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The Essay
Show #192
A Cephalopod at Death's Door
David Gunn

The dawning sun rose maroon and fiery over the Algonquin Plain. A coarse, hot wind blew through the grove of klondike trees, and the roosting Pembroke hens responded with an insane chattering that abruptly woke the interloping composer and put his teeth on the edge of his pillow. But still he managed a crooked smirk, for this remote plateau with its bizarre denizens was exactly the environment in which he wanted to stage his last public performance. The date was January 23, 1989. The composer was Salva Dali, and he had come here to die.

Unknown to all but a handful of close chums and musical scholars, Dali was a closet composer when he wasn't hand-numbering one-off wiggly clock mimeographs for museum gift shoppes. His tunes weren't composed so much as they were upholstered. He would take a piece of thematic material from an acoustic event in the natural world, then he literally stuffed it, added springs and cushions, and finally covered it with a kind of quasi-musical fabric. The result was often the auditory equivalent of staring at the sun for an hour. At first, the observer was aware of only bright pain. But then, as the hydrogen rays bombarding the eye sockets precipitated an irreversible chemical reaction in the Zonule of Zinn, creating permanent green dots on the pupils and, in turn, chronic blepharospasms, the event became more than a wee happy tune. This was Dali's outlandish musical legacy.

Refitting his upper plate to his gums, Dali tried to sit up, but a painful twinge from his distended neck forced him back down. He was suffering from an infected goiter the size of a hubcap from a '49 DeSoto, and the thyroid gland was gradually reversing hormonal production, turning his infamous mustache into a 6-foot cartilaginous peptide.

Several members of his retinue heard his early morning rustlings and entered the dimly lit tent. Lying prone and glazed upon a cot upholstered with 25 years of symphonic struggle, he did not look comfortable. A short, wiry woman who had secretly shared an out-of-body experience with the great man years ago stepped forward and attempted to fluff up his pillow. Perhaps vacillating between in and out-of-body himself now, Dali suddenly sat up, grasped her arm, and called out that he was being dunned by a giant squid, le flambeau oriange. Then the struma abruptly swelled and, accompanied by a bloodcurdling shriek from the composer, exploded, plastering entirely too much of the composer's innards from the abdomen on up onto the tent walls. Shards of the latissimus dorsi wound up on the woman's face, and she ran screaming from the tent. Ruffled anew, the Pembroke hens began again their grating bird-babble, and the other observers quickly abandoned the tent to chase them away. Soon, all was once more quiet save for the snarling of the still-rising sun.

In fact, the visitation of the large, carnivorous cephalopod at death's door is unsettlingly common among composers whose last words have been audience-documented. What draws the image of a giant squid into the alleged mind of a music monger en route to meet his or her manufacturer? For an answer, we must first ask the squid.

Long-time listeners to this program will quickly realize that this is nigh on impossible, since well-heeled research scientists have concluded on more than one grant-funded occasion that the colossal mollusk is not much of a talker. The only secrets he is likely to share deal with out-of-body experiences that border on the apocryphal, much as this 192nd episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar borders on the 191st -- that is, while it shares the name, the similarity stops there, as does the buck, which will now be passed to him who hopefully has a couple of 'em in his pocket, Kalvos.