Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Melodies and Meanings - Dedicated to Scott Sorensen, Reno PD

"Bang the drum slowly and play the fife lowly." A Cowboy's Lament.

Have you ever had a melody stuck in your mind and couldn't shake it? I'm not talking about a passing fancy for Mambo Number Five, or the jingle from some commercial. Decades, a most haunting bit of a song....

I saw Bang the Drum Slowly when I was in college. It's the story of a baseball pitcher, a star. He befriends - is really the only friend of - a simple young catcher played by Robert De Niro. The catcher isn't all that talented, is teased for his limited intellect, mostly is shunned by teammates and he is dying. The pitcher insists on a contract clause linking them during the catcher's last season. "He goes where I go." No one knows about the catcher's illness until one day the pitcher screams at someone in frustration that it is the last season, in many ways, for his friend.

Of course you know what happens next. Everyone treats him better. Isn't that just human nature?

The movie uses "The Streets of Laredo" as a theme, the sad lyrics and haunting melody a part of the underlying message. Too soon, the cowboy - the catcher - is gone. I've sung it softly to myself more than once, and remembered the often frustrated loyalty of the pitcher. I searched fruitlessly for this song (I didn't know the title) but today found a number of versions. None is as impressive as that contained in the movie, when a player tries to sing it in the locker room to a hail of derision from teammates. But he persists, his song carrying a deeper meaning than he could know.


*Scott Sorensen is a Reno police officer and friend of my friend Laura Hutchings Baker, a captain for Reno Fire. He lost his fight on 8/26 and passed away. Godspeed, Brother.

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