Okay, one last post about "Bang the Drum Slowly" before I make my final review of the book. I thought it would be appropriate to share the story behind the title of the book for those of you who may not understand how such a seemingly random phrase came to be associated with a novel about baseball.
And actually, this post sort of dovetails with a post John made a couple days ago about unusual song lyrics. The phrase "bang the drum slowly" is a line in a song entitled "Streets of Laredo," also known as "A Cowboy's Lament."
In the novel, Bruce Pearson is dying. At one point in the book, everyone on the team knows it except for Piney Woods, a young catcher brought up to the Mammoths to essentially replace Pearson on the team (Piney Woods becomes a main character in the next book of the Wiggen series).
Piney has a penchant for motorcycles, Western clothes and cowboy songs. After Piney's brought up to the Mammoths, he sits in the clubhouse, playing his guitar and singing "Streets of Laredo." All the boys sit and listen and think about Bruce, the dying ballplayer.
Here's the Wikipedia page for "Streets of Laredo." You'll note that the "official" lyrics use the phrase "beat the drum slowly."
It's a sad song, no matter which version you hear. Following is the lyrics as sung by Piney Woods:
As I was a-walking the streets of Laredo,
As I walked out in Laredo one day,
I spied a young cowboy all wrapped in white linen,
All wrapped in white linen and cold as the clay.
I seen by his outfit that he was a cowboy,
And as I walked near him these words he did sigh,
"Come sit down beside me and hear my sad story,
"I am shot in the breast and I know I must die."
"It was once in the saddle I used to go dashing,
"Once in the saddle I used to go gay,
"First down to Rosie's and then to the card house,
"Shot in the breast and am dying today.
"Get 16 gamblers to carry my coffin,
"6 purty maidens to sing me a song,
"Take me to the valley and lay the sod o'er me,
"I am a young cowboy and I know I done wrong."
"O bang the drum slowly and play the fife lowly,
"Play the dead march as they carry me on,
"Put bunches of roses all over my coffin,
"Roses to deaden the clods as they fall."
--Matt Kelsey, with a tear in his eye