Monday, May 09, 2011

The Thrill Is Gone

Blues singer B.B. King sang, “The Thrill Is Gone” about a relationship that took a nose dive. In the song, B.B.'s lady apparently did something wrong, and now the relationship wasn't the same as it used to be. While I can't be as brief as Mr. King with this one, I think the thrill wears off far too quickly in many things, and I'm not even talking about relationships.

It was 50 years ago yesterday that Americans first entered space. Alan Shepard climbed inside his Mercury-Redstone rocket dubbed Freedom 7 and took a 15-minute sub-orbital flight that made people in this country take notice of space flight. That is, if they hadn't noticed Yuri Gagarin become the first person in space just three weeks earlier. But in 1961 and for that entire decade, people were aware of space flight. Sometimes they were skeptical. Sometimes they were proud. But when there was a scheduled liftoff, people paid attention.

The drama continued through the Apollo missions, then the launch of the first space shuttle in 1981. Then after a while the shuttle launches became routine. We didn't gather to watch as before. On a January day in 1986, a radio announcer complained that he had to stop his show so the station could carry yet another broadcast of a space shuttle liftoff. After all, no one really listened to those anymore. He changed his tune about 73 seconds after liftoff when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, killing seven astronauts and stunning this nation and the world.

But after a couple more successful missions the disinterest was back. The thrill was gone. Even the 2003 Columbia disaster didn't keep interest in the shuttle missions. Let's face it, if we weren't down to the last two shuttle missions, the apathy over a space shuttle launch would be deafening. Even the thrill of sending human beings into space can't keep us riveted anymore. And for as long as it has been, we can't truly describe what it was like when the entire country would put life on pause while the countdown marched toward liftoff. The newness, even for those of us who remember, has worn off.

I was thinking about all this while driving around, flipping through the stations on my radio. When I stumbled across an old Beatles song, I realized that a majority of people today don't have a true appreciation for the uniqueness of the music of that Liverpool quartet. The sound was new and different -- unlike tunes that had been revolving on turntables up until that time. Today, introducing someone to the early sound of the Beatles is not that impressive because all kinds of music sounds like that now. Someone growing up in this century cannot truly appreciate what a shock it was when the opening guitar riff of The Kinks' “You Really Got Me” hit the radio or the psychedelic guitar of Jimi Hendrix's “Purple Haze” or the folk-rock guitar and nasal vocals of Bob Dylan's “Like a Rolling Stone.” It's not necessarily that the thrill is gone. Some of us still remember that thrill and realize how groundbreaking these records were. It's just that the thrill can't be brought back.

One of my favorite firsts was the first time my son laughed at something he saw. He was a fairly quiet baby, not speaking until after his first birthday. But one night as I held him on the couch with the television on, I heard him start to laugh. Not just a giggle to himself, but he was laughing at the show on TV. I turned to see what had tickled my baby's funny bone and smiled. He was watching an old Three Stooges film. I couldn't have been prouder. My son had good taste in comedy.

It's a shame that various thrills can't be bottled or framed or pickled or whatever else preserves something. First date, first job, first baby, first kiss, (you can continue that line of thinking on your own time) -- they all have their own unique place in our hearts and memories. But the feeling can't really be shared or recaptured. So I believe that we should truly enjoy those firsts that come our way. That even goes for the firsts we might rather never experience. Each new day is a gift and an experience. And maybe, just maybe, each new day will bring an ever-so-brief thrill that will help you remember all the thrills that have gone before.

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