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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution


 
The Essay
Show #421
The Garden of Grog
David Gunn

The Garden of Grog is a small, dimly lit jazz club and pirate-themed eatery on the lower west side of Manhattan. Located directly opposite the huge animated statue of Fiorello LaGuardia that deftly demonstrates the former mayor's levitational prowess, the G-of-G, as it's known, primarily caters to a small, dimly lit crowd of musical anarchists and food provocateurs--the former for the music that runs the gamut from otherworldly to borborygmial; the latter for the Edward Teach's Lamb Brains Burritos entrée for which the chef twice served time in prison for debauching an unweaned ruminant. The first musical set typically begins at dusk, but always before any patrons are on the premises. However, as soon as the first tentative sounds seep out of the club's front door and windows, the spectators, who are always lurking nearby, rush in to fill the seats. Those who the small club can't accommodate sometimes hang around the entrance till vibrations from the music destabilize the surrounding atmosphere, causing their ears to implode and the pavement beneath them to buckle. One time, a gravitational anomaly caused LaGuardia's statue to break free of its moorings and float over to the G-of-G, where it hovered spectrally above the entrance. But, citing a lack of credible ID, the establishment's ombudsman refused the statute admittance.

To best describe the music, a third adjective is usually added to otherworldly and borborygmial: "motherly." Not for any implied maternally protective nature--rather it's because the barkeep who doubles as the confoundingly uncategorizable house chanteuse is the notorious Mother Bumpkins.

On this particular evening, a palpable tension is in the air conterminous with the LaGuardia doppelgänger, for the clock in the Bulova Building has already chimed nine-thirty and still no sound has issued from the G-of-G. In defiance of custom, one restless habitué resolutely walks into the club. (He is never seen again, though an acquaintance will later detect the chap's pronounced stutter in one of the intermittent riffs.) Eventually, however, the music does begin. But something is different this time. It is neither instrumental or vocal. It is the sound of a long playing record being manually manipulated on a turntable. In the parlance of hophipsters, it is the art of scratching. Employing a Vestax PDX2000 direct-drive turntable, Mother Bumpkins is introducing turntablism to the Garden of Grog.

Employing conventional slip-cues and back-spins, she quickly has everyone in the house on his or her feet, writhing to the antirhythmic non sequiturs. Finessing the sound now with the more exotic orbit, crab, chirp and magnetohydrodynamic scratching techniques, she settles into an extended multilayered groove. However, when a customer signals to her from the bar, Mother Bumpkins abruptly switches the record player to automatic and assumes her role of tapster. The gent's order must be especially convoluted, for he takes a full five minutes to describe it. Then Mother Bumpkins sets to work pulling down a half dozen beakers, a mortar and pestle, the house centrifuge, no fewer than eleven different liqueurs and a bag of little plastic parasols. The time spent on the actual mixology stretches to forty-five minutes. Meanwhile, the record player continues to spin, but the stylus never seems to reach the run-out groove. It just rides the vinyl ridges of the LP like an undulatingly slow-motion gandy dancer.

At last the drink is ready. Its complex concoction has aroused the interest of everyone in the club--particularly since the music during this time has remained mostly equable--and they huddle around the bar to watch Mother Bumpkins decant it from beaker to bowl to buyer. Even one eye of the LaGuardia statue can be seen peeping through a window. With a hearty "skoal" from the onlookers, the man quaffs the entire libation in one long swill. He wipes his mouth, sets down the glass, and reaches for the sizzling slice of lamb brains burrito chaser that Mother Bumpkins has placed in front of him. But the moment he touches it, a severe psychotropic reaction causes the man's entire cellular structure to unravel. Flesh separates from blood, organs break down into simple organic components, bones dissolve. Such a disturbing transformation might flummox a lesser barkeep, but not Mother Bumpkins. She simply slips back into her role of chanteuse and ululates a cleansing chantey as she fetches a mop and bucket. But instead of cleaning off the counter, she assails the turntable with the mop, scratching with a fervor usually reserved for massive outbreaks of poison ivy. Instantly, the club is alive again with mercurial music. Dancing, fisticuffs and eczema break out simultaneously. The kitchen is suddenly awash in brain burrito orders. Even the tethered LaGuardia twists a bit in the wind.

Amidst all of the pandemoniac cacophony, a high-pitched reedy voice can be heard uttering in fractal overtones the phrase "raazab cisum wen, raazab cisum wen ..." Mother Bumpkins briefly reverses direction of the turntable, and the phrase recontextualizes into "new music bazaar," whose 421st episode abruptly switches places with the Garden of Grog. But this episode has its own musical goulash cooking in the kitchen, and here with his hand still clutching the ladle is Kalvos.