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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Bottled in. By John von Daler

               The building could have been a fortress, but instead its solidity had been chosen to house all kinds of culture, learning and pomp.


The members of the united unions went there as often as they could to reinvent themselves and to take a break from the more monotonous life outside its walls. It was an honor to be chosen to stay there.
         Inside, the walls and halls had been filled with the best of modern Danish culture: artists whose work still remained decades ahead of their audience, author's whose books were so well-written and contemporary that nobody as yet had understood them completely, and then the musicians who played the most sophisticated of songs not all of which could be followed by the enthusiastic audiences.
         Two musicians sat in a dressing room. They had just played at an afternoon concert in the cultural center.
         The program they had played combined ingenious, warmhearted lyrics and beautiful, unpretentious melodies. The words could be understood on several levels and so could the music. In that way it fitted in with the progressive aims of the place without venturing into pretentiousness.
         The quarters allocated to guesting artists were just as elegant as the rest of the building and the two musicians, who had changed their shirts and tuned their instruments in vacant spots in many a hectic kitchen, knew how to appreciate the opportunity. They sat in the clean, brick-lined room at the oak table in the fashionable chairs and quietly packed their instruments into their cases. On the table were many unopened beers and sodas, some tasty sandwiches, coffee, tea and several bottles of spirits, gin, vodka and a very fine whisky.
         They were feeling in good humor after their concert. Not only had it gone well, but the contract had assured them quite a bit of money. They were looking forward to receiving the cash and to spending the rest of the evening in a nearby town where they could eat well and spend a leisurely evening.
         The door opened to their room and a little man in a jacket and tie with a clipboard and a leather case under his right arm entered.
         "Hello, money time!" he laughed and threw the case onto the table. Then he checked off something on a list on the clipboard.
         Out of his pocket he pulled a roll of one hundred kroner bills and started counting out the thousands of kroner they had earned. He punctuated every ten bills by small announcements: "Take with you anything you want from this table when you leave." "Everything here but the women are free!" "Remember to pay your taxes, but if you forget, don't mention me."
         He passed over the stacks of money to the two musicians and got up.
         "Our chairman would like to say hello. He'll be here shortly..." and sure enough the door opened and a heavy-set man, also in a jacket and tie, bald, with dark rings under his eyes, entered the room already talking:
         "Just like I like 'em, full of good lyrics and good melodies, well played, well sung. Talent - yep and I'll bet hard work! Deserves more than we agreed on, deserves more. Round it up, round it up, Hansen, Whatever they're getting round it up by 25%. Write a check, write two checks! Remember we want all the best, only the best, always the best."
         The secretary wrote out two checks.
         The two musicians watched the chairman as he talked. They had seen him many times on television, but here up close he looked puffed up. The skin of his face was tight and wrinkle-free and fatty.
         "Have you looked around you? Seen what's on the walls? Seen the libraries? Seen what we have accomplished? We are the new gentry, the ESQUIRES I tell you of today's society. See. We are bringing culture out to everyone! Every single person! Remember that! And remember I told you! Nice to get to know you by the way!" He shook hands and walked out of the room with the secretary at his heels.
         As the door closed on that whirlwind, both of the musicians' hands reached out, as if driven by one common thought, toward the bottle of fine whisky. Just as the singer's thumb and first finger took hold of the neck and the violinist's fingers like a horseshoe landing on a stake took hold of the opposite side, the door opened again. The secretary came in again.
         "The Chairman would like a whisky and a sandwich," he said and swooped up the bottle and two sandwiches. Then he left.
         Neither of the musicians moved to take anything after that. They just packed their instruments and left.
         As they drove away the singer said, "Sometimes I'd rather just play for free." That summed it up for them both.

Music for the mind.
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