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Oysters Rubinstein An Afterword BY HARRY WATSON When Gavin CampbeU first shared this vivid anecdote with us at Southern Cultures, it touched offa mixed response. Some ofus saw it as a funny story in the vein of southwestern humor, popular from frontier days through Mark Twain and on down to HoUywood's fling with GomerPyle and The Beverly Hillbillies. Nobody disagreed with that, and CampbeU's apt introduction makes clear thatJud's ambivalence about classical music was not a private idiosyncrasy but a real historical experience for many southerners ofhis own and subsequent decades. But a couple ofus diought there was something else at work in Bagby's energetic sketch, and much discussion ensued. The fact that the lead essays in diis issue debate Gone with the Wind as part of an ongoing crisis in southern gender relations only made die conversation HveHer. So, Gentle Reader, we leave it to you to decide. Is George WilHam Bagby another southern authorwho is hiding something in plain sight? The case for a double meaning in "How Rubenstein [sic] Played" starts with the problem of how to make "longhair" music seem palatable to southern countrymen . The author sets up the situation by eavesdropping on the conversation of Jud Brownin, cracker barrel phüosopher, talkingwith a group offriends. Since this is 1873, the middle ofReconstruction, the men are undoubtedly ex-Confederate soldiers, stiU smarting from defeat. Jud has just been to New York to hear Anton Rubinstein, the great Russian concert pianist, and die good ole boys want to know what it was Hke. In popular stereotype, however, the artist and his music are effete, and die last thing these boys want to hear is another northern-inspired invitation to give up more oftheir war-wounded manhood. Even so,Jud Hked the concert, and he wants to say so without sounding Hke a sissy britches. What's his narrative strategy? Jud decides to teU his story as the tale of a powerful man, a feminized piano, and a Hstener who is almost feminized too. He starts offwith die lyrical beauty of the concert, so exquisite it moves him to womanly tears. The briefappearance of Cupid ("the Httle white angel boy") hints at what is to come, and makes Jud "[want] to love somebody." But this pastoral prelude is reaUy just deceptive foreplay , for the onset of tender desire triggers a violent mood swing in the pianist. "He got mad,"Jud teUs us, and turns on his instrument in a shocking reenactment of domestic violence. "Sir, he just went for that old planner," Jud remembers. As if to punish his partner for tempting him widi softness, "he slapt her face, he boxed her jaws, he puUed her nose, he pinched her ears and he scratched her I16 HARRY WATSON cheeks, tul she farly yeUed. He knockt her down and he stompt on her shameful." Once victorious, the artist celebrates with two expressions ofantebeUum virility —first as the dazzlingleader ofa Virginia reel, then as mUitary commander. FinaUy satisfied, he throws himselfinto the most earthshaking orgasm imaginable. As musical cannons explode, "the house trembled, the Hghts danced, the waUs shuk, die floor come up, the ceilin' come down, the sky spUt, the ground rockt," and dien mere words just faU poorJud and the speechless narrator is reduced to "roodle-oodle-oodle." After the cUmactic "Bang!" the piano herself coUapses in smithereens, hopelessly "busted" by the force of a musical rape. The climax is so devastating that Jud is thrust "under ground about twenty foot," in a postcoital stupor that feels Hke being buried aHve. Like so many country boys who sample the urban flesh pots, our hero wakes up (figuratively) in the arms ofa stranger, but the whole experience has been so overwhelming that the treatable stranger in Oyster Bay turns out to be a male Yankee. Quickly retreating from this mysterious encounter, Jud stumbles back to his hotel and once more aUudes to the legendary properties of oysters. He caUs his aphrodisiac experience "hot music on the halfshellfor two" and pronounces himself ready for more action "most pintedly." Is this a fair reading ofBagby's funny story or just the delusion ofa sex-crazed postmodernist? In...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 116-117
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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