I play with this little band from time to time. We’re the kind of band that does parades, you know, 4th of July, Patriots Day and the like, holidays, even New Year’s Eve and Halloween parades. But not your usual marching band with crisp parade outfits and marching in step, playing old Sousa marches. No, we’re a little looser. Run by an 87 year old big band sax player and crooner from Saugus, we are the Tony Barrie Band, small, but loud, all trumpets and trombones, no clarinets, no piccolos. We play without music, and kind of march/walk at our own pace. We play all the service songs, Army, Navy, Marines, all the flag songs and patriotic songs like Yankee Doodle and It’s A Grand Old Flag. Then when we feel like it we mix it up with a chorus of Tequila or Mickey Mouse Club March or When The Saints Go Marching In. We like to get the crowds involved, get them to dance or wave the flag or sing along. If someone has a birthday we stop marching, pull over to the side of the road and play a rousing chorus of Happy Birthday like that was the only thing we came out for.
But anyway, so today we are marching in East Boston for Columbus Day, and the streets are crowded with people, many waving flags, all sorts of flags, many Italian and Irish among others, but everywhere, everywhere, American flags, big flags, little tiny flags, draped from windows, hanging on buildings, hanging from a pair of ladder trucks straddling the main street. So at one point I ran out in front of the band and shouted to the crowd, “What’s the greatest country in the world?” thinking that I would get the response, “America!” and then we would roll off and launch into a rousing chorus of It’s A Grand Old Flag. I got – silence. No response. I shouted the question again and receiving still no response, supplied my own answer and we went into the song.
No response. No one knew the answer. Plenty of flags on display. It is Columbus Day, you know, the guy who discovered “America”.
Needless to say I didn’t try that question again. So what was it? Were people not sure what the answer was? Did they think it was a trick question? Is there some doubt in people’s minds? Or maybe it was the classroom syndrome, no one wants to be the first to answer in case they get the wrong answer and look like a fool? MCAS is supposed to fix that, right? Anyway, never mind, let’s not get started on that. Well and it also occurred to me that maybe it sounded “Ugly American” and jingoistic, like implying America is greater because all the others are inferior or something like that. Which is certainly not what I meant, but who knows? Maybe I just asked the wrong people at the wrong time. Makes you wonder, though.
But on the way home I tuned into MIT station WMBR at 88.1FM just in time to hear a song that may change all that.
Check out www.myspace.com/sambamapangala where there is a recording you can listen to. Or go to http://drop.io/sambasingsforobama where you can download it.
The song is Obama Ubari Kiwe by Orchestra Virunga from Kenya.
Maybe by next year’s parade folks will know the answer to the question….