Hey team BRP, how ya doin? I’m on a packed flight heading from Chicago to Philly. The Man decided that it was time for me to earn some frequent flier miles, so he graciously stuffed me into an 18 inch coach seat with no leg room next to a bunch of smelly, but friendly, tourists. The Man is nothing if not thoughtful! It’s all cool because I have some of those nifty Bose headphones that both block out the sound of tourist-babble and plug into my old-school iPod (yup, the one with the flywheel that holds tens of thousands of songs and that Apple doesn’t make anymore).
I love these headphones. They are pricey and a splurge. But they are so choice. They have extended my music-listening to virtually every flight, which is a wonderful luxury. The only bad thing about these headphones is that I sometimes forget to bring them with me when I travel. I then gnash my teeth, cuss myself out, and turn to my unsuspecting seatmate who is trying to sleep and crawl into their ear for the duration of the flight to regale them with my charming and thought-provoking stream-of-consciousness babble. They love it!
Anyway, I am now crammed into my seat – check that, sitting back and relaxing as I was told to do by the flight attendants – listening to music, and I thought about what to listen to during the rest of my flight. And that led me to thinking about flights I’ve taken and what my listening habits are when I fly. It may sound odd to you (maybe not - it’s BRP, after all, so everything is a bit odd), but I find myself doing thematic things when I fly. For instance, I was lucky enough to go to Japan one time, and during the long flight over, I listened to every song that I had that either (a) is about Japan or has Japan in the title – an example being Graham Parker’s Discovering Japan or Cheap Trick’s Live at Buddakan; (b) that is related to Japan but doesn’t have Japan in the title, like Blue Oyster Cult’s Godzilla (“oh no, there goes Tokyo, Godzilla!”) or Weezer’s Across The Sea (“You are an 18 year old girl who lives in small city in Japan”); (c) that are by bands that have something Japanese in their name, like Half Japanese; or (d) that talk about Asia in general, such as the Stones Some Girls (“you never know what they’re thinking inside those silky sleeves”) or Steely Dan’s Aja.
So you get the gist, right? On other flights, I do things like listen to every punk song that I love. Thus I tear through songs by the Clash, Government Issue, Minor Threat, the Minutemen, Black Flag, the Buzzcocks, etc. I ended that particular flight with a sore neck and my ears ringing, and a seat mate who seemed like she had shared the music but wasn’t as keen on it as me. Oops, so sorry little mama! I’ve done the mellow thing (shhh, don’t tell anyone that occasionally I’m a mellow dude, but 6 am flights will do that to you). What’s mellow? I’m a huge sucker for songs by Burt Bacharach who not only is an American god because of his songs but also because he married Angie Dickinson. And I put the Rascals into mellow land, and I love ‘em, too. Good stuff at 6 in the morning. Country? Been there, done that, mainly of the outlaw or alt variety, but some just straight up, like Randy Travis and Dwight Yoakam, two long-time BRP favorites.
And then there are times when I do the artist focus. On the way to Chicago, I went post-punk with Fugazi, who know a thing or two about attitude readjustment. Right now, I’m in a Graham Parker mood, and lo and behold, I have 105 GP songs on my iPod. If you don’t know GP, well, you should. He was one of the trio of young, angry Brits who, along with Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson, burst onto the new wave scene in the early 80s, just in time for BRP to grab hold and enjoy the ride. He put out a number of great albums, got tons of critical acclaim, wrote songs with great social commentary and depth of personal feeling, and never made it big commercially. I was a super fan for a while, seeing him every time he came to town, which was pretty often. I’ve seen him with the Figgs, solo, and best of all, with The Rumour. So it’s tribute time at 35,000 feet for Mr. Parker.
How about just being in the moment and reflecting on the state of air travel? You can do it musically. Have you ever had a rude flight attendant? Well, you put on The Replacements Waitress in the Sky and smile mischievously as the bastard comes around to take your empty cup, which you accidentally spit on and stuffed to overflowing with that plastic wrap from your sticky granola bar. How about the person traveling with the High Sierra bag who is the size of a mountain himself, and just so happens to be holding a ticket for the middle seat next to you – and who sits down and spreads his legs like he owns the place, thus crushing you and violating your personal space? Put on Move Mountains by Jesus Jones. The yappy woman in the seat behind you? Holly and the Italians Tell That Girl to Shut Up is apropos, right? Wistfully looking down at the skyline of a city at night and wondering what that visit is going to be like? Joe Ely’s Dallas is all about just that experience.
Here’s another good one. You’re on your way to someplace special, say the Caribbean. It’s time for some calypso (try anything by the Mighty Sparrow), soca (When The World Turns Around by Nelson or Spring Garden on Fire by Ras Iley), ska (anything by the Skaatellites), and Reggae (no, please not Bob Marley again! I love him, but unless it’s Trenchtown Rock, it’s just been played to death. How about something by Steel Pulse or Black Uhuru instead? You won’t be sorry). One sad thing: on your flight to Hawaii, you should not, never, no way, try to do a Hawaiian music themed trip. This is true: Hawaii is beautiful, heaven on earth, but since it’s on earth, it isn’t perfect. And its native music, well, sucks.
And then there are flights of discovery. I know that sounds like some cheesy overpriced wine thing at your nearby osteria, but what I mean is to turn on the iPod and scroll through it. Listen to whatever is new, you haven’t heard in a long time, or that you’ve been meaning to hear but never got around to it. I was on a flight and remembered that I had downloaded a few albums by Yo La Tengo that I hadn’t yet experienced. So I put them on and I got stuck on the song Pass the Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind from the wonderfully-titled LP I’m Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass. Pass the Hatchet is a long song, has a driving bass riff and superb feedback-laden lead guitar, and has fuzzed-out lyrics that just caught my fancy while en route to someplace I can’t remember. It’s become something of a go-to song for me when I’m flying, and I can’t quite explain why. Try it sometime when you feel like jamming and dancing in your seat.
I’ve done the classic rock thing, too. It happened to me recently. It all started with Aaron and his love of Foghat’s Slow Ride, a song that I also love. I posted it on BRP once as a tribute to my man, and was traveling soon after. It was still stuck in my brain, so I listened to it in the air, and the next thing you know I was playing Aerosmith’s Walk This Way, Thin Lizzy’s The Boys are Back in Town, BOC’s Don’t Fear The Reaper, Bad Company’s Good Lovin’ Gone Bad, ZZ Top’s Tush, and on and on. I left the plane 25 years younger with dark hair full and thick on my head, and told the flight attendant “take it easy” when I exited. Not really, but it made me remember the days when those songs were new and I did have a thick head of dark hair and said “take it easy” to everyone. And while I still have plenty of hair, it’s not as full and thick as it used to be, has a developing silvery tone to it, and seems more abundant in my nose and ears than ever (yet another reason to wear the headphones – try to be kind to your seat mate by covering that birds nest of wirey mess. Sorry, I don’t have a socially acceptable solution for the nose hair yet.).
Now, when I am listening to great songs at volume, I can’t help but move my skinny little butt. And the plane is no exception. I must look like a fool, but I’m nodding the head, pumping the foot, moving the shoulders, and grinding High Sierra mountain man when he crushes me on his way to blow out the restroom. The consolation is that I generally don’t know anyone else on the plane and will never see them again. That makes me feel free to act like a foolish ass. Shake that groove thang!
One more odd thing: I don’t find myself doing the theme thing in the car. Never. Nope. Instead, I am much more artist-focused, generally listening to complete albums. Well, not always. Sometimes I play one song over and over because it is stuck in my head ala Slow Ride. Lately, that song has been Rock ‘n Roll Pest Control by the Young Fresh Fellows. And on the train, I usually forget to bring the headphones. Who knows why (other than I’m stupid, which, you must admit, is what you are thinking), but I never seem to bring them with me when I’m riding the rails. So I just sit there, dumb as ever, looking out the window. At least the countryside is lovely between Philly and New York.
The next time The Man decides that you need to be someplace other than your home, grab your tunes and phones and plug in. Let me know about your thematic explorations so that I can replicate them on my next journey. I’ve got to shut down now as only small electronics can be used while we are landing. Travel on, rockers.
My name is Bill, and I live in the greater Philadelphia area. I love music, and I have a lot of opinions. This site is primarily focused on music, but sometimes I get off track. I hope you enjoy.