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Wednesday, September 17, 2003

On the Turntable, Classical Gas

I remember watching Mason Williams play
on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,
perched alone in the spotlight high on a stool,

cradling his nylon-string, sustained, I imagined,
by the studio orchestra secreted from those
at home. The percussive tick of the rolling guitar

in A minor gathers piecemeal a symphony
behind it, arousing at last the brass to D
major excitement, sennets, key change,

key change, enthusiasm, discord, life. A grateful
breath. The rolling tick, minor, returns alone. Too soon
the kids are bouncing back and forth afresh—

those tempting mattresses at the Travel Lodge
in Wicheta. . . . It’s a conversation between minor
and major, figuratively speaking (and . . .

well, less figuratively), where minor, hip, today,
represented by strings rapidly plucked, strummed, bowed
with sincerity, teaches old major, the tactless

brass and bourgeois percussion, how to stay cool
when juiced and not sound like a marching band.
I’d set the turntable to repeat at 45

(my age, my god) the green label over and over
and over, the propulsive jouissance
of the piece behind the speakers, interleaved

with the delicate heterodiegetic click
and whir of the tone-arm mechanism’s
phlegmatically conducting yet again

its appointed round. This beatific robot
gesture dwelt so securely in the firmament
of our culture’s daily now,

then. Today, nearly eradicated like chicken
pox, Duz soap, or mangles, it lingers mainly
an icon to its heyday’s dynamo.
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