"You really do have to take your knee off the reader's windpipe at some point," instructs Virgil crisply. "You can't leave people straining for a silver lining every time, and feeling sick at their stomachs just because you've got an appointment with the truth." These were harsh words from my endearing alligator mentor, and they lodged very quickly in my heart. But when I looked at him, Virgil was, as usual, flecked with pixie dust, and his eyes were twinkling as he sat perched on the connecting rod of his Civil War locomotive. "Enough of all these verbal incitements," he admonished. "Let's forget about roadside bombs for a while, and figure out some entrancing piano charms to soothe an old alligator's breast, okay?"
A person never knows when a knock on the door may come, or a sneak-attack satori. I was trying to figure out how to honor Virgil's request (he doesn't ask for much) when suddenly, both of the above came my way, in the form of some Katzenjammer friends I rarely see, who turned up for a cosy visit and a glass of wine over the weekend. Ann Kilkelly and Carol Burch-Brown are professors at Virginia Tech and live in the valley adjacent to mine. They arrived with two black ukulele cases and a friend in tow. The friend, Celeste Miller, was visiting them from Atlanta and wanted to meet me.
Celeste, it turns out, is a performance artist (as are Carol and Ann); she was once described by the L.A. Times as "a female Garrison Keillor." I've not seen any of her performances, but it seems she takes fairy tales and Bible stories and then retells them as cautionary tales, wrapping herself around the words with dance movements. She described a recent workshop experience at Grinnell College, in which she had orchestrated her own rendition of "Snow White (Retracted)" with a group of 15 people, mostly children, ages 6-45. The children were allowed to choose their own parts--and as a result they ended up with 7 Snow Whites and only 2 dwarfs, Something about this equation struck a rogue note in my mind, and I found myself positively wiggling with excitement in my seat when I heard it.
Then Ann turned to Carol. "Don't you think it's time?" she said. And before anyone could say George W. Bush or anything else, out came the ukuleles, and my living room was suddenly filled with gossamer sounds and the beautiful azure harmonies of "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles, Pretty Bubbles in the Air."
Virgil was all ears. "Ah," he said. "You see how music takes away the sting of adversity? That's because it never pretends that things are going as planned. It doesn't rely on privileged access or subterranean beliefs, and it will never cause credibility damage to a sitting president. Music doesn't need frameworks of right or wrong to cope with life--it is just so gorgeously palate-cleansing." You might have thought he was giving a graduation address to music students at Julliard.
Meanwhile, I still can't stop thinking about those 7 Snow Whites. Taken to its extreme, I'm wondering if the world might well have turned out differently--fewer siren wails and helicopter noises overhead--had there been a different story line, a different plot, from the very beginning. One in which those 7 dwarfs, coughing up fur balls, were replaced by 7 Snow Whites, tasting of raspberry sorbet....
This would've been among my program notes, had anybody asked.