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Guitar Hero Sandwich

We had a light-hearted look at heavy metal guitarists the other day. It got me to wondering. Where did the guitar hero idea come from? I decided to answer my own question. Who else can I trust?

For purposes of this exercise, I should warn you that I’m not going to do any research. It sounds too much like work. Like a true guitar hero, I’ll be blasting away with little concern for anyone else’s input or what the audience wants to hear. Shooting from the hip, as it were.

I guess we should define “guitar hero” before we start. I’ll take a stab at it. A guitar hero plays the guitar to impress people with his guitar playing. That sounds like a bit of a tautology, but it’s really not. Many guitarists are more interested in being musical than being impressive. Jimmy Vaughn is a more musical guitar player than his little brother, who’s in the running for exhibit A in the guitar hero pantheon. Guitar heroism is usually the musical equivalent of weightlifting, not ballet.

So, how did we arrive at this state of affairs? Tell us, oh Sippican! Lay some more of your ill-considered opinions on us!

OK, I’ll bite. I think it started with Django Reinhardt.

Django made his guitar heroism all the more intriguing by the fact he only had two functional fingers on his left hand. It got burned, and his ring finger and pinky were formed into a kind of claw. But man, he could fly. In the video you can see the kind of guitar army he often fronted. Those old Selmer acoustic guitars were made for cabaret music, and they didn’t have the punch needed to get over in a loud world. When he started out, amplification was kind of non-existent, but small orchestras make plenty of noise acoustically. Django used a heavy plectrum to get maximum sound out of the box, and to elbow his way to the front of the pack. Let’s see what the Wikiup says about Django:

It wasn’t until 1938, and the Quintet’s first tour of England, that guitarists [in the U.K.] were able to witness Django’s amazing abilities. His hugely innovative technique included, on a grand scale, such unheard of devices as melodies played in octaves, tremolo chords with shifting notes that sounded like whole horn sections, a complete array of natural and artificial harmonics, highly charged dissonances, super-fast chromatic runs from the open bass strings to the highest notes on the 1st string, an unbelievably flexible and driving right-hand, two and three octave arpeggios, advanced and unconventional chords and a use of the flattened fifth that predated be-bop by a decade. Add to all this Django’s staggering harmonic and melodic concept, huge sound, pulsating swing, sense of humour and sheer speed of execution, and it is little wonder that guitar players were knocked sideways upon their first encounter with this full-blown genius.

Bang! There it is. It’s little wonder that other guitar players were knocked sideways. That’s a music critic talking. He kind of elides the fact that Django was endlessly musical, despite blowing all the other guitarists’ doors off. He gets right down to the meat of the matter, at least for guys like him. Django was impressive.

By the way, when your kids want to undertake something hard to prove their chops, Django beats Knopfler any day:

So where do we go from here? We’re drunk on cheap wine in pre-war Paris, and the greasy cigarette smoke is making us nauseated. What’s next?

The USof A, and Charlie Christian, of course.

That ladies and germs, it the electric guitar, blazing away, a true soloing instrument at last. He played in Benny Goodman’s band, and they featured him right out front. If you’ve never had the treat of standing in front of a Swing band before, you… you… you probably still have some of your hearing. Those bands were loud. I played in the back row of a few of them, and I still have a slight headache.

Pop a transducer in the sound hole of a guitar, plug it into a suitcase with a speaker and some tubes, and all of a sudden even the drummer can’t keep up. Charlie’s playing jazz, of course, but the whole idea of electric guitar soloing over background chord changes popped out of Charlie Christian’s very short stint on the stage. Died young and tubercular. So young there isn’t any video of him anywhere. Jazz musicians, and all sorts of other musicians, talk about Christian in hushed tones. Miles Davis said he wanted to play the trumpet like Christian played the guitar. Even rock musicians mention him, sometimes. They might have no taste, but they recognize a volume knob when they see it.

Now, the next step if fraught with peril. The 1950s has rolled around, and guitarists are thick on the ground at this point. Less well-informed observers might jump in here with any number of really good players who inspired lots of kids to take up the instrument, like Scotty Moore, or Eldon Shamblin, or  T-Bone Walker, or even Chuck Berry, but wowing people with blazing licks wasn’t their top priority. Besides, in a way, we’re assigning blame for how guitar hero ethos turned out, not credit. If we’re going to find the pedigree of  it goes to eleven malefactors, we’re going to have to go through Les Paul:


If the solid body electric guitar has a true father, he’s it. There may be twenty-zillion brands and models of guitars, but honestly, there are really only two kinds that matter for the purposes of our discussion. Les Pauls and Fender Stratocasters. Gibson made Les Pauls, but he invented them, and lots of other stuff to do with amplification and recording, including multi-track recording, so guitar showoffs could solo over themselves to increase the solipsism. Lots of guitarists went to an intermediate way-station on the road to shredding, using a semi-hollowbody guitar like the Gibson ES 330 or 335, but Les changed the whole scene for everything

Fender Strats are like boat oars compared to a Les Paul. They’re born from a country tradition, like the Telecasters that predated them. Blues heroes love’m. But a Les Paul guitar is a Lambo compared to the Fender musical delivery van. The neck is really thin, but the fretboard is a little flatter than a Strat. It’s got multiple pickups and volume and tone knobs. It’s made for showing off, and at flight-deck volume if you get a big enough amplifier.

So now it’s beginning to really look like the arms race we’re trying to define. Everyone was going to need bigger amplifiers and more necks on their guitars and maybe even some music lessons to keep up with the times. We’re going to get the musical cuisinart humming and dump in blues and country and swing and Broadway and torch songs and whatever else is hanging around.

Oh boy. Now we’ve run smack dab into the side of the 1960s. You’re going to demand I mention Hendrix or something. But we have to stick to the topic. We’re not just identifying showoffs. We’re talking about enablers and prototypes here. Lots of Millenials and Zoomers don’t understand Boomer affection for bands like the Beatles. They hear things like George Harrison’s lugubrious guitar solos and compare them to Eddie Van Halen or somebody. They’ve been taught that Rock Music is a thing, so the Beatles and Van Halen and Sade and Roxy Music and Weird Al Yankovic should all be compared to each other, and on the same merits.

Like I said, it’s the ’60s. The Stones and the Beatles and the Beach Boys et. al. gotta make a mint with pop music and some pedestrian guitar solos. Until we get to here:

It sounds woolly because they’re standing in front of walls of very crappy amplifiers to make all that noise. Real sound reinforcement got invented to replace the ad hoc arrangement you see here, and to keep up with the size of the venues and amount of decibels they demanded. The average wedding band in 2000 had a bigger PA system than the Beatles had to play Shea Stadium. This is why.

If you want to hear clearly what’s going in in that last video, let’s drop in on Tim Pierce and hear it done with all the equipment you could possibly want. It helps if you can play like crazy, too. Tim invited our son over to his house once, so he’s aces with us:

That Cream video was from 1968.  It led directly to the end of our search, the go to Guitar Center, go directly to Guitar Center, do not pass out of the garage, do not collect a $200 advance from the record company, the true adumbration of the guitar hero ethos:

Everyone heard Crossroads, and thought to themselves, if I could play like that, maybe I could make time with George Harrison’s wife, too.

Sorry kids, like Marty DiBergi said in Spinal Tap, “Let’s talk about your music today…uh…one thing that puzzles me …um…is the make up of your audience seems to be …uh… predominately young boys.

I’ve Already Seen The Oppenheimer Movie. It Was About Leslie Groves

I’m not sure you can visit a gas pump or pay a water bill or dig a ditch or stop at a tollbooth or go to a cookout and avoid three topics at any of them. Everyone’s singing to the tune of John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt, only the words have morphed into Taylor Barbie Oppenheimer Swift! I’m giving all three a hard pass, no matter how hard a pass their press flacks make at me.

But the Oppenheimer movie intrigues me in one way. They already made an Oppenheimer movie, in 1989, and while it didn’t set the world on fire (sorry, too soon?), it was pretty good as entertainment, and not bad at explaining the power politics behind the making of the atom bomb. I’ve not seen one reference to that movie anywhere, including the gas pumps I mentioned, and I kinda wonder why. The movie had its problems, I’ll grant you that. They tried to drag romance kicking and screaming into the thing. The casting gorgon threw in John Cusack in an entirely fictional, borderline absurd role. But I suppose they can be forgiven for trying to gin up some female interest in a story that mostly revolved around arithmetic with a lot of letters mixed in on blackboards in the desert. Oppenheimer has some sexy time with a comely commie, which isn’t as thrilling as any of the assorted Helgas in low-cut Nazi outfits vamping around in any number of bad WWII movies, but it’s not nothing.

Everyone agrees that Paul Newman was miscast as Leslie Groves. Everyone but me, I mean. He’s an unusual choice, I’ll grant you, but he acts like a general. The screenwriter was smart enough to make it a weird kind of buddy picture between Groves and Oppenheimer.  And the fellow they hired to play Oppenheimer, Dwight Shultz, portrayed a robodweeb just fine. But the movie cost $30 million in 1989 bucks, and made $3.5 mil, so I guess my affection for it is particular, not general amongst the hoi polloi.

I gather Cillian Murphy plays Oppenheimer this time around, and he’s more popular than free samples at a bank, so that’s bound to help the war effort, so to speak. It’ll put more butts in the seats than Paul Newman with an AARP card could. Maybe someone can make a better movie, but can you tell the story better? I doubt it. Because the story of the atom bomb is as much about Leslie Groves as Oppenheimer, or Szilard, or Einstein, or any of the other eggheads Groves hired, like particularly effete plumbers, to unclog his Tokyo toilet in a big way.

The word genius gets thrown around a lot these days, generally by people who wouldn’t recognize one if they saw one, or would burn him at the stake if they did. Being able to do enough math to torture python scripts for a FAANG company doesn’t make you a genius, or a good judge of one, either. Everyone who worked on the Manhattan Project was about as bright as people get, but there was only one, bona fide genius there, if you ask me, and it wasn’t Oppenheimer. The smartest man at Los Alamos didn’t even live there. When they couldn’t make the thing work, Oppenheimer called in John Von Neumann, the smartest man to walk the earth since Imhotep.

“We are in what can only be described as a desperate need of your help. We have a good many theoretical people working here, but I think that if your usual shrewdness is a guide to you about the probable nature of our problems you will see why even this staff is in some respects critically inadequate…I would like you to come as a permanent, and let me assure you, honored member of our staff. A visit will give you a better idea of this somewhat Buck Rogers project than any amount of correspondence.”

All the other scientists lived in a boy scout camp in the desert for years, getting nearly nowhere, and then Von Neumann dropped by in his three-piece suit and figured out that implosion would work, and how it would work. The rest was plumbing. Simple as that. Hell, even Leslie Groves was an organizational superman compared to Oppenheimer. After all, Groves did something remarkable twice.

It’s telling that Fat Man and Little Boy never mentions Von Neumann. They show an un-named deus ex machina character drop in and straighten out Seth Neddermeyer, who was a real person who gets a credit in the movie, so it’s not like everyone else is anonymous or fictitious or anything. For some reason, probably because Von Neumann was a patriotic square, and not the least ambivalent about what they were doing, the glitterati don’t like him much. They like people who paste a veneer of indecision over their ambition, to seem more moral than they really are. But Like Paul Newman says, “…the death march of Bataan, was that moral?”

I don’t need movies to help me make up my mind over whether dropping bombs of any sort on Japan was moral. My father hung in a little glass ball underneath a B-24J Liberator in WWII and dropped plenty of bombs on Japanese soldiers, or their oil dumps, anyway. He was a profoundly moral man. One of the planes that sometimes flew in formation with my dad’s squadron got shot down by ground fire, but one crewman miraculously made it out alive, and parachuted down to the island of Koror. He was immediately beheaded with a sword, along with a few other fliers and a hearty handful of missionaries, right there on the beach. And all you backseat driving logicians on Twitter who think the Japanese didn’t need an atomic reason to quit fighting, maybe you should try understanding arithmetic before you take a crack at physics. They didn’t surrender after the first one, did they? They asked Yoshio Nishina, the head of their atomic bomb program, if the blast in Hiroshima was indeed atomic, and whether he could duplicate it within six months. It was a totalitarian government. It only understood total war.

Maybe that’s why I re-watch Fat Man and Little Boy from time to time. The Manhattan Project was durn interesting. The movie didn’t pussyfoot around the politics of it, and they showed both sides of the argument about using the gadget they’d made. The military wanted to make it, and use it. Lots of ex-European scientists were very enthusiastic about a fission mission over Berlin, but felt instantly ambivalent about doing the same to Japan after VE Day.

I’m sure the recent movie will make the scientists sound very ethical and righteous and sympathetic when they change their minds overnight about building and dropping a big bomb when the target shifts, but it reminds me of the old joke about a man offering a beautiful woman a million dollars to have sex with him. When she says, “Sure,” he says, “OK, will you do it for ten dollars?” She replies, “Hell no, what do you think I am?” The man answers, “We’ve established what you are, we’re just haggling over the price.”

Life, The Universe, Errol Flynn, and Erryting

So, the universe presents us with this.

That’s a performance at the Sydney Fest from 2012. Sydney’s in Australia. It’s the antipodes. Or as they say around here, you can’t get there from heah. The band’s name is the Jolly Boys. They’re from Jamaica.

They’re playing a Steely Dan song. Steely Dan was a Horace Silver cover band from New Jersey. Close enough. The original version of the song features a solo by a computer programmer playing an electric sitar, because of course it would. The computer programmer is famous, if that’s the word I’m looking for, for helping to produce a compiler for ms-dos programs. This may not turn out to be a growth industry if Microsoft Windows becomes popular. You never know, Windows might catch on.

Why are the Jolly Boys playing in Sydney? Because Errol Flynn. Errol Flynn was a Tasmanian devil, until Hollywood made him famous and he became American, which is a sideways move, I think. He got rich playing English people in American movies, because Russell Crowe and Mel Gibson weren’t available. In 1946, Errol Flynn took his Captain Blood money, bought an island off the coast of Jamaica, and threw a party that only lasted for ten years or so, with a couple of bathroom breaks. He liked some of the local musicians who played mento music, which is the zygote of reggae. He hired them to play at his party, and named them The Jolly Boys. The name stuck.

I was going to say that Errol Flynn eventually died from cirrhosis, a bad back, drug abuse, hepatitis, alcoholism, tuberculosis, malaria, several venereal diseases, none minor, and the lingering shock of seeing Dolores del Rio naked, but I figure it will save time if I just say Errol Flynn died of a severe case of Errol Flynn.

So a Jamaican guy wearing Richard Nixon’s bowling pants and Tony Manero’s Qiana shirt is singing a New York song at least figuratively about Las Vegas in Australia, while a guy in Maine watches it. He is a brand of awesome. He survived Errol Flynn. Even Errol Flynn couldn’t manage that.

A Real, Live, Time Machine

When I was little, I wanted a Raleigh bicycle.

A Raleigh bicycle was exotic. It came from England. My neighborhood was full of Schwinns and Columbias, as elegant and useful as tanks. They were the transportation version of a three-legged stool. I wanted a fauteuil.

Raleigh bicycles were only owned by WASPs. WASPs were exotic, in their way. Not many of them passed through the world I lived in. The few I encountered seemed to own everything by some kind of subtle transubstantiation that turned one person’s wealth into another’s. They had money without working, a kind of magic show to a little kid. They went to school to learn things that weren’t practical, another astounding thing to a drudge like me. They rode Raleigh bicycles and thought nothing of it.

Well, there’s the Raleigh factory. I don’t see anyone who looks like a toff working in there. They all look just like I did, when I went to work in a big factory at the age of eighteen. The movie (that’s what it is) was a Signet production. In America, that would have been a Coronet film. They were shown in schools, generally when the teacher was hung over and wanted to sleep for a solid half hour, instead of fitfully like they did during a regular school day.

Everyone dreams of a time machine. They want to go back in time to rule it, or forward in time because they assume, incorrectly, that they’re more wonderful than their contemporaries, and would fit in better on Star Trek than they do on the subway.

Well, there’s your time machine, boys. Time machines lie thick on the ground, but you’re not interested. Look at it and weep. I testify to you, right now, that I could climb in that time machine, and perform any job in that Raleigh factory, including drafting by hand. Could you?

Instructing the troglodytes you meet after you step out of your time machine that if they would simply listen to reason, and get an autocad set up, put guards on the machines, let you stop every fifteen minutes to take pills for your imaginary ailments, let you hold a binky bottle full of sugar water in one hand the whole time, allow you to stop every 30 seconds or so to use a telephone, and that they’d have to ban gluten from the cafeteria that doesn’t exist, so they better set one up, would be of doubtful utility.

They’d hire me, because I’d tell them that I thought I could be vaguely useful to them, I had always loved Raleigh bicycles, and I wanted to earn enough money to buy one.

It’s Always a Good Day When You’re Above the Lawn

That’s Cyrille Aimee, who’s some sorta French chick, so, she’s like, automatically hot. It’s like a law or a rule or something. Can’t control her hair. Smokes cigarettes that Germans in a snowbank on the Eastern Front would turn down, I imagine. I bet she eats snails. Not in a restaurant, either. Just finds them in people’s fish tanks and eats them. She speaks English because she went to college at SUNY Purchase, which I hear now has some faculties and gymnosiums and a reflectory to eat in, where you think about what you could have done with the tuition money. It doesn’t seem to have done her any harm.

The song is written by Peggy Lee, of all people, and her then-husband, Dave Barbour, who was a alcoholic jazz banjoist, of all things. You’d drink pretty heavily, too, if you were in that close proximity to someone playing the jazz banjo.

RIP, 2nd Lt Wallace F. Kaufman, Navigator

Wallace F. Kaufman was sort of a friend of mine. Let me explain.

I’ve seen that little snippet of footage of the bomber wing exploding before, but it was always fleeting, in a montage, and grainy. It was often commented upon as an example of friendly fire, a defamation of the other airmen in the squadron. Cleaned up like this, you can clearly see that it was hit from below by AA fire. But some people’s desire to find the ignoble in everyone but themselves trumps everything. They wish Catch 22 was true, so it must be. The Internet is full of these armchair historians today, Memorial Day, reminding us what bad people we were to drop atomic weapons on the Japanese. I wonder what Wallace F. Kaufman would say about that.

My father was a crewman in a B-24J Liberator. He hung below his, named Les Miserables, in a little plastic ball, like a hamster. There were ten or eleven crewmen on board during a mission. The very last one to survive anything would be the ball gunner. Once you climb down into it, they close the hatch behind you, swivel it, then lower it, and you can’t get back out without reversing the operation. My father was tall for his time, and they always put the short guy in the ball, so that makes me wonder if some short straw was chosen by, or for, my father. More likely no one else wanted to do it, and he said sure with his Irish chuckle and thought the view would be nice.

That video, right there, is the view.

My father told me a little about his tours of duty in a B-24 before he died. He didn’t talk about it at all when I was younger. I didn’t realize the significance of it to him until he had one foot in the grave. I looked up all the names he told me, as best as I could remember them, and then of course he was gone, and I couldn’t ask again.  

That plane in the video is B-24M-15-CO “Brief”, serial number 44-42058. The plane was in the 7th Air Force, 494th Bombardment Group, in the 867th Squadron. The were flying from Angaur to bomb Koror in the Palau island group.

My father flew in B-24-J-175-CO “Les Miserables” Serial number 44-40666. The plane was in the 7th Air Force, 494th Bombardment Group, in the 866th Squadron. Dad told me that he flew from Angaur, and bombed Koror, and Kwajalein, and the Phillipines, and a bunch of other places.

These two bomber groups flew together, and my father may very well have known some or all the men on that plane in the video. Their squadron records are online, and their missions are nearly identical. For all I know my father is in that video somewhere off on the horizon, though I cannot make out any markings on the planes that are from his squadron. They had two vertical stripes on the tail, and the 867th had those checkerboard squares.

Who was Wallace F. Kaufman? He was the navigator in that plane you see, sheared in half in front of your eyes, fluttering into the sea. Among the eleven men on that plane, he was the only one that survived the crash.

It’s almost inconceivable that anyone could survive that. My dad told me that it was just as likely as not you would end up dead because you ran out of gas, or the weather was bad, or the flying bulldozer that a B-24J resembles wouldn’t cooperate all of a sudden. That view of his in the ball was all empty ocean and sharks. The Japanese were just the last in a string of bad luck you might find.

Dad didn’t die in a crash, but the Les Miserables crashed into the ocean in bad weather shortly after the war was over, filled with American fliers [Update:That’s mistaken. They were from Great Britain, apparently] that had been in an internment camp for much of  the war. All aboard were lost.

So it’s a sort of miracle that a friend, Wallace F. Kaufman, survived that explosion and crash. Of course he wasn’t my friend, but he very well might have been my father’s friend, and that’s close enough for me.

We know Wallace F. Kaufman survived that crash. After the war, an interesting man named Pat Scannon went to Japan, and found and interviewed a Japanese soldier that had been on Koror that day, who told him that he had immediately captured Wallace F. Kaufman.

Along with three other airmen and ten missionaries, they beheaded Wallace F. Kaufman with a sword.

When You Turn The Lamp Down Low

A serendipitous Intertunnel find. I’m Beginning To See The Light is a jazz standard. It’s older than it seems; it’s World War II vintage. Duke Ellington and three others wrote it. Bobby Darin’s take on it is the quintessential version, if you ask me. It was on the Swingers soundtrack, which is pretty good overall, and many people discovered it thereby. I think of the song as a fifties thing.

Bobby Darin was a very accomplished singer. He never starts on the last note and goes up from there; the song builds from beginning to end, never wanders. The whole style is often aped but rarely performed as ably. The video I embedded gets lost halfway through, and pulls over at a disreputable rest stop where bass solos hang around to ask for directions. Oh well. The guitar player is delightfully loopy in his facial tics, and can really blast away when called on. His comping is very effective, too.

The singer is Cyrille Aimee, just the sort of exotic that New York loves enough to get hired, but if the tepid applause at the end is any indication, plays in half-empty clubs, because no matter how cosmopolitan a city thinks it is, the vast majority of people everywhere are Philistines, and would rather line up around the block to see dreck while accomplished artists play to an audience of chair backs. Such is life.

Me? I go in for afterglow. It’s on YouTube, next to the Psy videos.

Days Of Mad Romance And Love

Art Tatum plays Yesterdays by Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach. He made a record of it in 1949, so I imagine this video is from sometime around then. He died in 1956.

Practically blind, drank a lot. Could still blow anyone’s doors off on the piano.

Things Are Different Today; I Hear Every Muvva Say

Oh how I love to watch dull things.

I liked to read dull things when I was younger. Still do, but don’t have the time anymore. My head is kinda full, now, too, so I look for opportunities to lighten its load before I take on more ballast.

I’d rather read a newspaper that was one hundred years old than a brand new one. Everything in a newspaper is interesting if everyone’s dead. The mundane-r the stuff you’re reading in it, the better. The ads are better than the articles in any publication, generally.

Look what had to happen to get a book in print in 1947. It’s the reason that the apparatus to publish a book had so many gatekeepers along its Appian Way to the bookseller. Can’t waste copper plates on fanfiction. Eventually, like with so many things, the gatekeepers thought they were the business, and became a calcified roadblock for anything their crabby little worldview didn’t like.

Reform is not possible with large, complex, monolithic entities. They have to collapse. In general, they collapse right after their hegemony over the entire landscape of their walk of life is reached. No one can imagine a competitor. This lack of imagination is a swamp where the noxious exhalations of innovation come from.

I typed a book on an ancient Frankensteined Dell computer running XP, sent it to Amazon, and less than a week later I had a box of them in my lap. No other human was involved in its production on my end. At the printing end, for all I know, seventeen Yetis with a glue gun and a barrel of ink made the damn things.

I don’t know much, but I do know that if the entire edifice of publishing was still in place, I’d have never written anything, and would never write anything else. Good riddance to bad trash.

Tell Me That Joke About The Dumb Polack Again

Henryk Szeryng plays Bela Bartok.

Romanian Folk Dances is a good soundtrack for a Maine winter. Not sure why –although hurrying through the Borgo Pass while the wolves howl in the shadow of Castle Dracul is a lot like going to South Paris, Maine in December to drop off a package at the Going Postal shipping store. There are more Pitbulls roaming around South Paris, so it edges out Wallachia for danger, I think.

Henryk Szeryng was born in Poland in 1918. He was Jewish. Even a casual reader of European history would immediately see what sort of future a baby born there and then might be in for. A Greek playwright couldn’t come up with a sword big enough to hang over your head in Act I. We can’t blame him for not amounting to much. No, really; we can’t.

He started in on piano when he was five, taught by his mother. Oh, dear; a homeschooler. When he was seven, he took up violin. Piano must have been too hard for him. Well, it’s too hard for everyone else; I don’t see why it would be easy for him. It sounds like he was well-to-do; he eventually studied in Paris and Berlin, and was a notable player before he was twenty. He played with the Warsaw Philharmonic, playing Brahms, when he was only fifteen years old. I don’t know about you, but I was still building model airplanes when I was fifteen. I don’t want to cast aspersions; you may have been building real airplanes when you were fifteen for all I know.

Later on, when things got very unpleasant indeed in Europe, a certain General Sikorski, who was the head of the Polish government in exile, noticed the young fiddle player spoke seven languages besides being able to play Bach. When I was in my early twenties, I could make myself misunderstood in about three languages, if you include English, so there’s that. I also knew the bass line to Jump Into The Fire by Harry Nilsson, so I had the musical waterfront covered as well. You may have been less accomplished than I was. I don’t judge.

In 1941, Sikorski went to Mexico to beg them to let 4000 Polish refugees, ie, Jews, settle there. Szeryng went with him, had an epiphany, and decided to become Mexican himself, and eventually taught at the National University of Mexico. I don’t think he taught animal husbandry.

In the fifties, Arthur Rubinstein dropped by Mexico City, went to see Szeryng, and after hearing him play, convinced him to start playing concerts again. I don’t hear from you as often as I’d like, so I’m unsure how many times Arthur Rubinstein came over to your place and asked you to do things internationally, but the only time I spoke to old Art, he only asked me to paint his fence. I may be misremembering this; it’s a while ago. It may have been a housewife name Agnes Morgenstern that had the fence that needed painting. At any rate, I’m sure Arthur Rubinstein would have had some sort of use for you; you’re likely a lot sweller than I am. Most people are.

So our friend Szeryng made recordings and traveled the world giving concerts, sawing away at a Stradivarius violin when his good violin, a Guarnieri del Gesu, was in the shop having its bolts tightened or something. I don’t think he liked the Stradivarius all that much; he gave it to the State of Israel in the seventies, hoping they’d loan it out to some underachievers like him from time to time to bang away on.

He couldn’t sit still, that guy. I am loath to call him a drifter, but I can’t find out if he moved around a lot over unpaid gas bills or too many parking tickets or what. He lived in Paris, and eventually died in 1988 in Monaco, flying back and forth from both to Mexico on a diplomatic passport because he was Mexico’s official cultural ambassador. I don’t know about you, but I once rode in an AMC Ambassador, which is a comparable thrill, I’m telling you. You may have only ridden in a Pacer, so I won’t mention it again. I don’t want to make you feel like an underachiever.

Tag: 1940s

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