#2 Nostalgia- A Cosmonaut Orbits the Earth While the USSR Breaks Apart.

06 Nostalgia

Track 6 from Cracker’s 1993 album  Keronsene Hat.

Here is the story in the song.  A cosmonaut Ivan Ivanovich is orbiting the earth in the Mir space station.  While in orbit the USSR breaks apart into all of it’s constituent nations.  Ivanovich is stranded while the ground crew struggles to send a replacement ship and cosmonaut up to relieve him. Ivanovich is not in mortal danger.  Mostly he is bored.  He finds a book left behind by another cosmonaut.  It is an history of the  American Civil War.  He reads it over and over again while waiting for his rescue ship.  Hence his musings about General Stonewall Jackson’s amputated arm being “buried on some farm”.

The first thing you should know about this song is that it is complete fiction.  This may surprise some of you because there is a persistent urban myth that the Soviets stranded a cosmonaut in space when the USSR dissolved.  In fact there are at least  two* films with this exact plot.  (This Cracker song predates both of these films, it was written in october of 1992).  I’m not sure what came first the films or the urban legend of the stranded cosmonaut.  But one thing is well known there have long been myths of “lost” or “phantom cosmonauts” going back to the early 1960′s. It is these persistent rumors that inspired this song. here are two webpages detailing such myths:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lost_Cosmonauts

http://www.astronautix.com/astrogrp/phaonaut.htm

Finally Ivan Ivanovich  is like John Doe in English.  Hence Ivan Ivanovich is the name given to a test flight dummy cosmonaut pictured below.

PS.  Stonewall Jackson’s arm was buried separately from his body.  His arm was amputated due to his injuries.  He died many days later  Guinea Station VA. (Harpers weekly from that month erroneously says he died in Richmond.)

*There appears to be two movies. one called “kosmonaut”  from norway. and one called “der letzte Kosmonaut” from germany.  both have similar plot descriptions.  perhaps they are the same source. or german release of the same film.   One is from 1993 the other from 1994.

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[C]-[Em]-[Am]-[F]
[F]-[G]-[Am]-[G]-[F]-[Dm]-[G]

And here is Ivanovich
in his rocket ship
Spinning helplessly
up above the earth

While his heart is splintered
All the girls of winter
are buried in their coats anonymous

While winter girls are waiting
Ivanovich in high rotation
He is just another star
up in the sky

While the world was waiting
We’re overwhelmed by some sensation
of something long ago and far away

Like general Jackson’s arm
it’s buried on some farm
While the fever
pushes words from his lips

And by the drunken river
where the soldiers shiver
We rest beneath the shade of the trees.

While winter girls are saying
each of us a tiny nation
You’re just another star
but so am I.

While the world was waiting
We’re overwhelmed by some sensation
of something long ago and far away

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41 Responses to “#2 Nostalgia- A Cosmonaut Orbits the Earth While the USSR Breaks Apart.”

  1. Rob Smith Says:

    This is one of my favorites

  2. Great story! Love it! Big Dipper…the greatest Cracker song ever! imo.

  3. Movie Star Says:

    I’ve always loved the chord structure to this song, play it on guitar often, and have had people ask about the meaning. Thanks for this and all your songs really; you’ve been a huge influence on my songwriting.

    • I too really enjoy playing this on guitar. I learned it from the Kerosene hat song book though and and the progression there is C Em Am7 F (add G) with a Dm7 and a standard F in there where they sound right. That F (add G) was instrumental in training my left pinky finger to land on a string reliably. Nice lyrical guitar solo from Johnny too.

  4. Brad Jones Says:

    Always loved this song. Thanks for the background David.

  5. I forgot. updated with lyrics and chords/

  6. Jerry Johnson Says:

    David…I am with Brad. Although, I always picture Ivan up there stranded and all in a frizzle.

  7. I always dug the cccp logo deal. Maybe he’s wondering what the new logo will look like and what will he do with his old stuff. — tape over it — quit wearing it ? Maybe he is in a situation like “Life of Brian” where he has to decide whether to join the Judean People’s Front or The People’s Front of Judea. Poor guy.

  8. I’ve probably listened to this song a million times and never knew for sure what it was about or even what the words were. Interesting.

  9. Quackamagooska Says:

    Never knew the context but this has been my personal favorite Cracker song for years.

  10. I love the idea behind this blog! Are you gonna start taking requests?

  11. Absolutely love this song, and cool to get the total background.

  12. Steve Rizzari Says:

    Thanks David, this is gonna be great!!!

  13. good to know. i have always jammed to this song but never knew what it meant or what it was supposed to mean.

  14. David — this is my favorite song. The chords, the imagery, the solos…all great.

    I had the pleasure of meeting Alexey Leonov (the first man to walk in space) a couple years ago in Russia. Couldn’t get this song out of my head while talking to him.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexey_Leonov

  15. Big Dipper Says:

    I guess I don’t listen to Cracker songs as intently as I thought…I had no clue what this song was about. But now it all makes sense. That’s why I love Cracker lyrics…the originality and yes the weirdness!

  16. This is one of my favorite songs off of one of my favorite albums.

    I’ve always loved the Stonewall Jackson imagery, though it should be pointed out that Jackson actually died at Guinea Station, Virginia, which is about 40 miles north of Richmond. His body was moved to the Richmond governor’s mansion for the public to mourn, then to Lexington for burial.

    His arm is allegedly buried on Ellwood Farm in Orange County (closer to the Wilderness Battlefields than Chancelorsville, actually – I’ve visited the marker).

    One other tidbit – both Jackson and Lee mentioned A.P. Hill in their dying words. A few moments before he died, Jackson allegedly cried out, “Order A.P. Hill to prepare for action! Pass the infantry to the front rapidly!”

    (Hill and Jackson hated each other, though many feel as though these words were a testament to Hill’s often neglected generalship.)

    Similarly, Robert E. Lee’s last words were allegedly, “Tell Hill he must come up. Strike the tent,” though this is disputed.

    (Most feel as though this is a possible reference to Hill’s last minute arrival on the battlefield of Antietam that saved Lee’s army from annihilation.)

    I’ll be quiet now…

    • hill was underrated. i think you are right about guinea station. i had googled that, and it was a wiki like source. I believe JEB stuart died of his wounds in richmond. that is probably the mix up.

      • Ah found it. Harpers Weekly from that month states Jackson died of his injuries near Richmond Va. This is why it is incorrect in some accounts.

      • Yeah, you threw me off when you said he died in Richmond. I said to myself, “Welll, I knew Stuart died in Richmond. Thought Jackson died at Guinnea Station.”

        The building Stuart died in is now the site of the Richmond Police HQ. Curious.

        This is a good bio on Hill I picked up at the Chancellorsville Battlefield information center by distinguished Virginia Tech Civil War scholar James Robertson. I think it really gives Hill his due:

        If you’re really adventurous sometime, go down near Petersburg and try to find the spot where A.P. Hill was shot after the Petersburg lines collapsed. It’s practically in the middle of a mobile home park.

      • pepperjackb Says:

        Guinea Station is right of I95 south of Fredericksburg. I stopped once (just follow the brown signs). I think the park ranger who works there must get really bored cause when I opened the door he was right there in doorway and immediately went into his spiel.

        He seemed to know a lot about the arm, cause I asked.

  17. I hate to correct you Mr Lowery but the lyric clearly is “buried in their coats but not in us”. I have listened to that track several hundred times and clearly could not be mistaken. That said, thanks so much for this sir, I look forward to checking back.

    • uh no. that’s not correct. i sang it. “it’s buried in their coats anonymous”. if you’ve been to any of the far northern european countries in the winter, the parkas make everyone look the same, or anonymous.

      • You’re both wrong, I’m afraid. It’s “buried in their coats and autumn muffs.” (Not a dirty as it sounds…I don’t think.)

        Seriously though, anybody know what that “feckin’ swamp” line in ‘I Want Everything” is all about?

        This blog is tops.
        -Scott

  18. This historical imagery of this song jumped out at me the first time I heard it and basically hooked me on Cracker. I always thought it was about the Soyuz 1 tragedy where the cosmonaut was killed upon reentry after doing several orbits out of control and then combined with the paraphrase of Stonewall Jacksons last words about crossing the river and resting beneath the trees just gave it a song about reincarnation feel. I always felt like it could have used one more verse though. Regardless, the “do do do’s” are fun to harmonize with while driving down the road.

    Great hook too, Johnny!

  19. Morgan Pattee Says:

    Well, you reviewed my favorite song already here in chapter 2, thanks! But having a favorite Cracker song to me is like having a favorite ice cream flavor: “YES, yes, this is my favorite, Butter Pecan! Oh wait, I forgot about French Vanilla… No, it’s French Vanilla. French Vanilla, YES!!! Crap, I forgot about that Espresso Chip thing from Whole Foods, didn’t I? Oh and Orange Sherbet is pretty fantastic…” *brain explodes trying to comprehend all the awesomeness*

    I’m ashamed to admit that I used to be the kind of person who would put a CD into the player, listen to the three or four songs I knew I liked, and then pop it out for another. I rarely listened to whole albums. [FOR SHAME!!!] I eventually got better, and I still remember the day I was driving along listening to Kerosene Hat again and this song came on. I swear this is the truth: it was strangely familiar to me, like actual nostalgia! The chord pattern echoed something I remembered from long ago. I still can’t put a finger on what kills me about this song. Anyways, that day, I almost had to pull the car over because I was getting teary-eyed about SOMETHING and I wasn’t even sure what that was. As cool as the Russian cosmonaut story is, I don’t think I even care so much about that as I do about the feelings it evokes in me. It’s a beautiful contrast because on the surface, if one doesn’t listen to the lyrics, it sounds kind of cheery, but the heart of that chord progression is such a lonely sound. Even the “doo doo doos” at the end that sound like they’re from better days. Ivanovich has winter girls (buried? living?) waiting for him somewhere, but he’s isolated from them.

    Sorry for writing so much! Cracker songs always strike a chord deep in me, and this one happened to strike particularly deeply. I’m just hoping now that you’ll talk about “Someday” and “Take Me Down to the Infirmary”!

  20. kevinday Says:

    always been one of my favorites…

  21. exactly, the riff itself evokes a feeling of nostalgia.

  22. jeff grieves Says:

    Have always loved this song, the song structure/guitar just great. Thanks for the insight into the lyrics just wemt back and listened to it. Can’t wait to see your blog on Dr Bernice another favoite of mine.

  23. When I cite David Lowery as one of the most underrated artists ever, this is Exhibit A. What an extraordinary song. As others have mentioned, there is a feeling of melancholy and yes, nostalgia, that is evoked by the music alone.

    Then, the lyrics, both direct–”of something long ago and far away”–and indirect, wow. There is a texture to the best Cracker and Camper songs that just washes over me, like mood lighting. I get some of the same chills listening to Nostalgia as I do Key Lime Pie tracks like Sweethearts, Humid Press of Days, All Her Favorite Fruit, Jack Ruby, and Big Dipper from Kerosene mentioned already–even though there is different content in each of those songs.

    I could go on and on. But when I hear Nostalgia, I get the same winsome vibe, a similar grasp and cling, as a more acknowledged masterpiece like Strawberry Fields Forever. For me, you can’t dole out higher praise.

    Rarely have I ever heard a song so evocative.

    This blog is a joy to discover. For me, it’s Christmas in July.

  24. To Mr Behind The Mule: I believe that the swamp is “fecund”, as in fertile. However, I think I’ll be adding “feckin” to my vocabulary now!

  25. This feckin BLOG, that is.

  26. John Tinkelenberg Says:

    Mr. Lowery, I must say I stumbled across Cracker when browsing 429 Records about a year ago. I have since purchased most of the discography and quite a bit of Camper stuff too. I’ve even created a drinking game to involving “Everybody Gets One For Free” with my college friends. It was also quite a kick to see you guys in Asheville.

    Few songs move and calm my soul as much as this one. The imagery is just so rich. The chord structure is so prestine. Some fine, fine musicianship.

    As for the story, how many rock bands would conjure up a song about a forgotten cosmonaut’s musings about a dying Civil War general? That kind of creativity goes far too unnoticed in today’s world. I hope the band I am working to form is half as good as both as yours.

  27. Absolutely love this song. I used to drive out into the country in an old 67 chevy pick up truck, and just lay out under the stars in the bed of it listening to this tune. If you look closely you can actually see satellites going overhead. That’s the nostalgia i feel when I hear this song. Good stuff. Thanks for this David, it’s the coolest thing to happen since the Doctors visits.

  28. hey i simply wish to say that this stuff never will get old, find it irresistible, carry on the great info, its better reading this than working for a living, cheers

  29. SiltySand Says:

    One of my favorites. Thanks so much David for all your incredible work – I look forward to reading more!

  30. I have always enjoyed this song. Specifically, the historical references to both the 20th century and the Civil War. Thanks for enlightening me on how they are connected in this song because that has baffled me for years! A novel left on the MIR space station, I can’t believe I didn’t think of that! Thanks for the songs and the blog, and for continually stopping in Nebraska (I am an upstate New Yorker trapped here).

  31. Dad does volunteer work at Ellwood. The house is being restored. Saw the marker for the arm buried on some farm.

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