If you were sending music into outer space in the hope of contacting aliens, what songs would you send?
That was the question that I found myself wondering as I watched the short documentary, John Was Trying To Contact Aliens.
John Was Trying To Contact Aliens is about John Shepherd, a Michigan man who became a bit of a local celebrity in the 70s with his attempts to contact extraterrestrials by beaming music into space. John tried to send spacey music and, as far as we know, the aliens never responded. It could be that they didn’t hear the music or maybe aliens, like all good people, just hate prog rock. It could also be that the aliens did try to respond but they just couldn’t locate Michigan. It happens.
Myself, if I was sending music to aliens, I’d probably send The Chemical Brothers. Maybe The Crystal Method. I would definitely send a lot of Britney Spears because I think that the aliens would definitely want to meet Britney. Taylor Swift’s great but I probably wouldn’t send her music to any aliens because I think the aliens would be like, “Those humans are just going to sing about what jerks we are after we leave.” I think the aliens would like Saint Motel so I’d probably be sure to broadcast My Type at least three times a day. I love Big Data but I think Dangerous would scare the aliens off. I can’t say that I’d have any more luck than John Shepherd did but, to be honest, I don’t know if I would want aliens landing in my backyard. I’m not really a fan of unexpected guests.
Of course, John Way Trying To Contact Aliens is not really a film about aliens. Instead, it’s a character study of a man who most people would probably consider to be an eccentric. John starts the film telling us about why he wanted to contact aliens and what type of music he thought the aliens would like. He seems like he’s quirky in a likable sort of way. It’s only as the film goes on that we find out about John’s childhood and his search for extraterrestrial life goes from being quirky to being poignant.
Abandoned by his mother and raised by his grandparents, John knew he was gay from an early age. Growing up and living in rural Michigan, he was an outsider. As he explains it, he felt that everyone around him knew that there was something different about him and, as a result, he didn’t feel comfortable with any of them. He felt like an alien on Earth so it only made sense that he would try to contact real aliens. His search for aliens had less to do with making his science fiction dreams come true and more about just trying to make some sort of connection with someone who was as “different” as he felt himself to be.
Fortunately, this 16-minute documentary has a happy ending. Though John may not have found aliens, he did find love. It’s a sweet documentary and a moving story and it can currently be viewed on Netflix.