Time for the Bass Solo

It is the 19th century, when Britain ruled the waves, and Dr. Livingstone and his band of missionaries are floating down the Zambezi River in a boat with their local guide. It is nighttime, and they are in a part of Africa previously unexplored by the British. The moon is obscured by towering trees. The growls and cries of strange animals echo around them. They are already feeling pretty spooked when they start to hear, far off in the distance, the beating of a drum. It is pounding, insistent, and they appear to be getting closer to it. They are all seasoned explorers, but they can’t shake a rising sense of dread as the beating grows louder. Sensing the fragile emotional condition of his party, Dr. Livingstone turns to ask the guide what the drums mean. He speaks in a hushed whisper, trying not to betray his own fear, but the boat is small and everyone can hear him. Are they approaching dangerous territory? Some savage native rite in full swing? Cannibals, even? No, no, the guide assures him, the drums are good. The drums mean we are safe. When they stop, that’s when you really have to worry. “What does it mean when they stop?”, Dr. Livingstone asks, nervously. “It means,” the guide replies solemnly, “it’s time for the bass solo.”

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