Monday, February 3, 2014

Aeroplane of Silver Steel

There is nothing wrong with experimentation, with trying something new. Edison is said to have told a reporter that, no, he did not fail more than 5,000 times when trying to find the best light-bulb filament. In fact, he did not fail even once! Rather, he said, he successfully proved that those 5,000 filaments did not work.

This song, "Aeroplane of Silver Steel," does not work. If it were an "aeroplane," it would not fly. It is at once too childish and too over-reaching in its attempts to be mature, like a toddler shuffling about in his father's loafers. Even the spelling "aeroplane" hints at the European, archaic ambitions-- no mere "airplane," this!

The structure is pop-operatic, like "Memory" from Cats. The guitar work is hyper-dramatic and Latinate, a flamenco or tango. So the whole effect is that this was a song left out of Man of La Mancha.

"Aeroplane of silver steel high in the night/ Someday, I shall soar with you in your flight," the speaker begins. "Never has another flown as high as you and I." This is high-flown poetry, indeed.

"I shall fly my own plane high above." Now, what will that rhyme with? "The earth which holds me while I'm dreaming of/ Roaring through the clouds, and speeding fast, to my love."

Now, the song makes a sudden break from its soaring rhetoric and strummings, and finds a cha-cha rhythm. All of that... stuff was introduction. Now we are onto the subject itself. Which is-- what happens when the plane lands? Well, our dashing Red Baron is not coming empty handed!

"To bring her chocolates/ To bring her candies." Well, that's thoughtfully, if predictably, romantic. Anything else in the cargo bay? "To bring her herbs and tasty spices that she can cook." Ah. Well, all the early explorers sought the Spice Islands. But... cook for whom, exactly? Some hungry pilot, hmm?

"To bring her ribbons/ To bring her laces." Our Flying Ace have been to both the Spice Islands and the Silk Road, it seems. This is one domestic little lady he has. I mean, I'm not seeing any diamonds or furs on the manifest. "To bring her tingling silver to fill her pocketbook." Close. But why "tingling?" Did he mean "jingling?" Or is this money that is begging to be spent?

This list is repeated. Then, not leaving the faster rhythm, the first verse about the aeroplane is repeated. And the song ends.

In general, three kinds of people fly their own planes. One flies for business, whether spraying crops with chemicals or entertaining festival crowds with stunts. One is the rich playboy who flies for both business and vacations; the plane is fun, but mostly just a convenient, luxurious method of getting where the fun really is.

The third is the weekend pilot for whom his plane fills the same function as another man's speedboat, motorcycle, or off-roader-- simple thrills.

Then there is the speaker. His airplane-- excuse me, "aeroplane"-- is just a long-range shopping cart. He seems to enjoy the sensation of soaring, but mostly the vehicle is his method for procuring expensive items with wish to lavish his (rather domestic) lady love. No, the internet has not been invented when this song was written. But mail-order catalogs had been.

Perhaps he wishes to travel, like George Bailey of It's a Wonderful Life. And he wishes his wife had more adventurous tastes in goods and travel, but is too much of a homebody to actually spirit off to Gay Paree or The Mysterious Orient or the sultry bazaars of The Levant.

So this is his compromise. He will fly to Far-Off Lands... and bring their bounty back to her! But nothing too exotic. He hasn't brought back any furs, but also no tiger-skin rugs. No diamonds, but no anklets or nose-rings, either. No artifacts or handicrafts. Just "chocolates" and "spices." (It could also be that the speaker was not a reader or movie-goer, and had no real knowledge of the huge variety of exotic items Far-Off Lands offered, even to 1950s tourist.)

In any case, even if she still isn't inspired to follow him, at least he isn't tied down to Levittown.

So why doesn't this aeroplane reach the clouds? Our speaker has an imagination big enough to imagine limitless possibilities of travel... but not enough imagination to know what to do with so much opportunity. He's a would-be swashbuckler, but as a New Yorker cartoon of a middle-aged pirate had it, he's "too much buckle and not enough swash."

And so the song's lofty ambitions are also unfulfilled. With a soaring melody and a fantastical metaphor, all it can come up with is... dinner and dessert. And a sewing project for the weekend.

Next Song: I'd Like to Be

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