Excuse Me While I Kiss the Sky

James O'Brien

Forgive the obvious around here, but in the interest of explanatory journalism and the fact that Valentine's Day is nigh, today I'm going to teach you how to kiss. If you're looking for a crash course in making out and all that slobbering and tongue-tangling, you're on your own: This is about the lost art of the blown kiss, the lips-to-palm-to-ether benediction that has been all but forgotten. When practiced properly, though, it can transcend its earthbound participants and connect the living with the dead, the lovahs with the hatas.

First, a homework assignment. After completing this lesson, take a picture of yourself and/or your loved ones and/or strangers blowing a kiss to the universe. Then e-mail it to [email protected] and one of your instructors will post it at www.citypages.com/kisses. Following the kindred sociologists at the schools of Beautiful Agony and Sorry Everybody, we here at the Minneapolis free (love) weekly aim to prove that, while all blown kisses carry a similar message of love, no two are exactly alike.

Some history: Antediluvian cave etchings suggest that primates and early humans considered actual lip-locking to be really yucky. Thus, the blown kiss was the first form of erotic communication. Some cultures don't engage in any kissing, but all cultures embrace some form of the blown kiss. The Roman poet Ovid and the Greek archer Eros would regularly make a game out of blowing kisses at mortals and then standing back and delighting in the spectacle of boys and girls making fools of themselves. Mary Magdalene kissed the feet of Jesus, but new biblical scholarship suggests she also blew a kiss to him on the cross and said, "Love ya forever, Homie."

French poets and paramours popularized the practice of blowing bouquets of kisses from 18th-century balconies. In this country, turn-of-the-century farmers would spot their true love across a freshly tilled field and have their hearts go all atwitter. But, due to societal restrictions, they were forced to express themselves with a hasty brush of the lips across the back of the hand, to which the recipient would respond with a boomerang smooch and curtsy. In 1930s New York, Chicago, and St. Paul, gangsters would regularly blow kisses to seal contracts.

The blown kiss was all the rage in the '50s, when teenagers who had been grounded for attending the submarine races would defy their parents by silently bussing each other across school lunchrooms and soda fountains. Actresses such as Marilyn Monroe and the cartoon character Betty Boop flew in the face of the cultural conservatism of the day by perfecting the buttocks-jutting-out blown kiss, which, for most male recipients, is still the preferred version. Research shows that most modern females also enjoy the physical symmetry, artistic aesthetic, and yogic strength the pose requires.

In the '60s and '70s, the blown kiss was a staple of the television game show The Dating Game. At the end of each segment, newly love-struck contestants and host Jim Lange would rear back and blow a kiss goodbye (hello?) to the viewing audience at home. A new school of thought has posited that the cumulative effect of all those kisses being blown willy-nilly to an entire generation had more psychic impact on the Summer of Love than all the drugs and rock music combined.

In the '80s, AIDS compelled lovers to get inventive, so blown kisses were everywhere--including dance clubs, bath houses, and funeral homes. In the '90s and '00s, it has become both an albatross and a gesture of irony. Athletes, politicians, musicians, and movie stars regularly blow kisses to their gods or agents, but rarely to strangers, or just for kicks. Most memorably, in 2003, Yasser Arafat blew kisses to a Palestinian group who had surrounded his office to prevent Israelis from sending him into exile, saying, "They can kill me, but I will not leave."

Musically, the blown kiss has been celebrated by Minnesota songwriters Slim Dunlap ("Partners in Crime") and Martin Zellar ("Blown Kisses") and reached its nadir with American Idol judge Paula Abdul's "Blowing Kisses in the Wind."

Children learn to blow kisses before they learn to walk or talk. Yet the majority forget this most primal form of sign language as they reach adolescence and adulthood. Because their country treats them like second-class citizens, gay men and lesbians use the blown kiss as an act of both defiance and love. Straight women have always been comfortable with the random and heartfelt blown kiss, but most straight men reject the custom because they don't want to be mistaken for SpongeBob SquarePants.

The blown kiss is as intimate as it gets--true connection without the baggage of swapped spit. It is a lighthearted expression of love, but not lightweight. It is chaste but not dull. It will not get teenagers pregnant before they are married.

The classic model of the blown kiss involves pressing the lips to the palm and exaggeratedly blowing fairy dust into the atmosphere. Many practitioners get creative with their blow jobs: There's the single finger kissed and dabbed in the air; the two- and three-finger kissed salutes; the two-handed heart bursts; and the fist-pound-on-the-heart-and-point-at-another, as practiced by Sammy Sosa and macho men the world over.

It is as timeless as a Rumi poem about the ongoing search for God's kiss. While most kisses are shared in private between two people, the blown kiss is a decidedly public performance to be shared and savored. Rodin's The Kiss may be the world's most popular sculpture. But our living room mantles show what we really love: dimpled porcelain cherubs, sexless and loving, with hands springing from their lips.


Jim Walsh can be reached at 612.372.3775 or [email protected].

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