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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

In Honor of Ray Bradbury: Sound of Thunder/Duran Duran, and More

In honor of Ray Bradbury, the prolific writer of fantasy and science fiction who died yesterday at the age of 91, here are some musical selections influenced or inspired by his work.

The title of Duran Duran's song Sound Of Thunder, from their 1981 album Duran Duran, alludes to Bradbury's celebrated short story "A Sound of Thunder." First published in the magazine Collier's in 1952, Bradbury's tale has become one of the most widely reprinted science fiction stories ever written, and is currently available in A Sound of Thunder and Other Stories. It concerns a hunter named Eckels who contracts with a company called Time Safari to go back in time to kill a tyrannosaurus rex. While visiting the distant past, Eckels is repeatedly warned by his guide not to stray from Time Safari's predetermined path--damaging even a single blade of grass might cause reverberations through time that could have a dramatic impact on history. "A little error here would multiply in sixty million years, all out of proportion," the guide warns him. Unfortunately Eckels is terror-stricken when confronted with the live T. rex, and in his panic he steps off the path, inadvertently killing a butterfly. Upon returning from the past, the hunting party discovers that the death of that single butterfly millions of years earlier has produced devastating changes to their own time. The song's lyrics seem to refer specifically to Eckels with the lines: I'm the man who stepped off the path/And I just lie here/It's what I was made for. [In the story, the phrase "a sound of thunder" does double duty: It is used to describe the terrible noise made by the approaching dinosaur as well as a climactic gunshot.]

Elton John's Rocket Man, from his 1972 album Honky Château, is often said to have been inspired by Bradbury's short story "The Rocket Man," but as lyricist Bernie Taupin explained in an interview in  Billboard, that's not entirely true:

No, it was a guy named Tom Rapp, who used to be in a band called Pearls Before Swine. He actually wrote a song called Rocket Man, which was based on a Ray Bradbury story from The Illustrated Man. It's about a guy who's an airline pilot and he goes off every day and then one day he sort of burns up. And the kids are always looking up to see their dad come home. It's a great story. The Tom Rapp song was much more based on that… I thought it was a great idea to sing a song about a guy in the future, where being an astronaut would be akin to being an airline pilot—which will probably happen. And I just made it a bit more a product of its time and made it a bit more spacey.

Harry Nilsson's second album Pandemonium Shadow Show is named for the sinister carnival featured in Bradbury's book Something Wicked This Way Comes. Nilsson reportedly hoped to name the album after the book itself, but never received permission to do so from Bradbury.

The Los Angeles Times has compiled a list of ten musical works inspired by the writing of Ray Bradbury.

The Dallas Observer posted a list of five musicians who love Bradbury.