#5 FLYING TIME
I worked for major advertising agencies for many years. Most of what I have today…or I should say most of what I had, since I seem to have spent it all, I owe to that industry. That said, it was always a love-hate relationship. I loved the work, I loved the creative people I worked for, with, and those who worked for me. It could be fun. It could be rewarding mentally not just financially. But it was still the corporate world and came with all the baggage that implies. All the agencies I worked for were part of huge holding companies run by what we called the bean-counters, people without a shred of creativity who would have been happier running banks. It’s a dilemma the ad industry still has not solved. They all claim to be more creative than the next guy but when push comes to shove it’s all about making the quarterly numbers by any means possible. I was frequently asked who I would fire if the agency didn’t make its numbers. It didn’t matter that my particular group was fully employed and needed, a problem with a major account elsewhere in the agency would mean we all paid the price.
(In the spirit of full disclosure, I am about to jump back into the business. But only because my partner and I think we have a way to change the industry, or at least a small part of it. And return it to a much-needed creative focus. But here is not the place to talk about that.)
I left the world of big agencies back in 2005. And four years later I wrote Flying Time. I was sitting outside on a warm spring morning in Santa Fe, enjoying my morning coffee. My iPad was nearby; I thought I’d slowly get around to checking messages and the news but not yet. I gazed up and suddenly understood what “fly-over country” meant – the vast Southwestern sky was crisscrossed with white vapor trails. Not just a couple but dozens. East to West, North to South, Southeast to Northwest, Northeast to Southwest…a patchwork that made it look like someone was doodling with a white pen on blue paper. Some were fresh, the tiny silver bullet that was creating the trails still visible at one end. Others were dissipating, left by planes that were now out of sight.
“White jet trails carving up the sky, just some strangers passing by…”
I was overwhelmed by the mental picture I had of the people on those flights and of all the years I’d spent flying around the world on business. I said in my commentary to the song before this…Night Circus (You’re Not Here)… that some kinds of business activities create a false sense of importance and that idea permeates this song too. Thinking back I realized that far from being exciting and fulfilling, as personal travel most certainly can be, I was lonely much of the time. With business travel you see airports, taxis, hotel rooms, conference rooms, the occasional restaurant, followed by more of the same. Seldom do you get to know the city, country or culture you are thrown into before you are yanked back out! A big part of me no longer envied those people up there…
“Soon they’ll be gone without a sound, glad I got my feet on the ground…I don’t want to be lonely any more.”
I don’t want to be lonely any more became a repeated line in the final song structure. But I started by jotting down random thoughts, couplets, as they came to me…
“I used to be way up there too, a First Class fool looking down on you…”
“I used to sit and watch life go by, through a tiny window up in the sky…”
I filled a page (well a screen) with them. I just let them flow, thinking I’d make some sense and order out of them later.
“I knew the flying time from here to there, but where I landed well I didn’t care…”
“I used to sell everything it’s true, for those who believe in the heart tattoo”
All the years I’d spent putting my job ahead of my health, my relationships, came flooding back. Some lines so brutally honest, I’ll be honest, they never made the final lyric. That “heart tattoo” thought was inspired by the notion of branding…some clients expect you to create such loyal customers that they would all but “brand” or tattoo themselves with the name of the client’s product! It’s happened.
Later that afternoon I sat looking at my lines with a guitar in hand and the song began to take shape. Two lines…then “I don’t want to be lonely any more”…two more lines followed by the repeat. But I felt I had to explain the kind of loneliness I meant…so a new section came to mind…
“Don’t want to be lonely like a lost soul in the night, don’t want to be lonely always in flight”
The verse completed by two more lines from the initial outpouring. The structure was there. It worked. It felt good.
Two verses flowed together rapidly – lines from the early morning stream of words coupled to this newly forged structure.
Too many verses flowed. It was apparent that this song could be 10 verses long but it didn’t feel like it should be. I was going to have to be brutal with my editing. And I needed to also write more. I needed it to go somewhere…to reach a conclusion. I needed words that were not part of the cathartic early morning explosion.
I wrote the single word “Now…” on a piece of paper. What had changed? I wasn’t trapped in this business cocoon any more and I needed to acknowledge this…
“Now I watch the sunset every day, I watch the way the colors play…”
“Time slows down when you’re feeling good, when you let the calm into your blood…”
Yes. That was it. Just three verses. Don’t labor the point, people will get it. And end on the positive revelation that things can change. Maybe this observation would give some hope even to people still struggling to make a living in the confines of the modern business world?
As with most things in life, we start out criticizing a situation, blaming others because things aren’t exactly the way we’d like them. But there comes a time when honesty is all that matters…
“I never did like the man I used to be, I let him go so willingly…”
Maybe it wasn’t the corporate world that was at fault, maybe it wasn’t the crazy business of advertising, maybe it wasn’t the stress of it all that felt like a prison at times.
Maybe it was my fault…for perhaps taking it all too seriously.
When I saw those jet trails earlier that morning they inspired me to write down a lot of things I needed to get off my chest. At that moment I never intended this song to be a trip into my inner self. It was supposed to be “about something” but ended up being about me.
And that is the great beauty of songwriting. Well, songwriting as I see it. I have always liked the kind of work where the song and the songwriter are almost impossible to separate.
Anyone can cover Bob Dylan’s masterpiece Desolation Row and it will remain a great song. But only Dylan sings is as someone who lived there!
And so it was that Flying Time, which set out to be a condemnation of a way of life became more an examination of the man who lived it.
The home of many a First Class fool.