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The Essay
Show #152
The Pontiac and the Plantains
David Gunn
Monday, 8:30pm, New York City: I'm stuck in a stalled and overheated Pontiac at the corner of St. Marks and Second Avenue in the midst of hostile gridlock. I haven't had any coffee today but my nerves are nonetheless jitterbugging like it's Adrenaline Appreciation Day. In fact, I've had nothing at all to eat, having planned to enjoy an inexpensive meal at a Greenwich Village cafß -- that and the anxiety caused by the blue smoke, grinding noise and terrible shaking all emanating from beneath the enormous hood, plus the red glimmer of beady eyed idiot lights across the dashboard fascia have all contributed to my less than sanguine nature. Still, I haven't yet begun to scream. No, I'm merely hunched over the vibrating steering wheel, rapidly losing all semblance of camaraderie with the owner of the Pontiac, who sits as far away as possible in a whining funk. I recall that an auto's heater can dissipate engine warmth, so I punch a button on the control panel. But the buttons are confusing, and instead I turn on the air conditioner. Another warning light blinks red. The car, recently restarted, groans and stalls again. I have just come from an equanimity-crushing traffic jam on Long Island: Uniondale to Hempstead to Rockville Centre to Oceanside to Lynbrook to Valley Stream in four hours. My sang-froid has been reduced to snarls and tacit gripes. Four cars lurch through the intersection, just barely. I turn the ignition key and get lucky. The car cranks over, I gun it, do the four-door sedan equivalent of a wheelie, and careen down Second. The traffic lights wink amber. I ignore 'em, drive as if I were in the 24 hours at Le Mans. I get the tub up to freeway speed to cool the engine. Sheer Pontiac momentum carries us through three reds. I'll make 'em up later. I hurtle onto a dark side alley, find a stretch of unparked-on street, level a trash can on the curb, finally bring the damned Ponty to a screeching halt. The under-repair Williamsburg Bridge looms nearby, a ghostly elevated tunnel to nowhere. Some relatives of the four-door owner are summoned and wander by to check on the vehicle. It seems to be just fine. Explanatory conversation ensues, which I dodge, until it's at last time to restart the car. My luck holds, and at midnight I'm back in the Holland Tunnel with the owner and the owner's cousin and two pounds of fresh plantains.

This incident of exactly ten years ago serves not to condemn big General Motor cars, but rather to bring up the subject of commissions, which was on my mind the moment the plantains entered the car. The transitive verb definition of commission is to place an order for, such as a new composition for a solo clarinet recital. In any normal business arrangement, a monetary exchange is part of the deal -- payment for services rendered. But is music composition normal business? Let's take a hypothetical situation -- say, this same apocryphal solo clarinet recital. The performer "commissions" new tunes from music composers. An admission to the performance is charged. And what do the composers get out of the deal? An occasion to have their work heard in public, certainly, but that and 95 cents will get you directory assistance to le flambeau oriange. In the case of at least one composer on this still hypothetical program, his tune was multi-medial in nature, requiring expenditures of over 135 dollars. Was it worth the 15 minutes of recital hall fame? Why does music composition seem to lurk at the very bottom of cash flow business opportunities? Is there a solution?

These and other fiduciary questions which plague the composition industry will be discussed at briefth on this 152nd episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar, and here with fiscal insights and belt-tightening remediation is Kalvos.