♫ Gimme a ticket for an aeroplane, sincerely L. Stanley ♫

Gimme a ticket for an aeroplane, sincerely L. Stanley

Just back from a week away in one of the remoter parts of Scotland in terms of travel time, a small hamlet at the very far end of the Rhins of Galloway peninsula in south west Scotland. A long slow distance, and so driving there and then back meant it was Karpool Karaoke time in a big way!

Who can drive a long distance without singing along with Cher? Not to mention without Stevi Wonder, Leonard Cohen, Adele, Nitan Sawney, Prince and other illustrious company. In the course of singing along as their girl group chorus, two songs about letters were sung, both hinted at in the title of this blog. One is Leonard Cohen’s ‘Famous Blue Raincoat‘, ending ‘sincerely L. Cohen’. The other is Jefferson Airplane’s ‘Gimme a ticket for an aeroplane‘, containing the line ‘My baby just wrote me a letter’. The lyrics of both raise some interesting points about letters of different kinds, as follows.

Leonard Cohen’s song takes the form of an actual letter, and although it lacks formal address (dear X) at the start, it contains other key features of ‘the letter’. This is very different from the Jefferson Airplane song, in which the subject is buying a plane ticket and talking to a third party, a salesperson, about a letter he has received asking him to go home, because its sender has written that ‘she couldn’t live without me no more’. Leonard Cohen’s letter is filled with detail of the past relationship between him and the man he is writing to, a former close friend, as well as the woman called Jane they were both involved with. The letter that Jefferson Airplane has received is reduced to the one multiply repeated phrase, that it ‘Told me she couldn’t live without me no more’.

Cohen’s letter is in part a move to re-establish contact with his friend, in part the recognition of an ending; but overall it is about and for the writer rather than the person he is writing to. The details provided are sometimes eliptical and sometimes revelatory, always elegaic, and also self-indulgent. It is a letter to another person ostensibly, but also at the same time a letter to himself.

Jefferson Airplane’s comments to the person he is buying a plane ticket from mention the letter he has received and what it says, but as a way of encouraging quick service, to enable him to get home extra swiftly. The one bit of the letter’s content that is mentioned is itself concerned with expediting action as a response – she can’t live without him any more, he must go home. The staccato-like repetitions of phrases – gimme a ticket, she can’t live without me no more, I’m a-coming home – add to the sense of urgency conveyed. The song is all about immediacy, the moment of buying the ticket, the joyful action following receiving the letter.

This is to recognise that letters are part of the fabric of the everyday, and sometimes they can be invoked and used even when the contents are not told about, and sometimes letter-writers can write at length but in ways which are more about them than the person to whom a letter is addressed. Probably everyone reading this blog will be familiar with both.

But of course there is another way in which different kinds of letters are part of the fabric of the everyday as well. They are part of music, from high opera to low pop, and high pop too of the kind sung all the way from Cumbria to the Rhins of Galloway. The appearance of letters in many paintings is well-known, but it is less well appreciated how often they appear in music. Just two examples have been discussed, but many more could have made an appearance.

Last updated: 11 August 2016


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