Song Fu Final Challenge

By JoCo July 24, 2008

Song Fu Challenge #3 was to do an homage to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” that hit the main plot points and referenced the original song subtly at least once. Yes you’re right, I almost went with the first monkey in space, but I didn’t want to be accused of going overboard with the monkeys. So I went with the first dog in space instead.

Her name was Laika and she went up in Sputnik 2. In doing my “research” I discovered that Russian scientists recently released the truth about what happened to her during the launch, which is that she died just a few hours into it, and not after a week as they originally claimed. She died from stress and overheating (the cooling system malfunctioned and it was 104F in there) but mostly she died from being LAUNCHED INTO SPACE IN A FUCKING ROCKET.

I thought it would be much nicer if instead Laika gave scientists the finger, stepped out in a spacesuit and then disappeared. Whereabouts unknown…

You’ll catch the “Space Oddity” melody at the beginning of the guitar solo (and if you’re sharp and you listen to the same music I do, you may catch a reference to another thematically appropriate song in the phrase right after it).

This song is up against Jeff MacDougal’s catchy entry “High,” also sad and wistful and about space. I’m pretty happy with how my song turned out, but I think Jeff’s is pretty great too – please vote how you like, but certainly do not vote for me just because you think you’re supposed to. But here is mine:

Space Doggity

This and my other two Song Fu entries are now available in my store. I’m just saying.


Mark Gordon says

Laika as Dave Bowman. I like it!

Trampas says

What I like most about JoCo is that though his songs are nerdy and clever, there's heart behind them. I never feel like he's singing the words for the sake of being clever... there's an honesty about them that make me proud to be a fan.

Thanks for another beautiful song. Good luck in the contest.

Stephen says

Awesome stuff.

I laughed out loud at the "I don't think I want to be a good dog anymore" line.

It's a sad story, though.

Andrea says

I'm really torn. They are both very, very good! It's like, which is better, fudge or brownies? THEY ARE BOTH DELICIOUS!

When I was in college, I took a class called Russia Then And Now, which involved a three week trip to Russia to do research for our term projects. Mine was on the Russian space program, and what had become of it. I visited this awesome museum in Moscow.

I'm not sure that page's image can properly convey the awesomeness of the building. It is truly majestic, and the sides have carved images of space scientists and cosmonauts. And inside, it was adorably retro, sort of like

They had what appeared to be the taxidermied bodies of a couple of the space dogs. Laika burned up in re-entry, but I know they had one labelled Byelka. I am not sure if it was the actual dog, stuffed, or if it was a facsimile. I tried to ask the docent in my very, VERY poor Russian, and managed to communicate the question, I think, but was completely unable to comprehend her answer, seeing as how it had nothing to do with the location of a train station or whether Svetlana enjoys films. Alas. An opportunity squandered.

Andrea says

Oops, I didn't finish my sentence about what the interior of the museum is like. That's because it's indescribable, I guess. It's like the Bad News Bears of space museums, how's that? And like they set it up long, long ago and haven't changed anything since. It is completely awesome.

vagabondmonk says

Laika played guitar?

Another fantastic song. Thanks!

Colleenky says

Not to sound like yet another sycophantic fangirl, but that's one beautiful song, Dr. Coulton. Quite poignant. It makes my heart swell to bursting and my eyes a little misty. And a lovely, effective arrangement. I especially like the chorus.

By any chance, have you read Ray Bradbury's story "Kaleidoscope?" One of my favorites, and it has a somewhat similar theme.

SevinPackage says

Another great song, Jonathan! You fought the Fu every time. Maybe someday you'll meet Bowie and you'll have a nice chuckle about it.

Me? I'm still waiting for the full-length version of Monkey Shines. It's the catchiest thing you've ever written, and a show I'd definitely watch.

Great job, once again!

Kapprika says

Wahh, I'm crying here, your song is so beautiful and sad. I have to keep telling myself the dog from the song arrived on some planet where it became a contributing member of society.

MitchO says

I'm sure you don't know this Jonathan, but today is my birthday. Other than the annual handmade card from my son, "Space Doggity" is easily the coolest gift I could receive today. :)

Excellent, excellent job. Even in expressing a sad story in a space setting (which is always my favorite scenario of yours), you still manage to get a couple laughs out of me: "Thanks for the dog food" and "Bawoiwoiwoing", indeed.

You, sir, have the Fu.

Mark Gordon says

Hearing about the Soviet space program always reminds me of Omon Ra, a satirical novel on the subject by Victor Pelevin.

randal says

Jesus Christ Jonathan, you knew this was an unfair fight to begin with, and then you go and put THAT together? Jeff's song is fine and all, but "Space Doggity" is easily measured with your best work.

Now to get Bowie to cover it...

Sarah says

While I download, did you know that Moxy Fruvous has a song called "Laika" on their first album, Bargainville? The band is sadly no longer, but I heartily encourage you to check them out. They have a cappella in their souls.

Christine says

Damn you. Crying again! Bastard.

Allison says

Was it supposed to make me cry? Because it made me cry. Of course, so did "Big Dick Farts a Polka".

buschap says

Well played, sir. I love the electric guitar at the bridge.

Suzanne says

Well, that's just not right. All I have to do is think about Laika too long and I start crying (A little hypersensitive to doggy trauma? I THINK SO, YES.), so you have a seriously unfair advantage in this contest.

Cambiata says

I couldn't help it, I had to vote for you, JoCo. I tried to be as just as possible, listened to both songs every time, made sure to keep in mind the quality of the song over my personal fandom. And your song is just better. I feel bad for Jeff, I almost gave him a pity vote, but I couldn't do it.

Mike says

To echo Sarah, I came here to post:
"When I was 3, my mother said to me
Eat up your greens and say your grave
While on TV they put a dog in space
And left here there... you should've seen her face"

I have not yet listened to the song challenge songs, but Moxy Fruvous FTW
(Moxy Fruvous led me to listening to DaVinci's Notebook, which started me on Paul & Storm. I found JoCo through slashdot. And now you know the rest of the story).

Melanie says

Made me snivel also. That line, "Can they hear me bark from here," man. That got me.

Motown says

any guesses on what other song he's referencing in the guitar solo?

buschap says

There don't seem to be FLAC versions of the Song Fu songs in the store. Is this correct, or is there something hinky with the shop page?

Martha Garvey says

Jonathan Coulton + dog = a good day.

Jonathan Coulton + giving Laika a happy ending = a perfect day.

Martha Garvey says

Okay, a melancholy ambiguous ending...but still: a perfect day.

Paul and Storm says


To bring it even fuller our Toronto show, Dave Matheson was in the audience.

The band's playin' "Hail to the Chief",


Demetrius says

Both songs are good. Jeff MacDougal’s was a great extension of Bowie's original. JoCo's was a great tangent from the original. JoCo is the Ultimate Zen Master of POV poetry. You really feel for his "characters" - even the most obscure or mundane. I like his interpretation of Laika's story. It's like "I'm Your Moon" and "My Beige Bear" simmered together in a Bowie sauce with just the right dash of funny. (BAM!)

M_pony says

P&S: Hey I didn't see Dave Matheson there at the Toronto show - I would have said hello to him again. I last saw him when he opened for The Frantics a short while back; he did a great job, so I bought his CD.

vagabondmonk: "Laika played guitar?" No, -Ziggy- played guitar.

JoCo: Just a wonderful piece of work, man. Really well done. And VERY nice Pink Floyd reference on the guitar solo - who wouldn't get that? Just beautiful :)

Gordon says

It's nice to hear another Laika song. I'd say I'm an old-school Fruhead, but we're all old school these days. And yes, they led me to DaVinci's Notebook which led me to JoCo, and I feel like we're all repeating ourselves now.

Thanks for the new music, but I gotta tell ya, I am killing myself trying to figure out what the "other" song you reference is. If you'd be so kind as to share, I could get some work done at the office today.

JoCo says

FLAC versions will come soon, didn't get to it before I had to leave town for a while. Sorry about that...

buschap says

No worries on the FLAC delay. I just want to give you more money :)

CC says

Great song, as usual. The production on this song is astonishing. Pink Floyd's Dogs reference fits perfect. Great great job!

Lhyzz says

Yet another song that brings me to tears. Geez, man. You have the Fu by a landslide.

Angelastic says

It's beautiful... I like it more than the other two songs about Laika that I know of (I'm a new-school frühead, only discovered them a year or so ago through The other song is in Spanish and I only have my friends' word for it that it's about Laika.) The only weird thing is the way it cuts off so abruptly at the ending. I kind of expect the 'here' to be drawn out longer, or something. Was that done deliberately, to emphasise the sudden lack of dog?

The Ploogle says

Man, I almost cried at the end of that song. And songs don't make me cry. That was an amazingly well-written song, down to the last note. :D Keep up the good work!

manstraw says

Moxy Fruvous (I didn't put the accent characters in) did a song called Laika on their bargainville album back in, oh, the early 90s I think.

"When I was 3, my mother said to me
Eat up your greens and say your grace
While on TV they put a dog in space
And left her there... you shoulda seen her face"

is how it starts.

I'm adding this to my growing collection of laika songs. now at 2!

AndrooGee says

Our mother shoulda just named ya Laika...
It's for your own good... It's for the neighborhood.

(When Daddy comes home you always start a fight
So the neighbors can dance to the police disco lights)

AndrooGee says

(Which is my way of saying that you oughta add Neighborhood # 2 (Laika) by the Arcade Fire to your collection, manstraw =)

manstraw says


BM says

Thanks for the Floyd, Dog.

Paul says

vagabondmonk's comment spawned this "oddity" inside my cranium:

"Laika played guitar, jamming good with Weird and Gilly, and The Spiders From Mars..."

Seth says

"but mostly she died from being LAUNCHED INTO SPACE IN A FUCKING ROCKET" hahahahahahahahahaha

Susie the Southern Geek says

Yeah JoCo, tell us how your really feel !
Lovely song, btw!

Zsandmann says

I laughed, I cried, I dropped my vote in your ballot box, no hanging chad here.

**Claps hands**

Sprocket says

I know everyone has already said what a beautiful song this is, and how it made them misty-eyed. Normally I don't contribute to what's already been said a thousand times, and I'm not the type to gush on forums, even if it's deserved.

However, here goes: this song made me watery. I've cried maybe twice in the past 7 years, and both of those occasions involved deaths, so that's pretty amazing. Thank you.

It was transcendental, it was good therapy, and as a musician, both redefined and reinforced what music can do.

of Code Monkey Buy You Soda (WoW Guild - Rexxar)

Jackie says

Hey Cambiata,
Don't feel bad for Jeff. He doesn't need pity votes. Knowing him, he'd rather you kick him in the balls than vote for him out of "pity." If everyone liked the same music, there wouldn't be a contest to begin with.

iMattUK says

Well, thanks to those above who confirmed the Floyd . Dogs solo reference. I was sure that was what it was :-)

Fantastic song, JoCo. Easily in the top bracket of your output to date...

eggofthedead says

I couldn't listen to the whole thing 'cause I kept thinking about that poor dog. It's mortifying to realize I'm this much of a sap ... so why am I announcing it to a website full of strangers?

SevinPackage says

Congrats on winning the first Song Fu competition! You deserve the crown, or trophy, or whatever cache of prizes that they're gonna give you! Are they gonna bring you back for the second competition (QSE's wrangling the new batch of contestants, starting on the 5th)? I have faith that you can hang on to the title twice in a row (three thimes, at least!).

Once again, great job, JoCo!

kyb says

My wife makes fun of me because the graphic novel Laika by Nick Abadzis made me cry. I think I better not finish listening to this song.....

mooshified says

This reminds me of a strip from the late, great webcomic Whispered Apologies:

Thanks for the song, it's beautiful.

Shig says

Thanx for that. I've always been a big Laika fan, so much so that that's going to be the name of my first spaceship.

Alan says

Fantasmagorical tune, sir. Although, I have to admit I kept waiting for ELO's strings to come sweeping in and reclaim this song for their "Out Of the Blue" LP.

David DeLaney says

This song makes me cry every time I listen to it. Thank you.


Christopher Hawley says

thank you for a truly poignant song; it's a damn' good thing I dropped this into a playlist just ahead of Mandelbrot Set, or I would have completely. Lost. My. Sh*t.

Got it back together enough to recall another story of Laika - Storming the Cosmos, by Bruce Sterling and Rudy Rucker(?) - and wonder if they've heard your work yet.

Congratulations on the Song Fu victory!

- CJH / esper

Clayton Hove says

We need to create a newer, higher category of brilliant so this song can have a place to call home.


Matt Dillon says

Maybe it's the fact that I lost my own dog in May, or maybe it's the fact that animals being used in this way always upsets me (even if a greater good comes of it -- although it's arguable whether Neil Armstrong's second career in after-dinner talks is really a greater good!)... but damn, is thing song ever heartbreaking. A fine piece of work but, like I Am Legend, probably one that I can never play again for fear of losing my manly facade.

Good work, Jonathan. Very good work.

Bob Rossney says

It's very late to be adding this - and if you blog like I do you'll never read this - but the next time fortune takes you to Los Angeles you must go to Culver City and visit the Museum of Jurassic Technology.

(I mean, assuming that you haven't, which is kind of a stretch now that I think about it. But if you haven't, GOOD LORD WILL YOU THINK IT'S AWESOME. Seriously. In fact, you're in SF tonight. Get on a plane. You can see it tomorrow. It's one of the best things in the entire world. Also, if Hodgman has never told you about this you should kill him over and over again until he apologizes. He certainly knows about it.)

Specifically, you need to go up to the second floor and see what Mr. Wilson built with his MacArthur Fellowship. Yes, it's Laika-related, but don't let anyone spoil it for you.

Kelly P says

It's been a long time since a song has moved me in the way this one has. And I know emotion is the language of music, and a lot of it's purpose, so I decided to acctually take the time to let you know how deeply his song effected me.

It's been almost a year since I lost a little dog named Chip, and for some reason this song makes that part of my heart that misses him just ache. He was never a "Good dog" in the traditional sense. His loss was tragic, and broke my heart completely. The chorus "Now I'm floating free, And the moon’s with me, And it's bright enough, To light the dark" taps so deeply into that loss...

I just wanted to thank you for the song, and all the effort that went into it. It's lovely, and heartbreaking, and cathartic in a strange way. Thank you.

K Cooke says

Damn it... I don't even like dogs, but I always respected Laika and this song makes me cry a little every time I hear it.

JR says

this is the saddest song I have ever heard every time it makes me cry why did they do this to that poor dog it never hurt anyone :'(

KR says

Love the music. Poor Laika.

David says

Thank you Jonathan! Wonderfully touching song. I hope to see you perform it again this year in SF.

I introduced my 8-year-old daughter to this song on Christmas morning and she's been crying, singing, and talking about Laika non-stop ever since.