Photo by Gabe Boylan.
Rufus Harley is maybe the most eccentric jazz player of all time, not least for his chosen instrument, the bagpipes. He played with Coltrane, gave lessons to Muhammad Ali, guested on The Cosby Show, and played the White House, but now he lives in Philadelphia and has utterly lost his mind. What?
VICE: Why did you pick the bagpipes?
Rufus: I was watching the burial services of President Kennedy, and it was the Black Watch bagpipe band. And I realized that to bring the bagpipes into the modern world is to understand what an American is. When you say “America,” you’re dealing with the M and the E and the C, which is really E=MC2. To be an American is to be E=MC2, and to be every nationality in the world. Every time you say “us” you’re talking about the United States. Then there’s “we,” that’s French for yes.
Don’t you have some weird thing about The Liberty Bell, too?
There’s the bell, the key, and the crack. There wouldn’t be a C if there wasn’t a crack. Oh say can you C. The Liberty Bell represents the female, the key represents the male. You gotta put ’em together, down to when you’re having sex. You put your key in the crack, but don’t leave it in there. When dudes leave their key in, it leaves them O.U.T. Come to your pad, stick your key in the crack, open up the doors, pull the key back out. We’re only talking science. I’ve presented the Liberty Bell all over the world, while they were tearing down the Berlin Wall, in Scotland, Moscow, Paris, Jamaica.
Ooooh kaaaye. Um, do you think if kids start playing the bagpipes, they’ll end up like you?
Sure. We’ve got to teach the young people about these things. The schools have to stop feeding the younger generation dead flesh. Eating dead meat, you are eating M.E. Billie Holiday sang: “Gimme pigs-feet and a bottle of beer.” That is O.V.E.R. When I first started to blow, the bagpipes told me, “You are a stinkin’, dirty-ass, lying-ass dog, so you got to clean your ass up.” The secrets and the information that the bagpipes hold I can’t even tell you. The bagpipes drive away all sins. It drove away all that shit with me. And it’s important for me to pass that along to the younger generation.