Official Edgar Rice Burroughs Tribute and Weekly Webzine Site
Since 1996 ~ Over 15,000 Web Pages in Archive
Volume 7359

The Musical Edgar Rice Burroughs
Part Two: Tarzan, Cowboys & Indians
Part 2
by Alan Hanson

Click for full-size promo splash bar

The Musical Edgar Rice Burroughs
by Alan Hanson

Part 2
Part 1 of “The Musical Edgar Rice Burroughs” dealt with music in the author’s private life. Now it’s time to see how ERB wove musical elements into his fiction. 

Music in Tarzan’s World

Was Tarzan musical? He was not when it came to personal expression. The environment in which he was raised placed no value on music. Later, however, after coming into contact with civilization, the ape-man learned to appreciate music that was performed by others.

Tarzan found much happiness in his jungle world and was often in an exultant state of mind that might bring song to the lips of a normal human. Tarzan, though, had not been raised like a normal human. “The morning air, the sounds and smells of his beloved jungle, filled the ape-man with exhilaration,” Burroughs wrote in Tarzan’s Quest. “Had he been the creature of another environment, he might have whistled or sung or whooped aloud like a cowboy in sheer exuberance of spirit; but the jungle-bred are not thus.

Raised as he had been among the apes, Tarzan had learned that survival depended on keeping one’s senses totally alert. Individual musical expression served no purpose and was even dangerous. Tarzan was raised by a species of great apes who “were given neither to laughter nor song,” according to ERB. Their taciturnity was no doubt a selected survival trait among their species through the ages that was passed on to the adopted English boy. “Were one to sing and whistle while working on the ground, concentration would be impossible,” Tarzan noted in Tarzan the Untamed. Only by being quiet could the ape-man concentrate all five of his senses on his work and at the same time be conscious of any approaching danger.

Tarzan admired those rare human societies he encountered that avoided musical expression when there was stern work to be done. One such group were the Ant Men within the Great Thorn Forest.

In the increasing light of dawn Tarzan watched these methodical preparations for defense with growing admiration for the tiny Minunians. There was no shouting and no singing, but on the face of every warrior who passed close enough for the ape-man to discern his features was an expression of exalted rapture. No need here for war cries or battle hymns to bolster the questionable courage of the weak — there were no weak.

Tarzan was first exposed to civilized music at the age of 21, after D’Arnot led him out of the jungle to the city of Paris. In two sojourns in that city, one before his journey to America to find Jane and the other afterwards, Tarzan learned to appreciate the cultural significance of music. He had difficulty understanding, however, how the finer things in life, such as music, art, and literature, had been able to thrive amidst the “cowardly greed for peace and ease” that he found in civilization. 

Still, while in Paris, Tarzan developed an appreciation for classical music and dance performances. In The Return of Tarzan, Burroughs showed Tarzan “sitting in a music hall one evening, sipping his absinth and admiring the art of a certain famous Russian dancer.” D’Arnot introduced the ape-man to the opera, and “on several occasions Tarzan accompanied the countess (de Coude) to her home after the opera.

Knowing his aversion to loud noise, it was to be expected that Tarzan would be drawn to the soothing melodies of opera. He was not so fond of raucous types of music. While exploring the Arab neighborhoods of Sidi Aissa in The Return of Tarzan, the ape-man and his guide took seats in the center of a café they entered. Tarzan soon found, however, that the “terrific noise produced by the musicians upon their Arab drums and pipes would have rendered a seat farther from them more acceptable to the quiet-loving ape-man.”

Very, very rare are examples of Tarzan expressing himself musically to be found in ERB’s 28 stories about the ape-man. I could find no examples of Tarzan either singing or playing a musical instrument. On one occasion, however, his friend D’Arnot caught Tarzan “humming a music-hall ditty.” The Frenchman could not enjoy the moment, however, as it happened on the evening before a duel in which both men believed Tarzan would be killed. Another Tarzan musical moment occurred in the final chapter of Tarzan and the Lion Man, when a tall, tipsy blond approached Tarzan at a Hollywood party. “How about a little dance?” she asked, and the two of them “swung into the rhythm of the music.

In the end, Tarzan was much the same as his creator when it came to music. Both men appreciated the cultural value of music but were “unmusical” personally. Fortunately, both married women who brought music into their homes. Emma played the piano and sang for ERB and their children. Jane Clayton had a piano hauled to the Greystoke’s African estate, and there shared her music with her family. In The Son of Tarzan, guests at the Greystoke bungalow are said to have “often heard Meriem sing God Save the King, as My Dear (Jane) accompanied her on the piano.”

Much more musical than Tarzan were his Waziri followers and other native tribes that inhabited the ape-man’s domain. In the Tarzan stories there are images of the Waziri singing, dancing, and playing musical instruments. In The Tarzan Twins, 50 Waziri were camped in a grassy clearing. “One of them was strumming upon a crude stringed instrument,” wrote Burroughs, “while two of his fellows were dancing in the firelight that gleamed back from the glossy velvet of their skin.” Music was also a part of the happy celebration when Tarzan, Jane, and the Waziri warriors were reunited at the end of Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar. “Long into the night the dancing and singing and the laughter awoke the echoes of the somber wood.” The Waziri also used music to soothe the monotony of long marches they often undertook in search of their master. For instance, in Tarzan and the Lost Empire, the ebon warriors marched, “along the hot and dusty Via Mare … chanting the war-songs of their people.

The Waziri were not the only natives who sang on the march through Tarzan’s Africa. Burroughs often portrayed native porters hired by whites as singing while they bore their loads. When Dr. Von Harben came looking for Tarzan in the jungle, the ape-man first knew of his approach when “his keen ears cataloged the sound of padding, naked feet and the song of native carriers as they swung along beneath their heavy burdens.” 

At times ERB used native porters’ willingness to sing as a sign of their state of mind. For instance, in Tarzan the Invincible, when the ape-man overhauled Zveri’s raiding army, he noted that the native carriers “had eaten and they were happy and many of the men were singing.” Later on the march, when the same expedition was “passing through a dense woods, gloomy and depressing … there was neither song nor laughter.” The connection between song and mood was again used in Tarzan and the Lion Man. As the Hollywood expedition entered the country of the fierce Bansutos, the native porters sensed the danger. “It’s in the air,” said actress Rhonda Terry. “The men don’t laugh and sing the way they used to.” But later their singing came back. “The ring of axes against wood ahead was accompanied by song and laughter,” ERB explained. “Already the primitive minds of the blacks had cast off the fears that had assailed them earlier in the day.

Natives in Tarzan’s part of Africa also used music during certain tribal ceremonies. In Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle, there was a celebration when Ulala returned to the tribe after years of enslavement among the Arabs. “A goat was killed and many chickens, and there were fruit and cassava bread and native beer in plenty for all. There was music, too, and dancing.” Music was an element in much more sinister native celebrations. Tarzan watched as Mbonga’s tribe used music to heighten their passions prior to the gruesome conclusion of their bloody ceremony of torture. “In a larger circle squatted the women, yelling and beating upon drums,” noted ERB. “The circle of warriors about the cringing captive drew closer and closer to their prey as they danced in wild and savage abandon to the maddening music of the drums.

In addition to native tribes, the inhabitants of the various lost cities in Tarzan’s Africa also used music in their ceremonies. Tarzan first noticed Oparian ceremonial music during his first visit to the city. As he lay on the altar, the ape-man heard the “people in the galleries and those in the court below [take] up the refrain of a low, weird chant. Presently those about Tarzan began to dance to the cadence of their solemn song. They circled him slowly, resembling in their manner of dancing a number of clumsy, shuffling bears.” On another occasion, La’s Oparian warriors “chanted weird hymns in the ancient tongue of the lost continent” while erecting an altar in a clearing especially for Tarzan. La herself “chanted strange, weird songs in an unknown tongue” as she prepared to sacrifice the American Wayne Colt in Tarzan the Invincible

The peoples of other, more civilized lost cities in the Tarzan series also used music in their ceremonies. In Cathne, the city of gold, the “music of drums and trumpets” preceded the barbaric games in the city’s arena. Later, as the condemned Doria was about to be cast into the fires of the volcano Xarator, “ … a dozen priests, some of whom carried musical instruments, chanted in unison, the beating of their drums rose and fell while the wailing notes of their wind instruments floated out across the inferno.” Similarly, in The Quest of Tarzan, the priests of Chichen Itza “intoned a chant to the accompaniment of flutes, drums, and trumpets” as they prepared to throw Tarzan in the waters of an extinct volcano. Then, in the Forbidden City of Ashair, the High Priest Brulor presided over a religious ceremony featuring music and handmaidens performing a “suggestive, lascivious dance.” 

As noted earlier, it was not Tarzan’s nature to have “whooped aloud like a cowboy in sheer exuberance of spirit.” Some other Burroughs characters were so inclined, however. They were his …

Singing Cowboys and Dancing Apaches

Burroughs wrote two cowboy novels, The Bandit of Hell’s Bend and The Deputy Sheriff of Comanche County. Both contain images of “singing cowboys.” In Bandit, two things made Bull sing — liquor and love. In the opening chapter, when his fellow ranch hands heard Bull singing, they knew why. “Acts like he was full,” said one cowboy. “Didje hear him hummin’ a tune as he went out? That’s always a sign with him. The stuff sort o’ addles up his brains … an’ makes him sing.”  Later, when he had a feeling that his love for Diana Henders was returned, Bull “hummed a gay little air” as he rode along. In Deputy Sheriff, Bruce Marvel felt like bursting into song for the same reason. While watching Kay White sleep, Marvel felt a strange sensation in his breast. “By golly,” he soliloquized, “it’s just like I wanted to cry; but I don’t want to cry, I want to sing. There’s something about her that makes a fellow want to sing when he’s close to her.

Of course, Burroughs’ most prolific singing cowboy was Texas Pete in Bandit. He sings the first verse of his Western ballad on the book’s opening page, and intermittently adds further stanzas, without the help of a musical instrument, until he remembers the final verses nearly 200 pages later. The reader gets treated to Pete’s song just one time through, but apparently he had performed the same tune many times before. “I ain’t only heered this three hundred an’ sixty-five times in the las’ year,” complained one of his fellow ranch hands.

Burroughs explained the stops and starts in Texas Pete’s “perennial rhapsody” this way:

The song of Texas Pete suffered many interruptions due to various arguments in which he felt compelled to take sides, but whenever there was a lull in the conversation he resumed his efforts to which no one paid any attention further than as they elicited an occasional word of banter. The sweet singer never stopped except at the end of a stanza, and no matter how long the interruption, even though days might elapse, he always began again with the succeeding stanza, without the slightest hesitation or repetition.

Pete recalled and sang verses in the saddle and in the bunkhouse; first thing in the morning and just before bedtime. Added up, Pete’s ballad contained 29 stanzas of four lines each. They tell the story of fast shooting and fast talking gunfighters who gather in a saloon. The whole thing reads like a poem, of course, and the reader is welcome to put the lyrics to any tune he likes. It’s useless to read or sing the stanzas as they appear intermittently in the novel. As they have no relation to the plot of the story, they can, and probably should be, skipped over while the book is being read. Then it is easy to go back to page one and read all the verses, one after the other, while skipping through the story.

Burroughs penned two other Western novels, but they examined the story of the frontier through the eyes of Indians, not cowboys. The War Chief and Apache Devil include musical scenes, as well, but like Tarzan, the Apaches found it unwise to express their moments of exuberance by bursting into song. Instead, their music was confined to various tribal rites that were conducted in their desert fastness far away from their white enemies.

In his Apache novels, Burroughs described in detail several different Indian ceremonies, all of which included music and dancing. One was the “spirit dance of the dead,” performed the night before the Apaches went on the war trail against the “white-eyes.” In it, the warriors and women arranged themselves in files, like the spokes of a wheel, facing the hub. There stood the medicine man who started the dancing while two old “sub-chiefs” beat on drums. As the Apaches danced, the medicine man “chanted weird gibberish and scattered the sacred hoddentin upon the dancers in prodigal profusion and the drummers beat with increasing rapidity. Occasionally a weird cry would break from the lips of some dancer and be taken up by others until the forest and the mountains rang with the savage sounds. Until morning came and many had dropped with exhaustion the dance continued.

Another Apache musical ceremony described by ERB was the “scalp dance,” a celebration of victory on the war trail. Burroughs detailed Shoz-Dijiji’s participation in such a dance as follows: “A young brave, gay in the panoply of war, stepped into the firelight dancing to the music of the drum … Shoz-Dijiji bore aloft a trophy in the scalp dance of his people … Weaving in and out among the fires the warriors danced, yelling, until they were upon the verge of exhaustion; but at last it was over — the last scalp had been discarded, a vile thing that no Apache would retain.

A third dance described in The War Chief occurred when the father of Ish-kay-nay invited the nearby Apache tribes to a feast in honor of his daughter’s coming into the state of womanhood at age 14. The celebrants gathered in an open area from which the grass had been cut to allow for dancing. Burroughs lengthy description of the dance is summarized below:

Several old warriors armed with long, tough sticks gently began beating upon the surface of the bull hide. Ish-kay-nay’s father began to sing in time to the beating of the crude drums, his voice rising and falling monotonously as he chanted of the beauty of Ish-kay-nay. Suddenly there burst from the tepees around the dance ground a series of bloodcurdling whoops and yells. The beating of the drums increased in tempo and volume until the sound rolled forth in thunderous waves. From the tepees young men rushed forward and threatened other dancers with their weapons. 

“At this signal the young women of the tribes joined in the dance. The drums boomed, the dancers bent double, whirled about first upon one foot and then upon the other. The men advanced, the girls retreated to the outer edge of the dance ground. Now the men retreated, backing toward the fire, and the girls advanced, and thus, forward and back they danced for hours, chanting the sacred songs of their people, doing honor to Ish-kay-nay.”

As his Apache epic draws to a close in the final pages Apache Devil, Burroughs foresees the coming disappearance of these Indian ceremonies with their musical elements. When Wichita Billings tells Shoz-Dijiji that the white man is trying to help the Apaches, his response is cynical. “What has he done for us?” he asks. “He is trying to take away from us the ways of our fathers — our dances, our medicine men, everything that we hold sacred.” The exuberant image of the singing cowboy would survive long in Western lore, while the savage musical rites of the Apache would be distorted and portrayed with a sinister quality to future generations of Americans.

Part 3 of “The Musical Edgar Rice Burroughs” will feature the music of Barsoom, Amtor, and Pellucidar.

— to be continued —


From Our ERB Online Bibliography
A Collector's Hypertexted and Annotated Storehouse of Encyclopedic Resources
Tarzan's Quest
Tarzan the Untamed
Tarzan and the Ant Men
The Return of Tarzan
Tarzan and the Lion Man
The Son of Tarzan
The Tarzan Twins
Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar
Tarzan and the Lost Empire
Tarzan the Invincible
Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle
The Quest of Tarzan
The Bandit of Hell’s Bend
The Deputy Sheriff of Comanche County
The War Chief
Apache Devil

ERB In Song and Verse


. .
Click for full size images

Guide to the Alan Hanson Appearances in ERBzine

Visit our thousands of other sites at:
ERB Text, ERB Images and Tarzan® are ©Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.- All Rights Reserved.
All Original Work ©1996-2021 by Bill Hillman and/or Contributing Authors/Owners
No part of this web site may be reproduced without permission from the respective owners.