On Feb. 8, we’ll be premiering “I.S.S. (Is Somebody Singing),” a song co-written by astronaut Chris Hadfield and the Barenaked Ladies’ Ed Robertson. They’ll be performing the song together over satellite, with Hadfield floating in space and Robertson’s feet planted firmly on the ground, as part of the Music Monday initiative.
But before any of this could happen, they first had to write the song together (download the lyrics and sheet music below), something they’ve actually been trying to do for some time.
“We’ve been pals for a long time and it just seemed like a fun thing to do,” says Robertson of the song that is part of a planned album Hadfield wants to record while in space. “Chris and his brother write songs and they’re really great, so he’s going to record a bunch of stuff up there. The song we wrote together, I guess someone heard it and loved it, so before it was even finished we were asked to do this premiere and be a part of Music Monday."
As for the collaboration, Robertson says he was contacted by Hadfield in order to “bring the writing to the next level,” and originally thought he would be doing the brunt of the work with limited feedback from Hadfield. As it turns out, it ended up being a full-on collaboration.
“I wrote the first verse and chorus, sent it to him, and asked for some technical jargon for the second verse because the first verse was emotional,” says Robertson. “I asked him to be on the lookout for speeds and weights and a number of revolutions, serial numbers; anything we can use to put some technical data into this song. After about a day and a half he sent me the second verse, and it was poetic and good. I was just like, 'Dude you are a high-functioning individual.' You are in Russia training to command the I.S.S. and in your free time you wrote the second verse of this song.”
As for what message they wanted to get across with the song, Robertson says he “wanted to impart some of the wonder that Chris has imparted to me. I wanted it to be a celebration not about the remoteness of space, but about the connectedness of a human being on the I.S.S. who looks down and sees the whole planet in a way that, from our perspective, we don’t have the opportunity to.”
To start, Robertson borrowed a notion from astronomer Carl Sagan, who explored the idea of Earth as a “pale blue dot” based on this photograph of the Earth.
“That’s everyone that’s ever lived, that’s the sum of everything we know, all of our hopes, all of our fears, our aspirations," says Robertson. "They’re on that pale blue dot in the vast expanse of cosmos…. There’s a lot of wonder and spirituality in that, and I just wanted to convey a sense of achievement and the grandness, the connectedness of humans and the cosmos.”
It's a lot to pack into two verses and a chorus, but given Hadfield's ability to say so much with just 140 characters, we imagine it came fairly easy.
Click on the images below to download the sheet music and lyrics to "I.S.S. (Is Somebody Singing)," courtesy of Music Monday.
'Is Somebody Singing': Ed Robertson on the art of science and math
From Rush to Leonard Cohen, Chris Hadfield talks musical influences
10 things you need to know before the premiere of 'Is Someone Singing'
Chris Hadfield, Ed Robertson and Bob McDonald share playlists to prep for space
Rush rewrites: create your own prog rock masterpiece