Mack Williams: Keep that smile

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 11, 2018

The other night I googled “Guckenheimer Sauerkraut Band-You Tube” and listened to their off-key, out of sync version of Franz Liszt’s Second Hungarian Rhapsody. The cover of their album “Music for Non-Thinkers” was the picture for the site. I remembered this same record in my youth on the Old Concord Road.
While listening to the unique performance, something about that picture struck me. It was the word “Non-thinkers” juxtaposed with Rodin’s “The Thinker,” along with several band members wearing protective, antiquated steel helmets. This made me think of the sacredness of that “little room” (no, not THAT one) of 1350 cubic centimeters carried around by each of us: the skull. 1350 cubic centimeters is the approximate size of the precious, protected renter of that little room: the brain (I say “renter” because long after what occupies that room has become dust, the “room” remains, sometimes being so lucky as to be fossilized).
The “cast off” skull could also be likened to the cast off shell of a snail or clam (we all know someone whose brain could be classified as “molluscan.”)
Thinking back to when I took piano from Mrs. Jones at Granite Quarry School, I remember other “skulls” in the form of the busts of Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Haydn, and Mozart which she awarded her students for musical “dexterity.”
It might be said that after death, Haydn’s skull went on a journey of its own (some other “parts” of him almost took a separate journey during Haydn’s life; but his father arrived at the church just in the nick (no pun) of time to prevent the priest from keeping Haydn’s voice in the soprano range for life.
Inspector Clouseau talked about a relative of his “running off with a mad phrenologist,” so perhaps that was the same mad phrenologist who exhumed Haydn’s skull to determine the relationship of its “bimps”( still thinking of Clouseau) to his musical creative genius.
In other “music and skulls” info, composer Anton Bruckner was present when the bones of Beethoven and Schubert were exhumed and relocated. Just as some children of another era were required to “Kiss grandma goodbye,” Bruckner felt so compelled regarding the skulls of Beethoven and Schubert.
Since Bruckner liked old bones, his sarcophagus lies in a church crypt in Austria under the “watchful” gaze of scores of skulls and other assorted human bones arranged in geometric patterns, as some places in Europe are “want to do”(he would have loved it!).
When George Washington’s remains were being moved to the New Tomb in 1831, it is said that someone present rested his hand for just a second on that noble brow which once contained that noble mind. I am jealous of the one who made that touch of my second cousin (perhaps that makes me a little like Bruckner).
I remember finding a squirrel skull in the wooded area adjacent my boyhood home on the Old Concord Road. Within that little walnut-sized “crucible” was once contained knowledge of the pleasures of jumping from limb to limb at great heights.
I remember reading in anthropology class at Appalachian about some warrior making his vanquished foe’s skull into a drinking goblet for mead or wine (and remember thinking, ”How awful!”).
Much greater things were stirred in those “bony bowls with built-in grin” while they belonged to the great composers mentioned earlier in this column, as well as the “alabaster” brow behind which a resolute will led a Revolutionary Army and helped craft a nation (alabaster brow matching “alabaster cities”).
And as to Cromwell’s skull, or rather Cromwell’s Head, there’s not the space to deal with its story here, just google “The Incredible Journey of Cromwell’s head.”
Then there’s that old low-budget horror film, “The Screaming Skull”(1958). It overcame the boring simplicity of death by managing to open cupboards, roll about in the yard, and take a dip in the local goldfish pond.
Just now, I remember those couple of old gravestone’s at Thyatira Presbyterian, upon which are carved skulls. I don’t know whether they mark the graves of pirates, unbelievers, suicides, or whatever.
Thinking of those “smiling” stones at Thyatira, and at the risk of sounding like medieval doggerel:
There is more meaningful death marker,
than above-ground stone.
It is, below, the cast-off bone.
Thoughts of love and hate, now “done,”
their grinning “cook pot,”
will with the earth, be one.

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