Bluezette, R.I.P. (1975-1999)
by L.E. McCullough © 2001 L.E. McCullough
Dale, I don’t think I can write this article for you. I know I’ve promised it for well over a year now, but with what’s happening in the world today, writing about the death of a tinwhistle as if it were a human being seems kind of, well, you know. . .
On the other hand, it’s been just over two years since Bluezette passed, and — plainly speaking — I really miss her. I’ve yet to find anyone to take her place. She was, for 24 years, pretty much the mainstay of my life, pure and simple. We were life partners. Soul mates. Our hearts beat in tandem, etc. Or at least in duple and triple meter.
We were never more than a few yards apart at any time, anywhere. I have spent more hours in the direct presence of this musical instrument than with any single person in my entire life. Whoa. . .
Maybe I’ll just stop here. After all, it’s only a tinwhistle, right? Just a basic blue-tip, nickel-plated, key of D Generation tinwhistle I bought for $2.25 U.S. on a trip to Dublin en route to the Fleadh Ceoil na hEireann in Buncrana, Donegal.
The first time I played her was at a pub session during the fleadh, at which I remember being surrounded by no less than nine bodhrans. A few hours later, I played her in earnest in the Over 18 whistle competition. We were inseparable from then on.
No, sorry, Dale, this whistle obit idea is too weird, I can’t go on. I mean, think about it: half my life has been defined by a 10-inch metal tube. My personality has been subsumed into a fipple. I’ve had complete strangers tell me they heard a whistle on a record or a soundtrack and knew instantly it was me. I smile and nod, outwardly pleasant as befits my public persona grata. But, in truth, it wasn’t me they really heard, it was her.
The tone of that tinwhistle had a sweetness, a suppleness, a sleekness I’ve not heard before or since. The timbre was clean, crisp, concise, cool yet warm. There was no “fuzz”, no rasp to the tone. . . unless I put it there purposely. And I could make pretty much any kind of sound I wanted with that whistle.
My fingers could slide into notes with ease, I could half-hole on a dime, leap from octave to octave without a squawk, dance in and out of ornaments and never fear losing my balance. She always came through. Anything I asked from that whistle, I got. And I got much more than I could ever have imagined upon our first meeting at the music store counter.
Bluezette opened up a window into a world, many worlds. She took me to biker bars and mansions, street fairs and zoos, glittering shopping malls and maximum security prisons, Renaissance Faires and restaurants.
We played for senators, governors, mayors, the President of the United States, some of the wealthiest humans on the planet, some of the poorest and most abject humans on the planet, pretty much everyone in between — drunks, lunatics, strippers, actors, large animals, politicians, witches, nuns, carnies, soldiers, blind people, deaf people, dying and just-being-born people plus virtually every existing business and social club convention from Presbyterian insurance adjusters to Veterans of the Spanish Civil War.
We played for about eight hundred weddings, a couple divorce parties, numerous wakes and funerals and family reunions, countless old folks’ homes (thirty in ten days back in 1982 as part of a federal block grant in the Western suburbs of Chicago) and the complete run of holiday parties from Christmas and Hannukah to St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo, Juneteenth and Earth Day.
Bluezette and I made music in dead silence, to the chatter of television, the roar of traffic, the soft whisper of a mountain breeze, the brittle tinkling of cash registers and ice cubes, the shrill whine of factory whistles, the surging echoes of a country church choir.
We stood together, she and I, on massive stadium stages, in dark corners, in basements, in penthouses, on riverboats, trains, buses, elevators, treehouses, up-underneath-in front of orchestras and standing on pool tables squeezed between a drummer and oversize bass amp taking extreme care to not spill the beer pitcher on the table below.
We played nearly every sort of private and public gathering except a cockfight and an exorcism, and I can truthfully say I would forego the former no matter what the fee. We exist photographically in several thousand scrapbooks, several hundred videos owned by complete strangers who will never be encountered again.
The millions of notes we dispersed into the air reside on tapes, records, CDs, in the crackling memory synapses of yet more strangers I’ll never meet but who may well retain (or be plagued by) fragments of our melodies up to their very last conscious moment on earth.
No, I’m telling you, Dale, this isn’t something I can write about in any coherent way, so we better drop it.
People start reading an article like this, start reflecting on the role music’s played in their lives and the really deep emotional connections we develop with the act of coaxing sounds from an inanimate object, sounds that resonate with our subconscious, our inner psychic core, our repressed, hidden selves that yearn to see the light and experience life in a whole different way — who knows where all that self-knowledge and empowerment could lead?
So, let’s bag the whole idea, lest people get to thinking I’m a little, you know, idiosyncratic or something.
We’ll leave it at this: Ms. Bluezette was a great whistle that brought smiles and tears to thousands of people and helped me make friends in a world where at the end of the night, friends are sometimes the only thing you’ve got to show for all your effort.
I was lucky to have her grace my life. Now it’s time to move on and make more music with new whistles.
Start spreading the news. . . there’s an opening for Musical Soul Mate in McCulloughVille. Successful applicant must possess two-octave range, tuneable head, solid build, good handling, strong bottom D.
And willingness to travel to places known and unknown.
— originally published in the Chiff and Fipple newsletter
masterfully edited by Dale Wisely on the magical internets