Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Joys Of The Airline Musical Programme

Once upon a time, before ipods or even walkmen, the only way to listen to songs on an airplane was to tune into the musical selections offered by the airline. Usually you would have to pay $3 for their headphones, but if it was an international flight and/or you were an unaccompanied minor, they would probably just give you the headphones for free under the assumption that everybody's nerves would be saved at least that much in general wear and tear.

Pretty early on I fell in love with the airline musical programme, although it was a never-quite reciprocated love. I would spend the first ten minutes of every flight checking out the channels and the songs that the channels offered, flipping from channel to channel and trying to catch the seven songs that I wanted to hear. The channel list would promise everything, but unless you were flying to, say, Tokyo, and I never was, you usually only got five channels. The hits, the country, the soft classical, the soft jazz, and some kind of record company promotion. And then mostly the songs you wanted to hear would be playing at the same time on different channels, and the airline pilot would interrupt your very favorite song to point out some invisible monument on the other side of the airline or you would fall asleep, which was kind of a good thing, but would mean that you missed your song.

One flight I got to fall in love with that classic Shania Twain hit "Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under." Another time it was a soft pop French song (I flew a lot of Air Canada, okay?) called Aftershave by Maxime Le Forestier. And it was only four years ago that on a redeye from New York to Los Angeles I listened more than once to the upcoming Hilary Duff album. It suited my mood; it suited the vague plastic quality of being on an airplane and flying at night and falling half asleep next to business travelers.

It took me a long time to figure out that the airplane channels were actively uncool, that they weren't the place for me to be looking for my pop culture cues, and it's a lesson that I keep on forgetting, so that way back in 2003 I came off the plane bounding with enthusiasm for Hilary Duff. There's just something about music, divorced of context, put on repeat for five or six hours, that comforts me, makes me feel safe and clean and wholesome. Or maybe it was Hilary Duff in particular.

Now I mostly listen to my ipod.


Noko Marie said...

I can't listen to music on the airplane. Airline channel, walkman, iPod, I can't do it. And I am a fanatic for earphone-music-listening.

I've wondered why, and the answer seems to be that I can't listen to music, sit still, and have nothing to look out at. I can listen to music at home and bop around; I can listen to music on the bus and watch the scenery. But on the plane I get too goddamn restless.

But music-wise, is part of the charm for you the lack of control over the programming? I love the feeling that what I'm listening to is what is "on" rather than what I chose. I used to love radio for that reason. But radio has just become so awful lately.

For the same reason I always prefer flipping channels to watching a video.

Captain Colossal said...

I'm totally with you about the lack of control being part of the charm, and I'm with you in theory about the not being able to sit still, have nothing to look at, and listen to earphones, but I think I class being able to look out the airplane window as having something to look at. I agree that it's not particularly satisfactory, but it's enough to send me into that kind of dreamy fugue state.

To return to the lack of control phenomenon, I would like to note that this is why I disapprove of the new, electronic jukebox. The thrill of the old jukebox used to be seeing what you could produce from a limited and arbitrary selection. If you can play anything you want, what's the goddamn point?