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David Barringer

ODGAR Louiston was a white man.  He was born in Gluxville, Michigan, conducted his self-education somewhere in Illinois, and, in his late thirties, finally settled in New York City, where he allowed himself to grow pudgy.  He had brown hair and the face of an ex-boxer: square but soft, large-featured but sagging.  After the ordeal that consumed him most intensely throughout his twenties and thirties, he said to an interviewer, "From the moment I grasped its neck, I felt the bass was a part of me.  Its fears were my fears.  If my soul could sing, it would sound like the double bass."  He was lying, but one could forgive him.  Near tears from the joy he had finally willed into his existence, he admitted: "I don't play the double bass.  I am the double bass."

Odgar Louiston was only partly double bass.  The rest of him was human.  It was the part of him that was the double bass that he could not, for most of his life, accept.

Ingredients: Man.  Double Bass.

Odgar's mother, purse bandoliered, stands rigid beside him.  "Pick one," she says.  The instruments lean like coffins against the wall of the Galaxy Music Emporium, three hours from Gluxville's Fetis Elementary School at which Odgar is to begin his musical studies, scorned by his father who prefers to see in Odgar a predilection for science.  "Ordinario," says Odgar, shrugging toward the violins.       His mother prods the next regiment of string instruments to attention. "Crescendo," she offers.  "Poco a poco.  Not too slow.  Expressive. Mysterious.  Intense.  Bold and confident.  Suddenly a little faster. Passionate.  Dark and sensual.  Very fast.  Wild!  Rough!"       "Diminuendo," says Odgar, scuffing past the violini, or viole da braccio, the arm violas.  "Violent!"  His mother makes a gesture of embrace toward the violoni, or viole da gamba, the leg violas.  "Rubato.  Dark and foreboding.  Huge. Heroic.  Attacca.  Accelerando.  Ritardando.  Deliberate.  Quick!"  "Becoming joyful," says Odgar, transformed, at the far end of the long row, by the sudden vision of the double bass: its mass, its bestiality, its challenge and promise.  "Brighter, with renewed hope."  "Sing out!" shouts his mother.  "Lyrical!" shouts Odgar.  "Exultant," says his mother, steering homeward.  "Urgent," says Odgar, hugging in the backseat.    "Poignant," says his mother, watching Odgar stagger up the driveway toward the porch.  "What the hell is that?" asks his father when Odgar drags the hulk into the living room.  "A dead body?"  "Resolute," says Odgar.  "Broad," says his mother.  "Anguished."  "Like a moan," says his father.  "Like a moan," agrees Odgar, and goes up to his room.

The double bass should be loved, rejected and relinquished by luthiers from Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, Austria, Holland, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, Russia, Japan, Canada, the U.S., and maybe only a few other places.   The double bass, with an average height of two meters, has three or four strings tuned in fourths or fifths.  Fat gut strings were first wound with silver in the 1660's and covered with copper wire in 1875.  Modern metal strings, synthetic core strings, and improved-quality gut strings enable the double bass to be tuned in fifths, an octave below the cello, as well as fourths.  With a double bass of four strings, tuned to fifths in C G d a like the rest of the string section, a bassist can achieve low C.  "shores of sound"  "bullfiddle"  "doghouse"  "heavy"  "deep space"       "wounded"  "hunted to extinction"  "tonal lechery"  "lapsed relevance"  The man should be a full man, large, four-limbed, mentally competent, with few outside interests.  He should get along well with his mother, although clashes of temperament are expected and healthy, at least as judged from the removed perspective of society at large.  Arguments with his mother, throughout the man's adolescence, should, ideally, create raw possibilities through the incineration of crusted assumptions.  The father should recede into the background of their relationship.  The father should, however, remain as symbol of sliding meaning and ineffable import.  The mother should express her wish--that her son achieve a successful artistic life--in a variety of tones, from the well-meaning to the sarcastic, from the insistent to the despairing, from the cheerful to the rueful.  She should be unaware that she is speaking in so many tones, and, if pressed, she should only be able to characterize her tone as even-tempered, generous, and singularly unappreciated.  The son would not be able to survive in the air of a single tone because it would too likely be one of the many which young men are famously unable to hear.  The son, ungratefully, should resent being exposed to his mother's cacophony of support.  He should leave home.  Ideally, throughout his life, the man should have a "thing" for the double bass.

Rejecting the double bass as both instrument and calling, Odgar Louiston as a young man in the world does Something Else.  Odgar does Something Else (something involving numbers, fuel, and the psychology of money), and he suffers for it.  This suffering infects him, triggers an insidious and interminable vibration inside of him, day after day, hour after hour, until the vibration achieves critical pitch and oscillanimous wave, and he cracks, emotionally.  He feels the skin and muscles of his face contort over the geography of his bones.  He cannot control this.  He erupts in anguish--an anguish to which he bears witness.  He is overcome by it, ashamed of it, astonished to find himself at its mercy.  The tears sing out and the howls pour, and he does everything he can to stifle them back, to beat them down with the palms of his hands, to arrest them and lock them away.  When they recede, he is changed, forever.  No one knows of this, thankfully, and so Odgar continues to do Something Else for another six months, until he has socked away a prudent savings.

Like a mother, a virus visits in August, saps his maturity and induces fever, chills, delusion, exhaustion.  In the month of April, sabotaged from within, he retreats into bed.  In May, the wrung waters of sickness rain off his rising shoulders.  He is recovering.  Of his long-dormant instincts, the more primitive awaken first, as if according to seniority.  Deliriously grateful, he assigns himself what he believes is a selflessly rehabilitative regimen in which he defers to each appetite in the order in which it arrives.  In the unexpectedly hectic process that follows, he conjoins with a double bass, a solo model, in a corner of his apartment.  A music stand is felled.  A star fruit, catapulted, ricochets.

Defloration and moody blooms of volume. My ithyphallic Bacchanalian bow.  My ebony fingerboard, my ebony odalisque.  My houri.  My houri.  This lickerishness: blond melon, green fig, supple forgiving rosetta. Violonomania.  For an intimate sound, use inner strings.  Short, fast, sadistic laughter.  Long, drawn, loving moans.  My doxy, my love, my houri, my death.

Gently fold together.  (Odgar and his double-bass self sleep late, stare out windows, order the deliveries of groceries, videos, and chamois leathers.) Horror may develop in the texture of the event.  (Odgar wants to believe that he has absorbed an appendage but is afraid that he is the appendage.) Realization of the loss of what he was may germinate into self-disgust, followed by self-abasement.  (Odgar smashes a mirror, lets himself go out of tune.)  Beat.  Beat briskly.  Let settle.

At night he draws the snakewood bow across his sternum.

After dinner he draws the snakewood bow across his sternum.  Neighbors applaud behind walls.


For the first time in over a month, he ventures outside his apartment.  He seats himself on the balcony overlooking the street.  He draws the snakewood bow across his sternum.  A civil servant looks up, faints.  The sheet music of white envelopes fans out upon the sidewalk.

Displayed on two floors of the Paris Conservatory is the largest double bass, the great Octobass, built in 1851 by J.B. Vuillaume.  Its three strings are fingered with levers.  One person bows.  One person works the levers.  The Octobass is--Odgar weeps--"a curiosity."

While the body of Odgar Louiston sleeps, the mind of Odgar Louiston stretches a premise, flexes a plot, pulls up lame.  Odgar is swallowed by a smallmouth bass, who dies from the engorgement.  Exploded fishy threads cling to Odgar's collar and cuffs.  The lake rinses him out of her mouth and tongues him onto the beach.  Staggering, Odgar meets a fisherman at a picnic.  The fisherman's fingers move into and out of the shade cast by the extravagant brim of his straw hat.  The fisherman, who may actually be an impressionist painter on holiday, eats bon bons with a strikingly aquiline woman fashionably enclothed in the points of view of the medical sciences.  She eye-approves of Odgar, though not without finger-indicating jagged seams, bruised wood, and other sites of future self-improvement.  The body of Odgar Louiston gasps for screaming air.

Self-affirmation. Odgar Louiston travels the Midwest.  He performs in parks.  He meets a cellist.  The cellist introduces him around.  At parties Odgar, fingering the stem of a wine glass, explains himself well.  He is happy. The cellist leaves him. Odgar travels the Midwest.  He performs in festivals.  He meets another double bassist.  Odgar is vulnerable.  He does not accept the first invitations.  The double bassist introduces him around.  Odgar tunes in fourths.  He experiments with an intimate quartet exploring the diversity of sounds in the world.  Mixtures.  Hybrids.  Gallimaufries.  The members of the intimate quartet are hired away. Odgar disappears from view. These are the hardest times. "husky" "damaged" "bullfrog" "blue niche" "sore throat" "whale" "the bellows of memory" "rage" "visceral burdens" His twenties diminuendo, poco a poco.  The years of a life.  Good-bye.

Odgar goes to his luthier in New York. "One day," muses the luthier, "grafting." "One day that is not today?" The luthier picks at the transitional violonorganic seams.  "No neck grafting today." "No grafting?" "No cracks in the neck." "That's good." "Of course." "No worm holes?" "No worm holes.  Straight neck.  Straight fingerboard." "Center seam?" "Center seam's okay."  "No separations?"  "It's okay.  We'll keep an eye on it."  "Your back is bowing out.  It's lack of humidity in winter." "My back is naturally rounded."  "You got sag near the tailpiece."  "Sag?"  The luthier inserts a long scope into Odgar's f-hole to assess the bass bar and the blocks at the end pin.    "Everything in its place, right?"  Odgar has been running through his savings, and, while work has been steady, he suffers a tendency to underestimate his own value and so accepts low offers.  New blocks cost a grand.  New bass bars, another grand.  "No cracks."       "Thank goodness."  Odgar thuds the heart of his big mellow chest, and the ensuing echo is reassuringly resonant.  The luthier continues his examination of Odgar Louiston.  The luthier has had to invent, for Odgar, several new tools, for which the luthier has submitted patent applications.  The luthier is hopeful.  "Bad wolf tone."  "Bad wolf tone?"  "Bad wolf tone.  We have to eliminate your bad wolf tone."    "With what?"  "A bad-wolf-tone eliminator."  "Did you invent me my own special probably-patentable bad-wolf-tone eliminator?"  "No, of course not."  "I didn't know."  "Of course not."  "You could."       "Why?"  "There's still time."

Self-love.  Italian masters massage the seasoned wood.  Backs flat.  Backs arched. Double purfling.  A spirit varnish.  A velvety dermabond.  Ancient tradition.  Advanced technologies.  Backs flat.  Backs arched.  Rhythmic double purfling.  Again.  Again.  A spirit clenched.  Sing out!  Wild! Exultant!  A velvety emission.  Poco a poco.  Pure tonal color.  My doxy, my love, my houri, my sleep.  Like a moan.  No more.  My sleep.

International Society of Bassists Convention       

Geneva International Competition       

Isle of Man Double Bass Workshop and Competition

Odgar flirts with an Italian, a Golia Double Bass.  Dare he countenance a trio?  Or would it be a duet?  A one-man band?  A mistake?  A mistake!

Humility depends on a certain will to arrogance.  Odgar must believe in his own superiority in order to tolerate the rest of humanity.  He must believe himself beyond the reach of insult, slight, pettiness, ignorance, inadvertence.  The world is a playground, and Odgar cannot blame people for behaving like children.  He can only forgive them for being what they are. They cannot change; he does not expect them to.  He does not pity them; he accepts them as one does Chihuahuas and the chance of rain.  They are incapable, by their natures, of becoming his equals.  Behavior unpardonable by the weak is pardonable by Odgar.  What mental facility and imagination this requires only Odgar can know.  He is therefore humbled before . . . himself

For his mother's pain of childbirth, Odgar Louiston plays Studies in Springtime.

For her laundering, he wails plaintive hymns.  To atone for setting the house afire, he plays The Trickster.  For their long estrangement, he airs nervous staccato notes.  To commemorate their reunion, he takes her shopping.

To some he is a role model.  Here are children who have inserted woodwinds into themselves.  To do so is to misunderstand the achievement of Odgar Louiston, master of his instrument. 



David Barringer is a writer living in Michigan.  He has published a book of short fiction, The Leap and Other Mistakes: 35 Stories.  He has written for Details, Mademoiselle, Playboy, Men's Journal, The American Prospect, and others.  His stories are appearing in, Sweet Fancy Moses, Opium Magazine, Dezmin, Flak Magazine, The Styles, New Graffiti, Deeply Shallow, and Blue Moon.  He maintains a web site of fiction, satire, and parody at :

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