The older we get, the more airports we rack up. This was a funky year for me, and it's no coincidence that myriad runways, luggage checks and micro bags of peanuts were involved. The airport is a lonely place, and yet I have strange affection for it. It's inherently dramatic, all that coming and going. Everyone has a story, a destination, beginnings and endings and lousy Kate Hudson in-flight flicks yet to be discovered. I like how most airports still retain a whiff of Logan's Run behold-the-future 1976 architecture. I like the sound of patent leather clacking on moving walkways. I like how the Chili's bar at TIA always has a buy-one-get-one beer deal going.
The Thanksgiving-to-Christmas gantlet is the Season of the Airport. So it makes sense that my subconscious, which has serious iPod envy, has been hankering for skyway tunes. I didn't realize this until I studied a pile of four seemingly random CDs next to my home stereo. Here's what I've been listening to lately. It just so happens that each one is absolutely perfect for a long layover in Somewhere Else:
Various Artists, Up in the Air: Music From the Motion Picture (Rhino) The George Clooney dramedy about a corporate downsizer with a frequent-flier fetish doesn't open 'til Friday, but I've had the soundtrack for a while and I can't stop listening. Spare, chilly, mostly acoustic, it's not unlike Simon & Garfunkel's Graduate work. It also reminds me of Elliott Smith's Good Will Hunting tune Miss Misery, which is convenient because the late Smith shows up here with Angel in the Snow. Each track deals with transience, detachment, from Dan Auerbach's Goin' Home to Sad Brad Smith's Help Yourself. It closes with the title tune, written by Kevin Renick, a St. Louis songwriter and regular-joe job-loss victim who gave his demo to director Jason Reitman. Pretty, but brutal.
Frank Sinatra, Come Fly With Me (Capitol) Considered the first concept album, this ring-a-dingin' 1958 travelogue remains crisp, classic. Billy May's orchestra pumps brass into the pond-jumpers (On the Road to Mandalay, Let's Get Away From It All) and paints the ballads with falling-leaf melancholy (Moonlight in Vermont, Autumn in New York). Ol' Blue Eyes has a big cine- matic blast, but his delivery is also intensely personal. Come Fly With Me is one of my favorite albums — might even be top five — but I hadn't listened to it in a year. As I said, my subconscious was on a mission.
Various Artists, This Warm December: A Brushfire Holiday Vol. I (Brushfire) This offbeat Christmas compilation — helmed by barefoot seducer Jack Johnson — came out last year. There's a lot of quiet, hipster holiday reflection on here. But for today's purposes, I beg you to seek out Money Mark's contribution, Stuck at the Airport. A.k.a. Mark Ramos-Nishita, Money is a frequent collaborator with the Beastie Boys. This track has a comical Casio quality, but its center is heartbroken and true: "I am stuck at the airport / Waiting for the numbers to change." It's a must for any happenin' holiday mix tape — and vital for those of you facing long delays at the last gate on the left.
Brian Eno, Ambient 1: Music for Airports (Virgin) Fair warning: You do not want to start your day with this one. Forget about making your 9 a.m. flight. Heck, you'll never leave your couch. On this infamous 1978 instrumental, the U2 producer and genius soundscapist brings out the beauty and pain in minimalist strains of piano and synth. You'll either hate it, claiming you hear nothing much at all, or it will consume you, its contemplative pulses and washes knocking you flat. Eno was trying to make background music; what he did, however, was inspire artists from Radiohead to Finding Nemo composer Thomas Newman to make bittersweet airport music of their own.