The Importance of Music to Me — Especially When Traveling

Note: Much of the following article was first posted by me on Tuesday, September 10, 2013 at What’s Your Point?, a weblog which resided at First2Board but is now defunct, so technically this is its second posting. I rarely post personal articles; but I thought you might enjoy it.

s part of the importance of music to me — especially when I travel — I have a playlist of preferred songs on my portable electronic device specifically for flying as a passenger aboard an airplane. I also have playlists of preferred songs for driving on the highway, rainy days, rainy nights, sunny days, night time, and the beach.

I am quite particular about when certain music should be played. For example, there is nothing like listening to Steppin’ Out by Joe Jackson while driving in Manhattan at night. The song simply does not work for me well when listening to it on a tropical beach taking in the rays of the sun, however.

The 1982 song Steppin’ Out was purposely created with the mood of going out on the town in Manhattan at night — but there are also songs which evoke memories for me even though those memories may have nothing to do with the meaning of the song intended by the artist. An example for me would be the 1975 album Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy by Elton John, which was intended to be an autobiographical account of how Elton John and lyricist Bernie Taupin became successful from their humble beginnings in England in the late 1960s.

The flight to Paris aboard an airplane operated by Air France was to be the first time I had ever left the North American continent — which was years after the album was released. Concerned about spending several boring hours on the flight, I asked a friend if I could borrow his portable cassette player which operated on batteries, recorded some of his albums on several cassette tapes, and off I went to Europe for a month to take a course in photography in which I earned credits for college.

The acoustic guitar opening by Davey Johnstone of first song from the album — which also happens to be the title song — reminds me of when the aircraft departed from the gate at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York and slowly taxied towards the runway. To this day, that guitar “solo” — accompanied by the electric keyboarding of Elton John and the modest percussion by Nigel Olsson — still evokes that feeling of embarking on a long trip; the leaving of family and friends and the way of life to which I was used mixed with the excitement of being in a land far, far away.

The adrenaline flowed as the wheels turned while the large aircraft slowly lumbered towards the runway. It was an amazing feeling.

After Tower of Babel, the song Bitter Fingers played as the airplane approached the runway, on which it departed at precisely the moment the second chorus began — a feat of timing I still find incredible to this day — and to this day, the second chorus of Bitter Fingers evokes the energy of the aircraft as the engines are fully throttled, launching the airplane towards the speed required to take off into the air. The last part of Bitter Fingers perfectly synchronized with the aircraft as it banked towards its flight path and the ground slowly distanced itself away; and the sounds of Tell Me When The Whistle Blows seemed to capture the atmospheric equivalent of floating in the air amongst the clouds as the aircraft closes in on its cruising altitude.

By the time Someone Saved My Life Tonight began to play, the airplane was at its cruising altitude well above the clouds. The last chorus almost has a gospel feel to it with the dramatic feeling the synthesizer seems to give — as if I was close to heaven. This is when the appearance of goose bumps were introduced on my body. For some reason, this song seems especially relevant in the middle of an overnight flight.

The rest of the album does not have nearly as much of an effect on me as the first part of the album, so I may choose to either play it or skip it for the other songs on my airplane playlist, which includes songs heard by me over the in-flight entertainment systems of flights over the years and made enough of an impression on me to include them on that specific playlist.

One of those songs is the quintessential Breezin’ by George Benson. If that is not the perfect song to listen to while staring at the billows of clouds nonchalantly passing by against a brilliant blue sky outside the window during a flight, I do not know what song could be better.

Musical preferences are as personal to me as religion and politics. I firmly believe that only a few people could actually understand — or even care, for that matter — how and why music affects me the way it does; heck, I do not even fully understand it myself sometimes. That is probably the main reason why so few people even know about my musical tastes, for the concern that they might think that I am nuts with how passionate I am about certain songs — as well as music itself — even though I cannot sing and “sight-read” music; and I can barely play a guitar.

I was initially hesitant when Scott McCartney — who writes The Middle Seat, a column for The Wall Street Journal and whom I have met more than once — contacted me for an interview for an article pertaining to the oddest airline superstitions, concerned that he might not understand how I feel about music. I even warned him that I do not consider the way I listen to music while I travel as superstition; but rather as a tradition that evokes pleasurable memories of travel for me. While I am used to being interviewed and being misquoted in some way, I have to admit that Scott McCartney did an excellent job of conveying my thoughts for his article.

How important and personal is music to you when you travel? Do you have any favorite songs to which you prefer to travel? What memories and feelings do those songs evoke for you?

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

4 thoughts on “The Importance of Music to Me — Especially When Traveling”

  1. George says:

    I found this post really interesting. It’s nice to see how music affect people, and how different it does.

    One thing I’ve notice about me is that when I was a teenager I would spend some hours listening to some songs on a portable CD player at night, and the feeling I had is that I would teleport to some other dimension/reality of each song.
    As I’m getting old, I find this harder and harder to do it on a daily basis (I can’t do it anymore), but whenever I am up in the sky, I can get back to experience this feeling.

    So whenever I travel I always bring my iPhone with all my songs in it. And I do playlists with the most played ones of each year. I like to remember the songs that got my attention as the years go by. 🙂

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      Playlists with the most played songs of each year is a great idea, George.

      I too feel transported to somewhere else whenever I listen to music — whether it is another country or another era of my life. Every song always reminds me of something…

      …and if I travel somewhere to which a song has been written about that place, I will associate those songs with that place. There are many songs about New York and California. For example, I repeatedly played the song Africa by Toto while I was in Kenya earlier this year…

  2. Graydon says:

    You had me at Joe Jackson. Nice playlist highlights by the way and a great post.

    I’m that guy that dons the over the ear cans before takeoff (after exchanging pleasantries with my seat mates) and have them on until we taxi to the gate. I’n not huge for conversations during flights and much prefer the escapism of my music. Occasionally I have a seat mate that is interesting enough I skip the music and dive into hours of talk and story swapping but that’s a rare occasion.

    I never have made a playlist, I seem to just scroll around and decide at that moment what’s next. I might build a playlist now.

    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      The nice thing about playlists is that you can always change them anytime you like, Graydon — and they do not take away from the methods you currently use to choose music if you prefer to go back to them at any time. Tired of a particular song? Time to delete it from the playlist — but without necessarily deleting it from your portable electronic device.

      Playlists are so convenient. I have playlists for travel by airplane, driving on highways, sunny days, rainy days, night time as only some examples.

      I am similar to you that I am not much for conversations with a seat mate during a flight; but like you, if the seat mate is interesting enough, I will engage in a conversation.

      If not, it is on with the headphones to listen to my music…

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