Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Lonely Shepherd

Context is everything.

I remember music commercials in the late 70's/early 80's and hearing about this mysterious Zamfir. Apparenlty he was "Master of the Pan Flute", which sounded mysterious for the very reason a young teen might be unacquainted with what a pan flute exactly is. Still, he joined the ranks of others like Slim Whitman or Floyd Kramer. Who was buying these records? No adult that I knew either in my parents or grandparents generation had these artists. Could they have really sold more than artists that I HAD heard of, like Elvis and The Beatles?

I bring up this story not to defame Georghe Zamfir (yes, Zamfir is his last name), the Romanian musician who single handedly revived interest in a cultural instrument that was fading away. I picture a young generation of recent pan-flautists that 30 years ago didn't exist. Even the boy Manny from the wonderful TV comedy "Modern Family" plays a similar instrument in an episode. Furthermore, I've never been "Master" of anything, so Zamfir's got one up on me there.

Needless to say, aside from 10 second snippets in commercials, I had never heard anything by Zamfir, and probably would have been short-sighted enough to continue this trend. Happily, Quentin Tarantino has more vision, for he used Zamfir's "The Lonely Shepherd" in his Kill Bill saga. As I listened to the excellent Kill Bill, Vol.I Soundtrack, I heard this haunting piece (played with the James Last Orchestra) and was immediately drawn back to memories of the movies. It sets the mood for philosophical musings of Michael Madson and is played at the end as the wonderful David Carradine/Bill calmly questions Sofie Fatale. Zamfir's atmospheric playing really sets the tone and is joined by the orchestra's brass mid-song to convey a grandeur that fits in well with other spaghetti western pieces used throughout the film.

Of course, the context of the song in the film really means everything, and Taranrtino particularly is an expert at choosing lesser-known songs to create moods in his films. Think how other songs, like Nancy Sinatra's "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)" or Bernard Hermann's "Twisted Nerve" (which whistles as Darryl Hannah in nurse garb prepares to kill The Bride) even have heightened grandeur in the context of the film. Think how cheesy fare like Santa Esmerelda's cover of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" are not only tolerable but effective is scenes like the final showdown between the Bride and Lucy Liu's O-Ren Ishii.

All of this makes me wonder if I would still enjoy this song as much (or even have come across the song at all) if it wasn't placed so perfectly in a great film. After all, I didn't call any 1-800 numbers after those commercials in the '80's, nor was I particularly drawn to Zamfir's work in "The Karate Kid". Also, I haven't rushed out after this soundtrack and purchased other Zamfir albums, despite that it's my favorite song on a great soundtrack.

So, I give you the video of this piece below, though, if you've never seen "Kill Bill", you might have a completely different perspective.


  1. When I was little I had a plastic pan flute that I liked to play.

    And the parents of a friend of mine have a few Zamfir albums, believe it or not. They lived in Africa for a few years and said that his music is just like the flutes the natives there played.

  2. Love this track....my husband loves it too takes you to a new world with noone around makes me cry everytine I listen to him play his pan flute .....