Personal Recollections, Reblogged.
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Souvenir (Single)
Souvenir (Single)

The last song I heard this lunchtime was Souvenir by Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark. This song was released in late August 1981 and reached #3 about a month later.

I love this song. I love OMD. Three groups sum up my love of synthpop in the 80’s – OMD, the Human League and the Pet Shop Boys. I love this song because it reminds me of the Pleiades star cluster and a time when my passion for astronomy was really beginning to blossom.

Actually, there are three songs that make me think of this time and really, although Souvenir was still in the Top 20, it was dropping out of the charts when I was staring at the stars. The two other songs are Open Your Heart by the Human League  (#6, mid October) and Under Your Thumb by Godley & Creme (#3 when Open Your Heart was #6).

The reason why I love and associate Souvenir specifically with the Pleiades is simply because it has a very ethereal quality to it, much like the star cluster itself. I really love this song.

Colin had started going to Putteridge High School in September of 1980 and he and Mum had signed up for “art classes: in the evening. I didn’t go that year – the class finished at about 9pm and being 9 years old, they thought I was too young.

So I stayed home and played in my room until it was time to go with Dad to pick them up in the car.  We’d get home at around 9:30pm and it was usually around that time that I would stare at the stars through my window. Art class was two nights a week – probably Tuesdays and Thursdays – but I would stare at the stars on a Sunday too, usually when the Top 40 was on. Hence, my association with music.

The first time I saw the Pleiades was in October of 1980 – another OMD song, Enola Gay was in the charts and that also reminded me of that star cluster. (I still associate Souvenir with the Pleiades far more though.)

I was learning the constellations at the time and I had the Usbourne spotter’s guide to the Night Sky. It was yellow. It was easy to use and it had a checklist at the back where you could tick things off once you’d seen them. Better yet, as an added incentive, you could score points for each object – the harder the object, the more points you scored.

The points didn’t really mean anything, they just gave you bragging rights with your imaginary astronomy friends. None of my friends really understood it – except for maybe Ian, but he had yet to stick his head over the garden fence at this time.

(Incidentally, the book was re-released in 2006 and is available on Amazon. I might buy it for you James 🙂 On the other hand, I might just buy a used copy for myself, just for old times sake LOL)

So I would look for constellations and planets and star clusters and nebulae… I was racking up quite a few points, and like my nights in Oklahoma years later, I was getting quite a kick from seeing all these celestial sights.

A typical starry, starry night would involve me opening up my bedroom window and leaning out, as far as I could, with a pair of old World War I binoculars Uncle Gerald had given me. I would get my bearings and then scan the sky.

The air would be cold – it was autumn – the heating would be on, and somehow Dad would know I had the window open. He would yell at me to “close the bloody window, you’re letting all the heat out” but I never quite fathomed how he knew.

The (simulated) view from my bedroom. Can you spot the Pleiades? (Click to enlarge - created with Stellarium)
The (simulated) view from my bedroom. Can you spot the Pleiades? (Click to enlarge – created with Stellarium)

So there I am, leaning out the window in mid October, at about nine thirty at night, and I see this tiny grouping of little stars rising in the east over the tree tops. I grabbed my spotter’s guide. Hmmm… that looks like Delphinus, methinks, not knowing that I was completely wrong. That’s a really small constellation was my second thought.

The Pleiades (Taken with Slooh on Christmas Day, 2011 - Click to enlarge)
The Pleiades (Taken with Slooh on Christmas Day, 2011 – Click to enlarge)

I grabbed my binoculars and I squinted at the stars. They looked stunning, even in a pair of seventy year old binoculars. Sometimes I “borrowed” Dad’s much newer pair and I know I used those on more than a few occasions. The image that I took with Slooh years later resembles the view a little.

I don’t know when I realised this wasn’t Delphinus but rather the Pleaides. It might have even been that first night, but I do know I was pretty thrilled to see it. For one thing, nothing truly beats the excitement of seeing something like that for the first time. And besides, the Pleiades scored more points.

I was particularly excited because the Pleaides is one of those star clusters you see all the time in books, on TV and in the movies. It’s famous. Now I was looking at it with my own eyes. It was like seeing your favourite celebrity walking across the street. (I did once see Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman in London but – you’ve guessed it – that’s a story for another time. Spoilers!)

Despite my love for the stars, I really wanted to go to art class too, so I begged and I pleaded and eventually, much to Colin’s disgust, Mum gave in and I was allowed to go too. I believe my first year was 1981.

I wrote “art class” in parenthesis because it wasn’t really a class, just an excuse to sit around and paint and draw whatever you liked. Occasionally someone would stop by, nod appreciatively, make some vague remark about your unique use of charcoal and then wander on.

Most of my art consisted of stars, planets and a humungous rendition of the Battlestar Galactica whenever I had difficulty filling that space with something else. But again, like most things, that’s a story for another time.

Actually, that year was also the year that Mum decided my room needed a new lick of paint, so while we were at art class, Dad would dutifully be doing his own painting. Unfortunately, it made my room stink but more positively, the smell of paint can still bring me back to those nights.

Again, Dad would complain when I opened up my window and let all the warm air out, but this time, my argument was that I had to open up the window. The room stank of paint.

Best Of OMD (Album)
Best Of OMD (Album)

I didn’t know the title of Souvenir  – or who sang it – at the time. I didn’t know the title of Enola Gay from the year before or even had the slightest idea it was by the same group. It wasn’t until much later, in 1988, when I bought OMD’s Best Of album on vinyl that I came to those tracks and realised what they were. As stupid as it sounds, it was like meeting familiar old friends again.

In fact, that whole A side brought back a LOT of memories – besides Souvenir and  Enola Gay, Joan of Arc and Maid of Orleans also made me think of those star gazing nights. But nothing quite beat Souvenir.

Years later, when I was writing for Astronomy magazine, they asked me to write a piece about the myths and legends associated with the stars. Me being all artsy decided to write a fictional piece. It promptly got rejected, with a “it was nice, but not our kind of thing” email but I kept it anyway.

One of the myths I wrote about involved the Pleiades. I haven’t read it since. Knowing me, I’d probably read it and think it was crap, but if you’re interested, you can read it here. Enjoy. (But don’t judge me too harshly :P)

Lyrics: http://www.lyricsfreak.com/o/omd/souvenir_20103392.html

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