The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 4 (July 2, 1934.)
The Big Blow and the Distant Drum
“Khyyara” and “I Am.”
“Ah, take the cash in hand
And waive the rest;
Oh, the brave music of a
Old Omar's observations prove that he knew his Persian catechism when he penned this panacea for life's fitful fevers; for “Khyyam” and “I Am” battle the breakers in the same boat; the heart-aches and head-aches of yesterday are the head-aches and heartaches of to-day and the age-old aid to health, wealth and snappiness of getting the grippers on the gold-dust that flies in the eyes while keeping the ear a'cock for the music of the distant drum, is still the pick of the pharmacopoeia. But 'tis vain to meditate on the music of the distant drum at the expense of the cash in hand, or to allow the clash of the cash to drown the insistent “dum” of the distant drum.
But old Omar's oblative obsecrations on “thrum-dobs” and drum throbs are only an oblique allusion to, first, the gifts of the gods which are left each morn with the milk on the mat, and, second, the felicitations of Fortune which always await us round the corner of to-morrow and to-morrow.
The Telescopic Optic.
In words less whirley, the cash in hand represents the presents of the Present, and the distant drum denotes Hope's hey-day and pay-day. But the telescopic optic oft' overlooks the things which are nearest and dearest, and the hope-hopper, whilst hiking hastily towards the ever retreating horizon, denies himself the delight in sight. For to-day is real, but to-morrow is a dream which may come true and may come blue.
So take the cash in hand—the gold of sun and light,
The dreamer, dreaming dreams in blind contentment, might
Be wiser than the pagan, in his patch of sun a'bask,
But at least the pagan's Present is as much as he would ask,
While the dreamer asks of Fortune more than Fortune oft' can give,
Dreamers only dream they're living, whilst the pagans know they live.
But 'tis possible to mingle your tomorrow and to-day,
And to pluck the flowers of Fortune where they bloom upon the way
To the hill whose crest will shew you other crests which you will climb,
In your search for what will always be behind the hills of Time.
But 'it's fun to pluck the Present, like a prime and pristine plum,
While you keep one ear directed to tomorrow's distant drum.
To some the distant drum is a call to arms—and feats. To others, it is mainly a tom-tom calling to the tumtum. To Youth, it is a jazz drum beating out a blither of cranky cacophonies and juggled jocundities. To the middleaged it represents the tempo of Tempus or a quickstep to hearten the heart and quicken the tread when the pack grows heavy and the feet are lead. To the aged it is nearer and clearer, for Age has caught up with the band, has shaken hands with the drummer, and has realised that the farther away you are from the drum the better it sounds.
But long may the distant drum urge on the panting populace to their divers destinies. Joan of Arc heard it across the fields of Flanders, Hannibal heard it, Alexander answered it, and when man fails to tune in to the “tum tum tum” of the big bass drum, it is a sign and a symbol that his soul is goldencrusted, lead-lined, pickled in acid of assets, and sunk in the mulloch of Mammon; his aspirations will be no higher than his hip pocket, and his only ambition will have a milled edge.
Of course there are many who have mis-coded the message of the distant drum, and many who have waded through wars and worse to get a closeup of the drum-rumbler. But mistakes will happen, and it is better to count in the scum of density than to count out the drum of Destiny.
The Blast of Brass.
So, as Gracie Fields advises, “Fall in and follow the band,” the band of Hope, the call of the weald.
Who is there so dumb and dubious that he can resist the blare of the band —the blustering blast of the Big Blow? That Kruschen crash of brass and breath, that zipp and zoom of accelerated air. Why, even well-bred babies still kick the stuffing out of their perambulators, swaddlings swallow their chewing gum, and adults become adulterated and trickle along behind the big bassoon, when the band goes by. And why? Because of all the variegated velocitated vibrations that masquerade as music, give us the big bold brasses. The wild wail of the bagpipes may stir the Scot to the very knots of his purse strings, the oboe may minister to the meth-elated spirits of the dismal Desmonds, the saxophone may sag and moan, jazz may cater, from hip to heel, to the cataleptic callisthenics of the rhythm-ridden; crooners may give depressed-air expression to the curse of Adam, and violins may whip the welkin from neck to knee with every knack of neoteric necromancy from the sob of a punctured pie-crust to the scream of a stepped-on corn; but the “brasses” have the wood on the “wood-winds,” they have the “reeds” rattled, the “strings” unstrung, and the oscillated orchestrations of synchronised syncopation jazzed to a “frazz.”
A Welter of Wind.
When the brass band hits the air pockets with Barnum and Bailey's Best, Colonel Bogey, Barney Google, Hearts and Flowers, Beer and Onions, Men of Garlic, and Hearts of Okum, the soul must be dead indeed which is not stirred to a state where it craves to joust a joist or fling down a gauntlet or gimlet or a giblet to prove that men are men in spite of wives and sweethearts—and everything else to the contrary. Who has not felt, when the big drum bangs, that Rob Roy was right and Tarzan was top of his class? Who has not forgotten for the nonce that he is a J.P., a C.T., an M.C., a T.T., and the father of a large and disrespectful family—when the brasses enter his soul?
No wonder grandpa fought in the Crimea with his whiskers frozen to his chest, just because the throaty throb of the old “oompah” had caught him off his guard.
Stirring! Well, siree, if it's not it is time mankind was inoculated with a serum of leopard's spots and Chicago gin.
The Big Noise of Yes-stir-day.
But where are the bands of our wildwood days, the bands we used to hear throbbing in the distance like the heart of a boiler-factory wrapped in wadding? The bands we pursued for miles and miles, until their muffled palpitations grew to the fascinating frenzy of plumbers at play or Saturday night in the tin mines? The rattle of the kettle drums, the high-hullabaloo of the horns, the blistering blasts of the cornets, the guttural “gumph” of the old Oompah, the “oof oof” of the ougah, the thud of the big drum—like an elephant being beaten with a motor tyre—and the whole harmonious hicockolorum of brass, breath and biff, blended by Bash and spiced with a moiety of military motley.
We long for the “dum dum dum”
of the drum,
For the rat-a-tat-tat
And the “r-r-rum turn tum”
Of the big brass band,
With its music grand,
And its “biff bang crash”
We could understand.
We long for its “r-r-rhan tah rhatitty tan,”
And the big drum-major
In the van.
But none of us old folks understand
What has become of the big brass band.
If Civilisation crumbles and Cash crashes, and Progress passes of a palsy, it will be because Man's soul has been snookered through lack of lilt and a paucity of passionate pandemonium. If the iron enters his soul it will be because the brass has failed to enter his ear.
But we of the old brigade must content ourselves with a repetition of that Latin warning, “nec mora,” which, translated transatlantically, means “give it the air.”