I Don’t Know What To Call This

I was really feeling this tremendous desire to—how shall I put this?—let my brain fry in the skillet of our times. So I hitched my pants up a shade and surrounded my sofa with Snackwell Cookies and pork rinds and Mountain Dew and put an old DVD-R in the trusty laptop: the episode of the Anna Nicole Show where she feeds Prozac to her dog. I felt if I went back to the old beloved chestnuts, I might just recover some of the early eclat of reality TV, some bracing frisson distilling the creative juices which brought us to the tremendous cultural summit we inhabit, here in late February 2007. We are all, in a sense, survivors of Survivor.

I expected the computer to come quickly to life with flickering images of limousines, manicures and breast enlargements. But: it was not to be. The DVD drive whirred a second overlong, and instead of iDVD, my favorite eponymous app, ubiquitous, rascally iTunes started bouncing up and down in its Dock, a crazed attention-seeking icon… not unlike, I mused mid-rind, the woman whose show I was hoping nostalgically to view. And there in the left column of my iTunes window, I saw something confusing, even flabbergasting, something which contradicted everything I absolutely knew to be true:

Laszlo Simon: Liszt Transcendental Etudes, Book I

I trembled on my sofa’s oft-stained cushion. How was this possible!? The DVD was clearly labeled ANNA NICOLE 2002; I recalled, in those heady days, recording the program with finicky flicks of my own fingers … but, cunningly, the machine did not lie. When I pressed play, lo and behold! a sober tuxedoed pianist strode onscreen, to invisible applause; stormy octaves and other Lisztian mannerisms ensued.

I grabbed the phone in an access of panic. Cory, luckily, was at home.

“Cory, I am trying to watch some Anna-Nicole …”

“Jeremy, Jeremy, Jeremy … isn’t it about time for you to move on?”

“No.” I huffed in frustration. “It’s not about that.”

“Yeah, right,” he said… “You know, chimps are learning to write, and all you can think about is Anna Nicole!” I had never heard him hyperlink over the phone like that before; it was a breathtaking display of communicative virtuosity, causing me to drop my Snackwell thunk! upon my keyboard. But while I cursed the sticky mess, I noticed that the Anna Nicole show was playing in place of Laszlo Simon.

“Holy silicone!” I exclaimed, “she’s back!”

Cory was silent.

Never had a low-fat chocolate product proved so fateful. My Snackwell had pressed the fast forward button. And at precisely 2x faster than the original, Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes seemed magically, even effortlessly, to transform themselves into the Anna Nicole show. There she was, flouncing into shops on Rodeo Drive. Though I wanted to surrender to the program and lie back on my sofa, reclining, as it were, in the nether regions of my mind, I knew something was at stake here, something bigger than my brain-frying pleasures, if that were possible. I related all this to Cory and we decided that expert guidance was needed…

Who else to call but Professor Barrington-Coupe, distinguished guru of the Reality TV Institute of Greater La Jolla and Surrounding Frivolous Areas? Luckily, he was on my speed dial. While Cory collected some pan-Asian takeout and jaunted over to my place, I was able to convince the Professor’s many layers of secretaries to let me speak with him, that there was, in fact, an urgent, unusual cultural emergency, revealed by the confluence of iTunes and a Snackwell! Finally I got his well-worn voice on the phone, Cory walked in with some miso-glazed brie, and together we laid out the seemingly impossible facts.

“So you see, Professor … “

At first Barrington-Coupe pretended to be mystified. “My boys, too much Mountain Dew on the brain, perhaps … some cosmic joke…” but as I persisted, I heard his voice go tired. The fight was not in him; he was going to reveal to us the dangerous truth…

I was passionate. “But which one is REAL, Professor? Is the Anna Nicole show the real thing, and the Liszt merely a slowed-down fake? (… a speculation which would involve some fancy historical footwork?) … or, which seems more likely, is the Anna-Nicole show—a reality TV show, for heaven’s sake!—just a plagiarized, sped-up version of Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes?”

Even as I uttered this last sentence, I gasped at its yawning implications. It would certainly put a dent in my conception of the sanctity of Reality TV.

Cory and I, side by side on the sofa, listened, tense with anticipation, to the silence on the speakerphone. It seemed we could hear his moral hesitations, his reluctance to divulge, but when the truth came it came in a flood:

“My friends, don’t you know?” (his voice quivering) “…that there is no novel, there is no ‘work,’ per se, the author and authorship is dead, and thank goodness too! Long live the reader, who becomes thereby no mere consumer but a producer of the text. And there is of course no ‘one text,’ but in its place a vast intertext, where everything is a gateway to everything else, the infinite creation of the readerly, an endless unencumbered plural… You don’t believe me? Just press fast forward again, I dare you!”

Not knowing if I would regret it, I pressed FF; at 4x suddenly the video became Vladimir Ashkenazy’s cancelled cooking show, How to Cook Russian on the Road. Cory and I gazed, wide-eyed. I pressed on, with my sense of reality collapsing around me, and at 8x the video became Tom Cruise in that horrible bartender movie which I can never remember the name of … ahhh! would it never stop, this endless cross-pollination? I took a bite of some teriyaki soufflé.

Barrington-Coupe’s voice took on a hushed, conspiratorial tone, now he almost seemed to be laughing at us … “and you know boys heh just take it down to 6% of the original speed … hehhehheh” … the tentative laughter dissolved into a kind of crazed coughing …

We followed his instructions, and suddenly we were watching He Said, She Said.

Barrington-Coupe explained: “The well-known game is a misnomer … well … perhaps a case of mere faulty orthography. It is not a matter of degree. At 6 percent, EVERYTHING is Kevin Bacon.”

“Everything?” I whimpered, not wanting to know the answer …

“Everything written or filmed since the dawn of human recorded thought.” The Professor’s voice was now flatly, oddly calm, as though with the deliverance of this awful, unifying truth, the sort of Law that Science only dreamed of delivering to the world, the small pitiful anxieties of human life could and would disperse into a giant field of undifferentiated Baconianism.

“You know, sometimes I see Kevin at Gennaro, just around the corner from my house…”

Cory rolled his eyes at my first-name-dropping.

But the Professor was distracted. Faintly, we heard another voice over the speakerphone, a strangely familiar voice calling, it seemed, from another room (or from another dimension?): “Come back to bed, Professor. It’s getting cold in here … “ A giggle and the unmistakable pop of a champagne bottle followed.

“Ummm, errr … “ The Professor stammered, now no longer the calm prophet of universal mutation but a human being whose deception has been uncovered. “I really need to be going …” he said, and the female other-voice was heard again… “I need to be taught a NAUGHTY lesson, Professor …”

Just then the phone went dead. Cory and I looked at each other. With dread in the pit of my stomach, I returned the DVD to its 2x setting, and after only a few seconds I knew, beyond any shadow of a doubt, the voice I had just heard over the speakerphone, despite many nodes of intermediate translation, and despite manifest impossibility! Was she, then, alive? Oh it was too much to hope for! And perhaps, dare I say it, the issue of her daughter’s patrimony had yet another, astounding wrinkle? The world might never know, if not for the brave, unimpeachable reportage of Think Denk!

Cory sniffed. “Not everything exists to be material for your blog, Jeremy. Try to restrain yourself.”

But I already had my coat on and was headed for Gennaro. I had to ask Kevin something really really important …

(…credit for much of the above, whether he wants it or not, belongs to the extremely estimable pianist Cory Smythe.)


The following comparative chart may help people sort out the two great scandals of our age. I post it with great reluctance. If you are prone to be offended, please READ NO FURTHER, we will return to polite blogging in the next post, I promise.

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  1. Anonymous
    Posted March 1, 2007 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    That chart just made my month. I’ve never rhymed Liszt with…you know.

    And I just thought of what rhymes with Venus and would work here too…

  2. hari
    Posted March 1, 2007 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    that was hysterical, but, are you sure the snackwell company didn’t put something funny in those cookies you were eating?

  3. Anonymous
    Posted March 1, 2007 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

    I began worrying about you, sorry…

  4. Anonymous
    Posted March 2, 2007 at 12:18 am | Permalink

    I know the string theorists in physics have been looking for a ‘Theory of Everything’ that will unite the four fundamental forces of nature into a single Mother force…perhaps you could give them a call?

  5. Anonymous
    Posted March 2, 2007 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    Excellent choice…chocolate snackwells!

  6. Marve
    Posted March 3, 2007 at 12:56 am | Permalink

    I don’t know about you, but I’m going to call this one helluva endorsement for Snackwell Cookies.

    The chimps are learning to use spears, too…

  7. Mr. Burke
    Posted March 3, 2007 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    I enjoyed reading some of your blog. My young son (age 9) is a budding pianist (he is playing 2 Mozart Sonatas, 2 Chopin Valses, and a whole cart load of Bach, right now). I collect ephemera relating to classical pianists. My recent acquisitions include these bronze hands made from a cast of Liszt own hands.

  8. Anonymous
    Posted March 4, 2007 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.


  9. Anonymous
    Posted March 5, 2007 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    fabulous. absolutely fabulous.

  10. Zacque, Santa Barbara
    Posted March 6, 2007 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    “I mused mid-rind”! Are you sure you’re not a writer posing as a pianist? Music may not be your madeline, but its not far from it.

  11. rb
    Posted March 8, 2007 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

    mmmnn, Baconianism …..

  12. Valerie
    Posted March 27, 2007 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

    Brilliant, Jeremy. I hope you’ve sent your research to “Gramophone”.

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