More than three decades ago, golden record albums with sounds of humankind – including “Johnny B. Goode” – were packed away in the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecraft as kind of a floating time capsule of life on Earth.
During a “Weekend Update” bit on an episode of “Saturday Night Live” around that time, we learned that extraterrestrials had found the payload and beamed back a message: “Send more Chuck Berry!”
The joke, which feels like it was uttered light years ago, came to mind with the recent news that the solo recordings of one of Berry’s most famous disciples – John Lennon – will be ensconced in three time capsules, including one to kept at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland. The containers will be sealed Oct. 9, on what would have been the Beatle’s 70th birthday, and are slated to be cracked open the same date in 2040, the centenary of his birth.
The move seems more about a celebration of Lennon’s life than any serious concern that his music will somehow be lost with time. Forty years after the breakup of the Beatles and with the 30th anniversary Lennon’s death approaching, his legacy appears secure: a Pew Research Center survey published last year found the group is among the top four favorite musical acts of Americans 16 to 64.
That’s no small accomplishment, considering much of the 20th Century pop culture wars centered on parents and children battling over music, with acts from Goodman and Gaga being decried at various times as corrupters of youth.
Even in the supposedly solitude-inducing iPod Age, we appear to be hard-wired with the impulse to share music we like. There’s something satisfying not only in having our taste affirmed, but perhaps in knowing that good music will outlive us.
One of things we like about the Lennon project is Yoko Ono’s call for online submissions of birthday wishes, performances of her late husband’s songs and thoughts on his legacy that will be included in the time capsules.
In that spirit of interactivity, we’ll pose a question: what songs – whether by Lennon or otherwise – would you include in a time capsule?
We’ll kick things off with “Imagine” and “Johnny B. Goode,” whose outer-space journey is more than 25 billion miles and counting. Meanwhile, use the comments section to offer your virtual time capsule selections of music for the ages, on Earth – and beyond.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.