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  • Uncle Dave Griffin

Tail of the Weak 4.29

Updated: Jan 26, 2020

Tail of the Weak is a series of insights and musical memories from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin, singer/songwriter and founder of the Annual Gram Parsons Guitar Pull and Tribute Festival, from Waycross, Georgia.

Hey, diddle, diddle! The cat and the fiddle—The cow jumped over the moon

The little dog laughed to see such sport—And the dish ran away with the spoon

– English nursery rhyme. Author unknown. c. 1765

Man, those early nursery rhyme writers surely must've been high on some kind of illegal substances. One of the first Mother Goose compositions to plant itself firmly in my childhood imagination, “Hey, Diddle, Diddle” was a good one.

Growing up in the early Sixties, when America and the rest of the world were in the midst of a full-on race to space, it wasn't hard at all for me to imagine a man on the moon—especially if a cow could jump over it.

I was well past nursery rhymes when John Glenn made his first successful orbit around the Earth. Like most 8-year-old kids, I was enamored with space rockets and the astronauts who rode atop them.

One of the breakfast cereal companies included inside each box—a small, round medallion, emblazoned with the likeness of Gus Grissom, John Glenn, Wally Schirra, or Alan Shepard—colorfully etched across the surface. I'm pretty sure I collected them all.

I never dreamed of being an astronaut—although I loved “Telstar”, the 1962 song by The Tornadoes; and, I did fancy drinking Tang for a short while—I was just intensely intoxicated by the wonders of space travel in that vast void far above my head.

With one TV channel to watch as a child—CBS's WJXT, Channel 4, while living in Waycross, Georgia and NBC's WALB, Channel 10, when we made our home in a pink house trailer in Albany, Georgia—I was always within earshot of the evening news reports from either Walter Cronkite or Chet Huntley and David Brinkley.

It was through those broadcasts that I picked up on President John F. Kennedy's bold predictions for America's future in space. This was a time in world history when the two superpowers—the U.S. and U.S.S.R.—Us and Them—were heavily engaged in a Cold War, with nuclear supremacy and the dominance of space, the final frontier, as prime points of contention. In 1961, Russia had already beaten everyone else to the punch, launching cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin into outer space, for a successful orbit of Earth.

The Apollo program—dreamed up during the Eisenhower administration—gave NASA the go-ahead with the lofty plan to land a man on the moon. Finally, in 1969—with the war in Vietnam escalating every day, and with a bomb-happy President Richard Nixon in control—it seemed to me a good idea that humankind might need an optional Plan B to get the hell off the planet.

I recall that Sunday night, 50 years ago today—sitting on the floor in the middle of the den—staring intently, fascinated at the black and white images on our little TV set. Any other Sunday evening, we would have just gotten home from church and the country music sounds of Hee Haw would be bouncing off the walls.

That night, the house was hushed—my family fixed on the outer-planetary beeps and blips of the Lunar Module, over 239,000 miles away, and the casual, unexcited voice of a NASA communications worker at Mission Control in Houston, Texas.

We were witnessing history—in my life, one of few positive historical events outside of The Beatles on Ed Sullivan. The awesomeness and anticipation of what was about to happen was palpable. The universe became a little bit smaller as I heard Neil Armstrong proclaim, “That's one small step for man—one giant leap for mankind”.

I can just imagine how uneventful a trip to Disneyland might have been for that guy once he returned safely home. “I'm not going to America's 4th of July Bicentennial Parade with Johnny Cash as the Grand Marshal! Are you kidding me? You got me tickets to watch the Miracle Mets and the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series? Please. I walked on the moon for Christ's sake! Shoot me out of a cannon—in a Ferrari doin' 200 miles per hour around the top of Mount McKinley—with Marilyn Monroe in a Baby Doll negligee, ridin' shotgun—then I might listen!”

Many older folks—including my high school buddy, Robbin King's daddy—hoo-hahed and dismissed the whole event as a ruse—filmed in the deserts of the Wild West—space cowboys.

Man's fascination with the conquest of space has only grown since that July night in 1969. The heralded and deadly Challenger space voyages—the International Space Station—the Hubble Space Telescope—the Mars Pathfinder—continue to enthuse and inspire us, only to meet the realization as to just how small and irrelevant we really are compared to it all.

We've come a long way since Flash Gordon, H. G. Wells, Captain Kirk, and Luke Skywalker. Quite certainly, the composer of “Hey, Diddle, Diddle” in his most drug-addled state could not have even remotely imagined an American man—walking on the moon—50 years ago today.

22nd Annual Gram Parsons Guitar Pull and Tribute Festival

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Memories straight from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin

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