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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution

The Essay
Show #266
Revenge of the Boo
David Gunn

Rollo Tumerik stood outside the door to room 6 in a costume that would not be inappropriate for travelers to the asteroid belt, but which here in the Algonquin Motel was just a bit more conspicuous than a locomotive trying to stalk a leopard in a china closet. Peering down the hallway through the transparent sleeve of his environmental suit, he confirmed that the coat was clear, so he fished out of the hermetically-sealed pocket a trout-shaped key, inserted it into the lock, and turned. The door opened, but the tumblers tumbled out of the mechanism and scattered on the floor like trade winds in a Klondike typhoon. As Rollo bent down to retrieve them, the door jamb caught the on-off switch for the thruster rocket and tripped it. The door slammed shut, propelled by the force of ten irate flamethrowers, and had begun to sizzle like a rain forest barbecue before Rollo could shut off the power. Quickly he wriggled out of the suit, extinguished the smoldering walls and carpet, and turned his attention to what was left of a room that, if his calculations were right, was in four and a half hours destined to become one of the most infamous crime scenes in American musicology -- an historical event he was determined to revise.

It was a blistering Thursday afternoon in 1930, a day after astronomer Clyde Tombaugh discovered the planet Pluto lurking in his attic, two days before Dashiell Hammett convinced his publisher to rename his detective book "The Maltese Fairlane," and four hours before 14 years' worth of Harry Partch's musical compositions based on what he called "the tyranny of the piano" were to go up in smoke.

Rollo was a 21st century musical remora, a haphazardly skilled artisan who latched onto an idea and then refused to let go until he'd sucked it dry. A year ago, he'd stumbled upon the conceptual constructs of Harry Partch, musical inventor, speculative theorist and theatrical aesthetician. He liked them. He wanted them to be constructs, too. In fact, he wanted them to be his constructs to the exclusion of Harry's. So he did what any repellently wealthy egocentric did in the mid-2000s: he sailed back in time in order to rework historical events -- in this case, to stop Partch from chucking his music into that big iron stove in the corner and burning it.

The music sat expectantly on top of the sole unconflagrated table in the room along with a tableau of other oddities: a six-pack of pizza-in-a-can, a dozen unraveled sea robin roll-ups, a bowl of still-writhing farthingbladders, a bubbly wedge of harpoon firepie and a Lilliputian version of the Shrine of Ululalia that seemed to fade ever so slightly in and out of focus. Each of the table's seven legs was comprised of thousands of interwoven filaments of bee hair, their lavender fronds waving like slow-motion lunatic soccer moms caught in a pool of petroleum Jello. It was enough to give a holy roller motion sickness.

Rollo had a plan. He had filched and brought with him the entire contents of the Courthouse Park Wing of the Peculiar Instrumental Repository in Petaluma, California. He would swap these museum-quality artifacts for the stack of music. The music would be saved; the instruments would be torched. Harry would be forever after known for his "tyrannical piano" music, and Rollo would be the mastermind behind the 43-note-to-the-octave scale.

Rollo nervously eyed the table tableau. There was no mention of it in any of Harry's journals. As he opened his valise and pulled out the instruments -- the surrogate kithara, the pair of zymo-xyls, the chromelodeon, the eucal blossom, the boo, the quadrangularis reversurn, the set of cloud chamber bowls and the Spoils of War -- his metabolic rate rose steadily until he was as cranked as a bedbug in an insomniac's computer terminal.

Rollo tenderly held the last instrument in his hands. The Spoils of War had been the trigger that set him on his present course of action. It consisted of artillery shell casings, pyrex chemical solution jars and old whang guns. In the 21st century, it was used in much the same way a dowser wields a divining rod. When Rollo first held it, he felt a cloud of protons surge through his body, and he formed an instant bond with the ground directly beneath him, a bond that eventually took half a dozen landscape architects to sever.

And now he was preparing to forever alter its historical chronology. Briefly he tried to imagine how his fortunes would change when he claimed rightful heirship to it and its siblings. He pulled his thinking cap down over his eyes, but the only image that emerged was lint, and a malodorous lint at that. He sniffed. It smelled like ... a combustible comestible! Rollo ripped the shell casing from his head and saw to his horror that his timesuit thruster rocket had leaked inflammable effluvium, setting the pizza-in-a-cans on fire. He tried to turn off the fuel mixture, but the toggle switch broke off in his fingers. He was about to chuck the whole shebang out the window when he remembered that it represented his only ticket back to the next century. Instead, Rollo tore the rocket component off of the timesuit, jammed it inside the oven and slammed the door shut.

All was quiet, save for a sinisterly sepulchral growl that emanated from the chromelodeon. By now, Rollo realized that things were not going according to plan ... at least, his plan. And then, in a scene right out of the 21st century revisionist version of 4'33", all of the instruments that he had brought from a hundred years in the future began to dance in a deranged Möbius strip of a cacophonous conga line. Rollo backed slowly away from the Partchments and was reaching for the room 6 doorknob when the boo suddenly reared up and thwacked him with a shank of bamboo. Rollo staggered into the oven, whose door abruptly opened, allowing the pent-up hydrocarbons to escape -- which they did with a big bang.

So now, in the 21st century's revisionist history of a hot Thursday afternoon in 1930, Harry Partch was planning to burn up all of his music when an unusual incident of spontaneous combustion beat him to it by a couple of hours. His not-yet-invented musical instruments, on the other hand, escaped into an Algonquin Hole and safely reappeared sometime later.

And what of Rollo Tumerik? Apparently, he has been completely revised out of historical context of any sort, save for this 266th episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar, led by an hysterical revisionary in his own right brain, Kalvos.