For many of us, Dr. Mars represents everything good we used to count on. I say "us" and "we" as if there is some kind of organization but that really isn't the case. A few groups of threes and fours roam around, rarely sixes or sevens, mostly ones and twos. Nothing is constant these days but if you can locate a radio in an abandoned storefront it's a pretty good bet you'll hear Dr. Mars coming from it.
I remember tracking a group (not nice people from what I could tell) who were collecting guns from various abandoned armories. I thought maybe I could find a way to sabotage their progress, to do something that might convince them to change their ways. Then I saw them kill an old man for a rusty pistol and knew I'd better just let 'em go.
That afternoon I heard "Are You There" coming from a novelty radio from a toy store. The sound mimics what it feels like to be alive these days. It's so familiar, it feels like it was made long ago, but it has the urgency of an immediate performance. It also brings the hair up on your neck the way you get when you sense something important ABOUT to happen. If you're clocking tenses, that's past/present/future all in one.
When Dr. Mars says, "I've been searching so long/Are you there?" you know it could be about a certain girl but you also can't shake the suspicion that there is more information woven in that is not so easily identifiable.
Indeed, in the very next song "Personally", Dr. Mars talks about "encounters of the fourth kind" and says we should "take it personally" but also talks about taking Manhattan and outer space. The desire to boil everything down to the love of one girl being enough to make it on this crazy planet gains a massive layer of melancholy when you take into consideration how few of us there are left and how impossible that kind of dream can feel in the face of obvious mass extinction.
Later in a dusty old roadhouse bar with a flashing jukebox powered by some solar cell, Dr. Mars gives me "The Ashtar Command". If I had enough time with a pencil and paper and a few cold leisurely beers, I KNOW I could decipher it, but trouble has been in the air today and I only get one quick listen. Tension seems to be running high for whatever reason and I decide to skirt the city, nestling my nocturnal journey between the abandoned high-rises and the scorched forest.
I don't know where they broadcast from. Sometimes the sound comes from up in the hills, they must have a generator up there because I can hear the amplifiers. I've been skulking, hoping for some kind of signal that something might have changed somewhere important, that they have news I need from a place I can never access again.
Along the way, I meet a wayward damsel. We hole up in the Presidential Suite of some swanky relic. Sure enough, the bedside radio brings more Dr. Mars to light, "I'll Have You Anyway", which serves as a dirty backdrop to our furtive embrace. She's on her own path, headed in the opposite direction and the temptation to alter mine to match hers is strong. But I have my own unfinished business that somehow still feels important in spite of everything I've lost.
Somehow there is glamour woven in among the gloom and doom. All kinds of treasures are just lying around waiting to be picked up and used. I rounded a corner on Highway 54 and found a cabin tucked behind a row of forsythia bushes. Whoever built it must have seen the writing on the wall because they put a solar powered gennie in the garage. There was a tricked out '32 Ford Hot-Rod sitting there, gleaming under a layer of dust, dying to be aired out and let loose on an open highway. As I gunned it up to 120 MPH the radio static transformed into another transmission from Dr. Mars, "The Last Ride". Those falsetto background vocals hang over the driving rhythm section like thunderclouds over a plain.
You drive a rig like that around and you're bound to attract company. Especially of the femme fatale variety. Sure enough she stuck her thumb out and I dropped from 120 to 0 and watched her fold her long legs into the passenger seat. Sure her hair against the sunset streaming behind us made a pretty picture but her idea of fun was shooting windows out of abandoned cars as we zoomed past. Having spent many months living inside a car like that, I had to put my foot down. The silence was punctuated by the strains of "Whatever I Say Goes" drifting up from a shopping cart piled high with anything and everything, a detritus sundae topped with a transistor radio of a cherry.
The confrontation left her shaken. She wasn't used to people sticking by her AFTER a fight like that. We camped out next to the '32 and I stroked her hair as she cried. I remembered the Dr. Mars "Neptune's Daughter" song and thought about telling her about it but she was so muddled up it might just have made things worse. I settled on helping her focus on the crickets. She drifted off to sleep. But I told her the refrain..."You don't have to keep it all to yourself."
In the morning she was gone.
So was the '32.
Easy come easy go.
I backtracked and found that shopping cart. It made for slow going but whoever had put it together knew what they were doing. Water purification, dehydrated foodstuff, military rations, basic toiletries, a few simple tools, and best of all, five pairs of brand new boots, just my size.
And that transistor on the top. Remember, it's all static now except the few pockets of pirate radio. All they have is Dr. Mars last offering, "Stars In Our Favour". As I pushed my cart in my new boots, "The Golden Age" didn't even sound ironic. Sad, yes, but still somehow hopeful.
Are you getting the picture now? As I trudge I hear "You Had The Same Dream Too", some sort of elegy bound up with a tragic romance. Then "The Capsule" blasts off out of that emotional wreckage, giving me the impression that I'm not trapped here, that I can leave any time I want, that I'm not pushing a wire cage on wheels.
Where would I go in that little ship?
What coordinates would I punch into the interstellar destination locator?
Rumors from hobos hiding underneath every dusty junkyard mattress to machine-gun-toting guards at impenetrable compounds hint of colonies on some moon somewhere. Just when I scoff at the thought, Dr. Mars comes crackling out waltzing me out into that deep beyond with the desperate longing of "Europa". How could that song exist if we couldn't get there? When the horns come in I can't help but imagine Dr. Mars stepping out of a hatch onto a welcome platform, thronging masses of well-adjusted peace-loving human Europans cheering as one.
Just when that vision becomes too much for my poor little abandoned heart to take, "The Sweetheart Deal, Part Two" slides out of my radio and I think, maybe Jupiter is out of the question, but isn't it possible I could track Dr. Mars down and join? Like that old spiritual says, "He don't say nothin' but he must know somethin'".
But that's where the fear comes in because all I know about them is the way they sound. If I can believe what I hear, there must be something good happening in some secret locale. Some Hobbit hole with books and records and good wine and long stupid conversations punctuated by deliberate hilarity. I mean, somewhere you can really relax and feel like everything will be okay.
That's a big if.
Because everything is most definitely NOT okay. Whatever will be has not come to pass yet, if it ever will. You think "Europa" is hard to get to, what about the FUTURE? Only way to get there is one slow second at a time. So I push my cart and wear out my five pair of boots and wait for another cypher from Dr. Mars to tell me where I ought to be going.