Official Site of Speaker, Historian and Author Sean Munger

Earth, Music

Earth: Benson, Arizona, light speed travel and Einsteinian relativity. [includes video]

benson arizona

This post started out as an Earth entry (like this one and this one), but there’s more to Benson, Arizona (in Cochise County, population 4,934) than just a picture on a map. Yes, the photo at the top of this page is a Google Earth street view from the dusty streets of Benson, AZ. It doesn’t look like there’s much there.

Science fiction fans, however, might know Benson, Arizona differently. For some inexplicable reason, the theme song that opens the cult 1974 SF/comedy film Dark Star, directed by John Carpenter (of Halloween fame) is called “Benson, Arizona.” Strangely the movie doesn’t credit the artist who sang the song. Here’s the song as it appears in the movie, which was decidedly low-budget.

In looking this up on YouTube I discovered that a Phoenix-area folk artist named Joe Bethancourt performed “Benson, Arizona” at Mesa Community College in September 2006. Here is a live “unplugged” performance of that set.

I was surprised to learn that, aside from the reference to flying the galaxies, the lyrics of the song really do refer to space travel–or specifically time travel, in terms of Einsteinian relativity. In Einstein’s theory, time will slow down to a crawl for those traveling at close to the speed of light–meaning, anyone left behind will be old by the time you get back. That’s clearly the meaning of these lyrics:

“Now the years pull us apart
I’m young and now you’re old
But you’re still in my heart
And the memory won’t grow cold
I dream of times and spaces
I left far behind
Where we spent our last few days
Benson’s on my mind.”

All I can say is…trippy!


  1. David Harding

    Glad to see this song is still getting the credit it deserves, and what a wonderful college student film to theatrical release movie. Wikipedia states “The music for Dark Star is chiefly a pure electronic score created by Carpenter using a modular synthesizer.

    The song played during the opening and closing credits is “Benson, Arizona.”[46] The music was written by John Carpenter, while the lyrics were written by Bill Taylor, concerning a man who travels the galaxy at light speed and misses his beloved back on Earth.[21] The lead vocalist was John Yager, a college friend of Carpenter’s who was not a professional musician, “apart from being in a band in college. ” Here’s a fun version

  2. unclesolo

    And, in 1975, the year after the release of Dark Star, Queen released A Night at the Opera, which contained the Brian May song ’39 – a song all about leaving your family to travel to the stars, knowing that several generations will have passed by the time you return.

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