“Well, there has to be a place in the world for pissed-off music meant for something else,” I told Lady. “Though it’s easy to forget about it, somehow….”
“Whatever do you mean,” said Lady. “And why should music be pissed-off?”
“Well, I don’t know if the music is pissed-off, but the listener…”
“Dear me,” said Lady resignedly, “and what has he done now?”
“That’s just the problem,” I told her.
“’What has he done now’ is what you said. And no need to specify who that ‘he’ would be! Why couldn’t he stay on reality TV where he belonged? It was a perfect arrangement for everybody. He could be there getting adulation and I could be here, ignoring him. But how do you ignore….”
“You’re becoming completely unbalanced, Marc….”
“I AM NOT!” I told her, though perhaps speaking in capitals….
“Anyway, wouldn’t it be better, given your agitated state of mind, to listen to something soothing? A Haydn quartet, perhaps, or a Mozart divertimento…”
“Oh God, don’t remind me. I have to do something about damn Josef Haydn!”
“Surely he wrote a masterpiece or two?”
“The problem may have been that he was too nice a man,” I told her. “Has anyone ever studied how temperament modifies talent? Think of how we imagine Haydn: there he is, in his frock coat, with his wig perfectly powdered. And then there’s Beethoven—he makes Einstein look perfectly coifed….”
“ Was Beethoven really that tempestuous? Or was he just unconventional?”
“Who knows? According to some, he was good to his nephew…or at least, better to his nephew than the nephew was to him. Anyway, there are days you just have to listen to Beethoven….”
“And today was one of those days?”
“Yeah,” I told her. “And so that got me thinking about Egmont….”
“Ah, Egmont,” said Lady, perhaps suspiciously easily. “Yes, opus 84. Based on the work of Goethe, concerning the 16th century Count of Egmont….”
“You’ve been cheating,” I told her.
She immediately took umbrage.
“Indeed not,” she said, snatching the umbrage from my lap.
“Where are you going,” I called.
“Do you think you’re the only person who can have umbrage?!” she shouted. “Well, I’m tired of it, Marc. Tired of always having to be told things. Tired of always being the straight man!”
“Well, I’m certainly not going to be the straight man,” I told her. “I didn’t come out all those years before it was fashionable just to crawl back in the closet!”
“Here,” called Lady, “Santana—catch! You want Marc’s umbrage?”
“This is ridiculous,” I told Lady. “I invite you into this blog and here you are, stealing my umbrage, and worse, completely deflecting attention from the serious business at hand. We’ve barely touched Beethoven, to say nothing of Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev.”
Lady tossed the umbrage to Santana.
“Well, I don’t want this old umbrage,” said Santana. “Why should I? I have plenty of umbrage of my own….”
“Anyway,” said Lady, “I don’t see what Tchaikovsky is doing here at all. Prokofiev I get. He obviously got a bad deal all his life, even up until the day he died. Which, by the way, was the same day Stalin died. So they had to wait three days to bury him, and then guess what! No flowers—because Stalin had hogged them all!”
“Ridiculous,” I told her, “and give me my umbrage back, because now I seriously need to take it. Or have it. Whatever—that story is completely unsubstantiated.”
“Yo, Santana! Guy here wants his umbrage back!”
“Well, I don’t have any umbrage,” said Santana. “Anyway, I’m busy here, running this café. However, it’s certainly an irony that Stalin and Prokofiev…”
“That’s Prokofiev and Stalin,” I told him.
“…that they died the same day. Poor Prokofiev. He didn’t seem able to live either abroad or in Russia. He said he was miserable in Paris and the United States, but then he got slapped down, just as Shostakovich did, for writing ‘degenerate’ music. Or maybe it was ‘decadent.’ Anyway, it wasn’t music that exalted the struggle of the proletariat. So the composers’ union got onto him, and then Prokofiev had to write a letter, in which he had to renounce all his previous music. Then, he started to write an opera called The Story of a Real Man.”
“Surely you jest,” said Lady.
“Hah!” I told her. “And I thought you knew everything! All this business of Goethe and the Count of Egmont! But you don’t know a thing about Prokofiev!”
“We divided it up,” said Lady. “I wikipediaed Beethoven, and Santana wikipediaed the other. We were also busy trying to figure out how to cop your umbrage….”
“’Wikipedia’ is not a verb,” I told her.
She stuck her tongue out.
“Anyway,” I told her, “if you’re so smart, what about Tchaikovsky? What’s the skinny on him?”
“I refuse to have anything to do with Tchaikovsky,” said Lady. “I don’t approve of gay men marrying women for cover.”
“It’s that old story,” I told her. “Does a thing exist before you’ve named it? Because we can hardly say that Tchaikovsky was gay—at least the way we see it today.”
“I know all about this theory,” said Lady, “and I call it specious with a capital ‘SP.’”
“You mean a capital ‘S’”
“I mean an ‘SP,’” said Lady. “Did Tchaikovsky ever write anything serious? All that ballet stuff—The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, Peeping Beauty…”
“Sleeping,” I told her. “Anyway, the man wrote at least six symphonies. One of which, by the way, Mr. Fernández would give an entire day to. Number 6—Pathetique!”
“Not convinced,” said Lady. “And I don’t see why he’s here at all.”
“Three outsiders,” I told her. “Outsiders because of temperament, or sexuality, or politics. Outsiders who chose to use—or maybe had to use—somebody else’s story. Is that why this music is the perfect music for the adolescent, or post-adolescent? Think so…. Anyway, it’s definitely music written with one fist raised in the air!”
But by then, Lady had dive bombed Santana. She headed for the door, throwing my umbrage back at me as she left.