Thank you, United Airlines. Not that I ever fly United, except in the 60's t-shirt sense of the word. I'm loyal to Continental all the way, despite the fact that United has that Economy Plus seating that gives you an extra 5" between you and the guy in front of you . And also despite the fact that they have that low-budget division called Ted. But I am very grateful to United for their series of scratchy charcoal-drawn commercials that play Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue as the background music.
As far as I'm concerned, that should be America's national anthem*. It showcases our country's only native music form and it expands the first-time listener's acceptance of what jazz is all about. I've always had an affinity for that piece, but I also have some lingering guilt about liking it so much.
Flash back to 6th grade and seat yourself in the auditorium of elementary school. In my elementary school, that was a regular classroom emptied of desks with an 8 by 14 foot platform elevated 2 steps up from the wooden floor and a projector screen hanging on the back wall. After lunch on one particular day, grades 5, 6 and 7 were invited in for a special treat. It was a movie - in color, with sound - that featured what I now recognize as a Martha Graham-type dancer, doing an interpretive dance to Rhapsody In Blue. I can't quite remember the connection, but it seemed to be some kind of promotional production for Oneida Flatware. Such was the nature of special non-scholastic treats back in the day.
What made it memorable is that the female dancer was dressed in some flowing, floor length skirting of chiffon in shades of blue and her top was a leotard, under which she was braless. She was also barefooted, which helped to reinforce the impression of nakedness under those flimsy fabrics. There she was, lifting her legs impossibly high, causing the long skirt to slowly struggle with gravity and start slipping away from that bare ankle then suddenly moving so that the fabric fell back to modesty. Combine that almost-got-a-glimpse moments with the fact that her pointed nipples were clearly visible under that leotard - I'm telling you, no one had ever imagined that we would be seeing anything like that. All the while, that clarinet was producing those insinuating notes.
It was intoxicating and hypnotic and, for the 12 year old girls, it was a hint about the power we were about to come into. For the boys, it was squirming and nervous laughter. For weeks after that showing, they would work on their leer and whisper "rhapsody in blooooooo" as we passed by them in the schoolyard. We knew they were thinking of the dancer's nips, maybe even of ours. This was especially uncomfortable because we were all new bra wearers and still unsure if we should be proud or ashamed of that situation. No girl dared wear anything article of clothing - God forbid a skirt! - that was blue in color for a long time after that.
So thank you again, United Airlines for replacing that association with the famous composition with a new one. I especially like the commercial where the traveling businessman clips off a rose and carries it across the country to give to his mother. The closing scene of the blown rose laid down near an old photo of the young mother sitting down in the grass with a small boy holding a watering can always brings tears to my eyes.
So there we have it - kind of a "Life Passages" mixed up with that music and that airline: first the dancer gently revealing what is soon to come for the children watching sitting so cluelessly in the auditorium, then the "Fly United" thing of the Free Love years**. Next comes the Ted Airline (my son is named Ted), reminding me that my own child is about to fly into his adulthood. But not to worry - he will always be bound to me, as symbolized by that red rose. And the music, always the music.
I guess when you think of it that way, it's kind of a saga of biological destiny moving us along to its inevitable conclusion. Or is it just a musical composition?
*even though it's so very New York. I guess Chicago might be able to identify with it as well.
** note to younger readers: too bad you missed that.