I can hear his truck before I see it. I’d hoped to take a quiet morning walk with Eloise and listen to the Bartók Violin Concerto No. 2 on my iPod, but now I know I’m going to be trapped in a twenty-minute conversation with my neighbor. When it appears around the curve on the dirt road I see that Marcel Proost’s truck has a new bumper sticker. He’s removed “Rand Paul for President” and replaced it with “Climate Change My Ass.” Of course for Marcel this is just a means of starting up one of his country-wisdom conversations. Marcel likes to joke that he is a “swing voter,” but I know for a fact that he hasn’t voted in an election since 1976.
“Yo, John,” he yells, rolling down the window. “I ‘spected to see you in your bathing suit. It’s sweltering out here, right?”
I’m in fact bundled in a sweatshirt, a sweater, scarf and gloves. Spring is late this season up here on the north coast, and there is a seriously chilling wind blowing up from the ocean five miles to the west.
“What do mean, Marcel,” I say, already on my guard for his ribbing.
“Yeah, don’t you remember that song, “The Icebergs Are Melting?” He tweaks his voice up to a falsetto, strums an imaginary ukulele and sings:
“Oh the icebergs are melting
The tide is coming in.
All the world is drowning
To wash away its sins.”
Marcel grins, and I wince, not so much at the sound of his squeaking voice as at the reminder of his lapse in dental hygiene.
“That’s very kind of you to serenade me so early in the day, Marcel. I assume it’s Tiny Tim you’re trying imitate.”
“Naw—that’s the theme song of Al Gore. But Al, he’s toast now. We’ve got him running scared. The country’s woke up, and we know that what they call ‘global warming’ is nothing more than a scam to increase big government. I mean, you told me yourself you needed the help of another composer to dig yourself outta that blizzard there in Brooklyn last December.
Right? Whole city was so deep in snow even the police cars was spinning their wheels, right?”
“Yeah, Marcel. No doubt it was a weird weather winter. And I guess for you guys that could only mean one thing—‘climate change’ is just another power grab by the Democrats. Well, you can relax now. I just read that the House of Representatives two days ago voted down an amendment by Henry Waxman that would acknowledge that global warming is a fact. So now the Republicans have officially gone on record as saying that climate change is pure fiction.”
“Well I gotta hand it to that Senator Inhofe for exposing the fraud about oxygen.”
“Oxygen!” I exclaim. “What’s he saying.”?
“Just that he’s “cautiously skeptical” about oxygen being necessary for life. He says the facts ain’t in yet, and that there’s room for reasonable doubt. And worrying about it is bad for small businesses, slows job creation and threatens our Second Amendment rights.”
As soon as I hear Second Amendment I know it’s time to cut off the chatter.
“Well Marcel, I was hoping not to think about either the current threat to our way of life nor your damn guns this morning. I just wanted to take a brisk walk and listen to the first movement of the Bartók second violin concerto.”
“Yeah, John. Well, don’t complain to me when they start taxing you for just to take a walk and force you to keep Eloise there on a leash—even out here in the boonies. As for Bartók, I agree that that first movement is about as perfect a musical creation as they come.”
Relieved to have moved the conversation from politics to music, I mention how the movement is so satisfying because it’s so thoroughly unified around the material in the opening bars.
“Yeah, great opening,” he agrees. Strumming harp, little motive there in the pizzicato only eight notes long. Then the big ‘verbunkos’ tune that pretty much runs the remaining sixteen minutes.”
“And of course it has that terrific theme that’s a twelve-tone row….”
Marcel scowls and spits a little torpedo of brown tobacco juice into the bushes. “Yeah, well—-every music theory Ph.D. in the country knows about that tune. But they also know that Bartók was just showing off and that he didn’t really treat it proper.”
“Not sure I get your point, Marcel,” I protest.
“Bartók gusses it all up in tonal underpinnings. It’s as if he didn’t know how to treat it in the proper Schoenbergian manner and just can’t conceive of anything that ain’t tonal.”
“Well, sorry, but I think that theme is probably more gorgeous than any twelve-tone theme in all of Schoenberg. But then, you and I never agree on these things. You’re such a theoretical hardass, Marcel.”
He’s let his engine idle, and he now puts his old Toyota flatbed into gear. I’m delighted at the thought of spending the next hour alone.
“Well, see ya round, John. And don’t forget to check out “Three Village Scenes.” Nobody knows them—that’s Bartók tuning into to Igor’s stuff again, channeling “Les Noces.” You don’t hear that terrific piece here because folks don’t like to wrastle with talking Hungarian. But it’s good stuff….”
He turns on his tape deck and I hear, amazingly enough, not Birtwistle but Credence Clearwater Revival come blasting out.
“Hey, Marcel. You’re listening’s kinda downmarket today.”
“Just a little blast from the past. Hey check out my retrofitted engine. I’m running on bio-fuel now. I just pull my truck up to the back door of the Bones Road House after they close on Saturday night and drain off all their used Freedom Fries oil. Works great—better than diesel.”
He races the engine and then emits a phlegmy, tobacco-soaked cackle. I know of course he’s not serious and is just needling me, but after a moment he hits the accelerator and is gone.
Copyright © 2010 by John Adams
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