Once upon a childhood, I sat in a living room and listened to a record. Decades later, I wanted to hear those mostly-forgotten sounds again. This is the story of my quest to find them.
I remembered a heavily synthesized quality to the music. It made me think of science fiction. Part of the music sounded like echoing footsteps in a metal hallway. As a kid, I imagined that was the sound of a lonely explorer searching a cavernous, abandoned space ship.
I remembered that the album’s cardboard jacket had a dead-looking astronaut in a damaged control room.
Not much to go on.
This would have been a lot easier if I knew the album title. Or the names of the musicians.
I tried searching images for variations on “astronaut”. There were a lot of astronaut images, and most of them weren’t what I was looking for. But, eventually, I found an image that looked familiar.
It was the cover image for a novel titled “Time and Again.” According to FantasticFiction, that book had many different covers in its publication history.
It felt like the right image, but I wasn’t sure. Three decades of life events crowded and obscured the memory.
The book cover was a Michael Whelan painting. I reached out to the Michael Whelan web site via their contact form, asking about the album. I never heard back.
None of my family members remembered the album when I asked. That seemed odd, since we were all living in the same house with it. I remained 99% sure that I was not making this up. Well, high eighties, anyway.
In the years that followed, I started to lose hope. It seemed like no one could help me find the forgotten sounds. I felt like that lonely space explorer.
I grew concerned that opportunity was fading. Somewhere in the world, records were being lost. People who had made or enjoyed the music were forgetting it or passing away. There had to be someone out there who knew about this album, but I didn’t know where to find them.
At one point, I searched my father’s record collection in a dusty, cramped metal shed. I checked every album, and the record was not there. Then I repeated the process a couple more times. Same result.
I eyed the surrounding contents of the shed, with the stacks of boxes and packed-in furniture. Shifting that stuff around — lifting and twisting in a confined space — was the perfect way to re-injure my old back injury. The wise thing was to accept that the record was not there.
However, I wanted to hear the sounds that tickled my memory. I shifted every piece of furniture, unstacked every box, and searched everywhere. I managed to do it without injury. But the record was not there.
In the months that followed, those foot steps would some times echo in my head. When they did, I was tempted to go back to the shed and repeat the process. But I resisted. Eventually, Dad sold his record collection, and the temptation was removed.
Trying, time and again
In the years that followed, when I heard the footsteps echoing at the edge of memory, I would repeat the internet search. Nothing. I sent another message to the Michael Whelan site. No response.
And then, one day, I found this entry on discogs.com:
The album was “Music from the 21st Century!” I was overjoyed! With this information, I was able to hear most of the music again.
There’s a shortened version of the Music From The 21st Century album available on Amazon, but it’s missing the tracks by Richard Burmer, Tangerine Dream, and Alex Cima. Using YouTube Music, I was able to cobble together a more complete playlist for myself, though it doesn’t have the intro. There is a YouTube video with Richard Burmer’s intro, so I did get to hear it. Just not in the playlist.
The Memory of Footsteps
Listening to this half-remembered music was a pleasure. That footstep-sound I remembered is in Tangerine Dream’s “Tangram”. Now it reminds me more of a squash game than footsteps. The music hasn’t changed. I must have.
But I still think of lonely derelict space ships when I hear this music. Because, even if the music doesn’t trigger the same associations for me now as it did for child-me, it triggers those half-memories of daydreaming by the record player while gazing at the Michael Whelan art on the cardboard album jacket.
There is an amusing irony that adult-me had to wait until the 21st century to hear “Music from the 21st Century.” Child-me could hear it way back in the 20th century.