The Rolling Thunder of Cherokee Bagpipes

Book: The Good Humor Man: Or, Calorie 3501

Author: Andrew Fox

Music: How Great Thou Art

Composer: Carl Gustav Boberg translated into English by Stuart K. Hine

Artist: Elvis Presley

This book is an interesting near-future twist on Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451. Since several pounds of Elvis Presley’s liposuction-ed body fat play a pivotal role in the narrative, the great son of Tupelo’s songs dominate the musical references for the next week or so.

How Great Thou Art is a rollicking good hymn made all the more rollicking by The King’s rendition.

All through primary school we had choirs. All the boys would stand there mouthing the words because none of us would want to sing. Before your voice breaks you can just about get away with it because the teachers are not expecting too much basso profundo-like sound from a line-up of reluctant eight or nine year-olds so the girls carried the rest of us. It’s a pity really because How Great Thou Art is a great hymn to rip into, especially the chorus (are they called choruses in hymns?) … THEN SING MY SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOUUUUUUUUUUUULLLLLL MY SAVIOR GOD TO THEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! Oh yeah, babay!

I don’t sing hymns or think about them too often these days so it was coincidental that, the day before I read the reference the to hymn in The Good Humor Man I was waiting for the F train at 57th Street in Manhattan when the busking bagpiper performing there that day – it’s the only time I’ve seen him there in many years of frequenting that stop of the NYC Subway system – unleashed his pipes in a wonderfully unexpected blast of How Great Thou Art.

That reminds me, as I type, of listening to a jazz bagpiper on John Kelly’s Electric Ballroom show on Today FM radio as I drove home from work in Dublin to Wicklow in the late 1990s. Yes, jazz. Played on the bagpipes. As my daughter would say, “Is that even legal?” I just Googled ‘jazz bagpiper’ and discovered that ‘my’ jazz bagpiper – of whom I have warm and fuzzy memories as it was a tumultuous yet exciting and very happy time in my life – must have been Rufus Harley of Raleigh, NC. Wikipedia introduces Rufus as “an American jazz musician of mixed Cherokee and African ancestry, known primarily as the first jazz musician to adopt the Scottish great Highland bagpipe as his primary instrument.” Not a combination of terms I’d ever have expected to find strung together in a coherent and meaningful sentence, I must admit.

Having said all that, Elvis could certainly bring the rolling thunder.

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