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The Essay
Show #69
Timber Clams and the Star Spangled Banner
David Gunn
In her unpublished treatise, "Sleepwalking With Sledgehammers," Agatha Christie discusses the tendency many modern Americans have of abandoning comfortable waterfutans during periods of loud REM sleep, affixing weighty tools of the construction industry to their midriffs, and engaging in a little pre-dawn sauntering, often to destinations whose names are anagrammatizations of repressed childhood memories, usually taking the form of pot pie ingredients, and the psychological downside of telling anybody about it. Later, in "The Case of the Twisted Participle," a mystery story written entirely in rebus in the Basque language, she savagely rebuts her previous thinking, and also demonstrates a gift for inbetweenstatement, that most elusive of theatrical writing ploys. A recently unearthed sequel to both, "Harmony in the Salva Dorian Mode," purports to be a parable in the pluperfect about the rigors of practicing religious saxophone music on the edge of a rain forest infested with timber clams, and the trichotomy which exists among the three of them. It was this last work from which both Arnold Schoenberg and Francis Scott Key drew their respective texts for the lyrics to "The Star Spangled Banner." Schoenberg's words -- mirroring the personal upheaval he experienced as the musical scene shifted from the Late Romantic to Gangsta Rap -- spoke of sylvan woods and the pleasures of Nature, and brought in the bit about the timber clams only on the last verse as the vocal line soared quixotically above the plaintive honking of the saxophone. Key's words, heavy with sentiment, symbollism and syllables but plenty lean in the Rhyme Department, were ultimately chosen over those of his friend and competitor primarily because they were in English, a big plus during those xenophobic days of early America. It is interesting to note -- for me, anyway -- that at the gala ceremony to launch the last Zeppelin 58 years ago today, right here in Vermont, both Star Spangled Banner texts were sung simultaneously accompanied by the Harvard Square Saxophone Band, and in an exit poll which followed the performance, listeners preferred the Schoenberg version 3 to 2 over the more familiar Key rendition. Had I remembered this bit of trivia sooner, I could have brought a piece of that Zeppelin to play on today's show. Another time, perhaps.

"Another time, perhaps" is exactly the phrase which came to mind when we considered playing music implicative of certain cultural icons with anniversarial ties to this weekend, specifically Leopold Stokowski, Mel Tormé, Bruno Walter, and Frank Martin. So, to all of you fans of the anagrammatized "Troller tumket swept in on a lowland kiosk broom farmer" ... well, too bad for you.

This portion of the almost but not quite 70th episode of Kalvos &and Damian's New Music Bazaar will mention only in passing le flambeau oriange, since it has no other bearing on the program, aside from an irregular redundancy of mouth, and without which it would be difficult to foist the following segments of the program off onto anyone else but one.