Songs For The Stratosphere: Five Freefall Favorites (For Felix)

Is that the most obnoxiously alliterative blog post title you’ve ever read? The answer is yes. Yes, it is.

Last week, Felix Baumgartner made the entire world incredibly self-conscious about their own achievements by flying 39 kilometers into the stratosphere, then freefalling for 4 minutes and 19 seconds before deploying his parachute and landing unscathed. When all the pesky paperwork is taken care of, he will become the record holder for highest altitude jump, as well as the first human being to ever break the sound barrier without any sort of vehicular power. He will also be a verified badass.

I won’t go into what I spent my day doing while Mr. Baumgartner was diving off the edge of space, because it’d be embarrassing. In fact, I have to go through the rest of my life now knowing that nothing I ever do will be even half as awesome as Felix’s victorious descent from the heavens. But in the world of my imagination, where I come to terms with my shortcomings in life by dreaming up impossible scenarios, I’ve taken that leap several times. And then I stumbled upon this question on Reddit, the global repository of human knowledge and cat pictures:  Let’s say, hypothetically, that the stratospheric jump was something everyone was capable of doing. And let’s say, hypothetically, the pressure suit was equipped some nice audiophile headphones that allowed the diver to listen to music during the fall back to earth. What song would I use to fill those 5-odd minutes?

Being the kind of guy I am, I’d probably go for the ethereal and spacey rather than anything aggressive. I understand the appeal of leaping out to the sound of AC/DC’s “Shoot to Kill” like some third-rate Iron Man, but I think I’d already be in an adrenaline high from the leap itself. I’d want something melodic, contemplative and peaceful to assuage my rattled nerves, and to really take in the beauty of the planet we live in. Here are a few ideas. No Tom Petty in this list.

Steve Burns- “Troposphere”

The troposphere is the lowest portion of Earth’s atmosphere, right above the jetstreams, which Felix Baumgartner sliced through like a human x-acto knife before deploying his parachute. It’s also the title of this wonderful and powerful song by Steve Burns, off his brilliant and criminally overlooked album “Songs for Dustmites”. Falling through the air while listening to that enormous chorus would be thrilling and cathartic, as if leaping off the outskirts of the planet isn’t thrilling enough. Also, this is quite possibly the first mention of this song that doesn’t stress the fact that this guy is the former host of Nickelodeon’s “Blue’s Clues”. Oh, wait…   shit.

M83- “We Own the Sky”

And you thought the first selection was on-the-nose. Officially one of my favorite songs ever, I’ve already written about how this is one of the songs I’d be comfortable dying to. And just like it would be an appropriate sendoff as my brain fires off its final synapses and I shuffle loose the mortal coil, this dreamy, ethereal blend of synthpop and shoegaze would be a wonder to listen to as I plunge down from the highest heights and into the blue planet below.

British Sea Power- “Baby”

Sample lyrics: “I powdered rhino horns for you / and I’ll serve it on a plate to you / I still want you coming round here today / beautifully to my squirrel cage.” Perhaps not the most lyrically relevant selection in this post. Or maybe it is. Truth be told, I have absolutely no idea what this song is about, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t a gorgeous piece of music. And, you know, the name of the track is “Baby”, and the mental image I get is that space baby from the end of Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”. Have you seen that movie? I have no idea what it’s about, either.

Shearwater- “I Was a Cloud”

“I was a cloud / I was a cloud looking down / your frantic waving did not provoke feeling.” Perhaps a bit more lyrically apropos than the previous selection. This is a breezy (yet ponderous) acoustic guitar ballad from the stunning album “Rook”. There are about a billion things I love about this song, one of which is the simple beauty and understated elegance of its arrangements– it just kind of unfurls before you, like a hushed secret. It communicates a profound sense of peace, of floating along effortlessly among the clouds, bursting in and out with grace and style… not spiraling downward in a fiery panic as I would probably find myself.

Arthur Rubinstein- Chopin’s Nocturne Op.9 No.2 

One of the most beautiful and recognizable pieces of music ever produced by man, and for good reason; Chopin’s Nocturnes are delicate, wistful pieces for solo piano that plunge the depth of human feeling, evoking melancholy and tranquility. Out of his 21 Nocturnes, this is perhaps the most enduringly emblematic melody, and this performance by Rubinstein highlights the sublime quietude of the composition. Listening to this while falling from the skies would be quite an experience, a testament to man’s accomplishments as one overlooks the world we inhabit; a quiet celebration of the grandiosity of it all.

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