"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Danny Pearl's Favorite

Those Reform Club patrons who know me only as mouthy and stridently opinionated middle-aged female economist and political observer will perhaps be amused to learn that I am also an amateur musician of the unbounded enthusiasm but dubious ability school. At the age of 44, after a lifetime of playing normal instruments -- piano and various woodwinds -- I began harping in Irish/folk/early music styles.

I belong to an informal group that occasionally performs in public. St. Patrick's Day is to Irish bands as April 15 is to the IRS, and we have a local gig lined up the previous weekend. You don't just play music in these venues, you have a line of patter including jokes, stories, and information about the music you're performing. So I was surfing for tidbits, looking for some background on an old Irish reel usually called "Red Haired Boy" although it's got other names and multiple sets of lyrics like "Little Beggarman" and "Auld Rigadoo." What I found, mostly on a well-known traditional tune swapping site called The Session, was more than I anticipated.

I found the tune easily enough. But it had another name cross-indexed there, one I'd never heard before. Danny Pearl's Favorite. What the heck can that be? I thought to myself.

I knew who Daniel Pearl was, of course. There can't be many who don't remember the Wall Street Journal reporter kidnapped and savagely beheaded by Islamofascist terrorists in January 2002. His gruesome death was videotaped and shown to the world. His pregnant wife Marianne supplied the tragic poignancy of the personal angle for the millions who knew his name, and his fate, but little else. His colleagues at WSJ knew and told more, but eulogies are brief and not long remembered by those who didn't know the dead personally. But there are other rivers in the collective memory, and I had stumbled upon one.

On February 25, 2002, less than a month after Daniel Pearl's murder was confirmed by Pakistani authorities, the following message was posted to a discussion group on The Session:

Take a minute out to remember Danny Pearl, a bluegrass fiddler whose favorite tune was "Red-Haired Boy", and was kidnapped and murdered while on the job for The Wall Street Journal. Better yet, how about playing the tune at your next session to remember him by.

More suggestions follow: play it slow the first time through, play it as an air. Tell the story to your fellow musicians, to the audience. And then: let's call it Danny Pearl's Favorite. There are thousands of trad songs called [X's] Favorite. These tunes are so old, and have been passed around in the aural tradition for so long, that no one remembers the original names, if they had names at all.

And then, more than a year later, this post appears:

When journalist Daniel Pearl was savagely killed by terrorists who had taken him hostage in Pakistan, the papers and other news organizations discovered that Danny Pearl was also a fiddler -- bluegrass and oldtime, mainly, but he loved playing all kinds of music. His favorite tune was said to have been The Red-Haired Boy. Quite a few players got the idea all at the same time: what if we started spreading another name for the tune?Danny Pearl's Favorite. Many tunes, of course, have more than one name, and many of those tune names are ****'s Favorite.

So I suggested it to The Session, and many players wrote to say that they'd start spreading the usage of the new tune name to honor Danny Pearl. And then I more or less forgot about it, because you really don't hear Red-Haired Boy at Irish sessions, at least around here, very often.

But I was at an unfamiliar session recently, one where they played some old time as well, and someone started playing Red Haired Boy. "Oh, yes, Red-Haired Boy," I said, picking up my bow.

"Danny Pearl's Favorite," corrected the young fiddler across from me, picking up the tune.

I had to do some blinking for a bit to get the tune out.

We're going to tell the story at our St. Patrick's Day gig. But someone else will have to do it. I had to do some blinking for a bit just to write this post.

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