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John Zorn 
The Big Gundown: John Zorn Plays the Music of Ennio Morricone  
(Nonesuch/Icon (1986)) 

review by Matt Rand
2003-08-20

The sun was coming up, so it was time to ride. I knew we were in store for another hot day, hot dry wind combing across the prairie. My canteen was empty and my trusty horse, Guy Klucevsek, was in no mood for another day on the trail. But find Zorn I would. I'd promised Sheriff Arto Lindsay.

Lindsay was a stocky man with a thick neck. He had perfect eyesight and big, meaty hands. But he wasn't chasing Zorn himself, because Lindsay had a family, and the town of Knitting Factory to look after. Zorn had robbed the town's only bank and escaped: I was going to find him and bring him to justice.

I'd heard rumors that he'd be headed over to the Tonic homestead next, and I'd been going in that direction in case they were true. A coyote howled, and then suddenly, there they were: the hoof prints. Just one horse. Zorn was alone, and I was going to find him. Guy Klucevsek neighed a bit and complained, but my spurs got him back on task. He and I pushed forward, even without water. I wouldn't need water to gun down Zorn.

I followed the hoof prints up a nearby hill. Guy Klucevsek handled the rocky soil expertly. (Must give him a carrot later, I reminded myself.) As we climbed, I could hear something on the other side, whistling it sounded like. It couldn't be! People said that Zorn's horse, Toots Thielemans could whistle, but I never believed it. But here was this eerie melody wafting over the hill. I pulled on Guy Klucevsek's reins.

After tying Guy Klucevsek to a cactus, I reached for my Colt 45 to make sure it was loaded. Yup.

"Zorn, I know you're there," I called over the hill.

The whistling ceased and there was silence. What was his next move?

"Bill Frisell, is that you?"

"No."

"Marc Ribot?"

"No."

"Michihiro Sato?"

"No, Zorn. I'm the law. I've come for you."

"Why?" He sounded surprised.

"Isn't it a little late for 'why'?" I asked.

"No."

"Well, I think you know why."

"I don't."

"Yes, you do."

"Nope."

"Oh, come on," I said, growing impatient. "It's obvious." Needless to say, he was frustrating me.

"Look," he said. His voice was coming from closer than it'd been. "Did you listen to my album, The Big Gundown?"

"Yeah." I knew the album. He'd gotten some groups together to record new versions of Ennio Morricone's soundtrack to some old spaghetti westerns.

"What did you think?"

"It was pretty good, but I didn't know any of the music before I heard your version of it. Seems that'd be pretty relevant, don't you think?"

He walked calmly over the hill. I could see him clearly, his bandana outlined by the bright, clear sky behind him.

"You don't think it stands on its own?" He wiped his forehead.

"I'm not saying that. It's not a matter of standing on its own or not," I said. "The music already existed before you made the album. You were interpreting someone else's work. Isn't the original work, then, an integral part of the experience of listening to your version of it?"

"That's beside the point."

"Well, then fine."

"Fine."

"Fine."

"Fine."

Zorn shrugged his shoulders. "Look, I've got to get going." He pointed back over the hill.

"Wait, no!" I yelled, reaching for my gun. "Not until you're dead."

"But why?"

"It doesn't matter why," I said. I was beginning to think maybe he hadn't pulled off the bank heist at all.

Our debate continued for several hours, with me still not shooting him. I admitted that I liked his Big Gundown album, even though it wasn't his own original compositions. Though I did tell him I could never listento it all at once. It was just too much for one sitting. He mentioned that maybe that was because I was listening to the reissue, with six added bonus tracks. No, that's not it. It's actually because the music is so twangy and dry. Dry. Thirst. We bargained for a while, and eventually settled on him giving me a drink of water in return for his life. I may have missed out on Arto Lindsay's bounty, but I was getting really thirsty. Guy Klucevsek stomped his hoof when he saw me drinking the water. He was pretty thirsty, too.





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