Tuesday, July 14, 2009

"United Breaks Guitars" but Launches Careers

Unless you've been living in a new-media deadzone lately, you've certainly seen the viral YouTube hit song "United Breaks Guitars." I think it's a catchy song, but for the life of me, I don't know why, as my local NPR station reported, United Airlines would be thinking of buying it to use as a "training video." It's a send-up, a spoof! Could they be buying it to kill it? A little late for that, don'tcha think? The horse is already out of the barn on that one. Perhaps they just want to use it as an "ice-breaker," before settling down to the task at hand: not trashing the instruments of their customers.

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I myself have had one serious mishap with an instrument on an airline: the neck of my banjo was broken on a trip from JFK to London Heathrow. The airline ended up settling, but it took awhile. The first agent I dealt with was unsympathetic, disbelieving of my claim, and rude. Then I went further up the line, and got satisfaction. But it was a couple of weeks of back and forth before they cut the check. One hoop I had to jump through was getting the instrument appraised and the damage assessed. They chose a repairman in my home city (at the time I was living in Pittsburgh). The funny part of it was, I already knew the guy! He had worked on my instruments before. He was a total pro about the situation, though, and jumped through the hoops with me, filling out the necessary paperwork, etc. In a couple of weeks the check arrived. Case closed.

I once witnessed (from my window on the tarmac) a luggage wagon piled high with bags, with an acoustic hardshell case on the very top (not mine, but belonging to someone on my flight). As soon as the wagon lurched forward the precariously placed guitar came crashing down onto the concrete, probably a distance of 7 or 8 feet. The guy picked up the guitar and tried to swing it back up to the original position! It didn't take, and he only half-heartedly tried to catch it on the way back down, breaking its fall (again) to the pavement only slightly. A horror show. The person whose guitar it was must have been on the other side of the aisle, or surely screams of agony would have been audible.