A Telstar satellite hanging in Bell Labs Technology Showcase (Murray Hill, NJ) - Picture by Denise Panyik-Dale
By John Fredette, Corporate Communications Team, Alcatel-Lucent
Telstar is for me first and foremost not the name of the world’s first communications satellite developed and launched by AT&T but instead, the name of a top 40 hit that I first heard on Paul Shannon’s Adventure Time afternoon kid’s TV show when I was seven. The song is particularly memorable because it inspired in me a fantasy of performing an interpretive dance on the stage of my grade school auditorium. I can assure you that I never performed an interpretive dance then nor in any of the subsequent decades. If by some quirk I found myself on the current popular dancing competition show they would have to change the title from “So You Think You Can Dance”, to “No, You Can’t Possibly Think You Can Dance.” I can only speculate on what caused my fervid little seven year old self’s absurd fantasy.
My rather self indulgent explanation is that I was a prodigy channeling my zeitgeist and the motivation to express myself through movement was part of the same exultation in technological advancement improving our lives that inspired The Tornados to write and record “Telstar.” The other possible explanation is that I was just a weird little kid. The truth is probably a little of both.
While technology has inspired a lot of popular music over the years from Elton John’s “Rocket Man” to the Buggle’s “Video Killed the Radio Star” to Beyonce’s “Video Phone” I can’t think of any other song dedicated to a single, very specific piece of technological equipment.
While post boomer generations may not know the song, after listening to “Telstar” again on YouTube I think it holds up remarkably well 50 years later despite its space-agey beginning. What I did not know until recently is that The Tornados were a British Group and Telstar was the first song to hit number one in both the US and the UK presaging the British invasion which would soon dominate all charts for much of the 60s. Just more evidence of my being ahead of my time in embracing British pop.
In retrospect, Telstar, both the satellite itself and the song which celebrated it, were part of a widespread commitment to technology pushing the frontiers to create a better world. It was a very optimistic time. Every space launch was punctuated by wheeling an unwieldy television into our classroom so we could watch the launch from Cape Canaveral as it happened. After being part of popular culture science fiction for so long, space travel was finally real and Telstar the satellite was part of that reality. Why not write a song about it? Why not dance?
My mother knew I really liked the song and I received the 45 rpm recording of Telstar for Christmas – my first record. While I did not share my dance fantasy with anyone at the time, my mother did recognize a need to nurture my creative side and placed me at the progressive grade school that was part of the University of Pittsburgh. Oscar- and Tony-nominated choreographer/director Rob Marshall and his Tony winning choreographer/director sister Kathleen were students at the same school and their talents found early expression in school musical productions. Given my already acknowledged lack of musicality I choose a different party for creative expression and it was one which eventually, after many diversions, brought me to Lucent Technologies. Not soon after I came to Lucent I was in Murray Hill for the first time and saw the model of Telstar proudly displayed in the Hall of Innovation. I felt a deep sense of belonging.
Telstar was a giant leap forward in the world of communications that ushered in a new era of global connectivity. Fifty years later I am proud to be a part of the company that created Telstar and my inner child is still dancing to the song, if, as always, only in my heart.