We are all rhetors. Lawyers more than most, using words to persuade, which is to say arguing. Most people think of arguing as a negative thing, emphasizing the fact of disagreement, disharmony. But, of course, just as it takes two to tango, so it takes two to have an argument, and the latter, like a tango, needs the pair to engage and stay responsive to each other. A good argument is, in fact, an exercise in careful cooperation. It’s a duet.
Most duets in music don’t display the aggressive edge that arguments can have, opting to explore the harmonious side of things, the integrative and fitting elements of congress. But occasionally you’ll find a musical contest between two adversaries. I’ve got a couple of examples today, one drawn from popular music and the other from jazz, each demonstrating the difficulty and need for expertise found in a good argument, whether verbal or not.
The first is the classic duelling banjos, made famous in the movie Deliverance. But I’ve chosen to give you the 1955 original (Don Reno & Arthur Smith), from which the pop version was stolen. In this original, the duel is between a four string banjo played with a pick (an instrument and technique that has disappeared) and a five string banjo, plucked with fingers, a relatively subtle point of argument.
In case you’re hankering for the later, movie version, here’s the clip from Deliverance containing the modified duet — where the matter of disagreement is much, much starker.
The jazz argument is musically between two greats, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie “Bird” Parker, but what makes it fun is the pantomime of a verbal clash performed by filmmaker Jeremiah McDonald. Watch for his portrayal of the drum breaks.
I’ll leave you with the tango, which moves the argument even further than McDonald into the realm of movement. First is a video of professional Argentine dancers doing a classical tango. And then comes the astonishingly dramatic Cell Block Tango from the movie Chicago, in which all the potential aggression in an argument between lovers is emphasized to the ultimate (and which, in a nifty sort of wrap-up to this fillip, brings us back to law again).