The Danse Macabre

The "Bones Band" of California

Theme Background

From the late middle ages through the renaissance the church-related phenomena known as the Dance of Death, the Dance of the Dead Ones, and the Danse Macabre all artistically depicted skeletons dancing and playing musical instruments. We know that there were theatrical expressions of this theme, but surviving details are scarce. The more plentiful remains include poems, songs, woodcuts, murals, etc.

Genesis of the Bones Band

Holbein Danse Macabre, inspirtion for the Bones Band

While researching percussion instruments of renaissance Europe I exhumed several post-mortal images, including this print by Hans Holbein the Younger. Holbein had realized that the bone-rattling dance of happy skeletons would be a perfect fit with the sounds of percussion. As I dug deeper into the subject it proved to be a rich mulch of philosophical, spiritual, political, and artistic associations. The theatrical potential was obvious, so a course was set and embarked upon.
Bones Band Bonzaphone Grego
I built instrument replicas and variations. With a few friends the costumes and masks were created. In the late 1970's the Danse Macabre, (AKA the Bones Band), was born. The original four members were more and more regularly joined by one-time, dead-for-a-day volunteers and frequent dead-again drop ins. As the show gained popularity it grew to become a fairly long procession, with sometimes huge re-incarnations for special occasions. Over the years the Bones Band has enjoyed the participation of thousands of people and entertained millions of onlookers at a variety of festive events in California. Rumor even has it that spin-off groups have sprung up like daisies at a graveyard in a variety of places throughout America.
Danse Macabre Bones Band string drum, mandolin
Memento mori poetry, the murals on church walls, and even the skeleton figures that appear in the margins of Queen Elizabeth's personal prayer book, laid a fertlie artistic foundation. We join in the spirit of the Mexican Day of the Dead, (All Souls Day), and traditions of many other cultures in celebration of fleeting life on earth, and respect for ancestors in the world beyond.
After having been the Boss Bone for several years I left in '85 to pursue other dreams. But returning occasionally as a Dead Beat Daddy it's always a kick to see how the Bones Band grows and lives on.


For more info on the tradition of Danse Macabre and
photos of the Bones Band:

  • Still Dead: The Northern California Bones Band
  • A Catholic Encyclopedia on "danse macabre"
  • Early History: Medieval Europe
  • Multi-cultural, multi-era history
  • So many examples of Danse Macabre in art
  • Danse Macabre in Film
  • One more from the band

    For links regarding man's general realtionship with "Death", an index:
  • Optima philosophia et sapientia est meditatio mortis


    For a look at my more recent folk-culture related mixed-media performance works take a little cruise through gregoland by clicking the button here...