The Virginian

Wake Me When It’s Over

Music fills the gap between life and death.

By 7.19.02

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It is good news that Mozart's "Requiem" will be played around the world on Sept. 11 as a memorial to the victims of the infamous sneak attacks. As one news account tells us, a "Rolling Requiem of individual worldwide performances will begin at the international date line and will move from time zone to time zone, with each Mozart Requiem performance starting at 8:46 a.m. local time (the moment of the first attack on the World Trade Center)." All told the show will go on 24 hours.

This is good not only because the "Requiem" is a magnificent piece of music -- one that can truly be called life-enhancing. The fact is, Mozart rarely gets his due these days. He must constantly do battle with lightly talented rock, folk, pop, rap and country stars, and rarely comes out on top. That the organizers of this event could have gotten Michael Jackson for a song but nonetheless chose a true Maestro is encouraging. Let's hope it boosts his record sales and inspires a couple thousand people to begin piano lessons. If this keeps up he may one day make it to MTV.

Organizers are also correct in pointing out that music has a unique ability to provide solace to us poor humans -- even music composed by those who operate at the sub-genius level. This past Sunday, for example, a group of local musicians gathered to remember one of our former pals, Al Reynolds, whom I wrote about last year. Al was a mandolin player whose instrument outlasted his liver, and unfortunately the liver that replaced the original, and whose final days in the hospital ruined his family's finances. So we put on a benefit to raise funds for his widow and daughter, and perhaps to comfort ourselves in his loss.

We were greatly comforted. This should come as no surprise. Musicians, as is well known, often have advanced talents in areas besides music. Many have struggled in the early years and as a result can smell a pack of nabs locked in a car parked half a block away. And when it comes to comfort they rarely turn it down, whether comfort comes in one-ounce shots, 12-ounce longnecks, or imperial pints. This may explain why Al's benefit was conducted at a brew pub -- a very large brew pub -- which was jammed to the rafters.

We played some of the songs Al loved, and more than a few of us noted, as the afternoon wore on (this was a 10-hour event), that if one's death plunges his family into insolvency, and this in turn brings hundreds of people together for an afternoon of conviviality and celebration, then perhaps life is not in vain. We often toasted Al's life, and while the uncharitable might suggest that too much toasting reflects a character flaw, the opposite is true. Musicians love life and reverentially offer toasts to its many blessings: a new song, pleasant weather, the conquest of polio. Indeed the list is endless.

We offered not only toasts, but toasted offerings. One of the most toastworthy of those came when a local star stopped his set and held up two Hanover tomatoes (the filet mignon of Tomatodom). Suddenly, he began to auction the vegetables. After fierce bidding they were taken by a heavily tattooed gentleman at the bar, for $40 -- a nice addition to the Al fund which has raised several thousand for the family. So enthusiastic were the resulting toasts that some celebrants approached the brink of imbecility.

Playing songs associated with a lost friend is a type of conversation with the dead, and more than one player suggested the presence of Al's spirit, even though these particular players are not known to entertain much belief in the great hereafter. Others of us found ourselves wondering how Al might have reacted to various current events here on Earth. He wouldn't be surprised that crazed Muslims had flown planes into the Towers and Pentagon. "What do you expect?" one could hear him say. "I wouldn't be surprised if a few of them showed up here, had a few beers, then blew us all up."

Being a good blue collar guy (a union electrician) he would have similar scorn for the participants in corporate scandals. He would surely assume Martha Stewart is guilty as charged, and Dubya, too. The demise of Kmart might have pleased him, for he was a great friend of the small town merchant. Yet as a determined foe of Wal-Mart (he opposed the building of one near his home), he would have been dismayed over any boost received from by a competitor's collapse.

So Al, I could hear myself asking, "where do you stand on that Augusta golf club's no-women members policy?" After a brief moment: "Those guys just want a place to escape from their wives for the afternoon. Something wrong with that? But I don't give a damn because they're just a bunch of rich bastards. Strafe them and their ugly critics, too."

We'll no doubt hold another benefit next year, though as has been pointed out there's always a chance that another of our circle will join Al in that great picking parlor in the sky. Indeed, life being what it is, we'll all end up there one day or another (this is the optimistic view). Until then, we'll listen to Mozart and wait for Michael Jackson to start doing promos for Clorox. Here's to you, Al, and leave the porch light on.

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About the Author

Dave Shiflett is a writer in Midlothian, Virginia. His real CD "Time Goes Rushing By" -- as immortalized on Instapundit.com -- is now available.