Before man set foot on her in 1969, centuries of imagining had taken place upon the surface of the moon. She has been ascribed so many qualities and meanings, and has fed the pen of all the Romantic poets and writers of Symbolism, inspiring playwrights from Shakespeare to Rostand. ‘Moon, in our memory / Of your beautiful loves / History / Will always beautify you’, wrote Alfred de Musset. Her induction into cinema took place thanks to George Méliès and his A Trip to the Moon (1902), for which the group Air would write new music more than a century later.
As with all things pertaining to night – over which she rules with all majesty – the moon calls to that which is most beautiful (love, contemplation, dreams) and that which is most disturbing (crime, nightmares, abandonment). In moonlight, faces are illuminated with an ethereal light, often flattering, always hypnotic. A celestial object, the moon serves to inspire the most sentimental and sensitive melodies, from Glenn Miller to Cat Power via Elvis Presley, Billie Holiday, and Joni Mitchell, as well as the most unsavoury compulsions, as with XXXTentacion.
She also represents a desire to go beyond; as well as being integral to the Earth’s landscape she is also a feature on the face of space, that centre of human questing. However, sometimes that desire can mean losing one’s reason and forgetting our fellow beings, as Gil Scott-Heron reminds us in “Whitey on the Moon”. He castigates the US government’s astronomical spending on the Apollo missions whilst African Americans were starving.
The moon is a place where everything is possible – from the greatest of dreams to the stupidest of mistakes. ‘And I’m blinded by the neon / Don’t try and change my tune / Cause I thought I heard a saxophone / I'm drunk on the moon / And the moon’s a silver slipper, it’s pouring champagne stars / And Broadway’s like a serpent pulling shiny top-down cars’, sings Tom Waits on “Drunk on the Moon”. Here the moon is an excuse for quenching one’s thirst. She also serves in the cause of declaring one’s love, as in that crooner and lady’s man Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon”. Having been visited by several space missions but never being conquered, our moon lights the way for entertainers, outsiders, and lovers. She offers rest and comfort. She understands.
Never the same night after night, whether new or full, red, white or even pink for Nick Drake, incapable of disappointing us, she sounds Verlaine’s ‘exquisite hour’. It is the hour when all kinds of shamans, vampires, werewolves, and the magical sisters celebrated by Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks – the pop witch par excellence – appear. It is the hour to reveal everything, or to transform oneself so that nothing remains by the dawn. The moon knows how to keep our secrets…