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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution

The Essay
Show #546
Tent City
David Gunn

Tennessee, the sixteenth state of the United States, was discovered and claimed by the Spanish Acquisition in 1540. Renowned explorer Juan Emilio Pepe la Cucaracha de Beanos Noches Bengaze was in search of a shortcut to the East Indies and had just forded the Mississippi River when he happened upon a plain on which stood thousands of tepees. By any stretch of the unusually pliant Spanish imagination, it was vast -- the wigwams extended as far as Bengaze's eyes could be dotted. His language was richly descriptive when it came to things like food (Spanish omelet), combat (Spanish American War), bromeliads (Spanish moss), and entomology (Spanish fly). However, it had no word for the scene that lay before him. So Beanos Noches appropriated his English footman's term: "tent city." But because sixteenth century Spaniards hadnít yet learned how to wrap their tongues around affricatives, they pronounced it "Tennessee."

Bengaze noticed a plume of smoke rising from one of the tepees, which led him to theorize that it was inhabited. This was confirmed moments later when a colossal clamor erupted from within the structure and hundreds of vermilion-skinned musicians spilled outside. Bengaze assumed they were musicians -- each clutched a drum or flute or helicon or other sound-producing implement. And what he initially dismissed as unapologetic cacophony gradually assumed the melodic contour and rhythmic intensity of "Indian Love Call," a little Paleolithic ditty that had about as much in common with Amerindian romance as Popeil's Pocket Fisherman has with the particle accelerator at CERN. In time, the music became more frenetic, heralding a mock battle. The women with the helicons attacked and routed their male counterparts with the flutes while the drummers settled into a torrid tattoo that would resurface four and a quarter centuries later as the rhythmic component of "In-a-Gadda-da-Vida." To be sure, this unexpurgated display of a primitive cultureís sacred rite was spellbinding, and Bengaze ordered his men to conceal themselves so they wouldn't spook the performers. That wasn't good enough for one overachieving anthropologist who was determined to get a better view of the spectacle. Disguising himself as a conifer -- at the edge of a deciduous forest, of all places! -- the operative managed to slip away and plant himself seemingly unnoticed right in the midst of the action. And what action it abruptly became! Following a G minor triad that sounded like it issued from the bowels of a giant termite mound, all of the helicons simultaneously broke apart, revealing forty or so silviculturists. Bengaze assumed they were silviculturists -- each sported a gabardine breechclout festooned with a chainsaw totem. Ignoring the still-raging mÍlťe, they extracted tomahawks from somewhere in their nether regions and proceeded to chop down two dozen of the nearby trees, including the conifer that would likely soon cease concealing the anthropologist. Bengaze tried to recall if he had lost a crew member in a stupider circumstance and concluded he probably hadn't.

Beanos Noches may have felt blasť over the imminent demise of one of his team, but Jorge, head of Security, didn't. Under his watch, the expedition had lost none of its members, and he was not about to let that happen now if he could help it. So he disregarded Bengaze's command and attacked the musicians single-handedly. Armed with only a bag of Spanish onions, however, he was no match for the drummers, who parried with a flurry of paradiddles, flam taps, and an especially devastating barrage of triple ratamacues. The assault quickly brought Jorge to his knees. Regrettably for the frolicking Amerindians, it also brought down, so to speak, the house. Or houses, really. The scads of tepees, I'm sorry to report, had been erected on what one day would be known as the New Madrid Seismic Zone. And the percussive hullabaloo set off a massive temblor that caused a giant rift to open in the earth into which all of the tepee dwellers plunged. Many members of the Bengaze expedition were too stunned to flee and were also swallowed up by the seismological calamity. Those who survived -- including Beanos Noches -- now headed north, and in time they did stumble upon the East Indies.

A little more than three centuries later, the Mossy Creek Missionary Baptist Seminary broke ground on the Amerindian burial ground. By itself, that action would seem to have little bearing on activities here in the Kalvos and Damian control center. However, the MCMBS later reinvented itself as Carson-Newman College, home of the Marching Eagles. And what representative from that institution has petitioned to subject his music to us and, by extension, to you, our listening audient? You'll find out only if you turn up the volume on your radio receiver a bit, wipe off your feet, then join Kalvos & Damian's musicological hunter-gatherers in the house.