One night, when I was twelve, I stayed up late to watch the ten o’clock news with Dad. It was the day of the first space shuttle launch, and we wanted to see the footage of the shuttle on the launch pad, the shuttle in flight, the shuttle lifting into space. (Dad possessed a strong conviction that manned spaceflight is important to our future as a species, and he imparted that conviction to me.)
We watched the entire newscast, including the end credits, which featured slow-motion images of the shuttle launch set to ethereal new age music. Dad was enthralled. The music, especially, captivated him.
He called the television station in the morning and learned that the song on the end credits was from the soundtrack to the Carl Sagan television series Cosmos. The song was called Heaven and Hell, Part 1 by someone named Vangelis. (Vangelis’ Chariots of Fire soundtrack would become popular several months later, making him a household name; his Blade Runner work was still a year away).
Dad went out that day and bought the record album.
He played it repeatedly, and we kids even played it when he wasn’t around. I liked Vangelis’ Alpha and Tomita‘s The Sea Named Solaris. But Dad — Dad played the entire album, loudly, whenever he could.
Though Dad bought the record for Heaven and Hell, the track he loved most was the Bulgarian Shepherdess Song. We hated it, and we told him so: the bagpipe-like instruments, the indecipherable lyrics, the strange shrieking of the woman’s voice all grated on our nerves.
But Dad loved it, and he listened to the song again and again.
One morning I woke, in darkness, to the Bulgarian shepherdess wailing from the living room. In our 1000-square foot trailer, sound carried well, and in this case, the volume was set quite high. I tried to go back to sleep, but it was impossible with that woman wailing.
I got out of bed and walked down the hall, through the kitchen, to the living room. I looked in at Dad. He was sitting, alone, on the edge of the couch, staring out the window at the still-black dawn. He was dressed for work, in his business suit; his wild curly hair almost looked neat.
“Dad, I’m trying to sleep,” I said.
He didn’t seem to hear me.
“Dad,” I said.
“Go back to sleep, bug,” he said, but he didn’t look at me. His expression didn’t change. He stared out into the blackness.
“But Dad…” I said.
“I said ‘go back to bed’, bug,” and though his appearance was unaltered, something about his voice told me it was best not to disobey.
I crawled back in bed and lay in the dark, listening to the Bulgarian shepherdess again and again and again, wondering what it was Dad was doing, sitting alone, staring into the darkness.
A while later I heard the front door open and close, heard Dad clip-clop clip-clop down the walk to his car. Skrp, skrp. He scraped the ice from the windows of the Datsun 310GX. The car door slammed. As he pulled away, the Bulgarian shepherdess continued to wail from the living room.
I’m older now, but I still listen to the Cosmos soundtrack; it’s a great album. In fact, I own it on vinyl, cassette tape, and compact disc, and at the end of March I purchased the deluxe expanded edition of the album (which is better than the original in some ways, worse in others — I like both).
I find myself drawn to that song which I hated in my youth, the Bulgarian Shepherdess Song. I still don’t understand the lyrics, but I think, perhaps, I understand their meaning. I understand what Dad heard, I understand what he was doing that morning, staring out at the darkness, listening to the shepherdess sing.
He was thirty-five. I am thirty-four.
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