The guitarist hurried to his usual spot in the city park, a vintage amp hanging from one hand and a beaten Fender slung across his back. The light breeze barely managed to whisk back his thick blonde hair, stretching down to just above his shoulders as he approached the spot. The worn Converse sneakers padded with a distinct stickiness along the antiquated bricks of the old pathway as the scraggly young man made his way to the green park bench. The bench acted as his stage beneath the spotlight of a tall iron street lamp, glowing in the early evening like an ancient, colonial beacon to all things rock and roll. Inscribed in the backing of the bench was the word, “Community,” an odd notion for an area where people from so many other communities preferred to pass each other by. With his usual cool, Keith placed his amp on the bench, utilizing the outlet in the little brick wall behind him, and positioned his open and empty guitar case on the ground facing a small café across the walkway. Several patrons sat outside the local café, glancing at him in expectation as they chatted and finished their meals. More importantly, they were finishing their drinks. The late afternoon remained cloudless. He rapidly tuned and strummed his first power chord. Perfect.
Yet as he strummed, an unexpected sound burst through the air with all the power and proclamation of a minor god. It was high and shrill, yet demanding of obedience. Keith scanned to his periphery for the source of the careless noise. Upon a park bench twenty feet down the walkway stood a man Keith had somehow managed to miss only moments ago. The top of his balding head reached well over six feet without the aid of the bench, and his shoulders were wide as an ox. He was an older fellow, but at no loss for vivacity; unlike many large people, his movements seemed quick, careless, and energized. Circumventing his head was a thick mane of fiery red hair, matching his unkempt beard, and a heavy kilt draped down from his hips to just above his knees. The noise was none other than a bagpipe.
Keith was not in the mood for competition. He turned up both the volume and distortion and commenced his set. However, before he could reach the first verse, his concentration was broken by the blaring power of a bagpipe sifting through a traditional tune Keith had heard somewhere in his past. He continued to strum his chord progression as he glanced over to spy a competitive looking bagpiper staring him down with menacing blue eyes, chest and lungs bulging as he managed to compete with the volume of the amplifier. Both continued relentlessly playing their separate tunes, and the patrons, confused and repelled by the competing sounds, began to leave. Only one elderly woman remained, sitting by herself, smiling and bobbing her head to a mysterious rhythm that neither the guitarist nor bagpiper played. Finally, Keith hit a wrong chord, slung his guitar behind his back, and moved to confront the man on pipes.
Upon his approach, the bagpiper jumped from his bench without a hint of grace. He still towered over Keith. The guitarist collected himself.
“Hey, man, I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to move. This is my spot.”
“Your spot, lad?” returned the bagpiper in a just perceptible Scottish brogue, “I was here 15 minutes before you. I think I saw your spot a few blocks down by a weenie stand, if you understand me.”
“I’m sorry, but this is my spot,” demanded Keith, stronger now, “I’ve been playing this spot for over a month! Ask anyone who works at this café; they all know me.”
“So then, will it be you or the little café workers who will make me move?” asked the Scotsman, smiling slightly and presenting his rather large frame.
Keith realized this may take more convincing than he first expected. He hated confrontation; the bagpiper apparently thrived on it. The old lady at the café sat staring with her chin resting upon her hands, waiting expectantly for a response. In some anger, he chose a different avenue of argument.
“Listen, nobody comes out to this park to hear bagpipes,” Keith returned hotly, “Bagpipes are shrill instruments best left for parades and funerals. Some light guitar music in the background is fine for a meal, but bagpipes would ruin the atmosphere. It’s impossible to enjoy a conversation listening to that thing.”
“Now you’ve gone too far,” spoke the Scot loudly in a gruff voice. “Bagpipes don’t ruin an atmosphere, they create an atmosphere!” He pounded his chest in pride and continued, “You want this spot because your little harp needs this spot. It is one of the few places people will tolerate it whether they like it or not. But the pipes!” yelled the piper, gesturing to the heavens, “The pipes don’t bend to the environment but change it! With that powerful, natural sound passed down from centuries ago, a normal spot suddenly can become sacred and beautiful. People talk over your guitar because it is typical, popular, and boring. Rather than being talked over, the bagpipes give people reason to talk.”
Several people gathered around listening to the orator as he shed a brief tear, apparently affected by his own speech. The old lady at the café clapped with a smile on her face and turned to Keith expectantly. The guitarist was taken aback, but far from defeated. This was now about more than the spot.
“You may be right about my guitar’s purpose here this evening, but you are wrong about the guitar’s purpose!” Keith leapt back onto the bench, standing now eye to eye with the foreigner. “An electric guitar can easily facilitate a light evening of conversation; whereas a bagpipe struggles to do the same. And a guitar can stir the deepest feelings of a person as well as any bagpipe! I have played my soul into this guitar and others have felt it. This guitar is intended to be amplified and can exceed even your natural volume; the number of sounds, settings and effects are practically limitless. You see, the guitar is versatile. Anyone can play in any style and accomplish any purpose. It is an instrument of individual freedom.” Keith now turned to the crowd, “The bagpipes are stuck forever with their one antiquated sound, an instrument of the close-minded and traditional. They are singular in purpose—a purpose that cannot be found here. The electric guitar possesses a sound for every man and every purpose. The guitar is an instrument of the open-minded and free.”
The several onlookers gathering had become nearly a crowd, and many were nodding their heads with some light applause. Keith beamed and granted his new followers a slight bow. With a smile, he turned to see his foe red in the face, steam practically blowing out of his nostrils. Keith’s grin widened, as did the grin of the old woman in the café, though her smile held remarkably fewer teeth.
“Enough of this…this utter nonsense!” howled the Scot as his belly shook, “You speak of freedom, but you do not know what freedom is until you have heard the pipes! No man would have freedom if first there were not a right for all men to be free, and that is what the pipes represent! They are marched in parades because they resound with the freedom of a nation. They were marched into war proclaiming freedom against the bitterest of enemies. They are played at funerals to free others from the sorrows of mortality and to aid the passing of a soul to the freedom beyond. The pipes are one sound because they represent one truth that has not changed since God created this good earth, and that truth is maintained in the tradition. Guitarists must constantly be learning new music to stay exciting or popular, but if a piper only knows Amazing Grace, the people will love him. Your electric guitar may be open-minded, but it is ultimately unfulfilling. The bagpipes may be close-minded, but they have at least grasped something that is eternal and solid.”
The crowd now clapped and gave a few cheers. The Scot took several bows and shook the hands of a couple standing nearby. Infuriated, Keith held up his guitar, threatening to swing it at the fire-haired gargantuan. He blushed abstained as he noticed the old lady, joyously stomping her feet and pointing at him in laughter. In reaction, the Scot seemed to ready his bagpipe, for what, Keith was not quite sure, but he had no wish to find out.
“There is a reason that all those old dictatorships and communists hated the electric guitar!” Keith began anew in his artistic fury, “It is because they realized the music itself stood in defiance of tyranny! Your pipes are only an instrument for controlling the masses, they have never been an instrument of the masses. It is the guitar that has risen against the corruption of government and society!”
The Celtic giant began pulling at what remained of his hair. “You have lost your mind, lad! The pipes have given order and unity to the people! They can gather around its beauty, but your electric guitars only divide. It’s such an easy instrument to play everyone practically does! In trying to be unique, you’re all the same in your self-righteousness. You all rebel, but everyone is rebelling for different reasons. The electric guitar has not only blurred the meaning of goodness, but of good music as well.”
“Self-righteousness? Listen to yourself!” proclaimed Keith in his sentiment, illuminated now by his street lamp in the early evening. “Fewer people play bagpipes because they’re difficult to play and transport; they’re not worth the time for so uncommon a performance of one or two songs! And half of you pipers force it on your children like some sort of enforced institution. Obviously most people would prefer to be learning a fun and exciting instrument like the guitar, which explains why most people then play the guitar. The electric guitar has not blurred good music but freed it!”
“If by enforced institution, you mean the unity and pride of the family, then yes, I accept your critique!” The Scot suddenly lowered his voice. “Bagpipers are fighters; they have always played in the midst of battle. All your guitars are known for is whining about wars when we are fighting them. So, that should make this battle easy. Aha!!!”
The crowd had been moving their heads back and forth listening to each musician in his turn, but now they realized the whole argument had degenerated into something terribly different. With a valiant cry, the Scot raised his pipes over his head in some wild attempt to crush the artist of the new age, but Keith had already prepped his guitar behind his back, prepared to swing at the piper in stalwart defiance. The remainder of the crowd began to scatter rapidly, several shouting for the police. In the sudden chaos, the “Community” bench seemed the only thing with legs not running around. However, before the two musicians could trade blows, an odd thing occurred. A little, old lady had walked up right between them, causing both to stop and collect themselves for a moment. Each lowered his makeshift weapon as it became clear the old woman had something to say. The people stopped bustling. She looked the Scot in the eye and slowly turned her head to do the same to Keith. Her eyes shone with light; a depth of blue betrayed a wise yet youthful heart beneath her aged features. Both players became aware that the depth this little woman wielded would declare the right and wrong, and neither could withstand her judgment.
“Play your bloody music already!” she resounded with a harsh British tongue. She moved back to her seat and immediately downed a glass of Merlot.
Both stood stunned for a moment. Eventually, Keith looked to the piper and asked for a key. The Scot gave him one. Their first song together was simple. It floated from the bench across the whole park, filled with the heart of rebels and power of kings. People everywhere ceased their conversations and edged closer to listen. A mother and her young daughter began to dance on the patio without care. So the old had met the new, and there was freedom at last. The duo played the rest of the evening, earning more money than either had ever made playing solo. To this day, both play together at the same spot outside the little café in the park. Sometimes, you will find a lone, old lady sitting nearby with an unending glass of red wine, smiling mysteriously to herself.