John Was Trying To Contact Aliens tells the story of Michigan’s John Shepherd, who devoted nearly 30 years of his life to beaming records into space. The 16-minute short, now available on Netflix, is packed with so many astonishingly nerdy musical details that it feels like an episode of Documentary Now! without jokes.
Cramming his grandparents’ home with enough electronic equipment to transform it into a DIY NASA, Shepherd’s pirate DJ sets were broadcast to a prospective audience of extraterrestrials. The records he transmitted from a collection of 4,000 LPs will tell you everything you need to know about his heady taste: Can, Harmonia, Fela Kuti, Ornette Coleman, Keith Jarrett, and K. Leimer, just to scratch the surface.
As the film reveals more personal details about Shepherd’s feelings of isolation as a gay man, the romantic connection that provides its storybook ending will make anyone beam. Only one complaint can be made here: This fascinating documentary should have been far longer.