Flute Punch

John Philip Sousa was a novelist.

Posted on: September 22, 2012

Betcha didn’t know that. Apparently when Sousa wasn’t knocking off the greatest marches in American history, he was trapshooting (my husband would be so proud) and writing novellas – three of them, according to Wikipedia. This must have been a dark alter-ego of Sousa’s, like Bruce Wayne’s Batman, or TheHollyJones’s side business. I’m still waiting for my crocheted finger puppets of the jazz greats, Holly.

Anyway, having stumbled across Sousa’s The Fifth String in a used bookstore this week, I decided any book containing “Satan” and “Stradivarious” on the same page spread warranted further consideration. The first half of the book in particular was quite entertaining. By page 4, you get gems such as:

Oh, remember, you music-fed ascetic, many, aye, very many, regard the transition from Tschaikowsky to terrapin, from Beethoven to burgundy with hearts aflame with anticipatory joy…

I can’t figure out if Sousa’s melodramatics were intentional or accidental, but either way, he kept me stifling laughs in the wee hours of the night. I’d have read it out loud to the husband, but he was already pissed about my reading light shining in his face.

“I never hear a pianist, however great and famous, but I see the little cream-colored hammers within the piano bobbing up and down like acrobatic brownies.”

I’m only laughing at that one because it’s about pianists, not flutists. But you’re still wondering when Satan makes his appearance, aren’t you? Directly after the Stradivarious is smashed to bits in the Bahamas, that’s when:

“Allow me,” said the stranger taking a card from his case and handing it to the musician, who read: “Satan,” and in the lower left-hand corner, “Prince of Darkness.”

According to Sousa and Charlie Daniels, Satan prefers the warmer climates (convenient, considering his imminent demise). Sousa’s protagonist was no stranger to theology though:

Protagonist: “Get thee behind –”
Satan: “I know exactly what you were about to say.”

D’oh! Guess he’d heard that one already. But no one can accuse Sousa’s Satan of being rude, or noncomplimentary:

“Yes, the string of death,” Satan repeated, “and he who plays upon it dies at once. But,” he added cheerfully, “that need not worry you. I noticed a marvelous facility in your arm work.”

The protagonist worries about accepting Satan’s violin as a gift, particularly since it fell from heaven along with the dark prince, but it proves as tempting as Eden’s fruit:

Holding the violin aloft, he cried exultingly: “Henceforth thou art mine, though death and oblivion lurk ever near thee!”

One would think that the threat of death lying as close by as a violin string or a bite of fruit would deter a person. But I suppose if that were true, Daniel Tosh and Steve-O wouldn’t be the icons they are today.

Don’t be a dunce and actually buy the book, like I did – get it free from Gutenberg.org or Google Play Books. I doubt these copies will come with dead bugs or pressed 7-leaf clovers like mine did, however.

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