Classical Gas

These rock-and-roll animals are as underground as it gets

The Tchaikovsky CD -- Don't Give Up -- might be the best example of how compelling Enslin's commentary can be. The Tchaiman lived it tough at times. In 1855 his piano teacher had this to say to the teen musician: "You suck." (Or words to that effect.) Enslin quotes the unnamed tutor as adding, "There was nothing, absolutely nothing, that suggested a composer." There would be. Swan Lake; The Nutcracker; the Piano Concerto no. 1 in B-Flat minor, Op. 23; the Pathetique; the 1812 Overture.... In his notes Enslin states, "Tchaikovsky was definitely 'high maintenance.' In addition to being manic-depressive, he was shy, nervous, impulsive, overly sensitive, and he didn't 'play' with girls (if you know what I mean). Yet, stemming from his unhappiness was some of the most passionate and liberating music of all time."

The 1812 lives up to every ounce of praise Enslin musters. Written about the Battle of Borodino, the overture is filled with concussive explosions and raging lead lines. Tchai even overdubbed snippets of the French and Russian national anthems for a near-subliminal effect in certain parts. Violent stuff, and word on the street has it that Pete didn't much care for his own masterwork. Artists sometimes are their own worst critics.

And their own worst enemies. Enslin explains that Tchaikovsky's death in 1893 was as cloudy and controversial as Elvis Presley's. After a party, Enslin relates, Pete drank unboiled water even though it was "cholera season." He fell ill, suffered for days, and died. However, mourners who touched his corpse at the viewing didn't contract cholera. Sure enough, nearly one hundred years later a study came to the conclusion that the composer had actually poisoned himself. "Apparently, some old schoolmates knew he was gay and were gonna rag on him," Enslin writes. "Being gay in turn-of-the-century Russia was totally uncool. Deeply humiliated, Tchaikovsky had no choice but to kill himself."

If you don't want to give yourself over to a single composer such as Luddy, Pete, or Mozart, try one of the samplers in the Counter Culture series. Long Hair Loud Music combines prime cuts by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Mendelssohn, while Instrumental Strategy compiles works by Suppe, Rossini, Offenbach, Wagner, and Brahms, led off by Tchaikovsky and his 1812 Overture.

Each of the other four CDs features a single composer, with Bach (Prolific in Every Respect) joining the aforementioned Beethoven, Mozart, and Tchaikovsky. The title of the Bach package reflects the fact that he composed some 1200 works and sired twenty children.

Bach's music is pretty cool, but he wasn't nearly as interesting a person as Mozart or Beethoven. Luddy, especially, fell into the cult-of-personality grouping. The guy kicked ass on-stage and off like Elvis or Bruce or the new kids on the pop-music block never have or will. Beethoven was a rock and roll hero in every way.

To order Counter Culture CDs and T-shirts, call 800-695-4282.

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