Anthropologist and the Goat
Acknowledgement: Lyrics from The Bodhrán Song by Brian O’Rourke (M&C Music)
Story Notes: This is kind of a blatant attempt to get as many of my interests as possible into one fic, yet still satisfy the story challenge. Apologies for the self-indulgence!
Eyeing the anthropologist dubiously, Jim paused in the doorway. “You’re kidding, right? This is a bar.”
Blair grinned. “Nothing gets past your eagle eyes, does it Jim?”
Jim was undaunted. “An Irish bar.”
Exasperated, Jim protested, “Chief, you said you were going to do an anthropology experiment. I thought we were heading to Rainier. You never said anything about going to the… the…” He squinted up at the sign over the door. “The Lumpers. What the hell kind of name is that, anyway?” He fixed his gaze accusingly back on his friend.
Blair shrugged, hefting higher on to his shoulder the strap of the odd-shaped bag he was carrying. “So? It’s fieldwork, okay? It can’t be done in the lab.”
“If this is some kind of test…”
“Hey, chill man. I promised no tests on you, and you offered to come along with me. I swear, man, this is a real experiment. It’s for a paper I’m writing on insider/outsider relations. You see, the theory goes like this. In any community, such as the Irish music community, ‘praise’ and ‘blame’ gossip determine who has membership of that community and who is outside of it…ow!” He rubbed his head in annoyance where Jim had clipped him.
“Can the lecture, Darwin. And the drinks are on you.” As Jim disappeared into the interior gloom, Blair glared at his retreating back.
Inside, Jim took a seat at the bar, and nursed a glass of Guinness while Blair headed over to the corner. A motley group sat there, holding some weird looking instruments on their laps, whilst a singer regaled the enthralled bunch with what seemed to be a surreal satire about a goat:
Oh I am a year old kid
I'm worth scarcely fifteen quid
I'm the kind of beast you might well look down on
But my value will increase
At the time of my decease
For when I grow up I want to be a bodhrán
I look forward to the day
When I leave off eating hay
And become a drum to entertain a crowd on
And I'll make my presence felt
With each well-delivered belt
As a fully qualified and licensed bodhrán
The final word in each verse sounded like bau-rorn and Jim wondered what that was, as he gazed absent-mindedly at the array of unfamiliar drink advertisements above the bar. He didn’t have to wait very long to find out, because as the song wrapped up, he heard Blair ask, “Hey, I’ve brought my bodhrán. Mind if I join you?”
A ripple of unease appeared to run through the musicians, but despite that, Blair was waved to a seat, where he opened the large, round bag he was carrying. From its depths, an object was produced that reminded Jim of something you might pan for gold with; but narrowing his vision, he could see it was actually a drum of some kind.
The musicians appeared to be studiously avoiding looking at Blair, and for a moment, Jim felt his protective hackles rising as he watched them shift in minute increments, their body language unconsciously shutting Blair out of the circle, even though none of them had actually moved further away. Then Jim shrugged off his unease. Insider/outsider relations, huh? This kind of thing was Sandburg’s turf. Jim had to trust that he knew what he was doing. Taking a sip of his Guinness, Ellison settled back to watch the show.
Someone lifted what looked like a violin – ‘fiddle’, Jim corrected himself - and the first notes of a lively tune sounded. Then, gradually, the rest of them joined in. And Jim watched, enthralled, as Blair lifted up a small stick, and began to rhythmically and expertly bang along; the resulting sound both subtle and melodic.
It was like Moses parting the red sea. The tenseness in the other musicians swept away, taking with it the rigid set in their shoulders, as they flowed into an alignment that not only ceased to exclude Blair; but that positively *included* him.
Jim shook his head in amazement. He knew Blair was musical – he’d heard him play the guitar often enough – but that he could do something like this as well, so proficiently, was, for Jim, yet another insight into Sandburg’s hidden depths. Vaguely, Jim wondered when and where Blair had found the time to learn to do this, even as his heart swelled absurdly with something that felt like pride.
Several tunes, and several glasses of Guinness later, Blair and the musicians seemed to have become old friends, as they regaled each other with jokes. “What do you say to a bodhrán player in a suit?” The speaker was the guy who had sung the song about the goat who wanted to be a bodhrán. As they all shook their heads, he delivered the punch line; “Will the defendant please rise!”
Blair apparently didn’t want to be outdone. “Hey, what’s the difference between reflexology and a bodhrán player?” At their blank looks, he chortled, “One bucks up the feet, while the other…” the musicians dissolved into laughter, the two nearest punching Blair playfully on the arm.
A short while later, Blair bounced over to Jim, his eyes sparkling with happiness. Jim grinned at him. “Hey, Junior. Did someone get your goat?”
“Naw, man. I left the goat back there. Niamh is going to play it for a minute. I just thought I’d check on you.”
Jim nodded. “So, was the experiment a success, Buddy Rich?”
“Oh man! Did you see it? Bodhrán players have a really bad reputation in Irish music. People who haven’t a clue bring ‘em along all the time and mess up sessions, because they think it looks easy. And the bodhrán jokes are a kind of blame-gossip, keeping those people on the fringes. But if you can prove yourself, then you get welcomed into the community. Man, this worked so well. Now I’m one of them, someone who can actually play. The fact that they feel it’s okay to include me in telling bodhrán jokes shows that they’ve accepted me as an insider. I can’t wait to write this up.”
“Hey Chief?” Jim interrupted. “I’ve always felt like a goat.”
Blair paused. “Really?”
“Yeah. Ever since I was a kid!”
“Oh man!” Blair thwacked him on the arm. Then bounced happily over to rejoin the musicians.
Now I think you've had enough
Of this rubbishy old guff
So I'll put a sudden end to my wee amhrán
And quite soon my sorry bleat
Will become a steady beat
When I start my new existence as a bodhrán
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