QUESTIONS FOR THE ALIEN WHO LISTENED TO THE VOYAGER GOLDEN RECORD by John Waddy Bullion

QUESTIONS FOR THE ALIEN WHO LISTENED TO THE VOYAGER GOLDEN RECORD by John Waddy Bullion

First and foremost, were our instructions clear? Was it obvious what we needed you to do? Did you find our explanatory diagrams detailing the golden record’s rotation, speed, and needle placement crude, or too arcane? Did you already own a contraption that you could play the golden record on, or did you have to forge one out of your planet’s raw materials? If you had to invent something, how long did it take—days, weeks, years, decades? And while we’re on the subject, how do you measure time in your neck of the galaxy? Is there an interval beyond eternity? Does your language contain an idiomatic expression that roughly corresponds to “It was like watching paint dry”? What is a “teenager” on your planet? Do you have a dominant cuisine? What is the equivalent of a “pickup truck”? Was that one of your ships, hovering above the city of Salina, Kansas, at 10:05PM on the night of July 3rd, 2012? If the answer is yes, were you gathering intelligence on us, or just dropping off trash? Is that what you thought our spacecraft was–trash? Or did you think it was a tomb? Did you pry it open greedily, hoping you’d discover one of our poor lost souls, mummified in a dorky little space suit? Were you disappointed when all you found inside was this solid-gold Frisbee with weird drawings on it? (What is the equivalent of a “Frisbee” on your planet?) Were you, at the very least, impressed with our craftsmanship? Did you think that we intentionally made this strange object out of gold because it would last forever, or because what we really wanted to make was a giant coin? Or were you excited, as excited as we used to get whenever one of those Columbia House packages arrived in the mail? Did you pick up our record and run a finger—or some other kind of appendage—over the finely etched grooves on the gilt surface? Is it possible that you already had all the proper equipment–a turntable, a stereo, and maybe even your own needle, because on your planet everyone is a DJ? (If this is the case, do you ever play house parties?) What if, after millions of years of drifting through the outer reaches of the solar system, our message in a bottle landed on another Earth, to be discovered by another us? Are you exactly as intelligent—and thus, exactly as stupid—as we are? Do you also have nations and borders and religions and wars? Have you fucked up your environment as bad as we have? Do you, like us, try not to think about these things? Do you, like us, generally just want to enjoy yourselves? In your mind, is there nothing better than coming home after a punishing day in the asteroid mines, firing up a space joint, and taking a blissful sound bath in the pure vibes pouring forth from your carefully curated LP collection? Do you enjoy the physical experience of listening to a record—the calm ritual of flicking the on switch, opening the dust cover, putting the record on the spindle, lowering the needle? Is that what you did with us? Did you listen to our golden record in one sitting, or did we take several spins to sink in? Did you become impatient at the outset, and wonder to yourself, Is that all these earthlings do, just waddle around saying “hello” to each other in different languages? Did you move the needle around, trying to skip to the good parts? Which sounds did you find more soothing, the ones from our natural world or those made by our tools and machines? And what about the music? Do you even have music on your planet? When you consider the concept of music, which is it closer to: our concept of mathematics, or our concept of noise? Is our classical music pleasant, or an unholy racket? Is “Melancholy Blues” a work of transcendent brilliance because our planet provided the necessary conditions to produce great art, or because it withheld them? Would you care to answer that same question about “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground” and “Johnny B. Goode”? If we hummed the melody of “Here Comes the Sun” to you, would you agree that we should have fought the Beatles harder to secure the rights? Do the concepts of copyright, licensing, permissions, and intellectual property exist on your planet? Do we sound crazy to you? Do we sound like intelligent life forms? Now that you know we exist, do you ever give us a second thought? Do you think that we were secretly hoping this record would find its way to God instead of you? Are you actually God? Or have we merely offered up this gold-plated prayer to a murky clump of old stars, burning out one by one along the shrinking spiral tail of an exhausted galaxy, popping and hissing like needles dragging through dead wax?


John Waddy Bullion’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in BULL, HAD, trampset, the Texas Review, Hunger Mountain, and Vol 1. Brooklyn, among other fine places. He lives in Fort Worth, Texas, with his family. Visit him online at johnwaddybullion.com.

Art by Jaime Goh

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