“Sultans of Swing” by Ernest Hemingway

Awhile ago I came across this McSweeney’s Internet Tendency: “Toto’s Africa” by Ernest Hemingway. The author is Anthony Sams. It inspired me to re-write one of my favourite songs into a story in the style of Hemingway. I’ve long been a fan of Hemingway and Dire Straits. I discovered Hemingway a few years ago with A Farewell to Arms. Dire Straits has been in my life since I was a child. Some of my earliest memories of music include my father cranking the radio whenever “Sultans of Swing” or “Money for Nothing” came on the air. I hope you enjoy this homage.

Dianne Putin of the Mt. Ponchartrain String Band, watches performace at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, in 1978. Photo: Times-Picayune

Dianne Putin of the Mt. Ponchartrain String Band, watches performance at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, in 1978. Photo: Times-Picayune

You arrived in the square near sunset off the bus from New York. It’s raining and you shiver. There isn’t much to see. The townsfolk have all gone home to their dinners so you begin walking. You find yourself south of the river and you stop and you hold everything. A band is blowin’ Dixie double four time. You take comfort in the sound.

You step inside but you don’t see too many faces. They don’t notice you shake off the rain from your coat. They’re too busy watching the stage. There’s a competition brewing. The horns are blowin’ and the jazz is swingin’. You’re a long way away from London town.

You pay for your drink and watch the action from the bar. The man they call Guitar George gets up to play. He knows all the chords but he’s strictly rhythm. He doesn’t want to make it cry or sing. The guitar he plays is beat-up and old. They say it’s all he can afford.

Harry introduces himself. He’s here to play honky-tonk. He doesn’t mind if he makes the scene every night. He’s got a daytime job and he’s doin’ alright. He saves it up for Friday night with the Sultans.

“Who?” you ask.

“The Sultans of Swing.”

In another corner of the bar a group of young boys are fooling around. They’re drunk and dressed in their best brown baggies and their platform shoes. They don’t give a damn ’bout any trumpet playing band. They know the score. It ain’t what they call rock and roll.

“What are they playing?” you ask.

The bartender thinks for a minute. “Creole,” he says.

Then the man steps right up to the microphone. He says just as the time bell rings, “Goodnight, now it’s time to go home.”

But they’re not done playing yet. He makes it fast with one more thing: “We are the Sultans. The Sultans of Swing.”

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One thought on ““Sultans of Swing” by Ernest Hemingway

  1. Dale Percy March 18, 2013 at 7:24 pm Reply


    I always liked this song (you say your Dad cranked it on the radio? I used to own this record … oi, I feel old), because it described forever a moment in time that even though we the listener weren’t there for, could be there again and again. A music performance is like that — a moment in time that you: “just had to be there” to experience. I myself have tried time and again (with varying levels of success) to record such experiences, based on Jack Kerouac’s writings of seeing performances. From his encounter with Slim Gaillard in “On The Road”, right through to his accurate description of an ordinary night in a San Francisco jazz club illustrated here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sgRCak7Nkvo — these written words take you ‘there’. Did you know, there is a piece by Dizzy Gillespie called: “Kerouac”? It’s origins go back to the early 40s, when an 18-year-old Jack was still at Horace Mann prep school, on his way to Columbia University. He had a friend who would go down to Minton’s Playhouse, and record jazz music as it was being created. Jack would help his friend — a cat by the name of Seymore Wyse — with the recording equipment. One night, Dizzy was playing a new composition that had no title, so Seymore said: “Why don’t you name it after my friend? He has a pretty interesting name.” And so — almost two decades before ‘jazz’ and ‘the beat generation’ came to exemplify the early 60s, the great bebopper named a tune after the soon-to-be great writer.

    Nobody knew it at the time, but I guess, you “just had to be there”.

    Keep your eyes, ears and heart open to everything — and inspiration will find you!

    … “Brothers In Arms” … 1985, when I was 11 … man, I feel old … oi.

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