Airline Music

I hate flying. I really do. There’s something wholly unnatural and weird about being in a pressurized tube at 38, 000 feet that occasionally shakes everywhere when you hit turbulence. I know I have mentioned multiple times that the Elder J and I grew up in the sticks, but this doesn’t mean I haven’t traveled. I have flown all over the country and to Europe, semi-regularly since I was very young but I still hate flying. It never changes.

Once I turned 21, I would get drunk when I flew to numb the stress I felt but I quickly learned that this also is not the best plan. Well, its fun for a little bit, but hangovers seem to hasten at high altitudes or I spend way too much money on Jim Beam Black nips and snack plates as free food on a flight has gone the way of the dodo.

Recently, I flew down to actually meet my nephew in real life and see my niece in the southland where my brother now hails from. I got a free flight through the Elder J’s frequent flyer miles and a free ride from a buddy in college who stopped into at least two bars on the way down.

As we braved the rush hour traffic and came closer to the airport, I got the same familiar feeling of dread. It only grew as I went through security and got felt up but a middle aged Italian man who must have though my baggy pants concealed something nefarious. I sucked down a double whiskey on the rocks in the sushi bar next to my gate and boarded my plane, still full of apprehension as always.

I sat down in my seat which turned out to be next to a pretty thirty something lady who made good conversation before we saw that many other rows were vacant. This is so rare in the days of failing airlines that I thought maybe this flight would be different. I relaxed, only slightly at first. Then, I plugged my headphones into the arm of the seat and searched for any indication of the in flight movie and quickly found that the arm had ten radio stations and these are some of the songs I heard.

I am still blown away by this revelation for two major reasons. First, I’d never thought an airplane could have such awesome music selections. Second, this was the ticket to combating my fear of flying, the omnipresent power of music that can take your mind off of damn near anything. Here are some of the songs I heard.

1. “Down to the Waterline”-Dire Straits

Most of the songs I heard were on the classic rock station but I think this was like an 80’s throwback station or something. Now if they had played “Sultans of Swing” from the same album, it would not have been as cool because that was the big hit. This was the opening track and a hell of a song to start with. The Straits are very much not a product of the popular music of the time as it was largely punk rock and New Wave at the time. They sound more like jazz with with some country and blues influence coupled with cool Dyalnesque lyrics.  This entire first album is awesome, from “Wild West End” to “Three Blade Knife”. I think Mark Knopfler is one of the best finger pickers ever and certainly for his time. I never hear anyone say “wow, that dude from the Dire Straits was a great guitarist,” but I wish they would. I do whenever I have the chance.

2. “Give up the Funk”-Parliament Funkadelic
This was a very cool choice by whoever chooses the airline radio songs, this particular one being on what I imagine to be the R and B station. Pfunk is certainly not run of the mill R& B, but one can see how they’d fit. Parliament, at least in the 70’s, perfectly combined funk music with the psychedelic leanings of rock music at the time. Just listen to Maggotbrain or Mothership Connection and you will know what I am saying. I have seen them a few times as of late, although George Clinton is the only original member and he is not doing so well it would seem. However, this song and this band are still funky as hell and time will remember them as such.

Give up the Funk
3.:”Big Brother -Stevie Wonder
This song was on the same station and a true revelation as I don’t think I’ve ever heard this song on any radio station ever. It is a deep cut from the album Talking Book and one of my favorite songs by Stevie ever. I associate this song with the summer after graduate school when I moved home for what I thought was just the summer while my ex-girlfriend worked in the adjoining state. The summer started with us planning to move in with each other in the fall and ended with us actually breaking up in the fall.

It was a weird summer and I was light on funds so I spent many a night listening to my giant rolodex of cds and playing a Super Nintendo I resurrected from my parents basement. Accompanied by the sounds of Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, I listened to Talking Book on a daily basis and “Big Brother” quickly become my favorite track. Stevie plays all the instruments on the track and it has come cool ones, like a Hohner clavinet, a MOOG bass and a harmonica put through some weird effects.People often forget that Stevie Wonder was a child harp prodigy long before the funkiness of the seventies.

Lastly, I enjoy the message of this song, best exemplified by the line “I live in the ghetto, you only come around at election time”. I know nothing of the ghetto except what it looks like on tv and my few experiences in the city, but the storyline he puts forth is much like a myriad of problems and the way politicians deal with them. They want to actually do stuff when it the world is watching, but otherwise, largely useless. This is not always the case but often is in my experience and it takes Stevie to put that sentiment to words. Thank you airline people for playing this song.

4. “Peaches En Regalia” Frank Zappa

This was on the classic rock station and another very cool cut that you would never hear on mainstream radio. I love Zappa and his constant weirdness. Very few people are as truly unique in rock music as this guy was and as I’ve said numerous times before, uniqueness in music means more to me than anything else. This cut is off of Hot Rats, Zappa’s second solo album and the one that also includes my favorite Zappa song,  “Willie the Pimp” ,with Captain Beefheart on guest vocals. “Peaches en Regalia” is a very weird song but very good. It’s all instrumental and is sort of an amalgamation of jazz and rock, fusion I guess they are calling it. On a final note, I once saw the jazz band at my college do this song and it was awesome. More Zappa in school bands should be a mandate of every major university.


5. “Wichita Lineman”- Glen Campbell

This last of the truly memorable songs I heard on my trip down south. I only knew the song because no more than two weeks before, I was playing some Glen Campbell songs for a friend who thought that Campbell was only popular because of “Rhinestone Cowboy”. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Campbell was a prolific musician who played on many many different albums and was a member of the group of players known as “the Wrecking Crew” which included my man Leon Russell among many others. He played in backing bands for many years then set out on his own, influencing entire generations of country music stars from Alan Jackson to Keith Urban. He just retired from music due to the onset of Alzheimer disease but his legacy will be long felt. This being said, I think this song has too much orchestration. I’d like it to be a little more stripped down so I could hear the lyrics more. I know quite a few linemen and I totally understand the idea of abject loneliness that can occur out on the road alone. These boys keep our power going and they deserve  recognition.

3 comments on “Airline Music

  1. professormortis says:

    I once was treated to some great, classic stand-up, a nice selection that included George Carlin and Bill Cosby, and (maybe I imagined this) I swear Lenny Bruce, on an airplane. Sometimes they surprise you.

    In the past I’ve found both “Telstar” by the Tornadoes and “Heart Full of Soul” (I think I actually heard that once on an airplane radio station, too) to be helpful for destressing during flights.

  2. […] written about airline music and dive bars, but never about airport bars and the music played through in the background. […]

  3. […] vacation where I saw my brother, his family, shot some shotguns and spent way too much time on airplanes. It got me thinking about a few things, the first being that I should really take more trips. I […]

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