Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Funereal Thoughts

Yesterday was completely occupied playing for a funeral in San Diego. The largest bit of the day was devoted to driving down and back. The next largest chunk, as usual, was spent waiting. Actually playing the pipes involved very little time at all. For the most part, then, I stand and wait and observe. In the words of Yogi Berra, the sage of the Bronx, "You can see a lot of things just by watching."

Irish-Americans smoke more than any other ethnic group. Or maybe they just smoke more at funerals than any other ethnic group. "Aha!" I hear you saying. "But you only play for the Scots and the Irish." A misconception. I have played for Japanese, Philipino, and African-American funerals, in addition to most of the European ethnicities. I played once for a Bulgarian Orthodox gravesite service. The deceased had played the Bulgarian pipes but they couldn't find another Bulgarian piper to play for his funeral. So I filled in, and me without a single Bulgarian tune to my name. And they seemed quite happy with the results. (Yes, the Bulgarians do too have pipes, as do all of the European nations. I think they call them the "koza" as the Poles do. But I could be wrong here. If you can find Anthony Baines' book on the pipes of the world you'll find what a widespread instrument it really is. At least in the basic physics of the thing.)

And I repeat: no one smokes at funerals like Irish-Americans. There's a federal grant for a study lurking here. "Health" or "Sociology": your choice.

Lots of folks don't like cemeteries. I have an aunt who avoids them at all costs. But this is absolutely not true for anyone who is, say, 8 years old or younger. Without regard to race, religion, or ethnic background, little kids love cemeteries. They take one look at that enormous expanse of green and the urge to run and play chase is irresistible. The mommies in their black high heels clump around trying to chase them down and restore some order but it's a lost cause. I don't care what the literary historians say. Jack London got the idea for The Call of the Wild watching little kids in cemeteries.

Families are wonderful things. But some families are more wonderful than others. (Although, I'm sure yours is among the best.) A tip for those seeking someone to marry: if you have a choice and are torn between two people (no, it never happened to me either; but it sure happens a lot in the movies and in country and western songs) study the families. Go to family weddings and funerals and observe. Some families are not much fun at weddings. Some are a delight even at funerals. You want to be a member of the second.