Boom Box (for my mother on her 119th birthday)

When this woman and I moved into the new place and we each started unpacking our things I was suprised to see this pink boombox, not decorator pink, but little girl pink and I said, What the hell is that? 

            She said, What does it look like, it’s a boombox. I got it at a garage sale and it works.

            I said, Well I have audiophile grade stuff for us to play music with.

            She said, Do you have a boombox?

            Well no I don’t.

            Well now you do. You can use it if you want.

            And I thought, Well what’s next here, maybe a Hello Kitty television?

            I was  wanting to make a video and thinking about the boombox. I was thinking about how back in the sixties this woman named Charlotte Moorman who was a performance artist played a Nan June Paik cello piece topless and another time she played with small televisions attached to her breasts, but I don’t remember what they were showing. I wanted to take the pink boombox to a church where this big woman I knew was the organist and put it next to her on the organ console. She would be naked. I had in mind some muscular music well-suited to a collaboration between a large breasted woman and a pink boom box. I knew she wouldn’t take off her clothes for me but this was a conceptual video so it didn’t matter. The pink boombox would be playing a tape of the St Saens Third symphony, the one where at the exact beginning of the last movement the organ enters suddenly with a hugely loud chord, appears out of nowhere if you don’t know it’s coming, appears and then there’s this massive stride through some notes that to my ear have to be played more slowly than they often are, because they are stately and commanding. In my video the pink boombox plays part of the symphony before the organ’s entrance, and is turned up, and the sound is distorted because it’s a pink boombox not an audiophile grade system. The naked organist listens and shifts around so we can see those large breasts, and the people who don’t know the symphony are going What the hell? and those who do are going, Oh my God and then after the silence she enters with her real organ. The boombox plays the parts in between the great strides. In my video dream this would go on for a while but I could not decide how to end it. That didn’t matter because my chances of making that video were no better than the chances that my boombox woman would get tired of playing her tapes loudly on the tinny pink boombox.

            When I was little, we did not hide our bodies so I was used to seeing my mother naked, but had not been living with her for many years before she started dying. She was driedup as ancient people are but when I went to the hospital I walked into her room while the nurse was bathing her and I was stunned to see that although every other part of her was wrinkled and slack, her breasts were smooth and full and I thought, This must be a sign she can still nourish me even though she cannot speak from her stroke and is dying. And I carried that thought with me when I had to leave her in the hospital.

            I was driving to Pittsburgh a few days after my mother died and she was very old, almost 100, and I was dealing with it in my own way which was to wear her drivers license around my neck on a chain because I had taken her license away from her when she was 94 and it was not safe for her to drive. I was driving to Pittsburgh and had not yet let out my grief and I was driving along and flipped the radio in my van to the Pittsburgh public radio station QED 89.3 and when I hit the frequency there was silence so I turned it way up.

It was the silence between movements and out of nowhere came the monster organ chord of the St Saens Third right there no lead-in.

It was like a hammer blow, like somebody punched me in the chest and I bellowed out a giant sob even before the first chord died away and started to cry louder than I ever cried in my life. And when the orchestra played and the organ was silent, I stopped too but I knew what was coming: three times that massive chord and then four times the nine monstrous organ notes, steps or hammer strokes they sounded to me and I screamed your mo-ther is dead her breasts and all and I cannot say why I did not scream my mo-ther is dead her breasts and all except maybe I needed to be told because I was not there when she died.

(The recording is by organist Olivier Latry with the Philadelphia Orchestra, conducted by Christopher Eschenbach. Ondine)

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