Josna Rege

257. Leaving on a Jet Plane

In 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, Inter/Transnational, Music, people, places, Stories, travel, United States on April 11, 2014 at 8:43 pm

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More than anything, the word jet suggests speed to me—speeding up and away, powered by a jet engine. It seems I’ve been leaving somewhere all my life, at first at a slower speed, by steam-powered ships and locomotives, then faster and faster with the revving-up of the jet age, starting in 1963 with a flight on a Boeing 707 from London to Bombay.

Jet Magazine cover, 1954

Jet Magazine cover, 1954

The song that first captured my feelings of having to leave a beloved place and to leave beloved people behind was Harry Belafonte’s 1957 Jamaica Farewell, a great favorite of my mother’s (see TMA #34, His Master’s Voice). Sung by a sailor, it was well suited to departures by sea. (Here’s a photograph of Harry Belafonte with Dorothy Dandridge in 1954 on the cover of Jet (invoking the other sense of the word, blackness).)

In 1966, less than a decade later and just a couple of years after my family’s first flight, the American singer-songwriter John Denver wrote Leaving on a Jet Plane. No song evokes quite as it does the wrenching sadness of having to blast off with jet-propelled force, perhaps never to return, leaving behind someone whom you love. Although John Denver wrote it, Peter, Paul and Mary were the first to make it a hit in 1969, when it reached #1 in late December. It was still in the air and on the charts in early 1970 when we arrived in the States.


I have always liked the Jamaican reggae deejay Yellowman’s 1982 version, perhaps because it has a little humor which balances out the sentimentality of the song and prevents it from getting too schmaltzy, and because it brings it back to Jamaica. More recently, in 1998, it re-emerged in the soundtrack of the movie Armaggedon (talk about speed!), sung by Chantal Kreviaz.

There seem to be more songs about leaving than about coming home, perhaps because in this life, leaving wrenches our hearts again and again, while coming home, though longed for so deeply, is often attended by disappointment. Time speeds on, and the home to which we return can never be the same one that we remembered with such reverence.

[To counteract the sadness of that thought, you may want to listen to a boisterous rendition of Back in the USA, Chuck Berry’s celebration of homecoming (Well oh well, I feel so good today/We’ve just touched down on an international runway), sung here with Linda Ronstadt.]


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  1. Reblogged this on Tell Me Another and commented:

    In the interests of sleep, I’m taking the liberty of re-blogging this post from my 2014 blogging from A-to-Z Challenge, whose theme was Traveling Light. Re-using it this year for the Letter L: Leaving–something with which Migrants, Refugees, and Exiles are painfully familiar.

  2. I agree – you covered jets well. Sadly, you missed my favourite – Burt Bacharach’s Trains and Boats and Planes (1965)

  3. You really covered all aspects of Jet today.

    • There is also jet the stone (lignite, apparently, I looked it up); but enough is enough! It was ridiculously late, German time, when at last I posted.

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