Hot Air, chapter 43.
"However, at that moment the pub owner appeared and said: 'Blow Daddy, a distinguished gentleman would like to have a word with you.' I continued cleaning my zurla as if nothing had happened. Slowly and methodically I lubricated it with lemur fat, which I do very rarely, maybe once a year – although pewter is very prone to corrosion in our climatic conditions. When I was done, I turned to the well-dressed man in his fifties who stood by the musicians' table, strongly contrasting with the vulgar interior of the pub. 'I would like to say just a few words,’ said the stranger."
"He must have paid 20% for the music. He wanted his money back," said Stanko, stumbling down the rocky slope. His feeling of being in control was leaving as suddenly as it had come. Unsurprisingly, they did not find Mongolfier by the lake. Unable to resist Blow Daddy's urging, he agreed to go down to the jungle and think things over afterwards.
"I made it clear that my time had a price," said Blow Daddy, "especially during my set break. The distinguished guest produced his purse. 'Of course. A glass of the best that you carry,' he ordered the proprietor. 'My usual double pint will suffice,' I said, putting the mouthpiece in its small box. 'My name is Zephyr Zerokis,' the gentleman introduced himself. He was a famous composer and organ player, who had stopped for the night in this smoky inn. The devil knows why I had chosen to cite some melodic motifs from his “Hexatonic Prelude and Hypophrygian Fugue” in the last set, in a pretty insulting way. Oh no, I thought, now he will come up with a pile of moldy academic objections.
"But in fact he pulled out a small gun..." suggested Stanko.
"But in fact he shook my hand and said: ‘Although I'm an educated person, with a systematic and almost scientific view of the fine arts, the depth of your natural talent has left me breathless. You have transformed a heavy dinner of smoked perch with pickled turnip into an acoustic delicacy; and in the end, as an unexpected dessert, I was presented with a magical paraphrase of my own best passages! Variation after variation provided a counterpoint to the seemingly banal structure of the rhythm-section: bam-bum, ba-du-da-du-da-dum... My own music, which I always regarded as rational, analytical, suddenly became primal. I am deeply moved. I don't know how to thank you.'
I showed him the old steam organ at the far end of the stage and asked him to replace me in the next set, so I could drink my keg in peace. His face blushed red, and he agreed. 'Excuse me, I must retire and work on my concept,' he said. I pointed out that the next set was due to begin in five minutes. He went back to his table and doodled frantically on a napkin with a charred match-end.
The boys climbed up on the stage and drank the last of their beers, waiting for me. Zerokis approached the steam organ, stoked the fire under the boiler and spread his music sheet. Tonk, the tin drummer, looked at me quizzically. 'It's OK,' I waved.
They started off with “The Girl from the Bush” – dum-dadu-dum, bum-bada-bum... After the sixteen-bar intro the academic began playing the lead melody. His tones were shaky, square; I yawned and took a sip. But after the first bridge Zerokis relaxed and did a few brilliant arpeggios. The chorus was rolling rock steady. Tonk winked at me and hit the big gong; Zephyr started his solo.
The organ was wrapped in a white cloud, the unleashed virtuoso could barely be discerned. Streams of condensed musical steam were dribbling down the cracked barroom mirror. The chronic patrons of The Happy Hippo forgot their insatiable thirst for an moment, while the periodic vibrations of smoky air told them the story of their unconsummated youth, the atrophy of desire, self-destruction.... Although I am a professional and can usually separate my emotional reactions from direct artistic stimulation, my skin was crawling with existential horror. Zephyr was treading deeper and deeper – would he manage to pull us out of this acoustic hell, I asked myself, curious and concerned. Out of the corner of my eye I watched old Turpelin crush a tumbler – fortunately made out of uncured rubber – in his hand.
However, at the very instant when we reached bottom – convinced that our existence was merely a short, painful and useless contraction, a battle lost a priori between the overextended atonal melody of hope and the short quintuple motif of disappointment that repeated itself in endless descending sequences – Zephyr offered us catharsis. The deep pedal tone – low C# - suddenly explained the seemingly dissonant apposition of the two basic phrases, broke the circulus vitiosus of narcissism and self-loathing, and presented a new internal harmony. The music, rising out of misery, became its justification. The coda was drenched in a tide of relief and fresh optimism.
With a final whistle the locomotive came to a stop. All the drunks were on their feet. I grabbed my zurla and jumped on the stage, even although I was already getting on in years. 'Steam it up, Zeph,' I said and blew. We played until morning."
"And then he fell down dead," finished Stanko.
"The dirty pub windows were illuminated with the blue light of dawn," continued Rista. "The fire under the boiler had smoldered out; the organ finally fell silent. Zephyr took his napkin and wiped his steamed, sweaty face. The napkin left a black smudge. 'Oh no, I’ve erased my masterpiece!” he cried. I took the napkin and threw it into the garbage can."
"Then he left, and wrote his popular and widely performed Ethnic Symphony," said Stanko. The slope was getting less steep, the bushes thicker, the night darker.
"It was I who left," said Blow Daddy. "He stayed. If his health is still holding up, he's still playing at the 'Hippo.' Old Zeph – the Steam Roller."
They were surrounded by trees, which shaded them from the feeble light of the Moon's swollen face.
"The whirlwind of chance ties the thin threads of life into knots that cannot be untangled. However, sometimes the Path of No Return leads us to exactly the place where we belong," Blow Daddy concluded.
Translated by the author,
with help from