We, the harmonica players of the world, have worked long and hard to bring our reputation up out of the gutter and onto the sidewalk where it belongs. Historically we have not been granted our place in the orchestra of life; people would not hire us for any but the most menial tasks; the police pulled us over for simply playing our instrument while driving. (That is NOT a euphemism). Many of the great harmonica players, not all of whom were alcoholics, labored over the years to establish that we, as a people, were entitled to the same rights as any other group on this planet: Larry Adler, Sonny Boy Williamson I, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Sonny Boy Williamson IV, and so on. (Sonny Boy Williamson III was a disappointment to us all.)
And finally, after centuries of struggle involving our hard-earned blood, sweat, and tears, as well as a good deal of spit, we were taking our rightful place on the bandstand of life—not too far from the conductor so as to be seen as “less than,” yet close enough to rhythm section to be able to follow the groove. Some of us even began to believe the dark days of the past were over and that the future was here at last, in the present. We had arrived.
Or so we thought until this week, when an Oklahoma man, wielding a harmonica, was taken into custody after attacking his roommate with a harmonica. Or, as the Tulsa World couldn’t resist putting it, “A Broken Arrow man is facing the music after being accused of beating his roommate on the head with a harmonica.”
“According to Decai Liu’s arrest report, his roommate was in the bathroom getting ready for work when Liu burst in and started beating him with the instrument. Liu, 52, was charged Thursday with assault with a dangerous weapon in the attack. . . . Police tried to arrest Liu, but he allegedly resisted and head-butted one of the officers. They eventually subdued him with pepper spray, according to the report. Liu’s roommate told police, ‘I don’t know what his problem was.’”
Indeed. But now Liu’s problem is the problem of all harmonicists.
Were that this was only the first time the harmonica had been wielded as a weapon. (Or is that “Were that this were” or “Was that this were?”) Sadly, harmonicists reputations have been sullied before by the sour notes of a few bad apples: one of my brethren, Manfred Wewers, wrote on Harp-L, an email list for all things harmonica, that “The 1913 Toronto Globe and Mail (11.8.1913: 4) reported that John Mullen of Albany, New York was robbed by three men who jammed a harmonica down his throat, stole his money, and threw him from the train he was riding. No mention was made of who owned the harmonica or what kind it was. While Mullen wandered around for several hours, still dazed, Mr. S. G. Whitehead found him and ‘removed the harmonica with a pair of pliers.’ Later doctors said “such an experience probably would result fatally in most cases.”
What do both of these stories have in common? The harmonica and violence. A scourge has been loosed upon the world. The center cannot hold. I have little doubt that we will soon hear that Iran is building a harmonica factory.
Et tu, Brute?