The Good of Dying
The Kindness of Words: A Review of "A Welcome Shore," by Suzanne Underwood Rhodes

What We Can Fly On

Over the city in an airplane
I can see everything below
The houses they look so tiny
The cars look like dots
We've only got fifteen minutes to go

The sun shines down on the great big beautiful scene

I'm hopin' this rainy weather clears up
My lover is waiting at the airport
Soon she'll be kissing me hello

And I tell her all about you and I

Airplane, airplane
Carry me back to her side
Airplane, airplane
I need God as my guide
Down, down on the ground
Can't wait to see her face

("Airplane," from The Beach Boys Love You, written by Brian Wilson, 1977)

When I hear this quirky little Brian Wilson song, I don't know whether to talk about Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, about whom I know more than you'd like to hear, or about airplanes, about which I know very little.  But as to the latter, maybe I'll just begin and this narrative will take flight (poor pun purposed).

My first flight on an airplane was circa 1967 when a friend and I were allowed to fly to Washington, DC from our home in Greensboro, NC to visit some other friends.  It was an Eastern Airlines DC-3, about which I cannot speak authoritatively except that it had the distinctive hum and vibration of a propeller-driven plane.  That ride was literally a window on a much larger world than I had known until then, "the houses they look so tiny/ the cars they look like dots."  I was never quite the same after that. My appetite for travel whetted, I longed to travel farther than my feet or Schwinn bike would carry me, to see what was over the next hill or grasp the breadth of a landscape below me.

I first heard Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys about the same time.  I was staying with my aunt in her home full of antiques, curios, and memorabilia, a huge mall of stuff crammed into every available space of a 1200 square foot home, next to a creepy graveyard, with paintings of half naked women on the walls (inexpensive reproductions of fine art).  Bored, I was rummaging through her drawers and found a vinyl LP of The Beach Boys All Summer Long and In Concert recordings.  No covers.  No sleeves.  Scratched.  I put the In Concert LP on a portable Zenith record player and was soon entranced by the energy of their performances against a wall of screaming kids.  It was something like the sound of that DC-3. I was hooked.  My world had changed.  The landscape below was larger, everything else that seemed to matter now like dots, so tiny.

Come to think of it, that Brian Wilson would make a song about flying is somewhat ironic.  It was also in the mid-60s that he suffered a severe anxiety attack when flying with the band from Los Angeles to Honolulu.  That was when he gave up touring.  And he gave up flying.  At least he did for a long time.

My son flies planes, and he listens to Brian Wilson.  He likes the sound of both.

If you bother to look up the recording The Beach Boys Love You, you may be taken aback at the child-like nature of the lyrics.  I mean it has songs like "Roller Skating Child," "Johnny Carson" ("Who's the man that we admire/ Johnny Carson is a real live wire"), and "Solar System," ("If Mars had life on it, I might find my wife on it").  Well, you see what I mean.

Learning to fly a DC-3 is on my son's bucket list.  I suspect he'll get to do that.  And when he does, he'll hear those engines and feel those good vibrations and connect with something that defines who he is. Just like I did.  You see, back when I was his age I wanted to meet Brian Wilson.  I finally did. And when I shook his hand and looked in his blue eyes and asked him why he wrote what he wrote, he said "God gave it to me."  That's enough for me. I can fly a long time on that.

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