Monday, August 14, 2006

Send in the Drones

The wee picture above features Rufus Harley, who apparently passed in time for today's New York Times. If I could figure out a way to do so, I would make this picture as large as your screen would allow, because you really need to see his headware. Although, blurred down to a pixel-poor outline, it probably looks cooler--almost Rammellzee-ish:

Anyhow, Harley was just another aspiring young Philly jazz guy back in the 1960s, blowing away like mad on woefully trad instruments like saxophones and clarinets. In November 1963 Harley was working for the city, watching JFK's funeral procession on television; he fixed on the squadron of bagpipers. Such snaking, mournful sounds! Here was an impossibly deep breath worth taking! He scoured the city for bagpipes, eventually ending up in a pawn shop in the Rotten Apple. He taught himself how to manipulate the bladder and blowpipes by trial-and-error, often pissing off his neighbors. When the fuzz showed, he'd merely look the other way and pull the race card--"Do I look Scottish?"

The rest, as they say, is history, if by "history" one means "strange but true but dope stories that remain largely untold (except on Wikipedia)."

In this culture of overspecialization, Harley quickly became the world's only (and thus greatest) (but, if you think about it, worst, too) jazz-funk bagpiper. He appeared on the Steve Allen show, recorded an album about Kennedy and a very gimmicky one called Scotch and Soul and executed a facemelting cover of the Byrds' "Eight Miles High." So much druggier and dirge-like than the original. It sounds like one long-ass wheeze, or a full-body sigh to stave off bad pills. I used to listen to this as loud as possible to purge/negate my mind. And when my dorm-mates would complain, I would simply pretend that I did not understand English.

Here's another Harley action shot that gives you a sense of his mania:

Rest in peace, Rufus. A rich and valuabe life, from the untouched days of Camelot and Malcolm to the current innovations in Goretex bagpipe bags.

Oliver has a link to Harley's most accessible moment, the surprisingly dance-able "Malika." It's there somewhere.

And here is a song that has nothing to do with Rufus Harley:

Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, "Love Comes to Me"

I was reminded of this by two things: fellow Dizzyhead R. Emmet Sweeney's familyname (b/c of the BPB collaboration with Matt (as opposed to Mike or Mark) Sweeney) and all the horrible possibilities of the current geopolitical moment. And yet, one still rides the train, falls in love, listens to songs, etc.


Blogger Jenny D said...

You know, I have totally seen that guy perform a ton of times, I had forgotten about the demented jazz bagpiper (RIP). I grew up in Philadelphia, went to school in Germantown, and he was always out and around for anything going on, you know, festival- or parade-wise.

My oboe teacher in high school also played bagpipes, and grossed me out with descriptions of the mold that grows in the chamber; I am half Scottish and have a love-hate (or maybe hate-hate is more accurate) relationship with bagpipes.

12:54 PM  

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