D.B. Cooper is almost certainly dead. Most likely, he died from skydiving out of the plane he had hijacked for ransom in 1971; it was a rainy, windy night, and he had neither the experience nor the equipment to survive such a dangerous jump. If, by some miracle, he landed in one piece, he would still be lost in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest with nothing but a suit and a bag full of money. And if he managed the impossible and escaped unscathed with most of the money (a small portion of which was found nine years later on the banks of the Columbia River)? Well, the hijacking occurred fifty years ago, and he was described as a man in his mid-forties. If the fall didn’t kill him, time would have finished the job by now.
And yet, the mysterious disappearance of D.B. Cooper has turned him into a semi-mythic figure, a source of enduring fascination who has entered American folklore. (Take the name and appearance of Twin Peaks’ Washington-bound FBI agent, one Dale Bartholomew Cooper.) It’s that lingering mystery which inspired Emily Yacina’s late friend and collaborator, Eric Littman, to talk to her so effusively about the incident not long before his death. And that mystery might have been what made it stick in Yacina’s mind after Littman died, leading to the creation of this song.
“DB Cooper” isn’t about the incident, not really. It’s more about the lingering effects of grief, the way it “forces you to stop whatever you’re doing and re-evaluate your life,” according to Yacina’s statement accompanying the song. Over a wispy guitar line and Gia Margaret’s supple bass, Yacina sings to Littman, addressing his death and how it changed her. “I know more than anything you’d want me to laugh,” she says, before adding “I want to dedicate my life to your mind.” Maybe all it does is “buy [her] some time,” but it gives her direction, and direction can be so hard to come by in the wake of loss.
Towards the end of the song, Yacina repeats the chorus again and again: “I wore my backpack to your funeral in case I had to escape/you were just telling me about D.B. Cooper jumping out of the plane.” Yacina’s backpack is a neat way of mirroring Cooper and his parachute, reinforcing the theme of leaving an impact long after one’s departure. Cooper and Littman may both be gone, but for at least one person, they’re still here, as certain as the backpack she carries with her into the unknown.