Flipping through the channels earlier this week, I found myself watching an installment of Channel Thirteen’s “Treasures of New York” series, this edition dedicated to the stately Museum of Natural History on Central Park West, an institution that holds a very dear place in my heart dating back to my childhood.
Much like the Metropolitan Museum of Art over on my native Upper East Side, I was taken to the Natural History museum so many times as a wee lad that I’m still pretty much able to find my way around it with my eyes closed. Sure, it’s changed here and there, but much like that scene in J.D. Salinger’s “A Catcher in the Rye” wherein Holden takes solace in the unchanging nature of a particular diorama in the Native American wing, there is a feeling of stately permanence to the place. That said, I’m sure I’ve just jinxed it. Expect it to be razed one day soon and replaced by a massive condo.
One aspect that has changed about the museum in question, however, is the Hayden Planetarium. The original building (above) was closed and destroyed in the late 90’s to pave the way for the Rose Center for Earth and Space. To be perfectly honest, I’ve never set foot in the new incarnation. I’m sure it’s a wonder to behold, but I just miss the old place.
And while I associate the rest of the Natural History museum with my childhood, the old Hayden Planetarium is rooted firmly in my teenhood, and there’s only one reason for that: LASER FUCKING FLOYD
Many a night did my rockhead friends and I loiter menacingly on those very steps, waiting to enter for another brain-frying round of “Laserlumia” (as it always read on the ticket stub), pairing high-volume airings of predictable selections from Dark Side of the Moon, Meddle, The Wall and Wish You Were Here (why never any love for Animals?) with retina-bedazzling laser animation. And it wasn’t just the Floyd. There was Laser Zeppelin, Laser Rush, “Heavy Laser” (which featured some Judas Priest tracks, if memory serves) and, later on, a “college rock” version that featured tracks by The Pretenders, Gary Numan, Joe Jackson and Julian Cope.
Sure, it was a bit hokey, but it was still pretty goddamn awesome. We used to make an evening of it, gathering in the rotunda outside the Planetarium hours in advance amid hordes of other bedenimed cretins, many partaking in various taboo activities prior to being let into the incongruously buttoned-down halls of the Hayden Planetarium, to shuffle by a replica of a meteorite and images of moon-landings before entering the great sphere to get their minds blown.
I’m not sure, but I don’t believe the current incarnation of the planetarium offers anything comparable to the Laser Floyd of my youth, and they’re probably a little embarrassed by it. Regardless, I’ll never forget those night under the stars in the big sphere.