Cafe Central - a Working Violinist's Monologue.

by an anonymous Rumanian fiddle player



Well, I suppose I should welcome you to the cafe. Say something like "Good Evening" or "What beautiful skiing weather we've been having" or "How did you find walking in the mountains" - but I won't. It all gets so depressing. Yes, that's right - I'm the house violinist here at Cafe Central and I can tell you that after 19 years in the job, you get a bit choosey about who you say hello to. I mean the clientele we get here is very mixed. You get your artist types like the bloke with the ridiculous hat - eh what was his name again - ah yeah Joseph Beuys. I think they built a theme park for him somewhere when he died - lots of hats and art theories. Yeah, those types ars est celare artem . But let's face it, most of the people sitting in cafes are just plain, dull and boring. Fidel Castro thought so too. He dropped in for a stiff one last time he was over on a conference - he also seemed pretty depressed. Mind you I can see it from his side - he has to put up with all those American tourists! I didn't mind Fidel, played a few Latin numbers for him. Well he was a foreigner like me. I tell you, sometimes you play something that you think will go down well (you know culturally speaking very entre nous and en rapport) and they burst into tears and start going on about Heimat and all that rubbish. It's enough to make you take up the guitar or some other feeble instrument. Look the way I see it, if everybody forgot about where they were born we might just get the cafe violin business to pick up a bit. It's been going downhill for years. Like I said it can get very depressing. Oh there goes Dmitri again on his Tango number - tempus fugit yes, doesn't it just. He could have waited till I was out of the kitchen, I'm always a few bars late on this tune. It's the faute de mieux military thing, the Tango is really on about war - it's not really sexy at all. I mean you couldn't do it to a Tango now, could you? You would do yourself an injury! People have got some strange tastes. There was some young girl in here last week asking for Schoenberg. Schoenberg! In a cafe? Well, we did the best we could in the circumstances - a little arrangement of the third movement from his Variations for Orchestra Opus. 31, if I remember correctly. Let's face it, its all down to atmosphere. Most people in here wouldn't know their Monk from their Mozart. These days you can call anything `jazz' and they all go How nice! It's like what yuppies think they have to listen to, once they've bought the second red BMW. It's like they expect to graduate from their Disco days - get more sophisticated or something. Then they go around saying things like "Hey, lighten up!". That really makes me depressed I can tell you. Then I start playing wrong notes.

Jascha Heifitz and friend

Then that usually makes me play more wrong notes - kind of, the wrong notes inspire other wrong notes. Then I really start enjoying playing all those wrong notes like Jascha Heifitz used to play. Then there are complaints. "Sorry", I say " non compos mentis! " And then they ask the management to turn me down. Turn me down! Jesus, you stupid deaf bat, I'm playing acoustic! I'm not a bloody robot. You know it is surprising how much people in this cafe like to be abused. I think they are all on some sort of Sado Maso trip. We had Frank Sinatra in here last year and I stopped playing right in front of him and stuck one of my safety pins completely through his nose. He didn't even flinch, said "have a nice day" and "are you my chauffeur?" Twitched a few times, gave me a $100 tip and asked where the bathroom was. I guess he has no feeling in the top half of his body. It just so happened that Sigmund Freud's granddaughter was sitting directly over on the next table. She was horrified and sort of delighted all at the same time. She came straight over and said smiling that that was no way for a Jewish person to behave. I said I wasn't Jewish, she wouldn't take no for an answer. She said you play the violin, don't you? You clearly have a repressed desire to be Jewish - anyway it's really getting fashionable these days. Lots of musicians are running round saying they're Jewish, even if they are not. Then she went to the men's toilet, probably to ask Frank the same question that she had just put to me. I admire people like that but it makes me very depressed all the same. Then the customers start feeling sorry for me, start buying me drinks - come with lines like "Gee Whiz, how do you manage to remember all those pieces of music?" Then I give them my rave about Simonides. He was one of those Greek Philosophers, you know like really into Moussaka and serious amounts of Ouzo.

So this heavy political guy Scopas decides to throw a big feast in a temple; a bit like an acid house party only they sit down and eat mushrooms instead of popping pills. So after a few hours Simonides is really tanked up on Retsina and goes outside to take a leak. Well, in the next moment one of the Gods decides to do a number and there is an earthquake - temple collapses, everybody squashed to unrecognisable pulp, end of party - but not end of story. O.K. So the undertaker turns up with some name cards under his arm to sort out who is who. But there is a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth going on, nobody can figure out which pile of flesh and bones is which - the remains are beyond recognition. Like in a regular modern multicar pile up on the freeway. Hey, then along comes Simonides, like chill out everybody, everything is going to be ex more . I have remembered the exact positions of all 243 guests around the table, no worries; aide-toi, le ciel t'aidera . I have made a revolutionary and very hip study of memory through physical location addresses. So in the end the relatives were able to collect the correct pile of remains; the undertaker could get the name tags in the right order; Simonides got rich and famous; everything was really groovy. Normally when I've finished with that story, there is a row of blank faces in front of me - like what does it all mean? And that is really depressing. I hope for an earthquake but none comes. Why do we need meaning? Old Renoir had the answer - he would just stroke one of his nudes' beautiful arses and smile. I was looking through one of those art catalogues the other day, it was well - a little depressing. These young artists, they've learnt how to write the `meaningful' rave but then you look at the work itself to discover there is no content, no original vision, and absolutely no blood running in the veins. That's something about this job, you get time to take it all in. People think you are concentrating on the music. That's not true. I spend my time here checking out everyone of those cafe faces and I look at what is going on behind each face. Not much. That used to depress me a lot but now I just collect the information and file it away under different titles like - Not So Depressing, Regular Depression, Very Serious Depression, etc. I could give you quite a comprehensive list of who for example has sat at table number 13 and been in a Terminal Very Serious Depressive State. Edward Teller (the inventor of the Hydrogen Bomb) became like this after he realised that his little invention would never be used. Paul McCartney became like this too after he realised nobody was bothered enough to kill him off. Laurie Anderson, I seem to remember, was another case - but then any violinist would understand her predicament. But probably more surprising would be to tell you of people who were de profundis hardly depressed at all when they were here. Saddam Hussein for example is underneath a really happy go lucky guy and full of laughs too; I put him in the Rarely Depressed category. I think the Emperor Nero must have been a little like that, rub out a few Christians one day, burn Rome the next and watch it all going on while practising his scales on the violin. It makes a lot of sense to someone with a job like mine. De gustibus non est disputandum .

A case of que sera sera or perhaps more quid pro quo or even sic transit gloria mundi . My position is that of a Logical Positivist - you know Wittgenstein, Schlick and the others. Like them I would also say Deo gratias that there are more possibilities than something being true or false. Something could also be meaningless. Like do we really need statements on the meaning of life that are tautological or untestable? If I suddenly start to play something over on table number 23, did God tell me to get my arse over there or did I decide to do it of my own free will? I remember asking Jean-Paul Satre that one when he was at table number 15 - shortly before his death. He was here trying to escape his Parisian students and a string of lovers. Ecce homo he looked up, paused for a long moment, then said There is only one thing that would be proof of an existing God; if it was possible to eat a steak in a German speaking country that hadn't been overcooked. Well, he had a point. I guess it would be possible to prove that. He apologised for being depressed but said he was feeling ill what with the steak and all. As he made a rush for the toilet he shouted that famous classical quote back to me "The way up and the way down is one and all the same" (Heraclitus). Mens sana in corpore sano or veni, vidi, wc . I went down there after him and saw that he was going to have to eat his words; that he may have been fit as a fiddle but the hand writing was on the wall; that he had indeed let the cat out of the bag and now he was going to have to face the music. In vino veritas . Then later some young trendy on the next table, spotting the timeless Greek connection, blurts out fortissimo "Do you Like Kronos?" I thought for a moment he was referring to the new designer toilet paper In Memoriam Jean-Paul S just recently ipso facto installed. "It's a super string quartet and they are making everything super and wonderful and easy to understand and they really communicate and it's really accessible and meaningful and super and everything and" - the depression became suddenly more intense. Since when has anything interesting in music been an instant gratifying hit in popular culture? I know about this. If I start to play something too bent, the clientele get sour and refuse to buy anymore drinks. As the manager puts it - "you're not here to play music, you're the human face of business. Make them buy, buy, buy until it's time to say goodbye!" I used to think the artist was working in a different environment to me, like their role was to take popular culture and squeeze it long and hard by the short and curlies. But that's all changed, now they want to become part of the same popular culture business - support the same reality that I have to work in! Some of them even ask me for violin lessons - no chance, I got better things to do than feed a bunch of parrots. Like do you want to get ahead now in the entertainment business? Then, hey dernier cri , get into (the) Cage.

Yeah, we've had him in here of course. He had to do the I Ching first before he could figure out which table to use. My colleague Boris Becker reckons John Cage has become the official naughty boy for hung up music academics and he should know what he's talkin' about (Boris is really one of the intellectual giants of our age - his speed reading of the complete works of Goethe on a recent CD shows a master in max control of his art). So this Cage guy wrote nice books with nice ideas. I mean you couldn't disagree with them any more than you could disagree about motherhood. It's just nice. Like silence is environment friendly and it doesn't exist anyway. O.K. nice. But is it useful for a working musician? If I plug a contact mike into someone's green salad

  1. The chef complains that I ruined his french dressing
  2. The customer walks out in a huff and
  3. I don't get paid - like the working environment gets very unfriendly. Anyway he's moved onto higher things now but I think he'll have a rough time up there in heaven.

Like having to listen to silence for the whole of eternity. I think he'll be pleading to go to hell after a few millennia. I guess it's pretty noisy down there what with all the screaming going on and the evangelicals hollering out "See, we was right!" Anyway he signed a few serviettes for me which I've been able to flog off since he snuffed it. Yes, we get the famous ones in here alright. Like that other one, Rosenberg. Jesus, what a wanker! He's come up with more theories a bon marche than I've had hot meals. He reckons his Unified Music Theory predicts The Age of Shopping - it describes culture today as a permanent closing down sale. Like there are lots of tins on the shelf, all with different labels but all empty. Like the culture process continues but there is no content - and as we all know ars longa, vita brevis . Well Rosenberg thinks that the tins are full of nothing and Cage thinks the tins are all jam packed with great music. What to do? You pays yer money and yer takes yer choice, that's what. And I'm thinking they're both fucked in the head. But me, what do I know, I'm just the house violinist here and a bit depressed. Amende honourable . I guess it's time for me to go over to table number 17, I see William Burroughs is there this evening. Maybe I can cheer him up a bit - well, at least it's a function isn't it? Se non e vero, e ben trovato .

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