The apostles of the mediocre gather at the temple of the insane artist. The altar is a gas oven surrounded by pills, hypodermics, shotguns, severed ears.
The dullest man in North America delivers the invocation: O father of the straight arrow, life insurance and scheduled maintenance, render unto us these scions of genius gone awry, that we may better understand the danger of the creative act. O lord stay these hands from the bass guitar, the watercolor set, the rhyming dictionary. Lead us to the safer byways of tax accounting, corporate lawyerdom and the retail service industry.
Jeremy occupies a pew at the middle center, perplexed. He has begun to tap his finger against his patella. His foot joins in, marking an even pulse on the industrial carpeting. Surely, these are the seeds of lunacy.
Jeremy gives his pastor a limp handshake and walks to a coffeehouse to settle his nerves. A young woman opens a guitar case and plays melodies that he has not heard before, songs that drive and skip and fly and flutter. When she stops, he gathers his courage and approaches her table.
“Did you create those songs?”
“They’re originals, yes.”
“Aren’t you afraid?”
She laughs. “Sometimes. Why?”
“I fear that you might be a genius, and that one day you will kill yourself.”
The girl gives this some thought. “Who decides genius?”
“Oh. Um. Critics? The media? The masses?”
“And don’t the masses love a drama?”
“And don’t you suppose that a lot of those people might have been artists themselves if only they had the courage to try? And don’t you think it makes them feel better if they say, Thank God I never did that. I might have lost my mind!”
Jeremy lets the question run rings around his head. Something unusual happens to his lips, which appear to be rising at the corners.
“I saw you tapping your foot.”
Jeremy’s face turns red. “I’m… sorry.”
“You have excellent rhythm. You might be a genius.”
She reaches into a bag and pulls out a drum, its sides covered in brown fur and rawhide straps. Jeremy steps back.
“Come on now. I’m a genius, and I need a drummer.”
“I… I can’t!”
She places the drum on the floor between them.
“You came to me with a question. There’s only one way you’re going to find out for sure. Regardless, I’m going to play, because this – “ she strums a chord that shimmers in the air – “is how I keep from going insane.”
She plays a song that chugs like a freight train. Jeremy stares at the drum, then at his foot, which has already begun to tap. He grabs the drum, places it between his knees and bounces a finger along the surface until he discovers a low, hollow thump at the center. He strikes this spot at the same beat as his tapping foot. Halfway through the song, he finds higher sounds along the rim and plays these in the spaces between the beats.
An hour later, he has not yet lost his mind.
Photo by MJV
From the collection Cafe Phryque