2811: Free Fallin'

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Free Fallin'
Their crash investigation team had some particularly harsh words for Dave Matthews.
Title text: Their crash investigation team had some particularly harsh words for Dave Matthews.


The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issues reports on incidents involving various types of vehicles, including airplanes. In this comic, Randall suggests that due to an obscure law, the NTSB has to do a report if a song is downloaded to a flight data recorder. In this instance, the song used is the 1989 ballad "Free Fallin'" by Tom Petty. Interpreting the song's lyrics as a description of an incident, the NTSB's report describes a flight over northern Los Angeles County, California. The pilot apparently takes off from his home in Reseda, gliding over Mulholland Drive, skywriting the name of his loved one, and then presumably either skydiving from the craft or turning off its power to achieve free fall. Assuming Tom Petty is the [amateur] solo pilot, either action would be a dangerous maneuver risking not only his vehicle but the lives of the civilians below, and quite possibly his own.

The title text refers to the 1996 song "Crash Into Me", off the Dave Matthews Band's second album, Crash. The investigation team likely would not enjoy a song which reminds them of their job, even if it was referring to love instead of planes.[citation needed] They may also have some particularly harsh words for Dave Matthews if the song Crash Into Me was downloaded to a flight data recorder, which would, by the suggested obscure law, create a record of a crash that did not actually occur, making crash investigation difficult.

Munroe is a "90s kid," and both of these songs were in heavy rotation on the radio when he was a teenager —- an age when many people make especially emotional connections to the popular music of their era.

Map item Corresponding Free Fallin' lyric
Tom Petty home And it's a long day livin' in Reseda
vampires And all the vampires walkin' through the valley
Move west down Ventura Boulevard
boys (bad) And all the bad boys are standin' in the shadows
girls (good) (sad) And the good girls are home with broken hearts
glide phase I wanna glide down over Mulholland
skywriting incident I wanna write her name in the sky
 ? I'm gonna free fall out into nothin'
Gonna leave this world for a while
I'm free fallin'

Other item labels on the map, unrelated to the lyrics of the song, include Granada Hills, San Fernando, Sunland, Van Nuys, Burbank, and Hollywood.


Ambox notice.png This transcript is incomplete. Please help editing it! Thanks.
[There is a map of San Fernando Valley, California, with a dotted line labeled “flight path” and several other features marked on and around the line. It must be assumed up is north, since there is no compass to indicate otherwise.]
[The emblem and name of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) are in the in top left.]
[The dotted line labeled "Flight path" moves as such:]
  • Circled X labeled Tom Petty home near the center of Reseda, moving down below Ventura Boulevard.
  • The words "Flight path" are drawn, with an arrow pointing towards the line.
  • As the line moves below Mulholland Drive, it starts moving right.
  • The words "Glide phase" point to the path as it goes up, crossing Mulholland and Ventura once more.
  • Three loops are in the path. The first is labelled "Skywriting incident". It starts moving right here.
  • The flight path abruptly ends as an arrow pointing towards a question mark.
[There are some other features not directly correlated to the flight path.]
Boys (Bad)
There are 4 arrows coming out of this text. They all end up curving to go southwest.
Girls (Good) (Sad)
This is to the upper right of where the flight path starts. There are 7 arrows coming out of this text, heading straight.
This is above Ventura Boulevard, in between the two times the flight path crosses Ventura. There are 3 "X"es in sequence on the road, and there is a single straight arrow above these, pointing along Ventura to the left.
[Caption below the panel:]
Due to an obscure law, if you download a song onto a flight data recorder and send it to the NTSB, they have to do a report on it.

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Is it just me, or does the caption cast a shadow?

I didn't spot it, but when I zoomed in, yup, there's a grey "shadow", particularly the top line, particularly "onto" and the W in "law" (looks like the black version the W is sloppier). I think Randal does a draft first - in physical form this would be pencil, not sure if XKCD is purely digital - to plan out, like checking letter spacing, then does the final version over the draft, and the grey is that draft. NiceGuy1 (talk) 05:04, 5 August 2023 (UTC)
Aye, we've seen it before, possibly even enough for it to be Catagoried. I suspect he does (at least one) draft-layer for text (as well as whatever layers he uses to plan and redraw the lines/other artwork, e.g. to replicate actual acurately generated maps "in line-drawn approximation" style) and then sometimes only drags the transparency up to the high-0%s/opacity into low single digit%s rather than the whole way. Or perhaps he normally drags them to "still notably visible" which reminds him to de-visible/delete the unwanted layers, but the remaining 'onion skin' effect is too muted to remind him. Obviously, we only get to see the flattened image not the 'working copy', so it's speculation (does he even say he uses a particular software, Photoshop/GIMP/whatever, as well as what technique he employs?), but this might well be considered a revealing detail (of interest to those who are interested in such details, tautologically) worth at least this quick Talk-page ramble. ;) 09:08, 5 August 2023 (UTC)

The DMB song referenced in the tooltip is "Crash Into Me" Jdavis103 (talk) 20:53, 4 August 2023 (UTC)

Okay, other than name-dropping Reseda, Ventura Blvd., and Mulholland, I'm not sure how those lyrics would translate to THAT flight path, :) (for example, why is THAT "the shadows"? Looks mountainous, is that a name/nickname for those mountains? Why is the skywriting incident THERE, and spirals?) And WEIRD coincidence, lately I've been looking into a Family Guy joke about Dave Matthews! Peter has Dave's head as a punching bag, punching it does a scat I find familiar, I'm sure it's famous, but I'm having trouble identifying it (then he switches it for David Lee Roth doing Just A Gigolo, THAT one is easy) NiceGuy1 (talk) 05:12, 5 August 2023 (UTC)

Those are the western mountains. The song takes place later in the day presumably ('it's a long day livin' in Reseda' implies the day is ending) so the sun would be setting in the west, mountains to the east would be in sunlight, the mountains to the west would cast shadows into the area of the map. Time of day is further supported by the vampires moving west down Ventura, as vampires are not normally cool with bright sunlight. The skywriting part takes place immediately after gliding over Mulholland If you assume the song is in chronological order. The line 'I wanna glide down over Mulholland' is immediately followed by the line 'I wanna write her name in the sky' -- 13:36, 5 August 2023 (UTC)
Yeah, okay, that tracks. I don't know the song enough to know the lyrics off the top of my head (though enough to recognize them, particularly the names mentioned), and didn't want to look them up then flip back and forth between tabs. Still, "shadows" seems a bit reaching as a reference, like he's trying too hard to mention another lyric, :) NiceGuy1 (talk) 04:29, 12 August 2023 (UTC)

Any relation to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trevor_Jacob#Airplane_crash ? Villemoes (talk) 06:50, 7 August 2023 (UTC)

I can see why you might guess that, but being nearly two years later means the timing doesn't work as an inspiration that way, and now being still a few months from the anniversary means not THAT way either... Meaning the only correlation is crashing a small plane. And that they're both California - though it talks about Mammoth Mountains, which look way east from the cities which may be the one in the song (I only barely know they're California, I think L.A.). It's SOMETHING, but too vague to consider it a definite connection, IMHO. NiceGuy1 (talk) 04:29, 12 August 2023 (UTC)