"Christmas at the Airport" /
Instead of a glitter-spangled scene with doors for every day of December, how about a daily treat from my iTunes holiday playlist?
Ah, the Friday before Christmas, one of the big travel days of the holiday season. Traveling at Christmas can such a joy-killer, it's a marvel nobody thought to write a song about it before. (That is, if you don't count "Jingle Bells" as a road song.) Leave it to Nick Lowe to lead off his 2013 holiday album Quality Street with this most unsentimental track:
The sound-effects lead-in -- airport PA announcements, crowd noise -- set off a visceral travel anxiety in me right away. But then here comes Nick, jovially strumming an acoustic guitar, with a few licks on surf guitar and electric piano to add jet-set sparkle.
The scenario is simple -- as he arrives at the airport, a snowstorm has just begun, and suddenly flight after flight is being cancelled. It's a clever conceit, turning upside-down the old Christmas standard pieties about white Christmases. Yes, we've been programmed to hope for snow at Christmas, but when it does come, what a hassle! (Shades of the comedy classic film Planes, Trains and Automobiles with John Candy and Steve Martin.)
There was a time when air travel seemed glamorous, but that era's long past. What with ever-lengthening security lines and ever-shrinking seat space, passengers get cranky and miserable in no time, and massive weather delays ratchet that up even further. ("The terminal was seething / Without much Christmas cheer," as Nick starts out verse two.) Worst of all is knowing that you're anxiously expected at the other end for a date that can't be changed.
Still, Nick keeps things whimsical, as he messes around the empty airport ('I'm doing Santa's sleigh ride / On the baggage carousel"). I must say, he's taking the disappointment well in stride -- maybe escaping the obligatory family gathering is a blessing in disguise? He finishes off his third verse in snappy style: "I should be at the table / With all my kith and kin [I can count on one finger the songwriters I know who would use that vintage phrase] / It looks like Christmas, Christmas at the airport / Don't save me any turkey / I found a burger in a bin." Pow, whop, alliteration and absurdity packed in that last zinger of line -- and he's outta there.
There's songcraft for you. Let others get mushy or corny at Christmas -- not our Nick.