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Who Are All These Morons?


Today marks the continuation of The Harmonica Chronicles, an intermittent, halting series in which I intend to explain why the harmonica—more than any other instrument in the civilized world or the United States—is the answer. But before I begin the groundwork must be laid, because you don’t want to proceed before you lay your groundwork.

At our most recent monthly All-Star Jam with Los Train Wreck (go ahead, FaceBook people—click on the link and friend us! We need friends. We are musicians.) I announced that the great Ben Fong Torres and Lynn the Bartender are running for mayor of San Francisco (separately, that is). I admit that I made these announcements without checking with the principles, but hey, it’s not the first time someone was nominated for high office without being asked. Look at George W. Bush. However, unlike Bush, neither Mr. Fong-Torres nor Ms. Bartender took up the baton and ran with it. Therefore, I hereby and henceforth announce that I, Samuel M. Barry, being of sound mind and body, am running for mayor of the great city of San Francisco. I am not as elegant, tall, or young as the departing mayor Gavin Newsome, but these shortcomings may be advantageous. For instance, I am less likely to have an affair with one of my aids, because she would probably say “no.” Also, when it comes to harmonica I can play rings around Newsome.

I haven’t settled on a campaign theme yet. I have two ideas:

• Positive: Together, we can get do it!
• Negative: Who are all these morons?

While I see the inherent value of going with the positive campaign, I think the negative better fits the tenor of the times. I had one other idea—“Quietly doing the right thing”—but this seems a surefire way to be ignored.

As mayor I intend to take San Francisco in a New Direction. Currently we are heading north, while the East Bay is heading south, as the two tectonic plates that met out here at a rave back in the day continue their grand (and rather dirty) dance. I think it is time we went forward to the past, to steal an idea from a great movie—and basically we see movies as reality here in California—and crown myself emperor.

There is a precedent for this: on September 17, 1859, Joshua Norton of San Francisco declared himself “Norton I, Emperor of the United States.” As emperor, Norton I abolished both the Democratic and Republican parties—a policy which would undoubtedly be very popular today.

Emperor Norton also issued and spent his own currency, much as the United States still does, but for some reason Emperor Norton was viewed as deranged. I will also issue my own currency, as the old-fashioned way of working for it is tiresome and time consuming.

Emperor Norton is a beloved figure in San Francisco, of course—for instance, one of our many fine, independent bookstores, Bird and Beckett, recently honored his legacy—but he is remembered fondly around the world in Somerville, Massachusetts, the home of the Emperor Norton’s Stationary Marching Band. These followers of Emperor Norton believe he revealed himself to be “no ordinary mortal man, but instead a manifestation of the absurd and unusual forces of the universe” on a “crusade to unsettle and disturb that which had become bland and banal.” The members of ENSMB “dance at the edge of reason, sing the song of society’s fringe and drum out whatever din you are called to march to. Emperor Norton is not dead; he is waiting to be awakened in each of us.”

Whatever the members of ENSMB are smoking, I’m in. After all, several world religions have begun on less coherent and concrete grounds. I wonder if they need a harmonica player?

Whether you play an instrument or not, I invite you to join with me in a stationary celebration of the life of Emperor Norton. And don’t forget to vote for Sam Barry for mayor of San Francisco if you live here in San Francisco, or even if you don’t. I’m not sure when the election is being held, but I imagine someone will let me know.

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Emperor Norton

“no ordinary mortal man, but instead a manifestation of the absurd and unusual forces of the universe”.

Yes, go ahead, Sam! London did it with Boris Johnson!

Sure you're right about being ignored with the "Quietly doing the right thing," slogan. That's exactly what happened here to Iain Duncan Smith, the self-styled Quiet Man. Self-promotion may be abhorrent, but self-effacement before you begin doesn't exactly have us leaping up to salute, either. 'In the beginning was the word...'

Blog-readers can vouch that you've got what it takes. If you can't blow your own trumpet, I'm sure you'll strike the right note with your harmonica!

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You Have My Vote

Just don't tell anyone I actually live in North Carolina. I have been to San Francisco a couple of times though and found it to be a beautiful city. I am curious about one thing. Are there any female harmonica players? For some reason I thought about this tonight while watching Stephen Tyler play the harmonica on Letterman.

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Women Harmonica Players

There are indeed women harmonica players. I've taught some, and there are some famous ones from the past, most notably Big Mama Thornton, as well as some up-and-coming ones: Annie Raines, Lynn Ann Hyde, Trina Hamlin, "Big Nancy" Swarbrick, and many more . . .