THE THEATER MIRROR, Boston's LIVE Theater Guide


Copyright 1982 by the author, Larry Stark


"Sittin by de ocean
Me heart she feel so sad...
Sittin by de ocean
Me heart she feel so sad.
Me pockets full of empty
I can't get back to Trinidad."

"Have you ever conceived what a great thing is your blues?"

The Martian mused to no one in particular, as he stared at his waterglass of Sawtooth Rye. "The rhythm-patterns of that, for instance," he said, drawing circles on the bar with the bottom of his glass, "fall into a scheme immediately Terran, and lonely. A great thing, your blues."

Turk might have been the greatest arranger or composer in the Moon and planets, except that, being a Martian, he had no concept of melody. The compositions of Beethhoven, the improvisations of Kenton were all to him arrangements of differing rhythm sequences. He recognized variations in tone and pitch of course, but music really meant percussion to Turk.

The light seemed to glint oddly off the Martian's vacant eyes. "Two hundred years is a long time for loneliness to last."

I looked at him, thinking of an answer. Allowing for the smoothness that comes from a flexible skeleton, he might have been a native Earthman. But Turk was not simply a man of short build, he was a completely average, an intentionally average man. Martians have, legend has it, some voluntary control over their appearance. If Turk had any, he used it only to appear more inconspicuous.

"There were a lot of unhappy people on Earth back then," I said. "Before space travel, before the human race met intelligent life very different from itself, people made more of a fuss over differences among themselves. One group might make things hard for another because of a difference in size or color, or which end of an egg to crack first. A person might get thought into a cubbyhole from birth. I guess if people were in that kind of a hole, they might feel bad enough to make up the blues."

"The people who made the blues must have thought themselves very different -- very much alone."

"Everybody must have been unhappy. That was about the time of the World Wars, you know."

"Yes, it must have been so. Nothing like your blues can come from a people who are content." He drained his glass, the fourth in an hour. Martians are very resistant to alcohol.

"Every time you play that, I like it better, Turk," I said. It was a tape that arrived when "ancient music" became suddenly popular. The craze had long since died, but Bob Silverberg kept a few blues melodies on his music-vendor. Only Turk wanted to play them, but Bob never worried about it.

"You can say a lot of things with music like that," I agreed, feeling the silence in the Spaceship Bar creeping in on us, and not wanting it to.

He hesitated. "Yes, but never...never could I say --- That --- so well."

From Turk, that was a great compliment. He had been a student of music, preparing for the priesthood, on Mars. That was, of course, before the War. Afterwards, he handled a dozen drums at once in the best clubs on the Moon. But Martian drummers faded in popularity eventually. Now the best spot he could find was making a bare living in a low-grade dive.

"Another Bob, please," he said to Silverberg. "Men make an oddly disjointed race, do they not? Your music -- your blues especially -- so good; your whiskey, so bad. No insult, Bob?"

"'Sokay, Turk," said Bob. The satirical comment had long ago become ritualistic. He poured the glass full of straight whiskey again. Turk was a rare and loyal customer, and deserved consideration. Bob cut his prices to Turk, though neither of them mentioned it.

Turk soberly raised his glass. "I have picked up your habits, even developed your tastes --- but I have not your weaknesses." He absorbed half the glass without a trace of reaction. It would have taken a gallon to shake him.

"When I was young I dreamed of creating rhythms with a power such as that; power to reach beyond races and differences, to affect everyone the same. It would have been nice to try." His flexible fingers beat out a tattoo on the bar, complimenting the sounds pouring from the wall.

In spite of my slight training in music, I couldn't follow his intricate pattern. It was as close to a new melody as he could get. As I listened, I realized that the human race had created the blues, but this alien creature was using it, and weaving his own emotions into it. The damp bar was no substitute for a drumhead, but Turk made it do.

The record ended, and Turk took another mouthful of liquor. "The man who made this must have been a very tired, very lonely man," he said slowly. "Your blues is the very soul of loneliness."

"As strong as that?" I asked.

Turk sipped his drink. "Good music...must always communicate to the soul. For, in what other respect are listeners and creators alike?"

He emptied his glass, and put some money on the bar. "I must leave, to sleep. Tiredness comes early to one so old. Thank you, Bob, and you may keep the change this time. I am not now so deep in debt. Goodby, my friends." He walked slowly to the door.

"So long, Turk," nodded Bob, polishing a glass.

I turned from staring at the door that closed behind the old Martian. "Bob, give me a double bourbon, straight."

"Isn't it a little early in the week for you? Look at what you've had already."

"Never mind. Just pour."

I took as much as I could in a gulp. It shook me, but it was what I wanted. "God, Bob, it must be hell for him!"

"Who, Turk? He never complains."

"Yes he does --- in the music. Did you ever really listen to his rhythm?"

"I -- yeah. I've listened."

"We'll never know what it's like to be alone, the way he's alone."

"I don't know," Bob said. "He always has his music."

"Only in one way," I said, realizing the truth of my words as I spoke. "He can't Share his music, Bob. Can any human really understand a Martian drummer's rhythms? He has to play it for himself alone, Knowing he's alone. And yet -- is there any real difference between him and us?" I thought of the hatred that had grown up between Earth and Mars, so like the hatreds that had divided the human race. I remembered the war of extermination we had waged on Mars. I remembered gleeful tabloids shrieking MILLION MARS-MEN EXTERMINATED IN H-BLAST, as though they were troublesome vermin. I remembered the swift-running hounds of plague that finished our war for us, even as our consciences were trying to stop it.Turk was the only Martian I had ever seen in Luna City. He might be the only Martian left in all the Moon Colonies.

"No wonder he likes the blues so much," I said. "But why doesn't he hate us? He's got every reason to. For God's sake, why doesn't he hate us?"

"I don't know," Bob speculated, calmly washing glasses. "Maybe he'd like to, but he can't. What would he have left, then? Bad as we are, at least we try to listen."

"Me heart she hurt from homesick;
Me feet she hurt from shoes.
Me pockets full of empty:
I got Calypso blues."

I hope you like what you see.



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THE THEATER MIRROR, Boston's LIVE Theater Guide