20 July 2007

Places Everyone!

OK, so NYC is quite obviously using this glorified pothole as a practice exercise for nuclear war. The amount of vehicles and staging areas around here is simply insane. And they all seem to be getting very comfortable; like they're gonna be here for a while.

The Red Cross is here with their little baskets of mini KitKats and cases of Poland Spring, the OEM has a few of those giant mobile home / "data centers" on wheels parked outside Daffys; in fact I think my Daffys is now a makeshift police precinct; ConEd is taking this opportunity to replace every loose wire within a 15-square block radius all while collecting bags of soiled clothes and giving people tickets for reimbursement... All of this, mind you, is happening about six blocks away from "the hole" a/k/a Steampipe Alley.

It feels more like a Tom Hanks movie set or a staging zone for the aftermath of a colossal earthquake than what it actually is.

Oh, and I happened upon a Bloomberg press conference yesterday afternoon over on Vanderbilt and 44th. Lots of big dudes stuffed into stiff suits and talking into their wrists. The big guys forgot to give Bloomy an umbrella when it started raining though; he had to ask for one. Classic.

And this morning it took my express bus about 20 minutes to lurch from 39th to 42nd street. I fell asleep ten times and kept on waking up in the same place.

And why is Lexington still closed from 57th to 39th ? Doesn't that seem a bit much? I'm assuming theres a reason for it because thats the only part of the "frozen zone" that hasn't changed. Hmmm.

OK, enough about that. Just know its chaotic down these parts, chaotic I tell ya! The amount of activity around here is absolutely blinding.

When I walk the few blocks from Madison down to Lex I seriously hear the Muppet Show theme in my head as everyone is carrying shit to and fro, moving stuff around, raising giant lights and unfurling yellow ropes, big trucks are unloading heavy boxes of who knows what, a marching band is tuning up, Big Bird and Snuffleupagus are arguing about something, the big giant Garfield float is hovering overhead; I feel like a part of a big Broadway show.

I made it, Ma!

So anyway, I've been taking my dog on guest walks. Every morning I walk her on the same route but after work I like to go for a drive and let her shit and pee in a new area; its sort of like a vacation for her. She gets to sample new sights, sounds and scents.

So yesterday we wound up over by The Towizz on 65th street. Theres a grungy little park there on the side of that car commercial-esque winding roadway which leads to the Belt headed East.

When I got out of my car, I heard bagpipes. It was playing "Amazing Grace". For a moment I thought I'd died and this was heaven. I had my dog nibble on my hand to make sure I wasn't dreaming. I wasn't.

There was a guy named Bill pacing back and forth on the grass practicing his pipes by himself. No one was around. Just Bill, my dog and I.

So I caught the tail end of "Amazing Grace" before he broke into "La Cucaracha"?!!? and then he stopped playing and started walking to leave. Maybe he was embarrassed? Practicing an instrument can be a lot like working out, its often a very private, intimate thing that you don't really want to do in public.

I stopped him when he got to the gate and asked him about the bagpipes. At first I think he thought I was going to mug him. I saw it in his eyes. I thought to myself its a shame that thats how its gotta be these days but so be it. I wasn't gonna mug him, I just wanted to ask him some questions about one of the most intriguing instruments, ever. At least to me.

The bagpipes have always baffled me. Not only does it sound like ten things are going on at once being played by one person, but if you've ever watched a parade and heard a marching band with a bagpipe section... there is nothing, absolutely nothing, more visceral and evocative than the somber and proud tone of the bagpipes. It can bring me tears with ease. Its the only sound that can do that to me. It strikes a chord deep inside me, instantly. I get chills, like Pavlov's pups.

Now, I didn't get chills when I heard Bill playing La Cucaracha but when I asked him how and why it sounds like so many things are going on at once I almost did.

Bill said the reason it was designed that way, or at least the reason the Brits or the Scots or the Irish played them in marches to battle, was because it sounded like a bunch of different sounds at once. He said that came in handy when you would have maybe 2 or 3 guys playing the pipes, but it would sound like a giant army was coming to get you.

It was also used for its visceral qualities to inspire men and women on the battlefield and in the aftermath, the mourning of the fallen and celebration of the victor could equally well be beautifully composed and played by a piper.

"As a musical instrument of war, the Great Pipes of the Highlands were without equal, according to historians. The shrill and penetrating notes worked well in the roar and din of battle and pipes could be heard at distances up to 10 miles.

Because of the importance of the bagpipes to any Highland army, they were classified as an instrument of war by the Loyalist government during the Highland uprising in the 1700s. After the defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745, kilts and bagpipes were outlawed, the pipes being classified as instruments of war.

Never has an instrument been so loved by a people and yet so feared by their enemies as the Highland bagpipes. The pipes are a symbol of strength, the salve of the soul, and the prize of Clans.

The Scottish Bagpipes are thought to date back to about 100 AD. Their true origin is uncertain, but the Scottish Highland bagpipe is the most familiar throughout the world. They became popular in Scotland during the 15th century.

The English crown so feared their stirring effects on the Scottish population after their defeats in the 189th Century that the playing of the bagpipes was forbidden upon pain of imprisonment or death.
" [History of the Bagpipes]

So I stood and talked with Bill for a spell and he showed me this practice pipe they give you to learn before you graduate to an actual set of bagpipes; it looked like a miniature recorder. He said he'd been taking lessons for 15 years and he's still learning.

Once I told him I was also a musician he loosened up a bit and started unscrewing the drones to show me the double reeds and how you fill the bag with air and the chanters. I'm certain I was wide eyed and looked confused.

I've always wanted to incorporate the pipes into my music but any pipers I've spoken with were often hesitant because its so hard to incorporate the bagpipe into a group. The pipes are in the key of A which isn't an easy key for a guitarist or a vocal to follow. Therefore the music often has to be written around the bagpipe or for it and with it in mind in order for it to all come together.

I wanted to ask for Bill's number but his dead fish handshake and his nervous eyes told me to just let it go and hopefully I'd run into him again sometime. I'd love to do a folk song with some pipes in there. That would be sweet.

Bill remarked that my dog was beautiful and that his friend has a Staffordshire Bull Terrier. We spoke about Michael Vick for a moment, dogfighting, dogfighting in the South Bronx and then Bill said he had to go.

"OK" I said, "It was nice meeting you, Bill." and I drove off into the cool night.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If you want to jam with bagpipes, give me a shout!