Sunday, May 06, 2007

Gort! Klaatu Barada Nikto!

Another trip down memory lane. I recently bought a CD of the first two albums put out by Klaatu. Who? I hear you all scream. Indeed, since buying the CD, all my attempts at discussion of Klaatu have been met with blank stares. I'm beginning to suspect that I'm the only person in the country who owns one of their CDs. For what it is worth, they were a 1970s Canadian group, largely remembered today for two reasons: the Carpenters covered one of their songs ('Calling Occupants'), and at the time of their first album's release, there was much speculation that they were actually some, or all, of the Beatles, performing incognito. Actually, their first, eponymous, album is a pretty good imitation of a post-Sgt Pepper Beatles album. It even includes one of those bloody novelty tracks that McCartney was so fond of. However, 'Sir Bodsworth Rugglesby III' is, on the whole, a lot better than, say, 'Maxwell's Silver Hammer'. By the second album ('Hope'), they were beginning to drift into prog rock. Although, mercifully, there aren't any thirty minute long King Arthur inspired tracks there. All in all, it was good psychedelic fun which took me back to my childhood. Not only that, but who could possibly dislike any album which includes a track entitled 'Anus of Uranus'?

Listening to these two albums didn't just take me on a journey back to the halcyon days of my 1970s youth, but they also reminded me of the film from which the group took its name (and which the song 'Calling Occupants' makes reference to): The Day the Earth Stood Still. In this 1951 science fiction epic, Klaatu is the alien who arrives on earth bearing a message from a galactic federation which has been observing human history and is disturbed by both our war like nature and our recent acquisition of nuclear weapons. He delivers an ultimatum - disarm or the earth will be destroyed in the name of interstellar peace. It seems that by developing nuclear power, we've become a threat to the stability of our region of the galaxy. After much ado, which includes Klaatu going undercover in human society to try and learn what ordinary earth people are really like, he's gunned down by the military, but revived by his robot Gort (which has already demonstrated his power by incinerating several tanks). He and Gort finally fly off in their saucer, leaving the federation's warning ringing in the ears of the world's leaders. The more I thought about it, the more I realised that this film is even more relevant today than it was in the 1950s. The whole concept of imposing peace through superior firepower in order to create intergalactic/international security and stability seems to have been lifted lock, stock and barrel by Bush, Blair, et al, to justify their 'War on Terror'. Perhaps most interestingly, though, is the fact that the film leaves out the final twist of the short story from which it is derived (Harry Bates' 'Farewell to the Master'). In this, it is revealed that Klaatu isn't really in charge of the mission - Gort is the true master. The robots had already imposed peace on his and countless other planets, destroying those who dissented. Klaatu is simply the 'acceptable' face of the 'federation', to whom we earthlings can relate.

So, is Bush Klaatu - the front man for a sinister robot conspiracy? Is Cheney really Gort, the implacable engine of destruction threatening the world with his brand of 'peace'? Are the multinationals behind him the federation? I'm surprised that the Bush administration hasn't had every print of this film impounded and burned. Come to think of it, when was the last time you saw The Day the Earth Stood Still shown on TV? My apologies to my long-suffering friend Andrea, who had to put up with me prattling on about this the other evening when were at the pub. You really are very patient! If you are interested in the music of Klaatu, then their official site (linked to earlier) has downloadable samples of most of their songs.

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