This One Time, 16

This one time I blew a note so pure it cracked my skull.

Can I claim extenuating circumstances? I’m not sure how well that will work. I have to take into account things like the statute of limitations and my reputation and future employability and — now that I think of it, those last two are always going to be at odds, right? I just had to decide how much of one I’m willing to trade for the other.

Part of it is that I was born with Type I OI, one of about a thousand forms of “brittle bone” disease. I take drugs for it every day. Basically that collagen stuff that rich women inject into their lips? I don’t produce it right. Bones are a mix of that stuff and calcium. Flexibility and strength, see? But without the collagen, my bones don’t have the flexibility. My bones are basically sand and spit.

A buncha times when I was growing up I had surgery to put metal rods in my long bones so they’d develop straight and strong enough to carry my weight. I wore braces like an exoskeleton for much of my childhood. I’m past most of that now since my bones have stopped growing. I look more or less okay, at least from a distance, but, well, I’m not much into sports more vigorous than darts. Swimming works fine, though. It’s a great way to stay in shape, and I really enjoy the scenery, if you know what I’m saying. Swimming wasn’t much of an option when I was still wearing braces — all the sinking, worrying about rust. I enjoy the hell out of it now.

I don’t know what it is about getting around with leg braces and crutches that makes everyone, even adults, treat you like you’re retarded. But I milked that shit. I read a lot — everything I wanted to — and I got into music. My dad was strictly blue collar — a man’s man, go out and toss around the pig skin, a beer-drinking die-hard Steelers fan. He was way disappointed with me as a card that had been dealt to him. He may as well had been given a daughter instead of a son. But my love for music redeemed me in his eyes. There was a ton of vinyl records in the house, and it was all jazz.

He gave me shit about choosing the flute, but he shut up when I told him what the girls looked like that I’d be sitting next to. When I got older, I picked up alto sax. Just for him.

Mom deserves some time here, too, but here’s something for you to think about. You can talk for hours about a guy with some demons in him. But all saints are exactly the same. My mom loved God more than anything else on earth and loved everybody else with all the love that was left over. And that was plenty. She took everything as it came, thanked God for it just the same, good or bad, and no one had any questions about why God took her early. God wanted this one as close to Him as possible.

Well, I went around thinking God was a selfish bastard for a while. I fell in with some people who wanted me to feel better without earning it. They thought they were looking out for me, and, I must admit, I had an amazing time of it. I should have died about a hundred times. It was that much fun.

But eventually I found people into music who were in it just for the music. I learned a lot. I learned how to build my own instruments. I learned all the math and why it was important. I learned you can put the same effort into constructing a single sound that you can put into a whole song. Or a whole symphony. Time is a vibrating spring. Space is a resonating sounding board. When you play a room, you play the room itself, and you play the people. Every bone is a flute. Every chest has ribs under tension, resonant cavities between all the squishy things. Heartstrings. Every brain is wrapped in a three-layer drumhead, full of spaces for trapping and echoing resonating sound.

Don’t just play to your audience, the great man said. Play your audience.

With a little help from my friends, and maybe some extraordinary chemicals, I did some unthinkable things. I got volunteers to allow me to strap microphones to all different parts of their bodies. Some extreme piercings here and there. At least one microphone with a little radio transmitter, swallowed and retrieved. A bunch of times. While listening to a bunch of different things. I contacted a rural slaughterhouse that cleaned up some old cow bones and mailed them to me. I passed the hat and obtained cadavers from overseas where people keep track of their deceased in a more haphazard fashion than we do here.

It sounds like some sick shit. But this is the sort of thing that goes into medical research, isn’t it? I dunno. Way more people can’t get through the day without their music than can’t get through the day without their medicine, when you think about it. So think about it.

So I worked on my flute a bit.

I remade it out of a special ceramic and added on what looks like a stack of snail shells with holes and corks and levers and tiny clamps. It weighs about three times what the flute itself used to. The ceramic is cast from a high-calcium polymer clay derived from a contaminated case of medical bone meal I was able to get my hands on. I worked for months on just getting the mix right, and I had a buddy who works with 3D printing make the molds that I finished and polished by hand. It took nearly two years, off and on, to get it to work the way I needed it to work and sound the way I wanted it to sound.

I tested it at a private concert. I had about thirty of my closest friends and some of the more curious contacts I had made over the last twelve years, while I was on this tear. I — well, I’ll just come out with it, I chewed up a monstrous handful of peyote buttons. And then I threw up. And then I drank some water, smoked a smidge of salvia divinorum, and put the thing to my lips.

And then I blew my world apart.

I’ve got it all on tape. The party was in a sixteen-track studio — one that still knows the merits of recording tracks in analog — and I think there was even a couple of video cameras running. Everything shows I played a single damn note for about forty-five seconds. I just played the harmonics on the note — all of the extra tiny little keys on the snail shells. Then the heavens opened up. I saw Momma. And God. And the ultimate darkness. And the light behind it.

And then some kind people took me to the hospital where some nice doctors have shaved me bald and taped my skull back together.

I’ve built the ultimate flute, but I fear someone else will have to play it. You can’t know how much that kills me.


January 16, 2011 · by xalieri · Posted in This One Time  


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