John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Month: March, 2019

Apollo 11 Documentary

On a cold Thursday afternoon in early March, Bob Christman and I drove out to the AMC movie complex in Stony Brook, about one-hour from our homes to see the documentary at the only IMAX presentation on Long Island. Our journey didn’t disappoint.

Apollo 11 is an extraordinary documentary that gives the audience a cinematic opportunity to experience mankind’s greatest achievement in the Twentieth Century, the first manned mission to the moon, as it unfolded.

It stars Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin as heroic, competent and well-trained test pilots and engineers; men who had the “Right Stuff.” Apollo 11 delves into the difficulties anticipated and the total effort needed to achieve success. Not just by the astronauts but collectively by NASA’s leaders and engineers at Cape Kennedy and the Houston Space Center. The documentary gives credit to the four different teams each led by a giant at NASA, Clifford Charlesworth, Gerald Griffin, Gene Kranz and Glenn Lunney. Their teams shared responsibility for the critical phases of the mission; launch and EVA maneuvers, the Luna landing, ascent, rendezvous, Luna burn and splash down.

Apollo 11 opens with the sights and sounds of the huge crawler hauling the Saturn V rocket topped by the Apollo capsule on its journey from the assembly building to the launch pad. Our first look at the engineers in launch control follows. We become familiar with these people at the Cape and Houston as the mission unfolds. It is disconcerting to realize that NASA was almost exclusively white and male, reflective of our society circa the late sixties. Nevertheless, we bond with them and share their anticipations, tensions and triumphs.

A second shock was remembering that this was filmed in 1969 when the counter-culture, the Vietnam War, political violence and dissention, racial strife and the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and MLK Jr were tearing our Republic apart. NASA existed inside a bubble frozen in 1959. The grooming, dress and demeanor of the astronauts, management, the engineers and technicians reflect a by-gone era. Their white business shirts, dark, narrow ties and short haircuts scream IBM. The only exception; the eloquence of Kranz. (The Tom Hanks movie, Apollo13, provides a close-up of Gene Kranz’s style as played by Ed Harris.)    

Apollo 11 reminds us of how risky this mission was, and the many things that could go wrong at any stage. To succeed, everything had to work when it needed to work, sequentially before the next thing that had to work could work. Thousands and thousands of little things had to perform over the course of eight days or else the mission would fail.

It has been said that our scientists and engineers conceived and constructed the atom bomb using slide rules but needed computers to make the moon landing possible. Fair enough, yet those 1960s main-frame computers had a just small fraction of the power in an iPhone 4.

The producers had an enormous amount of 16 mm film at their disposal shot by NASA and the astronauts during their flight. They edited this stock to heighten the tension. The producers didn’t use narration, relying on actual NASA announcements, and a few broadcasts from Walter Cronkite and others to enliven the documentary.  Simple graphics followed by actual 16 MM movie footage carries the day.

Of course, the documentary includes the familiar excerpt from John F. Kennedy’s brilliant “Go to the Moon” speech given on September 12, 1962 at Rice University:

“We choose to go to the moon! We choose to go to the Moon… We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win…”

Apollo 11 is “a must-see documentary” From countdown to lift-off and launch, to stage separation, to hook-up with the LEM, to the voyage to the moon, orbit, separation, descent and landing.

Tension and triumph run high from the moment that Apollo 11 separates into Columbia, the capsule where Collins would remain solo and the LEM named Eagle that carried Armstrong and Aldrin to the Luna surface where it became Tranquility Base.

Tension continues with each decisive stage; firing the upper part of the Eagle to propel it back to mate with Columbia reforming Apollo11, jettisoning the LEM, the Moon burn to bring these heroes back to earth, ditching the command module leaving just the capsule for the insertion and landing.

I lived and died with all those engineers as they worried through each critical function that could result in failure or a “Good to go” and on to the next decision.

Apollo 11 ends with the successful recovery, our three heroes in isolation, their release and nation-wide celebrations, parades and awards.


As we walked out of the theater, Bob turned to me and asked, “Were we really that young when this happened and was our country that daring and able?”

Patriotism for Sale

December 2015, Revised March 2019

There is nothing that excites or thrills politicians more than the opportunity to puff up and express righteous, unabashed, and nationalistic indignation against evil forces encroaching upon the American way. This opportunity to express indignity is especially satisfying when they can unleash it after discovering the culprit is a big bully, like Amazon, Google or Boeing especially if caught with their hand in Uncle’s till. Never mind these politicians own soiled reputations for not always doing the right thing; they either forget or down-play their own or fellow colleagues’ foibles in the pursuit of publicity.

Such political fodder provides representatives and senators with the opportunity to demonstrate displeasure and outrage without consequence allowing them to attack like a pack of mad dogs. Better yet, going off against powerful, rich and arrogant organizations, grabs the ever-hungry activist press and a little leak here and there sets off a feeding frenzy; forget the dogs, the sharks have taken control and there is blood in the water.

This incident broke when a New Jersey newspaper reported in the spring of 2015 that the New York Jets received $377,000 from the New Jersey National Guard for ceremonial events saluting the military during several their home games. This led to a Senate investigation chaired by Jeff Flake and the late John McCain, both the representing Arizona. The investigation revealed the Department of Defense (D.O.D.) had spent $6.8 million in 2014, “…on questionable marketing contracts with sports teams, including events to honor American soldiers at games…”

The sum of $5,400,000 was paid to the biggest sports bully in the known Universe, the National Football League. Fourteen of the NFL’s 32 teams participated including the Jets, the Atlanta Falcons ($877,000), Buffalo Bills ($650,000) and the New England Patriots ($700,000).

Of course, the D.O.D. spent the bulk of their money with NFL teams. That’s where every smart advertiser goes to get the most bang for their buck. Even so, the NFL was not the only venue. Various entities within the D.O.D., mostly state National Guard organizations, paid money to teams for promotional consideration from Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, the National Hockey League and the National Basketball Association. Teams that profited included the Atlanta Braves ($450,000), Boston Red Sox ($100,000), Arizona Diamondbacks ($40,000) and Minnesota Wild ($500,000).

The Boston Globe reported: “The Boston Celtics received $195,000 in part to spotlight soldiers at home games. The Boston Bruins received $280,000 for national anthem performances, color guards and reenlistment ceremonies.”

Senator McCain opined: “It is hard to understand how a team accepting taxpayer funds to sponsor a military appreciation game, or to recognize wounded warriors or returning troops can be construed as anything other than paid patriotism.”

Senator Flake added: “These tributes are as popular as the kiss cam. But when people assume this is a goodwill gesture and then find out the heart-felt moment is part of a taxpayer-funded marketing campaign, it cheapens the whole thing.”

Bloomberg News reported that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell pledged to conduct an audit of all contracts between NFL teams and the military promising: “Any payments made for activities beyond recruitment or advertising will be refunded in full.”

God knows, Goodell has every incentive to be proactive and corral bad publicity as quickly as possible. Goodell has already been suffering through a series of annus horribilis as he bumbled through a multitude of NFL issues like domestic abuse, head injuries, and concussions, kneeling during our National Anthem and the machinations of the New England Patriots. If it isn’t Tom Brady having footballs deflated, it’s Bob Kraft personal deflation in the Orchards of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter, Florida.

Two footnotes:  

1: The amount involved ($6.8MM) doesn’t exactly impact on the D.O.D. budget of $619 billion as it represents .00001% of this amount.

2: Note, the New York Football Giants, New York Yankees and New York Mets remained clean.


I first became acquainted with Linda Ronstadt’s music in 1978 due to a minor hiccup involving a new car. I had just taken delivery of my first company car, a navy-blue Chevrolet Caprice Classic four-door sedan. The model included super-extras like a power radio antenna, wire-wheel hub caps and a tape deck.

That Chevy turned out to be one of the best cars I ever had but the factory did get one thing wrong. Instead of having a tape player, my Caprice arrived with an Eight-Track player. (I suspect many of you have never heard of Eight-Track, so I ask that you look it up as it is too difficult and archaic to describe.)

Since we didn’t have an Eight-Track player at home, I asked my children, Beth (9) and Michael (7) to accompany me to Tower Records in the nearby Miracle Mile shopping center in Manhasset to pick out two Eight-Track tapes. They selected Simple Dreams and Heart Like a Wheel, and so began my love affair with Linda Ronstadt’s artistic ability.

I have already written about, Dedicated to the One I Love, and how Linda’s “lullaby album” gave me wonderful opportunities to gift that CD to women I knew when they announced they were pregnant for the first time.

My Ronstadt collection grew over the years, albums, tapes and finally CDs and culminated when my son-in-law, Tom, was able to secure her four-disc Box Set.

One morning, my colleague, Lisa, came into my office to tell me about the fabulous Linda Ronstadt concert she and her husband, Steve, attended the previous night at Radio City Music Hall. “John, she was amazing, it was a wonderful show. Linda belted out a sensational repertoire of her hits and her band and backup singers were fabulous.

“But the best part of the show was her encore. She came out alone onto an empty stage, just a baby grand piano, a single spotlight and Linda. She sat down and unaccompanied, Linda presented a thrilling and moving rendition of Desperado.”

Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to see her in concert. From time to time, a friend or acquaintance fresh off a Ronstadt concert would seek me out knowing how big a fan I was. He or she raved about their experience. I waited for them to reach their climax and tell me about her encore. Rightly or wrongly, I chose to cut them off at the pass with, “I know she sang Desperado alone, just a baby grand, a single spotlight and Linda.”

Each time this happened I recognized that the person relating this experience was clearly moved by it. Still, I never found the occasion to pull the trigger and join these select fans who experienced a Linda Ronstadt concert.

How sad, when MS Ronstadt announced that she could no longer sing because of Parkinson’s disease and the realization of having to accept, her ship had sailed, or so it seemed.

Last summer, I needed an MRI and when the technician led me into the room, he said, “You’re in luck as you will be inside our newest machine that has Pandora. Who would you like to listen to?”

When I answered, “Linda Ronstadt,” he replied, “Can you spell Ronstadt.”

I tell you youth is wasted on the young!

As if by Divine intervention, a minor miracle. Recently, John Boylan, Linda’s management consultant tracked down the long missing master tapes of her 1980 HBO concert in LA. MS Ronstadt had never released a CD recorded live before. This time she agreed to release Linda Ronstadt, Live in Hollywood.

She selected 12 songs from the master including a 6:12 minute version of You’re No Good and, of course, her encore performance of Desperado. When I told Beth about this, she found it Spotify: “It’s such a good song. Reminds me of being in the back of the Caprice and listening to it on Eight-Track.”  

For those of you who never saw Linda live in concert, I recommend that you find this rendition.

Picture if you will, one baby grand, one spotlight, one woman, no back-up singers, no strings, no horns and no orchestra; just Linda and the song she owns.    

Musing About Our National Anthem

Let not your heart be troubled, dear reader. I want you to enjoy this piece, so I promise it doesn’t concern protests during the playing of our National Anthem before the start of NFL games. I task that to others who choose to comment.

Instead, I offer a couple of anecdotal musings on the “Star Spangled Banner” and a piece I originally wrote in 2002.

First off, an odd fact. Baltimore Orioles fans add a single word to our anthem when played before the start of home baseball games at their beautiful ballpark, Camden Yards. When the rendition reaches:

Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave

O’er the land of the free?…

The crowd adds “Here” in recognition of their location, across the harbor from Fort McHenry.

Second, the football writer and expert, Paul Zimmerman, a.k.a. Dr. Z who died last year had some quirky habits. Admittedly, timing the length of each rendition he witnessed and keeping a record was a peculiar one. Yup, he used a stop watch!

Dr. Z’s goal was to experience it being played in under two-minutes. He accomplished this once. An organist at Fenway Park played an instrumental rendition in one-minute, fifty-eight seconds. The organist admitted to the pleased Dr. Z that had receive several complaints that he played it too fast. Alas, Dr. Z was never able to duplicate this feat when the anthem was sung. He speculated that singers just couldn’t get over the hump of the anthem’s center in a timely manner.

Unlike Zimmerman, all I ever wanted from a performer was a clean, honest rendition by an artist able to conquer the difficult High C note at, “…the land of the free.”

This didn’t happen often. Most singers fudged it, double clutched, threw in a pause or let a band play over them. From time to time over 20 years, Martha Wright, a Broadway stage star, and the wife of Mike Manuche, a Midtown restaurateur, rendered her interpretation on the playing field before football Giants home games. Accompanied only by a trumpet, Martha mastered our anthem and effortlessly blew through the High C.

Martha was magnificent!

And now may I present Darrell Luckett and The National Anthem (originally penned in October 2002.)

Reliant Stadium, home of the Houston Texans, is a Twenty-First Century football factory featuring blaring noise, strobe lights, female cheerleaders dancing and prancing in provocative attire, fireworks, male cheerleaders waving team battle flags and face- painted fans wearing steer-horn hats.

Noise and distractions abound so it was a pleasant surprise when a solitary individual strode up to a microphone positioned at the 50-yard line to sing, a cappella, our National Anthem. The program identified the soloist as Darrell Luckett.

Mister Luckett rendered our anthem in a traditional style with confidence and precision. When he reached the penultimate line, he stopped; creating a pregnant pause designed to signal to all who were paying attention that he intended to conquer:

O’er the land of the free

Did he do it? He nailed it! The late Robert Merrill couldn’t have climbed that mountain with greater élan.

The game was not an artistic delight. My New York Giants lost a game they should have won. Down, disappointed and disgruntled, my son, my friend, Dave, and I found a downtown Houston restaurant where we bemoaned our fate. Returning to our hotel, we encountered a stranger who approached us as we walked along Louisiana Avenue. He noticed the team logos on our shirts and asked, “Were you at the game today?”

“Unfortunately, yes,” I replied.

“Then you heard me sing the National Anthem.”

I mumbled something stupid like; “You’re kidding me?”

When he insisted, he was serious, we introduced ourselves and shook hands. I told him how impressed we were with his interpretation, his pause and how he nailed the High C note. He beamed until I voiced doubt and asked, “Did you really sing the Anthem today?”

Instead of answering me, right there in the center of Houston, he belted out:

O’er the land of the free

And the home of the brave

We cheered. He bowed, turned away, waved arm extended over his back and walked off