Pretty much since pop music was invented, musicians have had a love affair with alien life.
Not just the songs that reference ET (including, but certainly not limited to, Frank Zappa’s “Alien Orifice”, “Girl from Mars” by Ash, anything by David Bowie, and the highly recommended “The Martians Have Landed in Wigan”, the Bernard Wrigley poem put to music by the Houghton Weavers), but the ongoing fascination – and in some cases devout belief – with the idea that something is out there.
Why pop stars should be so obsessed with aliens is up for discussion. Perhaps it’s the long days on the road which gives ample opportunity for staring at the sky through the windows of a tour bus. Maybe it’s the creative soul tapping into an ethereal, otherworldly sphere that forms a connection to the greater universe and its denizens. Or it could just be the drugs. Not casting aspersion, of course, on anyone mentioned in this article, but narcotics are to the music business what wimples are to a nunnery.
The latest singer to declare her belief in aliens is Kim Wilde, whose new project is less Kids in America than Men from Mars. Her first album for more than 20 years is called, right on the nose, Here Come the Aliens, and is inspired, says Wilde, by an actual close encounter of her own. Wilde, 57, told the BBC that the incident in 2009 was “a mind-blowing experience” which occurred after spending an evening at hospital with her son, who had a fever. Late at night she was in her garden when the mysterious event happened.
“Then I looked up in the sky and saw this huge bright light behind a cloud. Brighter than the moon, but similar to the light from the moon,” she recalled. “I said to my husband and my friend, ‘that’s really odd,’ so we walked down the grass and looked to see if there was any source.
“All of a sudden it moved, very quickly, from about 11.00 to 1.00. Then it just did that, back and forth, for several minutes. Whenever it moved, something shifted in the air – but it was silent. Absolutely silent.”
Far from silent, on the matter of UFOs at least, is former Blink-182 guitarist Tom DeLonge, who in the same week that Wilde released her album made another of his periodic assertions in the existence of alien life – and this time had proof.
Now heading an organisation called To The Stars Academy of the Arts and Sciences, DeLonge has devoted his post-rock career to trying to prove the existence of UFOs, and through his group released earlier this month a video purporting to be footage from a US navy jet that had captured on camera an alien craft.
In fact DeLonge was named in 2016’s Wikileaks data dump, which included papers claiming he had been in contact with Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta, asking for meetings and information about UFO sightings in the US.
In February 2015, DeLonge went all X-Files on an interviewer for Paper Magazine, hinting darkly: “You have to understand, I’ve been involved in this for a long time. I have sources from the government. I’ve had my phone tapped. I’ve done a lot of weird stuff in this industry – people wouldn’t believe me if I told them.”
When the UFO bug bites pop stars, it bites hard. And sometimes the most unlikely ones. It’s just about a decade ago that journalist and documentary maker Jon Ronson – author of The Men Who Stare at Goats and The Psychopath Test – went on the road in Nevada with none other than Robbie Williams.
In 2008, the former Take That singer and solo star was in the midst of one of his patches where he’d dropped out of the public eye. He’d last performed two years previously, then contacted Ronson to ask if he wanted to attend a conference for those claiming to have been abducted by aliens.
“I don’t want to hear any debunking because I want to believe,” Williams told the sceptical Ronson. They went to the convention and spoke to people who were adamant that they had had direct contact with aliens. The year after, Williams shaved off the beard he had been wearing when he contacted Ronson, and resumed his pop career.
For former Happy Mondays frontman Shaun Ryder, it wasn’t just a case of wanting to believe, it was that there was no choice. In 2013, Ryder made a documentary series which was broadcast on the History Channel, him speaking to people who had seen UFOs, and recounting his own experiences – he says he saw his first mysterious object in the sky at the age of 15, in Little Hulton, Manchester.
Speaking to The Independent a couple of years ago, he said his interest hadn’t abated, but the close encounters seemed to have dried up. There was the one he remembered over his garden: “It didn’t land. It was certainly over my tree in the back yard. I wasn’t off my tree. I am brave enough to say this sort of bulls***.”
But he was fairly sure he hadn’t actually been taken up into the flying saucer. “No, I don’t think I’ve been abducted, no. If I have been, I don’t know anything about it, you know.” And despite the lack of recent contact, he still believes: “Listen, mate. I’ve seen it all. The first thing was seeing that thing flying about, doing ridiculous acrobatic moves that are impossible when I was 15. So...”
In fact, when you probe the matter properly, there’s no shortage of pop stars queueing up to tell how they either believe in aliens or have seen the evidence for their own eyes. Take Kesha on the inspiration behind her album track “Spaceships”: “”I look up in the sky and there’s a bunch of spaceships. I swear to God, there were like five to seven, and I don’t know why I didn’t like try to take a picture of it – I just looked at it. I was sitting on a rock, and I was like, ‘What in the hell is that?’ I was trying to figure it out, and then they went away. And then they came back.”
Or Nick Jonas, who saw three UFOs over his house in LA: “I looked at my friend and said, ‘Are you seeing this or am I losing my mind?’”
Then there’s Demi Lovato (“How self-centred would we be, as humans, to believe that we are the only living things in the universe?”); Katy Perry (“I look up into the stars and I imagine: how self-important are we to think that we are the only life-form.”); even Olivia Newton-John, who saw a UFO flying at “amazing speeds” when she was a teenager.
But the king of the UFO pop stars has to be David Bowie. If his oeuvre wasn’t enough – “Loving the Alien”, Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, “Starman” – the young David Robert Jones not only put out a UFO newsletter with friends when he was a teenager, but spotted his own mysterious skybound object over London in 1967.
Indeed, one of the final projects he was working on at the time of his death in January 2016 was a musical revolving around elements of science fiction and aliens, thought to have been riffing off his own performance in Nic Roeg’s 1976 film The Man Who Fell To Earth, in which Bowie played the titular visiting alien.
There was always something slightly extraterrestrial about the Thin White Duke anyway, with his mismatched eyes, his pale, angular frame, his unearthly talent. And he once joked – or maybe he wasn’t joking – that the aliens had already landed. In an interview with Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight in 1999 he mused that the internet itself, then somewhat in its infancy, was actually an alien intelligence, saying it was “an alien life form. It’s their life on Mars. Yes, it’s just landed here.”
Who knows? Given the ubiquity of the internet today and the current developments about how we are having our data harvested, stored and used to influence us, maybe he was right, and the quiet invasion that’s been under way for the past 20 years is reaching its peak.
In which case, perhaps only the pop stars who’ve always believed can save us now...
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