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The Essay
Show #453
Pipe Dreams
David Gunn

According to mythology, Icarus was a testosterone-fueled teenager who one day took a joy ride on a pair of wings that his dad, Daedalus, had painstakingly fashioned out of thousands of waxed lips. After circling the Mount Olympus Teen Center and racking up scores of admiring glances from its coterie of nympholeptic nubiles, he set off for the sun in search of the fabled fabulous solar chicks, who supposedly hung out there. En route, he passed Luna, goddess of the moon. "Does your dadalus know what you're up to?" she inquired sultrily, wrinkling her craters in mock disapproval. He ignored her, and flew on to Venus, a celestial hottie in her own right. She was reclining on half a clamshell as he flapped by. A "come hither" wave of her hand together with a dangerously décolleté toga nearly caused him to end his trip early. Only with difficulty did he manage to tear his eyes away and continue sunward. Thirty-one million miles later, he ran into Mercury, the god of travel and thievery, and the archetype for the eponymous Ford Motor Company product. Before Icarus could get safely out of the god's clutches, he'd had his pocket picked, and had put a deposit on a Grand Marquis. The sun was now the brightest object in the heavens, and Icarus regretted not having packed his sunglasses. At a million miles away, he stopped and scanned the surface for hot babes. Hot, indeed--if they were down there, they'd be bloody scalding. How could anyone live in such a scorching environment?, he wondered, wiping the sweat from his brow. Suddenly, a solar flare shot out from the corona, enveloping him and singing his wings. Or the wings would have been singed, had they been PABA-certified. Instead, they melted. With nothing to hold him aloft, the flummoxed lad received a crash course in the laws of gravity, and he plunged willy-nilly into the Aegean Sea.

Eons passed. In 1958--long after the Golden Age of Mythology, but near the midpoint of the Golden Age of Television--scuba diver Mike Nelson of Sea Hunt fame was exploring a coral reef off the Mosquito Coast when he saw a man clinging to a medusa, the bell-shaped jellyfish popularized in song:
   She's Mama Medusa, a mythic seducer
   A Gorgon with snakes in her hair
   A spiteful old crone, she turns men into stone
   At times, though, she's quite debonair.

As man and medusa drifted closer to Nelson, they seemed to fade into and out of focus--but that was just an illusion caused by brine coating his facemask. The pair seemed to be oblivious to the scuba diver, for Nelson was wearing his camo coelacanth wetsuit. But then the medusa must have sensed his presence, for it abruptly stopped. The man, too, suddenly noticed that the dorsal fin was really a scuba tank, and he tried to swim away. But Nelson flung a seine over them and caught them both. After he dragged them to the surface, he discovered that the man was the long-lost Icarus, now abundantly wrinkled from so many millennia spent underwater. But even more amazing, the medusa was really a species of submersible bagpipe.

Nelson quickly forgot about Icarus, who quietly slipped away and was last seen circling the sun in the guise of an asteroid--every 409 days, his eccentric orbit took him close enough to the sun to spot a solar chick, but his steadfast course suggested that he never did. The diver was much more interested in the bagpipe because, according to familial folklore, an ancestor named Spandoxus had invented it.

Spandoxus was a Greek pipe fitter afflicted with tinnitus, a nearly constant ringing in his ears. Because the affliction was subjective and undetectable by anyone else, Spandoxus labored to describe how annoying it was. He did so by building a bagpipe, whose original design called for a reed pipe attached to five windbags. But it did the trick. When he played it, his friends straight away scattered, holding their hands over their ears. As an added bonus, as long as he played the instrument, he didn't notice the tinnitus.

A week later, the Romans swept into town, conquering Greece and its suburbs, but Spandoxus briefly defended his home with a barrage of bagpiped babel. Eventually, the plucky pipe fitter ran out of wind, and he was arrested and his instrument seized. A centurion was prepared to destroy it by submerging it in a vat of rancid Gorgonzola (is that redundant?) when the great Roman musician Marcus Aurelius Stravinskius stepped forward and suggested that, with minor modifications, it could well serve as a weapon. The centurion agreed and handed over the bagpipe. But Stravinskius had no use for arms except as hand and shoulder intermediaries. No, his designs were strictly music-oriented. After tinkering with Spandoxus' invention for only a day, Stravinskius reversed the bag-to-pipe ratio, and the modern configuration of the bagpipe was born. He called it a tibia utricularis, or "cut out that racket," but his countrymen instantly embraced the penetrating melody and complementary drone. To this day, embracing the bag is how one coaxes a sound from the pipes. It's certainly how Mike Nelson got the submersible bagpipe to talk. He wrapped his arms around it securely and made like a member of the Key West Vise Squad. Within minutes, the chanter was squealing like a pig in a polka band.

The gist of its message was this: Today's 453rd episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar features the latest incarnation of bagpipe babel coolly performed live in the studio, first preceded by the kiltless if not guiltless Kalvos.