Bullyland, Part I: Fast Learner

As a pious Catholic boy, I had never received lessons on how to deal with bullies.

IN WHICH I  deal with one type of bully.

Ex-marine sergeant and Troop 16 scoutmaster George Murray strutted four patrols away from the one I was in, Patrol 7. Its leader, tall, lanky, wiry Paul “Gussie” Gusterton, was frantically trying to button the collar of his uniform. If he failed at that, he wouldn’t be able to attach his neckerchief properly. It would look . . . sloppy. And there would be consequences . . . .

Continue reading “Bullyland, Part I: Fast Learner”

Why We Listened to Gene Pitney

It’s a perfect three-minute teaser for a legendary western by the same name, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence.

The song opens with a languid intro on the fiddle, followed by a simple quadruple drum pattern. Then, rising dramatic tension. A few bars later the voice enters, with a tessitura so distinctive I’d never heard one like it before or since. It was halfway between a country vocalist and a pop balladeer. The singer sets the story by painting a scary picture of a villain who terrorizes the townspeople with his “straight and fast” shooting. In the next stanza, the singer’s quavering voice softens the music to introduce an unobtrusive female chorus. In one line he describes the hero, a reasonable man who just wants to live in peace with his girl despite the gruesome gunslinger terrorizing them. Rising crescendos in the chorus inject even more tension, tattoos on the snare drum imitate gunshots, and the song suddenly ends, ambiguously, cagily, without revealing its surprise. It’s a perfect three-minute teaser for a legendary western by the same name. Continue reading “Why We Listened to Gene Pitney”