Baby Bison, don't tread on that pretty flower...

Baby Bison, don't tread on that pretty flower...
Custer State Park, SD; June, 2010

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Columbia, TN, United States
I am a Christian, married over 43 years to my gorgeous first wife; in 13th year as professor of education at Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, TN; 4 children and 9 grandchildren.

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Friday, April 16, 2010

Dueling

Recently I watched one of my favorite movies about music, The Five Pennies, detailing the life and struggles of Ernest Loring “Red” Nichols, cornet player and Big Band leader extraordinaire. As you may never have pondered, there is a difference between a musical and a movie about music.

The former takes a possibly otherwise music-less plot and characters and puts lots of songs at strategic points scattered appropriately throughout the scenes. Examples of musicals are The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady, Fiddler on the Roof, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Brigadoon, The Wizard of Oz, Oklahoma…the list is almost endless including good and bad renderings. I love many musicals, some just for the music, others for the storyline as well. One highlight of our mid-life travels included our staying at the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vermont. That’s where the Sound of Music family settled after immigrating to America to escape the spider flag people that made everyone so cross with one another during World War II. That vacation was a picturesque and memorable experience.

The latter, movies about music, would include the aforementioned Pennies, The Glenn Miller Story, and Yankee Doodle Dandy, just to name a few. Those usually include great music with a better-than-average plot involving the lives of real characters who loved music and made it a top priority in their lives. In the three named above, Danny Kay, Jimmy Stewart, and James Cagney all do remarkable jobs of portraying Nichols, Miller, and George M. Cohan respectively. I enjoy both types of movies a lot.

So if you’re still with me and haven’t as yet escaped back into your real, music-less world…you may be asking yourself what in the treble clef this has to do with the title of this blog…Dueling? It just so happens that Red Nichols hooks up with Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong in Pennies to engage in what I like to call dueling brass. Red’s cornet begins a jazzed-up version of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” which is joined by Satchmo’s trumpet in true Dixieland style. They “duel” together on screen while ad-libbing and echoing each other as the tempo brightens and the pitch soars. As a brass lover who played trumpet for 10 years from grade two until high school graduation, I love watching and re-watching that scene. It also helps that I have fond memories of my son Daniel who became quite a good trumpeter in his teen years.

That made me ponder other “duels.” Of course, historically, there was Burr’s outshooting Hamilton in that episode from early U.S. History that we all studies in junior high and high school classes. Several movies and television shows about duels come to mind as well. In The Count of Monte Cristo, Edmund Dantes and his “son” discover the truth before they shoot it on the “field of honor.” An episode of my favorite TV show, all about Andy Griffith and life in and around the peaceful town of Mayberry, has the Wakefields and Carters performing their version of the Hatfields and McCoys as Sheriff Taylor takes a side-trip to ponder the goings on of the Bard’s Romeo and Juliet. With Andy’s well-scripted guidance, the feud ends and a happy marriage commences.

Two other musical “duelings” come to mind. Of course there’s the famous and infamous “Dueling Banjos” in Deliverance; and more dueling banjos picking at top speed to win a coveted prize and title in “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” Those boys were smokin’! (Exactly what I'm not sure?)

The “real” dueling that comes to mind however has nothing at all to do with music. I don’t even remember Dennis Weaver or the my-face-can’t-be-on-film truck driver ever singing, playing, or even humming or whistling anything. The movie was Duel (1971 – year of my marriage – no I wouldn’t dare blog about that 39+ year dueling – just kidding, honey, it’s been wonderful). It was one of creepiest films I’ve ever seen. I think my wife would agree. Dennis Weaver is driving an old, broken-down, barely alive automobile cross country on a business trip in the daze before GPS and cell phones. He gets in a periodic duel with a tanker truck obviously driven by a terrorist (one bent on terrorizing others – in this case Weaver’s character – for no apparent reason that the script dictates it) played by famous stunt actor Carey Loftin. It gets dangerous; it gets scary; it gets intense. Choose your weapons? Not swords or clubs or even pistols at 10 paces (certainly not musical instruments)…count, walk, turn, and fire at will with your carefully-chosen seconds poised to enforce the rules and assist the wounded. Not this flick. These two “stars” get in their respective vehicles and stalk each other on the highways at high speeds with evil intent. I trust that’s just enough of the plot to whet your appetite.

So my mind foggily blogged from the serene and entertaining musical brass duel of The Five Pennies to the intensely powerful, dramatic vehicular “war” of Duel. Such is the nature of blogging…at least in my cranial cavity.

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