Bowie Sighting: Matt Haig

Novelist Matt Haig has a memoir coming out on March 5, 2015, Reasons to Stay Alive, which has been getting a lot of press.

I don’t know if David Bowie will prove a reason, and I am not being silly. I’ll explain below.

I do know that there is every indication that Haig is a Bowie fan. I’ve only read three of his novels, and The Labrador Pact (The Last Family in England in the UK) was narrated by a dog, but in two of the other books, there were these can’t miss Bowie sightings.

The Radleys is about a family of ancestral and acquired propensity vampires in contemporary Britain who are trying to be abstainers. But it is hard for Dad Peter Radley, who with his brother Will had flown to Berlin in 1977 “to watch Iggy Pop and David Bowie play a joint set at the Autobahn nightclub.” The teenage daughter has watched The Hunger but prefers Lost Boys, although her uncle says the 1931 Dracula is “‘the only one directed by an actual vampire.'”

But it is Jared, a non-vampire, who is the biggest Bowie fan in the book, and one night he is entranced when a favorite video comes on TV:

‘Ashes to Ashes’ by David Bowie. He used to be a massive Bowie fan, back in his day, when he knew how to really feel music. And as he sits there, watching the procession of harlequins walking across the screen, he experiences an obscure, contented feeling, which seems to be related to the rich scent in the air. . . [He] realizes he is lowering his head in the direction of the bottle and the uncorked top from which the delicious aromas are leaking out, like spores of a heavenly pollen.

Haig’s next novel, The Humans, has one allusion to Bowie, but it is a particularly lovely one. An alien who came to Earth on a mission of malevolence toward humans learns several dozen things about the species, including:

David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ tells you nothing about space, but its musical patterns are very pleasing to the ears.

I was having a hard 2011. I was not then looking for reasons to stay alive: I had no choice but to. Someone I love very much had been very badly injured in the several ways people can be, all at once.

Little could be done, and little helped me. But Bowie did.

There were many sleepless pre-dawn hours.  I vacated my life in the only way I could: looking at Tumbl’r after Tumbl’r of Bowie and watching youtube after youtubes of Bowie. One night that fall in a strange city I went to a midnight showing of  the re-release big screen Man Who Fell to Earth, and then I walked for hours in light rain waiting for the hospital’s main entrance to open. All those months I listened to Bowie and only Bowie. I consciously cultivated an obsession and I needed it.

Bowie wasn’t a reason for me to stay alive. But he sure made being alive easier.

He survived — I’d go back and look at those skeletal pictures and I would think — he survived, improvement is possible, it is it is it is, he survived.

And yes, my dear one survived, and is very well in all the ways a human can be. And I survived.

 

On the Late Cat Turbo of the House Where Bowie Doesn’t Live

Once upon a time Bowie owned a house called Mandalay on the island of Mustique, the subject of a scrumptious photo-essay in the September 1992 Architectural Digest. Google Mustique today and you will still find Bowie; the young Prince George vacationed on Mustique last week, where, Hello! says, he can “meet interesting people” maybe at David Bowie’s house.

Bowie sold the house twenty years ago — in 1995 — to Felix Dennis, publishing tycoon, who died last summer. I cannot find who owns Mandalay now.

Last month I watched The Man Who Bought Mustique (2000) about its one-time owner or king or laird, Colin Tennant, 3rd Baron Glenconner. The IMDB lists Bowie in its cast as appearing in archival footage. I didn’t see him. Colin Tennant bought the island in 1958 but having run through a fortune was forced to sell it to its homeowners’ association in 1987. He repaired to St. Lucia, and this odd little documentary covers his first — and unsatisfactory — visit to Mustique since his departure.

Stephen Tennant photographed by Cecil Beaton, 1927

The Tennant family was quintessentially British eccentric. A 100 years of decadence ended with the 3rd Baron’s death. Stephen Tennant (1906-1987), one of the 1920’s brightest young things and fourth son of the 1st Baron, took to his bed for the last decades of his life after doing very little beside being beautiful. VS Naipaul fans will know him as the landlord suffering from acedia (or sloth) in Naipaul’s The Enigma of Arrival (Naipaul is from Trinidad, an island not far from Mustique. When the UK banned slavery, it imported peasants from India to work its Caribbean plantations.).

I was curious to see if Lord Glenconner’s path and Bowie’s crossed. Probably so, since Colin was still hosting memorable parties in the 1980s, and Duncan Jones recalls school holidays in Mustique.

Duncan (b. 1971) may have run into the Baron’s twin daughters (b. 1970) or third son (b. 1968). The older Tennant boys, both of whom died young, would have been closer to Bowie’s age.

 Lord Glenconner disinherited his heir Charles (1957 – 1996), but the title passed to Charles’s son Cody when Charles, a one-time heroin addict, died from hepatitis C. Henry (1960 – 1990) died of AIDS.

Below is Charles, photographed by Robert Mapplethorpe in 1978. Mapplethorpe met Charles when Lord Glenconner invited him to Mustique to photograph his 50th birthday party for Interview. The photo is owned by The Tate. That same year Charles published one issue of a broadsheet, The Chelsea Scoop, which featured his meeting with Andy Warhol, who called Charles “the most modern person I’ve ever met” (as reported by Charles himself).

Bowie bought the land for Mandalay in 1986 and first vacationed in his new house Christmas 1989. But by then Tennant was gone. And three years after Bowie married Iman in 1992, he sold his house. Perhaps the tone of the island changed when Tennant left; the Baron oozes contempt for the The Mustique Company in the film. Or perhaps Iman found the island’s history too ugly to disregard. The descendants of the slaves who worked Mustique’s sugar plantations are now the island’s “help,” as is obvious in the film. As a side note, when the Baron died in 2010, he left his St. Lucia estate to his servant of 30 years, born and raised in one of Mustique’s shanty towns — and his family challenged the will.

Felix Dennis, who bought Mandalay from Bowie, has a history in some ways reminiscent of Bowie’s: working class Londoner, born in 1947; went to art college while preparing himself for rock stardom but ended up in publishing with an illustrious launch as editor of Oz; recorded a single in 1971 with John Lennon “God Save Us” (which no one has heard of; its purpose was to raise money and awareness when Dennis was jailed on obscenity charges); used narcotics heavily and quit, made a fortune, and in 1995 bought Mandalay, which is where I will stop. You can continue though at the Time Line on felixdennis.com.

Dennis remained a Bowie fan. His company publishes The Week, which featured “Did Bowie bring down the Berlin Wall?” in 2008, and Bowie is a frequent topic on his denofgeek.com. But the relationship seems one-sided. After speculation on a sequel to Labyrinth, a complaint: ” Don’t ask us about David Bowie, because he hasn’t returned our calls in ages. Ziggy, baby, give us a ring.” Perhaps Bowie was not pleased to hear that Mandalay’s gardens were no longer as he left them.

At last, the cat.

Felix Dennis has lots of poems on his website, and one from his collection Island of Dreams, “The King of Mandalay,” is an elegy to a cat named Turbo;

They told me, dear old Turbo, they told me you had died;
‘The king is dead’ is what they said. I very nearly cried. . . .
You bullied little Molly; your ways were rough and rude;
You never wanted petting, — you always wanted food. . . . 
But now the house feels empty and Molly seems to say:
Oh where is my tormentor, Turbo — King of Mandalay?

Dennis’s note reads:

“Turbo was the tomcat at my home, ‘Mandalay’ in Mustique. I inherited him from David Bowie. . . .  Molly is Mandalay’s lap cat, a petite white female. Turbo hated her with an abiding passion and I was forced to throw him in the fish pond once or twice to teach him to mind his manners. It was Tony, our old butler, who christened Turbo ‘The King of Mandalay’, as indeed he was, but I never did find out why he was called Turbo in the first place.”

I can find no cats, neither the tiger striped Turbo nor little puss Molly, in the Architectural Digest spread.

But there is a big fat dog.

Everyone says hi.

Are You Lithuanian?

I’d always assumed that the “Are you Lithuanian” scene in Nicolas Roeg’s film of Walter Tevis’s The Man Who Fell to Earth was an episode of Roeg-ishness, a dialog equivalent of some of the odd visuals in the film.

And then I read Walter Tevis’s novel. And, yes indeed, Bryce, the chemical engineer, does ask Thomas Jerome Newton just that question. The two men have been drinking through lunch, and Bryce had long wondered about Newton. Bryce

“looked at him again, and Newton smiled gravely. From Mars? He was probably a Lithuanian, or from Massachusetts . . . he peered inquisitively at Newton and said ‘Are you from Lithuania?’

‘No.'”

It’s easy to imagine how excited Roeg must have been when he saw Bowie in Cracked Actor. Except that Tevis’s Newton is 6½ feet tall, the character could have been modeled on mid-70s Bowie. He needed to be very pale and very light, light enough to be carried by a woman. He needed delicate hands and to walk “slowly, his tall body erect, but with a light gracefulness to the movement.” 

Why Newton is on earth is very clear in the novel. Only 400 or so of his life form remain on planet Anthea, the rest dead and the planet dying from a series of nuclear wars. There isn’t fuel remaining to evacuate, so Newton is selected to come in a life-boat type craft, simple and rudimentary, then use the Antheans’ technology to amass a fortune, build a craft, develop a means to conserve fuel, and return and bring the rest of his people to earth. They will be saved, but through their leadership and technological powers, the Antheans will also save humanity from blowing itself up. The novel was first published in 1963 at the height of the Cold War and Cuban Missile Crisis. (However, a reference to Watergate means Tevis or his executors made some later revisions.)

Nothing Has Changed — Everything Has Changed

1. The biggest difference is that there is a lot of sex in Roeg’s film, and none in Tevis’s book. This meant that Roeg had to change a good deal about Betty Jo/Mary Lou and Nathan Bryce. Betty Jo does not visit Newton during his imprisonment. Bryce and Betty Jo do, however, get together at the end.

Tevis’s Betty Jo and Roeg’s Mary Lou don’t have a lot in common other than their social status and alcoholism. I guess the name change was to make the song “Hello Mary Lou” work with the gun sex scene. Tevis’s Betty Jo is fat and forty. She is more housekeeper than mistress. But she does comfort and truly cares for her Tommy. Tevis’s Bryce is a widower and not a swinger.

2. Tevis’s Newton falls to Earth in a remote region of Kentucky; Roeg’s, New Mexico. Their first encounter with a human is selling gold rings. What the Antheans know of humans is what they have gathered from TV, and they realize they cannot get a clear enough image of currency to forge bills. But they have plenty of gold.

3. In the novel Newton arrives in 1985; the last scene is in 1990, so Tevis was projecting 25 years or so into the future. Political turmoil, both within the US and internationally, is extreme. Within the US, the CIA and FBI are out of control and competitors. (Tevis gets the party in the White House wrong, but it’s clear that both parties are essentially the same.) Roeg’s film is set in the present day, that is, c. 1975.  

4. Brueghel’s Fall of Icarus, which gets a little screen time in the movie, is frequently viewed and discussed in the novel. The first and third sections of the novel are “Icarus Descending” and “Icarus Drowning.” The middle one, “Rumplestiltskin,” an allusion to the fairy tale, doesn’t get a mention in the movie and frankly doesn’t work well in the novel.

5. In the novel, Newton is described removing his nipples and ears and contacts, but he does so alone. He doesn’t out himself to Betty Jo.

6. The music spheres Newton has in the movie are Tevis’s idea.

7. Remember the cat in the New Mexico hotel room and later at Bryce’s and Mary Lou’s? Tevis’s Newton was fond of cats. and he and Betty Jo had several. Tevis’s Newton’s eyes without the disguising contact are described as like a cat’s, as are Roeg’s Newton.

8. In the novel, the x-raying of Newton’s eyes blinds him.

9. The Visitor album Bryce sees on Christmas Eve in a record store in the film is also the means by which Tevis’s Bryce tracks down Newton once the Anthean has abandoned his project. It’s not vinyl in the book, but a little metal sphere like Newton had in his home. The spheres are marketed with big tags taking the place of vinyl covers. The Visitor’s reads “poems from outer space. . . .we guarantee you won’t know the language, but you’ll wish you did! seven out-of-this-world poems by a man we call the ‘visitor’.” Newton tells Bryce it is his farewell letter to his wife and people.

10. In book and movie both, Newton ends up drunk, but in the novel, the fedora falls off as Newton weeps. Tevis’s bartender says, “‘I’m afraid that the fellow needs help.’ ‘Yes,’ Bryce said. ‘Yes, I guess he does.'”

fedora cropped

Post-pastoral Bowie

And did those feet in ancient time

Walk upon England’s mountains green:

And was the holy Lamb of God,

On England’s pleasant pastures seen!

There’s a great scene in The Man Who Fell to Earth when Mary Lou [Candy Clark] takes Thomas Jerome Newton [Bowie] to church with her down in Artesia, NM. The pastor announces that a song sheet for a special hymn is in the pews which the congregation will sing in honor of their special guest who has come all the way from England. Mary Lou beams, and Tommy, the alien — but not the Englishman — squirms. He should know “Jerusalem,” William Blake’s words set to music by William Parry, but he doesn’t. And when he tries to sing, well, no, it is best he tries just the tiniest bit.

At the turn of the 19th century, “dark Satanic mills” were already part of the English scene, but an idealized vision of a pastoral England lingers. And through the 1970s, this persisted even in rock and roll lyrics by guys who had grown up in some of the least pastoral spots on the island, Liverpool, for example, or post-war London. Consider:

“If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed ma’am/It’s just the sprinkling of the May Queen”

“Jennifer Juniper, rides a dappled mare,
Jennifer Juniper, lilacs in her hair.”

“Sitting in an English garden waiting for the sun. . .”

“In the sunshine of your love. . .”

“Out here in the fields/I farm for my meals/I get my back into my living.”

You would never mistake any of these lines for a Bowie lyric.

Bowie doesn’t do the pastoral thing. He doesn’t compare girls to rainbows and he isn’t lamenting the loss of days at Strawberry Fields.

In his earliest days he tried it on. In “Memory of a Free Festival,” “The children of the summer’s end/Gathered in the dampened grass,” but it just didn’t fit.

Away with the wavy locks and on with the paint and spandax.

He never did look quite right in blue jeans. Charcoal jeans, yes. He could wear anything that stretched, tailored suits, socks with sandals, Alexander McQueen — but never blue jeans, especially not bell bottoms. And when he tried to look outdoorsy, Bowie looked like a demented Von Trapp brat, kept hidden in the cellar, a problem not even Maria could solve. By the Wall

The animal world is different for Bowie than for his immediate predecessors. No “Sheepdog, standing in the rain/Bullfrog, doing it again” no “swans that they live in the park,” not even any wild horses.

Instead, there’s a “pink monkey bird,” “tigers on vaseline,” diamond dogs, and if you insist on real beasts, you get “Fleas the size of rats sucked on rats the size of cats.” There’s one exception that comes to mind, and trust Bowie to do the best animal image in English rock and roll: the dolphin of “Heroes.” (I have to qualify that so I can exclude Patti Smith’s “Horses.”)

The natural world is best viewed from a distance: “Here am I, flashing no colour/Tall in this room overlooking the ocean”; but much has been lost: “Once there were mountains on mountains/And once there were sunbirds to soar with.” Far more to Bowie’s taste is the perfect interior [internal?] environment:

Blue, blue, electric blue
That’s the colour of my room
Where I will live
Blue, blue

Pale blinds drawn all day
Nothing to do, nothing to say
Blue, blue

Oh yes, there is the album Outside, which has not a thing to do with the great outdoors, and its song “A Small Plot of Land” about the one who “swings through tunnels,” clawing his way. This album’s world is about as far from Blake’s “Jerusalem” as you can get.

But then again, Bowie is not just a post-pastoral Englishman, he is the reluctant Earthling, the post-terrestrial man.

I’ve written before about Bowie’s train trips. Would he not have seen a great deal of loveliness crossing the USA in the mid-1970s, the years he refused to fly?

Only if he had been awake during the day. But nights are his. And from the observation car of the Super Chief, what Bowie would have seen were stars. Stars and stars and more stars. From Chicago to LA there is a whole lot of nothing — no towns, no lights — just stars.

That’s where Bowie’s imagination is grounded: in the heavens, or emptiness of space, infinity, where none has gone and from where we came.

It’s one of the great constants in his work. Shall I count the stars?

The stars are out tonight. Moondust will cover you.

Wake Up to The Next Day

I think one of the bravest things Bowie did in the last seven years was to perform “Wake Up” with Arcade Fire on September 8, 2005, during the televised “Fashion Rocks” awards show not 15 months after his heart attack.

It’s not that Bowie is more than 33 years older than Arcade Fire’s lead singer and founder, Win Butler, who, even though David is in two-inch or so heels, towers over his guest.

It’s that Bowie did not look like Bowie that night. He didn’t look well. I don’t think Bowie cares as much about his appearance as we do. But the Bowie who sang that night looked fleshy — and Bowie isn’t a fleshy guy. Maybe he had put on weight, but is someone with his bone structure likely to add the pounds to his face and neck? He was puffy, perhaps as a side effect of multiple heart medications.

So it is chilling when Bowie takes the lead at 4:10 into “Wake Up” — an incredible song in which the seriousness of its lyrics is matched only by the sheer joy and lust for life of its music — and sings these lines:

“With my lightnin’ bolts a glowin’
I can see where I am goin’ to be
when the reaper he reaches and touches my hand.”

(And if you don’t know the lyrics, it is very easy to mishear that first line as “When my life is over…”.)

Back to July 2004

One of the most widely quoted remarks Bowie made following his heart surgery was,

“I tell you what, though, I won’t be writing a song about this one.”

My thought was, then you won’t be writing much at all. We all wish otherwise, I expect, but there are some experiences that cannot be denied. And keeping silent about them means keeping silent. Period.

Today and The Next Day and the next

We had the title before we heard the song and some time to consider the difference between “tomorrow” and “the next day.” Tomorrow, we know, never comes. When it arrives, it is today. But the next day and the next day — that’s different, somehow.

“Here I am
Not quite dying
My body left to rot in a hollow tree
Its branches throwing shadows
On the gallows for me
And the next day
And the next
And another day”

Is this about Bowie’s mortality? No and yes and no and yes. “Here I am/Not quite dying” — a great let’s-get-this-clear-from-the-start line.

It needed saying. And brilliantly Bowie delivers the news with great high energy in The Next Day’s title cut, a vibrantly vital upbeat melody with lyrics bleaker than “Wake Up’s.”

The not-quite-dead guy continues, “My body left to rot in a hollow tree.” That’s not Bowie: maybe it’s one of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, or Merlin who once was imprisoned in a hollow tree.

Is the tree the Old Norse Yggdrasill, the Tree of the World, which takes its name from “Odin’s horse”, meaning “gallows,” and where Odin, the wise old wanderer, god of wisdom and poetry, and master of the magical use of sound, sacrificed himself to himself ?

There are other mentions of death on The Next Day, and by the time you reach the eleventh track, “You Feel So Lonely You Could Die,” you aren’t worried about Bowie any longer, just wondering why he gave such a lackluster title to an interesting song and if there is a link between she who unseen moves “through the dark/Leaving slips of paper /Somewhere in the park” and he who “fashions paper sculptures. . . /Then drags them to the river‘s bank in the cart” (“The Next Day”).

Poor Hoggle

Nothing seems quite as inanimate as an animaton who will never again be animated. Such is the fate of Hoggle, the mischievious imp of Labyrinth, fated to stay encased in Scottsboro, Alabama.

Why? Where?

The Hoggle was lost and forgotten, never reaching his destination, on a flight from who knows where.

He turned up, the worst for wear, in Scottsboro, AL, when an old crate was pried open at the Unclaimed Baggage Center. A puppet surgeon was called to assess the case, and the rotting Hoggle was restored by Gary Sowatzka of Sowatzka’s Dolls.

The store is like a peculiar thrift store: all its merchandise is what its name says — lost baggage that was never claimed. Most is from the airlines and most from individuals. There’s a lot of what you might expect: hats, lightweight jackets, small electronics, souvenirs, and then again a lot of what you’d think someone wouldn’t leave behind by mistake or would surely be unique enough to be reunited with its owner: wedding dresses and snow skis, for example.

Unclaimed Baggage buys by the crate load (think the reality show “Storage Wars”) and then sets about getting what it has bought sight unseen in shape to sell.

Lots of forgotten caps at Unclaimed Baggage.

Unlike most things that land at Unclaimed Baggage, Hoggle was not put up for sale. He is the showpiece of Unclaimed Baggage’s two-case museum in the foyer to the store.*

If you’ve heard of Scotsboro, AL, it is probably as the site of one of the most widely publicized cases of injustice in the segregated South — the arrests, trials, and near-lynching of the Scottsboro boys.

Other than to pay homage to Hoggle, there is no reason to head to Scottsboro, but if you are determined, here’s a little 2-day tour you could take that would include three other spots with at least some tiny connection to Bowie.

You could begin in Memphis and visit Graceland, Elvis Presley’s home. Presley and Bowie share the same birthday, January 8, and Bowie is said to have offered “Golden Years” to Presley, who rejected it.

From there take US 72 east to Huntsville, AL, and visit the US Space & Rocket Center. You can go looking for satellites and see a Gemini spacecraft, Astronaut Jim Lovell memorabilia (he had a cameo in The Man Who Fell to Earth), and moondust.

Downtown Huntsville offers this for contemplation: The Werner Von Braun Civic Center. No kidding. The city is still all gaga for the man who built the V2 rockets that reduced so much of Bowie’s hometown to rubble.

Resume US 72 East and drive 45 minutes into Scottsboro and follow the signs to Unclaimed Baggage.

After you pay tribute to the goblin, get back on 72 and go east til you hit US 24. Take that into Nashville, then go west on 40 and follow the signs to Vanderbilt University.

Take West End Avenue to 21st Ave S and stumble around until you run into Furman Hall. That’s where the Department of Philosophy is housed. You have now seen a building in which Duncan Jones once studied before ditching his doctorate.

What an inspiring road trip!

*Photos of Unclaimed Baggage and caps courtesy of The George F. Landegger Collection of Alabama Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith’s America, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

The Man Who Fell to Earth in White Sands [Updated]

Updated: Since I wrote this, I got hold of the Criterion DVD with the extras, including interviews with Production Designer Brian Eatwell and Costume Designer Mary Routh. Additions in green.

Trying without success to figure out how astronaut Capt. Jim Lovell landed in The Man Who Fell to Earth (Hallo Spaceboys), I came across a number of interesting bits. The scenes depicting the home planet of Bowie’s character, Thomas Jerome Newton, and the hours before Newton’s lift-off in the rocket he had built to get home were shot at White Sands National Monument near Alamogordo, New Mexico.

Perhaps Lovell just happened to be visiting the Missile Range or the New Mexico Museum of Space History. This is possible. After all, Lovell isn’t the only one playing himself in the film; novelist Terry Southern is also at the festivities preceding the non-launch of Thomas Jerome Newton’s spacecraft, but  Southern was involved in the film world, and was visiting Bowie’s co-star Rip Torn (Dr. Nathan Bryce) during filming in New Mexico.

Using White Sands as a set posed some problems, as crew member Alan Swain recalled recently:

“All of the cast and crew had to be cleared by the government,” he recalled. “There was even a time when we were filming that the military police showed up and made us stop filming. The range was doing a missile test and I think they remembered that there was a foreign crew on the ground. We had to wait until the missile was up and then it was fine.”

Here’s another picture making the rounds: our favorite visitor, having a look through the camera, on location in White Sands, New Mexico.

The film was shot in July and August, 1975. Temperatures average in the very high 90’s during these months in White Sands.

Newton comes from a planet suffering from severe drought. He and his family wear tight-fitting body stockings criss-crossed with plastic tubing attached to a tank on their backs.

While not all deserts are hot, the Newtons appear to be not just thirsty, but broiling, as Bowie must have been on the set.

So why this costume?

What we sort of have here is one layer of an Earth astronaut’s spacesuit, which would function as a personal air-conditioning system. The NASA version was a lot tidier, of course:

“Lunar crews also wore a three-layer Liquid Cooling and Ventilation Garment (LCG) or “union suit” with plastic tubing which circulated water to cool the astronaut down, minimizing sweating and fogging of the suit helmet. Water was supplied to the LCG from the PLSS backpack, where the circulating water was chilled by an ice sublimator.”

Mary Routh says she was challenged by Nic Roeg to include in the aliens’ costumes what they valued most — water, and that she had in mind representing the veins of the body through lace when she came up with the circuits of hosing through which ran colored water. The apparatus was fragile, and forever having to be patched and adjusted, she remembers. Co-star Candy Clark added that the body suits themselves were quite thin, nearly transparent, in fact.

It took me a long time to find the next image. What words would you use to search for this thing? It’s a puzzler, isn’t it. Why would a society with the technology to get Newton to Earth with all those patents that made him a billionaire design their transit vehicle to resemble a Teletubbies’ playhouse? And why if their situation alone in that desert was so dire didn’t Newton’s wife and kids hop on? Anywhere had to be better than where they were.

Brian Eatwell remembers wanting the aliens to have a vehicle that didn’t look typically sci-fi shiny metallic. So he built an A-frame over a cart, covered it with a hay mulch mess, and spray-painted it orange. Then when it came time for the thing to move along the rail, the scrapyard engine powering the contraption failed. A man on the set solved the locomotion crisis by bringing in two white horses draft horses. The ropes were edited out, but horsepower is what moves the extraterrestrial train. While Eatwell didn’t mention this, there is a very brief shot of two white horses in a lush green field during the scene when Newton recalls his planet before its drought, and I bet those horses are the same two.

What does this have to do with White Sands? I can only think that it was the presence of rails in the desert that inspired someone to build this thing.

Here’s an example of a stretch of track, now moved to the museum in Alamogordo. Rocket sleds were used to test craft considered too experimental for launch, see how many G forces a man could tolerate,  perfect ejection seats, and test missile components. In 2003 a land speed record was set on Holloman Air Force Base near Alamogordo of  Mach 8.5 (6,416 mph / 10,325 km/h).

And poor Tommy, who had trouble with elevators, would complain when his chauffeur exceeded 35 mph.

Be sure to read the comment below regarding the tracks.