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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution

The Essay
Show #163
The Baying of Bunyips
David Gunn

To many in the agricultural community, the early days of July means it's time to plant corn pone, harvest the first crop of grubs, and set fire to the fodder, but to the oft maligned fraternity of tunesmiths, it signifies the time when state and federal monies are doled out. Suddenly from the largess of formerly tight-fisted governmental agencies across the land, thousands of commissions, endowments, grants, and some-strings-attached financial awards are loosed upon America's grossly underfunded compositional community. As a rule, the worthiness of the designees always seemed beyond reproach: recent lucky winners included George M. Cohan, Ruth Crawford Seeger, Ann Landers, Louis Durey, Franz Kafka, Otto Lummer -- yes, the Otto Lummer -- and Jim Morrison. This year, however, the bulk of the funding was bequeathed to individuals who could only be called musical illuminaries. Larry "The Lug" Gambino, Scramblin' Jake McPherson, Cleavon "The Cleaver" Tortellini, Moe Capone -- these are not names that come readily to mind when cutting edge composition is discussed. Nor should they be. Thanks to investigation by the Kalvos & Damian Research Junta, we have discovered that these four persons, and hundreds more like them, belong to the Witness Protection Program.

Yes, for decades now, the Witness Protection Program, a shadowy governmental operation that takes spectators to crime out of harm's way by giving them new identities plus -- and here's the real tip-off -- a '61 Mercury Mercurochrome, has been filling America's employmental ranks with shady characters posing as composers. Given only a cursory background in the vagaries of harmonic displacement, chromatic recalibration and contrapuntal countermeasures, it's no wonder that so few of these impostor compositions ever catch on. But in a typically bureaucratic effort to add an air of legitimacy to them, these tin ear charlatans are awarded hefty governmental grants, access to recording studios, self-pulsing batons, and even starter melodies. And still the best they can come up with are scalar passages more suited to the nose music of hunter-gatherers of East Borneo.

Not surprisingly, there is a converse to this situation. Real life composers, schooled in Julliard-like musical sweatshops, who stray too far from the musical mainstream, may find themselves increasingly at odds with listeners unwilling to put up with tunes that sound like the baying of a bunyip trapped in a freight elevator. Once the novelty of the acoustical event wears off, there's nothing left to ward off a hostile audience response. Nothing, that is, except the equally clandestine Witness Protection Program for Artists. Funded by men in black suits with murky ties to the NEA, the WPPA supplies new identities -- but no car -- to underappreciated manuscript artisans who have worn out their welcome in ASCAP-sanctioned recital halls here and abroad. Forswearing all musical activities under penalty of having to listen to 18 continuous hours of the Spice Girls singing these melodic has-beens often turn up as parking lot sanitizers, cafeteria aviators, duck-down wardens, or sphagnum parsons. Rarely do they reappear in public in a wholly musical context.

But on Episode 163 of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar, that is about to change. We are privileged to have live on today's show a former music person, who then for a while was not a music person, but who now has decided to come out of the Witness Protection Program for Artists closet and be a musician once again. And his or her name is ... well, far be it for me to break the WPPA's unwritten Code of Silence. No, better that that task fall to the witness wannabe, the grant-starved, bunyip bayin' Kalvos.