John Phillip Sousa: A man who felt that unwieldy instruments designed to be played in carefully constructed concert halls would be better implemented causing scoliosis among adolescents in parades across rutted and muddy football fields.
Patriotic March: A style of music revolutionized by John Phillip Sousa because he believed that chauvin-style patriotism and war were too short in supply.
The Sousaphone: Created by John Phillip Sousa because no instrument of the orchestra was sufficiently annoying.
The Steel Guitar: Not invented by John Phillip Sousa, only because he never thought of it.
It’s been my privilege, over the years, to watch the parents of many budding musicians. I particularly enjoy seeing how parents respond when their young angel starts a band called “Death on a Cracker.” I make it a point to visit on band night. It’s not that I particularly enjoy hearing musical wannabes, ten years from instrumental competence strain their yard sale equipment in an effort to make sure “the hottie down the street can hear us.” What I really enjoy is sitting at the kitchen table with the Mom and Dad.
The bass amp, downstairs, turns the spoon in my teacup into an unwilling percussion instrument. After several unrecognizable cover tunes they break into their future hit, “You’ve got my cupcake in your spleen.”
The kids are pretty excited, thinking that they’re breaking new ground. The parents are struggling with mixed feeling of pride, dread, nostalgia, and the epiphany that they finally understand their parents. I’m feeling pretty smug, having no kids of my own and knowing I can leave before the Advil runs out.
I’ve lived just long enough to wise up to the fact that life presents certain consistencies. I’m not talking just about death, taxes and the French being rude; I’m talking about more significant patterns. Wise King Solomon wrote that there’s nothing new under the sun. I’m willing to wager that thought occurred to him while Rehoboam and the Diaspora were rehearsing in the basement.
It makes me wonder about Mr. and Mrs. Sousa, John Phillips parents.
When you name a kid “John Phillip,” you must be hoping the kid will turn out to be some kind of weenie. John Phillip took a lot of ribbing as he waited with the other kids at the school carriage stop each morning. Smart-ass violinists kept poking him with their bows and although Mom and Dad had bought him a harpsichord for his birthday, he couldn’t take it on the carriage with him or use it to defend himself. It was at this time that John Phillip began imagining a world in which all non-aggressive children had a sixty-pound metal instrument with leather case that they could use to whomp the heck out of violin players.
It was when he started getting together with a hundred of his friends in their basement when Mr. and Mrs. Sousa’s headaches began.
“Really son, patriotism is a fine thing but I’ve had to recaulk the window twice since you and your friends started meeting here. Maybe you should consider a new arrangement of Yankee Doodle for small instruments only.”
Like most people, I grew up going to July 4th picnics and high school football games. I enjoy a charred hamburger as much as the next guy and who could find fault with boys in their late formative years lining up over an ovoid air filled leather bladder and on cue do their level best to injure the fellow on the other side. The fun would end (or at least be suspended) when it came time for the after barbecue concert or halftime entertainment. Pubescent and post-pubescent players of protrudinous platnumised pot-metal promenade precariously while a pudgy pompous impresario with a pompadour pushes, pouts and points in a practically pornographic paroxysm of pointless pedagogy (please excuse, my doctor said I had to do alliteration exercises every day to prevent tongue cancer). All this is done in an attempt to create obscenely loud elevator music.
John Phillip did write the theme for Monty Python so at least he showed the good taste to be a Terry Gilliam fan but why continue with his music? Even Sousa’s original vision is no longer valid as incidents of children being attacked by rowdy violinists are way down. A wise guy in the back suggests it’s a conspiracy of the NEA and bedlam-loving music storeowners. I don’t buy it.
Maybe people have trouble envisioning an eighty five-piece rock band in stiff, polyester uniforms, with portable amps walking in file and spelling out “bobcats” in perspiration darkened primary colors. Maybe if more talked to my red-eyed friends across from my rattling teacup, they might catch the vision.
“And now for half-time, the Abbeyville marching rock bad will be playing, ‘You’ve got my cupcake in your spleen.’”
I kinda like this band - the dorky host? Not so much.