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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution

The Essay
Show #345
The Boy Whose Teeth Sang
David Gunn

Once there was a boy whose teeth sang. He discovered their singing ability one day while chewing on an aluminum foil gum wrapper. Inquisitive aluminum electrons flowed through his saliva to a mouthful of metal tooth fillings to complete an electrical current that excited the dentine nerve tips. And when he parted his lips in sheer agony, an electrochemical whining emerged.

Grandmother was the first to recognize the boy's talent. Tut-tutting his protestations, she experimented with placing different metals in his mouth. Titanium, zinc, manganese, iron, copper, bismuth, plutonium--she shared his oral cavity with them all. Some created pathetic, barely audible hums, while others produced shimmering rings of sound that elicited tears of joy from those who heard it. The boy's tears, on the other hand, were strictly due to the awful pain.

The home in which the boy lived was matriarchal to the core, and Grandmother's word was law. So when she simply said that the boy's future as a musical novelty was set, no one--not Father or Uncle Hanco or brothers Gentry and Walabye--challenged her. Mother, had she been around, would have meekly held her tongue, too, but Grandmother had conscripted her to work as a charwoman aboard a Norwegian radioactive waste trawler for the next two years.

After the boy's tolerance for toothache grew, and he was able to hold metal objects in his mouth for minutes at a time, Grandmother taught him how to alter the sound. By puffing out his cheeks, adjusting his jaw, wriggling his tongue and pursing his lips, he could change the pitch and "sing" melodic lines. Oh, it took lots of practice. In fact, it took him a year to learn the schism dance from Grandmother's favorite operetta "Der Unsichtbare Austere Chor," or, The Invisible Oyster Choir. But it was certainly time well spent, because whenever Grandmother was contentedly listening to the tune, she was less likely to experiment on his teeth.

Most of the boy's fillings contained amalgams of silver, mercury and tin, all metals with positive reduction potentials. They sang harmoniously, though excruciatingly, when dancing cheek by jowl with aluminum. But Grandmother had once watched Dr. Frank Baxter and Mr. Enamel dissect a tooth on a Bell Telephone Science Hour, and she figured fillings comprised of different metal compounds would produce different singing timbres. A quick trip to the neighborhood chemist's yielded cobalt, lead and zirconium in sufficient quantity for a hundred root canals. However, the hair-raising dental ululations that resulted from a single operation, conducted in Grandmother's clean but hardly sterile kitchen, gave even her pause to continue the experiments.

There was a point of pain past which the boy simply couldn't willingly go, and Grandmother was confident that the best singing lay beyond that place. It was only a matter of interrupting the pain signals transmitted from the dental nerve endings to the brain. A quick trip to her powder room yielded a cache of sedatives: Quaalude, Valium, Restoril, Halcion, Librium, Noludar, Doriden, plus a rich assortment of barbiturates, chloral hydrates, paraldehydes, psycho-hypnotics and hallucinogens. Together, they rendered the boy insensate, and she was able to toy with his caries as much as she liked. Soon the teeth ached with new sounds--they pealed, they bonged, they chimed, they wailed, they keened.

Still, something was missing. For Grandmother, the musical novelty of the singing teeth had begun to wear off. She wanted more. She wanted art! And she realized that as long as the boy remained sedated and passive, he couldn't infuse the sounds with his own artistic angst. Only if he willingly participated in the singing could true artistry ever be achieved.

Grandmother eliminated the boy's chemical dependence over the course of a single day. Quickly his senses awoke to a new, impossible agony, and his teeth, without volition, sang of this torment. After a week of unremitting anguish, Grandmother tired of this song, too. She restored the paraldehydes and psycho-hypnotic chemicals to his diet, but they no longer had any effect. And soon, she tired of the boy.

With the begrudging acquiescence of Father and a liter of diethyl ether anesthetic, she removed the boy's teeth.

Today, the teeth live in a saline bath in a beaker in Grandmother's kitchen. When the spirit moves her, she will take them down and tease them with electrochemical stimulants. After all of the experimentations, an aluminum foil gum wrapper still seems to generate the best song. If she tries very hard, she can still hear strains of The Invisible Oyster Choir's schism dance.

What remains of the boy is better left to a medical journal report far from the eyes of the readily squeamish, but what remains of this 345th episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar follows the toothsomely peremptory comments of Kalvos.