Bang the Drums

Listening to the bagpipes played at the various events celebrating John McCain’s life this week left me in need of a bagpipe fix, so I downloaded an album from iTunes. There’s nothing like the sweet tune played on the pipes’ chanter accompanied by the rousing blare of the drones. If you’ve never heard them in person, you have missed an encounter that cannot be equaled. They kick the heart and churn the soul until you simply cannot help but stand up and declare yourself free of all earthly bounds.

My father played the drums in a bagpipe band when I was a teenager. As I began listening to this album I’d chosen at random, the first song, “Scotland the Brave,” moved from single bagpipe to a chorus of pipers to the inclusion of the drums, and I remembered with poignancy, awe and not a few tears my father’s struggles to master the damn technique of those Scottish drums. I don’t understand the intricacies of the differences between any other percussion style and those of the Scots, but I do know he did a fair amount of swearing as he practiced for hours on his little homemade drum pad. But master them he did.

Every Wednesday night, our family—Dad, Mom, little sister and I—would head to the military industrial complex where my father worked. While my sister and I took Scottish dancing lessons in one of the out buildings, outside the pipers and drummers would practice both the mastery of their instruments and marching, both fast and slow. And every Christmas, band and dancers together would march in the local holiday parade. We’d wear our little dancing slippers which really weren’t meant for marching, but the magic and joy of following the band led by its drum major lives on in my memory forever.

I miss my daddy. I listen to the drums on this bagpipe album, and there’s a part of me that wants to squeal with a child’s delight. If you ever hear a bagpipe band, whether recorded or live, pay attention to the drums. They’re the best bit of percussive work you’ll ever experience.

My Daddy in all his glory


Now it’s Personal

His name was…well, his name’s not important. I never knew him.  He was the son of a cousin whom I also didn’t know, but I’m close to his aunt thanks to social media.  Early Monday morning he was murdered, shot multiple times, in the still, cold ache of night, and left to die in his driveway.  With a suspect in custody, the story will quickly slip out of the public’s domain to oppress those who loved him for eternity.  A shot ringing out forever in the dark.  A scream of death never ending.

I hate guns.  I have never been fond of them, but now I’m done with them.  It’s too easy to kill with them.  And I’m not talking about how easily they kill; I’m talking about how impersonal, how coldly distant the killing becomes when all it takes is standing 10, 20, 30 feet from the victim, holding up a piece of metal and squeezing one small moving part.


See?  Didn’t cost a thing.

You confront someone you’re pissed at, for whatever reason, and if neither of you has a weapon, likely someone’s nose will end up broken, maybe a few ribs as well if the other guy is strong enough.  But it’s personal.  It’s intimate.

You stab someone with a knife, you can’t help but take a little of their blood with you, still warm from the cooling body.  You might even sense the last breath as the soul departs if you can’t get away fast enough.

But pull a gun, and the story’s over.  No contact with another human being to remind you that you’re both the same somewhere inside.  Just that little squeeze-bang-run.

Yep, I’m done with guns.