Night of the Living Viennese
Copyright © 2002 Laramie Crocker
Concept Inspiration and Title with Matt Dean
I like the feel of the keys on this thing. Heavy, bouncy, with a little bump in the middle as I press down. Smooth. Shiny. Good. And a nice sound. This room is not good. Not like the palace in Vienna. I can feel the ceiling over me. Everything is painted black down here. The light-can is hot. I play. I'm lost in this, fingers on the keys, my "Prelude in C". I like it slow, like this. Slow, people get lost in the notes, they don't hear the architecture, except The Asshole, of course, he hears everything -- and nothing. Always criticizes after the show. He's in the back somewhere now, watching my hands, the spotlight turning them pale white, against the hard black reflective shine of the pianoforte. I can't see anything else in here now with that light-can on me. Ahh, my favorite spot ... C major, C dominant 7th, now... F major 7... ahh...phat, jazzy... I see Herr Mingus, give him a nod ... he falls right in on the diminished, and we're rolling. Lights come up in the club a little, now Billy's working the brushes, nice. People tap their feet. This is a good moment. After all these years, I love this moment, when the audience relaxes and gets it. Unlike the goddamn Archduke. He never got it. And his whole damn court dared not groove when the Archduke wasn't even budging. Mingus looks good. Trimmed his beard or something. The black ones look better than us. We get too pale, too gray. Mingus has a nice skin tone, no one questions him. I can't get a decent concubine in this town, they shrink when they see me, or ask "hey, brother, you need to git to a hospital?" Applause. Lift fingers off the last chord, Billy's faded out, Mingus is holding his last note. I nod at the people. Nice, these New Yorkers. Better than the stuffy Viennese. "Sank you. Ve're going to take a brek now. Ve have some CD's und a mailing-list," I say. I make my way to the bar to get a hot coffee and a shot of gin. The Asshole is there. He's leaning towards me, yells in my ear. "So, Johann. You are a prostitute again. Vy did you play so fast when ze band comes in? You ruin ze structure you vere building up zere." "Not now Ludwig. You can't hear anyzing anyway -- vat do you know. You've never heard brushes in you entire life. You don't know vat zey add. Und Herr Higgins is ze master. It verks, you bastard." "I can see vat ze do, ze ruin ze rhythm, all cluttered up. Bad." The Asshole never fails to come to my shows. Can't hear anything. He's gotten pretty good at lip reading over the centuries, but his hearing is stuck back then. Doesn't get the modern sound. He plays his pieces at a mafia bar two nights a week. They like it. The philharmonic won't let him play for them. They think he's some old fart doing a Beethoven schtick, they say it's "campy". He plays the old tunes, and when he's really pissed late in the evening he plays his newer tunes, darker than ever. Lots of crashing. Unlistenable. Empties the bar, so the owner tells him to stop. He pretends he can't understand, because of his hearing. He'll loose that gig if he keeps at that. Not me: I blend. I use a pseudonym. Of sorts. I just go by Sebastian now. It's very big, artists having just one name these days. Only The Asshole calls me Johann anymore. Oh hell, there's that old crab, Handel. Slumming it. He's the one playing at Lincoln Center this weekend. He comes down here to pity us. Goes up to Lincoln and plays Handel: The 20th Century version. Long and incomprehensible. The society folks eat that stuff up. Then go stand around at the cocktail hour and pretend to understand what they heard. Utter crap. I like it down here at the Vanguard. Much better scene. Young people, alive, happy. And beautiful girls. Nice to look at anyway. They don't look at me much when I'm not playing. The bar is washed in red light, a veil of smoke hangs down from the ceiling. You can feel it in your eyes when you stand up. Bottles of liquor line the glass shelves behind the bartender. Long wooden bar, mahogany, glistens with sloshed drinks, people jammed in here -- no room to move. Just as well, got to get away from The Asshole. I squeeze back to the little stage: a black plywood box a foot higher than the floor with a pianoforte and Billy's drumkit. Charles' contrabass is leaning in the corner, no space to lay it on the floor. He's sitting at the pianoforte bench, smoking one of those expensive cigars he likes. His legs are spread wide and he is leaning back on the keys, his eyes closed. I reach for my viola from its case under the pianoforte and start tuning. "Hey, baby, that was a good set. 'Prelude' was smokin. But man, you got to lighten up a bit on that 'Adagio', man, you startin to sound like The Asshole. Don't nobody like that nohow." "Ya. Adagios are zupposed to be depressing, you know." "I dig, baby. You know whumsayin." "Ya. Ve do vun of you pieces? I alvays like 'Fables of Faubus'. It sounds good vis all strings," I hold up the viola and smile. "Sure, baby. You the man." "Tomorrow, vill Herr Parker sit in? He said he'd come down." "Yah, baby, Bird's gonna be here, man, don' you worry." Mingus always liked me. Even before I played The Song for him. Use to come see my shows. I think he knew who I was. I don't know why he calls me "baby". This century is full of things I don't understand. English was hard enough, had a hundred years or so to learn it. But the language has changed since the 1950's and I can't quite keep up any more. The music I can do. But the language -- I'm getting lazy, perhaps. I still think, dream, in German. Wolfgang does better than me. But he's too much into that heavy metal scene, keeps telling me to come see him "shred" with his "headbangers". Maybe it's laziness again, maybe too modern for me. Damn wig itches. Hot and itchy with that light. Time to play.