The Golden Record

By Christian Stretton

Location: There used to be a second-hand record shop up the ramp off Deansgate. It’s not there anymore.

As the Voyager spacecraft made its way through the Earth’s upper atmosphere, Peter Cale began a similarly ambitious journey as he boarded the 192 bus, heading for central Manchester.

Peter had read in the newspaper that morning about the Golden Record that was placed aboard Voyager in the vain hope that the craft may be discovered by extraterrestrial life. The disc, Peter read, contained a welcome speech from Jimmy Carter, some noises from the natural world, and a collection of music.

It was the music that had piqued Peter’s imagination. Looking through the contents, it was evident that the compiler was trying to present the crowning achievements of man through the last three centuries. As you would expect, Bach and Beethoven were represented, along with Mozart and Stravinsky. Peter knew each of the pieces well, and approved of their inclusion. Alongside these there was a selection of world music from Mexico, Japan and Peru. Well that makes sense, thought Peter, the record should represent the whole world, and not just Europe. Peter smiled as he saw that Chuck Berry had been placed on there to liven things up.

The big surprise was a track called Dark Was The Night by Blind Willie Johnson. Peter had never heard of the artist, but found the name intriguing. He imagined that Blind Willie Johnson was some kind of rootsy bluesman from the Mississippi Delta: gnarled and hunched, a mouth rotten with stumps, bashing on an old wooden guitar on a porch in the shade. The romanticism of the image won out, hence Peter’s journey into town.

He jumped off the bus at Piccadilly and made his way across town to the specialist jazz vinyl shop. Lacking the patience to browse the shelves himself, he made his way to the assistant and asked where he might find some Blind Willie Johnson. The man behind the counter looked up, and reviewed his impression of the man in the blue anorak before him, affording him a little extra cool credit. He ducked behind a shelf, and returned holding a mint copy of Praise God I’m Satisfied.

On the return journey home, Peter took the record from the bag and examined the cover. Actually, it seemed from the painting on the front that Blind Willie Johnson was quite a young man, and smartly dressed too. He sits on a dining chair in a street, playing his guitar, as approving passers-by enjoy his busking. Peter slid the record back into his bag, excited about his purchase.

Once home, he carefully took the vinyl from its sleeve, and placed it onto his turntable. Checking the tracklist for Dark Was The Night, he found that it occupied track two on side one, so lifted the tone arm over the now rotating disc, and lowered his head to the side to gently drop the stylus into the sleek black void between tracks one and two. A pop and a crackle, and the song began.

How could Peter have known that what followed was three minutes and twenty seconds of abject howling from the very bottom of a man’s soul? A lyric-less, plaintive, tortured lament that carried with it three hundred years of suffering.

The voyager spacecraft, now free of the Earth’s atmosphere, glided silently into the vacuum of outer space.

Christian lives in Wigan by his own volition. He contributes book reviews and features to the literary website Many more of his short stories can be found on his blog



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