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The Essay
Show #81
Mighty Grossglockner
David Gunn
Bon radio. Hundreds of miles east of the epicenter of this radiophonic signal looms mighty Grossglockner, a mystical peak in the Austrian Alps named after a giant musical instrument, the Grossglockenspiel -- or metalbar hammerwhacker -- which the mountain resembles more than, say, Vincent van Gogh. Many Alps are named after instruments, both musical and medical. Famous Mont Blanc, short for Blancmange, is a dead ringer for the eponymous pudding which figures so prominently in Pierrot Lunaire’s food fight scene. Switzerland’s Finsteraarhorn, all 14,022 feet of it, is the spitting image of the finsterhorn, the small, oblong trombone prominent in crèche scenes and traditionally clutched firmly in the maiden’s right hand on Swiss cuckoo clock carvings as she prepares to play "wallop the whale." Many of Grossglockner’s supra-sea level feet are difficult to see because they exist in a parallel universe not readily visible to the naked eye. But by clothing the eye in velum and velvet, the peak comes satisfactorily into focus. The second object one sees is the Temple of Friml, whence Marie Grosholtz was born on this date in 1761. Constructed entirely of tallow -- i.e. Miss Grosholtz, not the temple -- by her dad, a Parisian waxworker, she narrowly escaped the guillotine during France’s Reign of Terror, only to meet an equally annoying fate by being placed on display in Madam Tussaud’s Wax Museum next to a heating vent, which caused her left side to melt and eventually merge with her right.

The first object visible on Grossglockner, by the way, is a large, hollow tube, purportedly flexible enough to insert into the body cavity of a woman of Brobdingnagian proportions to allow the passage of fluids. Such a woman was Willa Catheter, coincidentally born on this date 123 years ago. It is said that if one peers into this tube from the other end, one can hear the ocean, although it’s more likely urine draining from the bladder through the urethra, known in wood paneled medical circles as la syndrome du le flambeau oriange.

Hundreds of miles west of this radiophonic signal, give or take a latitude, lurks San Diego, a coastal metropolis named after its favorite son, Diego "French" Rivera, a muralist by trade and a saxophonist by desire. He, too, was briefly an exhibit in Tussaud’s London museum, but he commanded and got £5 a hour to pose -- big money in the early 1900s -- and the madam could not afford to display him for long. When not painting gay clowns on velvet or dogs playing poker or children with big eyes adrift in cubist landscapes about to be abducted by smiley-faced aliens -- which he believed evinced the plight of the oppressed -- Rivera was blowing existential riffs on his horn in keys that stretched the good taste boundaries of harmonic discombobulation. He was a great musician, until the day he discovered "Lady Of Spain." Something inside of him snapped that day -- the sound was heard, it is rumored, on the slopes of Grossglockner -- and from then on he lived only to play the all-too-familiar tune. Sometimes he’d go for days on end, pausing only to change reeds. Worse, he seemed utterly incapable of riffing off the melody; he just played it by the book. Finally, his close friend, Bohuslav Martinu, himself a hack musician, threw away Rivera’s sax, burned all of his sheet music, and begged him to pick up his paints again. It must have hit a chord, because Rivera’s famous Elvis on Velvet series followed soon thereafter.

Following likewise soon hereafter on Kalvos & Damian’s 81st episode of the New Music Bazaar is no wax likeness or whale walloper, but our own LP hammerwhacker, Kalavosh.