Musicophrenia

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by Patrick Redding

I think I was lying in the floor of my friend Callie’s living room when the shift happened. Something vital was taken away, to be replaced by something spectacular.

We’d been fooling around with our guitars earlier, and now we were stoned. We were listening to Heart; Ann Wilson was belting out “I’ve Got the Music in Me” – not a particularly profound song, I know, but I believe that’s when it happened. The music took over my brain.

I didn’t notice the change at first. It was getting late, and I wanted to get something to eat before I headed home, so I said my goodbyes and went out to my car. I laid my guitar case very carefully in the back seat, poked a CD into the player, and started the car.

Then I was in a boat on a river, and Lucille Ball was decked out in a diamond bracelet and earrings, flying an airplane in the orange sky overhead. I didn’t remember Callie having landscaping quite like this in her yard – and she didn’t live near the river, for that matter – but I figured it was the weed skewing my perception, making me see the flowers as being much taller and stranger than they actually were.

“This is some wicked stuff,” I thought. “Really creeps up on you, though. You think you’ve straightened out but then off you go again. Weird. Like… extended-release weed. Are they growing that now? I haven’t heard anything about it. Wow. Look at those little plastic dudes over there with the mirror neckties. They’re like some freaky new set of Lego guys. Wow.”

I sat there in la-la land, watching the parade of nonsensical visuals for several minutes before a sharp rapping on the car window got my attention. For a minute, I thought Callie’s eyes were spinning, speckled – like what you’d see in a kaleidoscope – but then that faded and I was able to focus.

“Are you OK?” she asked.

“Yeah,” I assured her. “No. What was in that stuff? Did you lace it with something else?”

“No,” she laughed. “Why?”

“I’m hallucinating.”

“It’s just some kind of Afghani stuff. It’s good, but it doesn’t cause hallucinations,” she said.

Then she was gone and I was sitting in school, and the teacher was yelling at me. That wasn’t cool. I was confused and getting really uncomfortable, and then Callie was back, leaning across me and popping my Sergeant Pepper’s CD out of the player. “You didn’t hear anything I just said, did you?”

“No,” I admitted. “I don’t think I should drive.”

“No. It’s probably where you came out into the night air. It just hit you again,” she suggested. “Come on. You can crash here tonight.”

So I went back in with her, and we ordered pizza and listened to more music, and over the course of the evening we managed to figure out that something in my brain was making me actually experience the music that I was hearing as a sort of hallucination. It started when a song came on; it went away when the song did. It was most noticeable on songs with weird lyrics. Like “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” And it completely overrode any contradictory input from my other senses.

It was the weed. Had to be. Callie wasn’t experiencing anything like this (and was heartily laughing her ass off at me, cuing up every bizarre song in her varied collection). But it had to be the weed. Right?

Well… not really.

I ran my car into a ditch the next afternoon. I was driving home, totally straight and sober, having had a good night’s sleep on Callie’s couch, and without thinking, I clicked on the radio. The local classic rock station was playing “Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin, and the hammer of the gods drove my Toyota to new lands to fight the horde, only instead of singing, I was crying, because I hit the ditch with a crash, and found that rather than ice and snow or soft, green fields, my car was mired in mud and rocks.

When the cop showed up, he gave me a sobriety test (since there were no other vehicles involved) and a ticket for reckless driving (since I passed his sobriety test). I didn’t want to sound like a smart-ass or anything, so when he asked me what happened, I told him a bee flew into my car and startled me. I figured that would sound better than what really happened, and it did, I’m sure, but I still got a ticket and had to pay a tow truck to come and get my car out of the ditch.

The tailpipe was dangling and scraping the ground, so I had to have the car taken to a garage. I rode in the truck with the driver, and it was really unfortunate that he was an old-school country music lover. He blasted George Jones and Tammy Wynette songs all the way there. I became convinced that my wife had left me and I’d become an alcoholic with nothing to live for, and when the tow driver shoved me out of his truck at the garage, I was bawling like a drunken moose.

The mechanic was looking at me funny, so I asked to use the restroom, and spent a few minutes cleaning myself up and trying to pull it together. When I could act like a normal human being again, I asked the mechanic to take the radio and CD player out of the car when he fixed the tailpipe. He looked at me funny again and set a grimy-looking telephone on the counter and told me I could call someone to come and get me.

I didn’t want to bother Callie again, but I couldn’t get my brother on the phone, and I really didn’t want to try explaining things to him. He’s kind of a snot and I knew he’d say it was the weed even though it was perfectly obvious to me that this was something bigger than that. So I called Callie, and she came to fetch me, and very kindly didn’t play any music in her car on the way home. She suggested that I get some rest, and if this continued, I should probably see a doctor about it. “I’ll take you,” she promised. “It’ll be OK.”

The thought of having a doctor examine me wasn’t very appealing, but when it persisted for several more days, I realized she was right. I needed help. I’d been mostly all right at home, but when music triggers a bizarre, uncontrollable reaction in your brain, you begin to notice just how ubiquitous music is in public places. I guess it’s supposed to make things relaxing and pleasant, but the grocery store, for one, was a nightmare. After spending half an hour with their “Soft Sounds of the ’80s” in my head, which prompted me to fall in love with the produce manager and later propose marriage to a cashier, I was escorted out of the store. I’m not sure I’m allowed to go back there again.

Noise-canceling headphones, strictly speaking, don’t cancel all noise, but they did prove helpful. They muted the music sufficiently to allow me to ignore it when I had to go to Wal-Mart to purchase socks and underwear. I was doing just fine until the cashier got huffy with me. I removed one earpiece long enough to see what she wanted, and inadvertently caught a snippet of Lynyrd Skynyrd on their sound system. Then I was standing on the register area’s conveyor belt, flapping my arms and trying to fly away just as the lyrics insisted I should. I certainly wanted to fly away, but I wasn’t quite as free as a bird, and I still needed to pay for my socks. Being Wal-Mart, this behavior went more or less unnoticed, with the cashier merely sighing and muttering, “I’m gonna have to ask you to get down from there. Your total is $27.92.” I adjusted my headphones so the world became silent again, climbed down, and swiped my card so I could get out of there.

When Callie took me to the doctor, a guy in the elevator was listening to Aerosmith on his iPod, loudly enough that I could hear it. Callie had to whack me in the jaw to get me to stop humping her leg, but there were no hard feelings. Fortunately, the waiting room was devoid of music. There was a TV set in the corner, but Callie clamped her hands over my ears when the peppy little jingle for the erectile dysfunction drug came on the screen, and we avoided any further embarrassment.

The doctor, as expected, ran a bunch of tests (including drug screening, I’m sure), and couldn’t figure out what was going on, which clearly annoyed him. He seemed to think I was making it up, and when no simple answers came from the test results, I was pretty sure he didn’t believe me at all. There was some shouting when Callie overheard him drop the word “hypochondriac” to his assistant.

He referred me to a neurologist named Dr. Baggett, who did some more exams and scans, and also couldn’t quite figure out what was going on, but rather than get testy about it, he seemed curious and fascinated. He had me come back a few times, and he did some research, and had me try some different medications (which didn’t help and made me depressed) and tried some meditation exercises (which didn’t help either but made me feel like it was all going to be OK).

It stumped Dr. Baggett, which I think is probably pretty hard to do. His best guess was that it might have been a very unique combination of head injury, neurochemistry, and drug use. He cautioned me that because we didn’t know exactly what set it off, I should avoid recreational drugs for the time being. “Some people really shouldn’t take drugs,” he shrugged. “Everything’s fine and then one day they get a batch of something just slightly different, and their neurotransmitters go wacko. You may be one of them.”

I wore my headphones everywhere I went, trying to prevent further incidents. I declined offers to go out for drinks, regretfully sidestepped my cousin’s wedding invitation (earphones would’ve been frowned upon, and I was sure that wedding music would be a disaster, in light of my condition), and tried to get used to a quiet life.

I did occasionally listen to Yes or the Grateful Dead or Pink Floyd. If I couldn’t enjoy a joint now and then, I could get stoned without the aid of chemical assistance just by listening to Dark Side of the Moon.

Needless to say, my musical aspirations were pretty much over. My guitar sat in the closet until I gave it to Callie so it wouldn’t feel unloved. She gave it a good home.

Gradually, through experimentation in the safety of my home, I learned that I could listen to certain specific kinds of non-lyrical music without incident. I’d never been a fan of classical music, but I grew to enjoy Bach and Schumann, although Liszt and Beethoven were too unpredictable and dramatic and I didn’t trust myself to have that sort of thing going on in my brain.

I tried checking out some music with non-English lyrics, but it seemed to have a similar effect. Even if I didn’t understand what they were singing about, my emotions ran amok. My mother was convinced that I’d miraculously found religion when I accompanied her to a Christmas cantata by a German choir and had to leave because tears were streaming down my face.

One day Dr. Baggett’s office phoned and asked me to come in for an appointment. When I arrived, he was very excited, and said he’d read about something that he thought could help. “It’s a drug that’s been used to control seizures,” he explained. “There are some off-label uses, but it’s mainly an anticonvulsant. That’s not why I think it could help. We don’t need the effect that the drug is used for; we want a particular side effect. It’s not a common one, but it’s significant enough among certain patient populations – and I think it might help.”

“You want me to take a drug just to get one of the side effects?”

“Yes! That’s it, exactly,” he beamed.

“What kind of side effect?” I asked.

“It seems to cause loss of perfect pitch in people who had perfect pitch before they started on the medication. I’m thinking it might disrupt the effect you get from music.”

I thought about it, listened to him explain the potential issues and benefits, and finally agreed to give it a try. I was pretty sure I’d never had perfect pitch, so I really didn’t have much to lose. The other possible side effects – nausea, headaches – somehow didn’t seem as worrisome as the possibility of having something much more than a feeling if I accidentally heard an old Boston song on someone’s car radio.

Did it work? Oddly enough, yes, it did. As Dr. Baggett had suspected it might, it disrupted the harmonics of the music enough to stop the strange hallucinatory effects.

And it had an unforeseen plus. You’d think that if everything sounds off-key, it would make horribly discordant noise out of whatever you listen to, but it doesn’t.

Everything just sounds like jazz.

 

 

© Copyright 2015 by Patrick Redding.


Header art via Pixabay.

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This Week at Gatewood: August 30–September 5, 2015

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by Frasier MacKenzie

Hello, and thanks for stopping in!

This week we have a question for you, and we’d like to ask you to cast a vote to tell us what you think. But before you do, I should assure you that Dr Nicholas is not leaving Twitter. We’re just considering the possibility of adding a human presence, and would like your input.

 

Now, then, here are our features for the week of August 30–September 5:

Monday:Lunar Eclipse,” art by Eduardo Rodriguez Calzado

Tuesday:She Visits Her Beastmother’s Uncle,” poetry by F.X. MacKenzie

Wednesday:The Magic Door” photography by Hartwig Koppdelaney

Thursday:Musicophrenia,” short fiction by Patrick Redding

Friday:Perception and Memory,” photography by P.L. Miller with a quote from neurologist Oliver Sacks

Remember, the Friday photo can be downloaded for free as a meditation card for your phone, tablet or computer. Share, print, ponder… enjoy!

docBe sure to follow @docnicholas on Twitter for daily updates on Journal posts as well as humor, literary opinions, animal pics and rescues, and all your behind-the-scenes Journal action.

pigeon1Did you know you can subscribe to Gatewood Journal and receive a monthly newsletter with all our features for the month? Like a weekly wrap-up, only monthly, so your e-mail box won’t get cluttered. Like a magazine, only digital, because we love trees.

That’s it for the Gatewood Weekend Wrap-Up for the week of August 30–September 5, 2015. Enjoy your weekend, and visit us again soon!


Header photo via Stefan Schweihofer at Pixabay.

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Art and Suffering

Ophelia by John Everett Millais

Artwork: Ophelia by John Everett Millais (public domain).

by Rob Colfax

Where do we get the idea that artists must suffer? Granted, a lot of them do; look at Van Gogh, for instance. Or Edgar Allan Poe. Not all artists have such tragic struggles with life, of course, but it’s certainly a running theme. It’s so common that we expect it and are perplexed when it isn’t part of their story.

Where does this idea come from – the artist or the audience? Or is it just “the way things are”?

I don’t believe anything is just “the way it is” – I think we create the situations in which we find ourselves. So I have to think that it’s either an idea that came from the artist or the audience – or maybe some collaborative effort. Most things are a cooperative event, I think. One person may start the train of thought, but others agree to ride on it.

The world expects the artist to enlighten and inspire but the world also feeds the idea that artists must pay a price. When did this business of suffering, starving artists begin?

But this idea of suffering being necessary for art… why is this? A young friend told me once that she only writes when everything’s going wrong in her life. Maybe it provides an escape from her tragedies. Maybe it serves the purpose of exorcism for her. I don’t know. Maybe she’s uninspired unless she’s mired in conflict. But why would this be? Can happiness not get the creative juices flowing as well as depression or anger can?

Another acquaintance insists that he does his best paintings when he is devastated by the end of a relationship. His lovers never seem to stay around very long. I sometimes wonder if he unconsciously pushes them into leaving so that he will plunge into the severe depression he feels he needs in order to do good work. But is this a necessity? And why is this such a common theme? Many artists have rocky relations with friends, lovers and relatives alike. People usually assume it’s because of those quirks and eccentricities that they love to hear about in connection to their favorite artists – but would not want to have to endure every day from someone they loved. But maybe that’s not it. Maybe the relationship becomes a sort of sacrifice to the muses.

If this is true – if it’s all in the mind of the artist that this is necessary – then I’m back to the question of why? Has it always been like that? Did the first human creature to pick up a stick and draw on the side of a cave wall feel angst? Did they draw pictures of the cave woman they wanted but couldn’t have? No; they were more concerned with matters of life and death: where is the next meal coming from, where will I find a dry place to sleep… things like that. Free-floating anxiety is a phenomenon of the modern world. The cave artist drew pictures to tell a story or to “make magic.” So when did this business of suffering, starving artists begin?

Art is not inherently something that makes you feel bad. In fact, it carries with it a surge of euphoria, a certain ecstasy, when you’re in the act of creating. Maybe somewhere along the line, those who didn’t create but manifested themselves through destruction became jealous of the joy experienced by the artists of the world, and began to grow an idea that there had to be a price for this fleeting moment of brilliance.

Maybe because it is so much easier to tear down than to build up, over the years there became fewer and fewer who were willing to express their essence through the art forms. And maybe, over the years, anyone with the artistic will has come to accept that art and suffering go hand in hand. The world expects the artist to enlighten, to inspire, to give up some kind of hint as to what it’s all about. But the world also feeds the idea that artists must suffer, to pay a price in order to do it.

That’s not making an artist. That’s making a scapegoat. And in the process of becoming this martyr – even if it is an idolized martyr – the artist has gradually lost sight of the idea that creating was originally a form of ecstasy, of translating the unspeakable into concrete words or images.

Maybe it’s only the logical result of some long-running course of events that has linked art and suffering. The artist – whether from conditioning or sensitivity to the great collective unconscious or any number of possible reasons – has accepted this idea, this role of the “dying god” who creates and then must be destroyed and rise again. The artist now expects to suffer. How the idea came about becomes irrelevant and pointless compared to the urgency of making a change.

In the beginning, art was not about suffering. Art was not about division, or reserving the act of creation for a handful at the expense of leaving the masses powerless to the point of destruction. Art was once about translating the unspeakable experience into something that could be communicated. It was an inclusive act, sharing an experience or an idea with others who might only be able to experience it through vicarious means. It was about expressing the joy inherent in the act of being. It was about leaving a trail for those who followed.

Maybe we do remember this, but only as a glimmer in the depths of the subconscious, and our mental associations have become so twisted and tangled up that we put ourselves through unconscionable mental anguish now just in the hope of catching a glimpse of that ephemeral bit of light we experience when, in the throes of some emotional wreckage, we create something wonderful.

I say that it is high time to put away the idea that creativity costs – that an artist must pay for talent with soul or sanity. It is time to get back to the act of pure creation and leave behind this shameful idea of exacting a price for expression.

It should not have to cost your life to express what is in the depths of your being. The catalyst of pain and suffering is not necessary to bring out the finest part of our nature. Let us be done now with this torturous need for sensationalism and sacrifice, and allow art – and our artists – some breathing room to grow.

© Copyright 2001 by Rob Colfax. Republished 2004, 2011, 2015.

[Editor’s note: The painting Ophelia is named for the character in Shakespeare’s Hamlet who suffered from madness and drowned. Elizabeth Siddal, the model who posed for this painting and many others by the Pre-Raphaelites, also suffered from depression and died from an overdose at the age of 32.]

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This Week at Gatewood: Weekend Wrap-Up for February 23-28

reading newspaper

Photo courtesy of MorgueFile.com.

by Frasier MacKenzie

Hello, and thanks for stopping in! We had some really good stuff going on this week, including poetry from Hugh Mitchell and a piece of short fiction by Patrick Redding that I really don’t know quite how to describe. They’re both surreal, and of course Patrick’s is very funny. You’ll just have to read for yourself.

Here are our features from the week of February 23-28, 2015.

Monday:Choose Your Path,” photography by Boris Brdja

Tuesday:Dimension Dementia,” poetry by Hugh Mitchell with “Going Swimmingly,” artwork by Zengael

Wednesday:How to Cook a Piano,” short fiction by Patrick Redding

Thursday:Three Things Thursday,” post by Johanna Rigby, part of the gratitude/appreciation event started by NerdintheBrain.com. It happens weekly, and it’s open to all, so if you have a blog and want to join in, please do! If you’re on Twitter, the hashtag is #threethingsthursday (with the number spelled out).

Friday:Stone Free Madness,” photography by P.L. Miller, with quote by R.D. Laing

This Friday our photographer P.L. Miller tried out a new twist on a regular feature we’ve been doing each week; we’ve usually posted a photo with a quote as a sort of meditative exercise as we go into the weekend. The difference this week is that they’re incorporated together into one JPG file that you can download for your phone (or tablet – we haven’t tried that yet, but the resolution should be fine). If you like, you can print it as a regular 4×6 photo.

Here are some fun memes posted this week by our Special Assistant @docnicholas:

For more fun and the latest updates, follow @docnicholas on Twitter. If you’re on Twitter, say hello and give him a star or RT. You’ll get the purring without the hair on your clothes!

Speaking of Doc Nicholas, he informed me this week that the top search terms typed in by people when they find our site are “sex,” “tears,” and “religion.” We both thought that was just a little bizarre. I’m not sure what’s going on with that but I hope you’re not terribly disappointed if you were looking for one of those things!

That’s it for the Weekend Wrap-Up for February 23-28. Have a great week!

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How to Cook a Piano

piano

Photo from Pixabay.com.

by Patrick Redding

It takes a lot of talent to cook a piano, to really simmer one in a way that hasn’t been covered in any southern-deep-frying culinary school. They’re uncooperative creatures, pianos are, at least when it comes to being cooked (and wouldn’t you be?). Stubborn as donkeys about where they’ll go and where they won’t. It takes a lot of persuasion and no small amount of force.

Stewed piano isn’t an easy dish to serve up, and one that’s probably more trouble than it’s worth, like making chicken primavera for two-year-olds who’d just as soon have a freezee-pop.

It takes an Act of God to get a piano in a church whose congregation numbers less than three dozen. An Act of God or a bulldoggish Music Committee chairman who can’t carry a tune himself but doesn’t mind getting up to harangue his fellow churchgoers into giving up their hard-pinched spare pennies every Sunday. Oh, they grumble and complain about the cost, mentioning the price of gasoline and tobacco and a good lean chicken breast. They grumble and rumble but given their options, hearing a Music Committee chairman run his yap every Sunday or hearing a piano that might drown out the off-key tenors, well, silencing the money-changer always wins. This is God’s House, after all, and Jesus drove out the money-changers, and since nothing was mentioned in the Bible about driving out pianos, just money-changers, then it’d be best to have the piano there instead of a jowly money-changer, just in case the Second Coming sneaks up on everyone (like a thief in the night, they say, those prophets, as though they’ve already seen a Second Coming themselves, to prattle on with such authority about it). It would be better to have a piano, yes, than that bothersome little fire hydrant of a man up there yammering about the cost of making a joyful noise to the Lord.

It takes a fair amount of talent, once the piano is purchased, to coax it off its cozy truck and into its new home near the choir. There’s no such thing as a piano whisperer, you know, you just have to push and pull and heave and ho-ho-hope for the best when the thing gets away from you and tries to make its escape by taking a suicidal leap off the loading ramp and into the gravel parking lot with a bang and a clatter louder than any noise a bunch of reindeer could make. Have you never noticed how, scrambled, the letters of “piano” spell out “o pain”?

And once the surly thing is made to understand that this is its new home, that the truck has gone away, away, never to return, so long, goodbye, why, then, the thing proceeds to show itself by going out of tune. It’s not the leap from the truck that did it, nor is it the change of weather, moving from its climate-controlled home in a snazzy showroom to a poorly-ventilated, damp-rotting building whose heating and cooling depends upon a few sticky windows held open with hymnals, and the Grace of God. This is not why the piano is out of tune now. It is out of tune for the same reason a child just tucked into bed needs a glass of water, or a dog who has just been given $200 worth of vaccinations from the vet then proceeds to infest himself with fleas. Spite, pure unadulterated spite, that and nothing more.

It takes true vision to recognize this spitefulness for what it is, and to determine that the best response is not to pay out more good money to have the piano retuned properly but to engage the piano-playing services of Sister Noreen’s teenage niece – a spitfire clearly more inspired by Jerry Lee Lewis or Ray Charles than any angelic trumpeter or harpist. Oh, sure, everybody knows how she spends her Saturday nights riding in cars with boys and smoking God-wouldn’t-want-to-know-what down by the river, but my goodness she sure can make that piano sing, can’t she? Oh, those keys are hot, oh my, yes, we’re starting to cook now.

Oh, it starts out with the best of intentions, to bring that stubborn piano into line and make it sound like something that belongs inside a House of Worship rather than some infernal instrument of torture, but the next thing you know the choir’s gotten into the Spirit and the modest altos are clapping and swaying and the big-haired sopranos are bop-bop-bopping along, and even Old Man Finster, the only true bass voice in the choir, has woken up and rumbled a note or two (oh, he’s on the wrong page, but no one else will ever know). Even the tenors, the myopic men with comb-overs, the ones who think it’s more manly to say they’re basses and pretend they have hair than to face a reality involving baldness and quavering voices and mocking wives – even the tenors have begun to crane their necks and sing a little louder, now that there’s a beat, now that there’s a smidgen of a hint of someone maybe having the tiniest bit of fun at something. Listen to those keys pounding away, hammering and banging and making them all think they’re sixteen again, hallelujah.

It takes a different kind of vision to realize that this fountain of youth, this holy blessing from Our Lady of Perpetual Noisemaking, ought to be shared with one’s neighbors. Maybe it came in a dream, maybe it was one of those disembodied voices in the night which the reverent attribute to God or angelic messengers – maybe it was sheer psychotic inspiration, we may never know. We may never know where to lay the blame or credit for discovering the recipe for piano stew. The Outreach Committee won’t come right out and say it was an Act of God, or an Inspiration from On High, but they will make many references to Giving Him the Glory (even though it might ought to go something more like Giving Them the Dickens) for the Grand Idea.

They have a Grand Idea, you see, for a Processional – not merely a back-to-front, promenade-down-the-aisle processional, but a Grand Processional, a Heavenly Parade, a Glorious March of the Faithful which will begin at the church and wind all the way up the narrow hairpin curves of Pritchert’s Peak. They have this idea, you see, that this God-given gift of music ought to be shared by hitching the choir to a hay-wagon and taking the God-given piano on a missionary trip. They have the conviction that if their neighbors along this mule-track of a road could only hear the glorious sounds of the choir singing along with this Spirit-filled piano music, why, their neighbors would immediately throw down their Baptist hymnals and their Books of Common Prayer and their Watchtowers, and join the church that God saw fit to bestow such a piano upon.

Of course the Glorious March will be in July, and of course the choir might sweat beads of holy perspiration in their golden 50%-polyester robes, but just imagine how heavenly the piano will sound, reverberating off the hills and valleys as it makes its way up the mountain, riding in the back of Brother Hunsucker’s hay-wagon. Just imagine.

There’s the matter of coaxing the mulish piano onto the hay-wagon, of course; everyone still remembers how it stumbled and nearly broke its legs as it got off the truck last year. These are good, God-fearing people, so there’ll be none of that heathen hocus-pocus such as raised the likes of those rocks over in England. No, what they’ll decide to do is, after prayer meeting on Wednesday night, while all the hurly-burly men are standing around talking about how poor the gardens are this year and how we won’t have any good tomatoes and how we could use a good hard gully-washer of a rain, what will happen is, someone on the Outreach Committee will have yet another Grand Idea, which will be that instead of standing around and talking about their lousy tomato crops, the hurly-burlys could pitch in and get the piano onto the hay-wagon now, since Brother Hunsucker has kindly left it parked behind the church. Why, it’s only two days and three nights until the Grand Glorious March. They can cover the piano with the tarpaulin that Brother Brewster brought for last week’s potluck dinner, yes, they can drape the piano with that, just in case it rains, but it hasn’t rained for the past two months and it certainly wouldn’t start now, because God wouldn’t do that to them. Oh, the Music Committee chairman might shake his jowls and make a nervous objection or two, but it’s just common sense to shift the piano to the hay-wagon now instead of waiting until the last minute Saturday morning. God hates the unprepared. We don’t know exactly where it says so in the Bible, but it must be in there.

It takes a lot of faith to load a piano onto a hay-wagon two days and three nights before it needs to be there, yes, it takes a lot of faith, brothers and sisters, and these folks are surely full of it. It takes even more faith to watch the heavens open up and rain for the entire next day, and then watch the sun burst out, blazing across the blue sky to turn all that wonderful water to steam for the entire next day after that.

It takes a lot of faith to watch all that happen, and still show up for the Grand March of Glory, expecting the piano to pump up that choir just the way it always has. Faith is its own reward, they say, and so no one should have been surprised. No one should have batted an eye when the tarpaulin was pulled off and the piano unveiled, and its body showed off swags and curves bigger than the lead soprano without her corset. No one should have been surprised, either, when the teenage piano player started whining about the keys sticking together. She was like that, you know, always complaining about something, you know how teenagers are. Oh, sure, it sounded a little different, they agreed, but maybe it was just because they were used to hearing it indoors and had never heard what it sounded like outdoors on a hay-wagon. No one was going to come out and say God’s good rain ruined their God-given piano. It would take one more Act of God to get the point across.

It doesn’t take a culinary genius to recognize that stewed piano isn’t an easy dish to serve up, and one that’s probably more trouble than it’s worth, sort of like making chicken primavera for two-year-olds who’d just as soon have a freezee-pop. And it doesn’t take an engineering whiz to figure out that a piano, cooked or raw, probably shouldn’t be served on a hay-wagon being pulled uphill at a 30-degree angle. Nevertheless, there’s a lot to be said for the hands-on experience, which was what the choir got when the shake-rattle-and-rolling piano, followed closely by their amazingly ungraceful piano player, slid to the back of the hay-wagon, scattering the choir members in their golden 50%-polyester robes like so many sunbeams for Jesus, or like wobbling yellow bowling pins, to use a less holy but more apt comparison. There were some especially loud braying and screeching noises as the piano tipped and leaped onto the road and proceeded to backslide all the way down the steep brake-burning grade of Pritchert’s Peak, taking its kicking-and-screaming teenage rider along with it.

Some of the Good Baptists who came out on their porches to watch still say it was a Sign from God, but the chairman of the Music Committee knows that God doesn’t usually speak through runaway cooked pianos when He gets ready to send a message. He knows that this was just God’s way of telling them that He didn’t approve of that little heathen teenage piano player. Pride goeth before a fall – that’s in the Bible somewhere, for sure. You have to break a few legs to cook a piano, but it takes real talent to get anyone to swallow it.

© Copyright 2005 by Patrick Redding. Republished 2011, 2015.

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Saturday Concert Series #12: Dropkick Murphys

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Earlier this week, the Dropkick Murphys sent a message to Wisconsin’s anti-union governor Scott Walker to “please stop using our music in any way.” The band has long given active support to workers’ rights while Walker, who inexplicably used “Shipping Up to Boston” to make his entrance at a speech in Iowa last week, has spent most of his tenure as governor squelching collective bargaining, pruning pensions, and slashing the education budget.

It’s not the first time left-leaning musicians have had to tell politicians with opposing ideologies to stop using their music. We can only guess that being politically conservative renders one unable to do research or discern the meaning of lyrics.

But enough about politics. We’d been scouting around since we began the Saturday Concert Series for a good full-length Dropkick Murphys show, and this week’s news prompted us back to the search. The video is from an outdoor festival in Germany; the sound is fantastic, the band gives a spirited performance, and the jigging crowd is exuberant. Set list includes “Going Out In Style,” “Wild Irish Rover,” union anthem “Whose Side Are You On,” and “Shipping Up to Boston,” among other favorites. We hope you enjoy it.

Dropkick Murphys: Hurricane Festival 2014, Germany

Photo by ceedub13 (Dropkick Murphys @ Bluesfest) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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Saturday Concert Series #11: Dirty Dozen Brass Band

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This weeks featured concert is a show from New Orleans’ Dirty Dozen Brass Band, video recorded in 2013 at the Tourcoing Jazz Festival. The performance is a good sampling of the eclectic tastes of the band, leaning heavily on jazz and funk but staying true to their New Orleans roots with a rousing medley including the ever-popular “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

Sit back and enjoy, and don’t be surprised if you find yourself up and dancing before the show’s over.

Dirty Dozen Brass Band – Tourcoing Jazz Festival 2013

Photo: “Live at The Village, Whelans – The Dirty Dozen Brass Band” by Sean Rowe. Licensed CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

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