Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only The Piano Player
They called it The Dangerous Interval, Diabolus In Musica – The Devil In Music.
The tritone, a harmonic construction spanning three whole tones, also known as an augmented fourth or a diminished fifth. Responsible for a strange, discomforting effect on the listener, its dissonance has been used by composers from Beethoven to Black Sabbath to suggest the horrors of warfare, madness, death… hell. And every now and then, it has been used for more than mere effect.
It’s a Friday night, the lights are soft and warm. You have alcohol, good company, the atmosphere you pay so much to be part of – and for your entertainment tonight, your pianist, Clive Andrew Nixon…
Do you even notice me?
Venetian priest and composer Antonio Lucio Vivaldi used the tritone in one of the many musical settings he wrote for Gloria in Excelsis Deo, part of the Holy Roman Catholic Mass. In 1730, following a tragic incident at the Pio Ospedale della Pietà, the Church threatened Vivaldi with excommunication unless he destroyed all known copies of this particular Gloria, and swore never to have it performed again. Although Vivaldi complied, he was thereafter known in many quarters as The Red Priest, a sobriquet which brought shame upon his entire family.
As always, you talk and laugh the night away. Stories of your week. Your life. That woman you banged in a grubby back alley somewhere in Solihull. How much you paid for that Audi, so much less than the list price. Ordering O’Neil to clear out his desk and vacate the premises before you called security to have him forcibly ejected. There would be no severance pay, you left him in no doubt about that. Of course, he was welcome to take it to a tribunal… just as you were welcome to tell his fiancée all about the Amsterdam trip, and share with her the photos. Haw haw haw, the look on his face. Haw haw haw.
It is said that Adolf Hitler’s favourite classical work was Wagner’s Götterdämmerung, the last of the four operas comprising The Ring of the Nibelung. Götterdämmerung is the German translation of the old Norse ‘Ragnarök’, the final battle of the gods which brings about the end of the world. The opera makes extensive use of the tritonus throughout. It was one of Wagner’s last major works.
Your hands up the waitress’ skirt, the stench of your cigars in defiance of law, the sweat on your pig-flesh foreheads. Your breying, your bragging, your bullshit. And all the while, I play on. For your entertainment.
Can you even hear me?
In Purple Haze, legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix plays a b flat octave whilst Experience bassist Noel Redding responds with an E. The Devil’s Interval. They say Purple Haze was the last song Hendrix played before he died, choking on his own vomit in a basement flat at the Samarkand Hotel in Notting Hill, 1970. He was 27.
The actress Natalie Wood, Maria in the 1961 film version of West Side Story, drowned after falling from a yacht while anchored off the island of Santa Catalina, California. She was 43. Composer Leonard Bernstein makes frequent use of a diminished fifth throughout the West Side Story score – most notably in the song, ‘Maria’.
At the age of 22, vocalist Per Yngve Ohlin, aka ‘Dead’, of Norwegian Black Metal group Mayhem slashed his own wrists before taking a self-inflicted shotgun blast to the face, leaving behind a note that read simply, ‘Excuse all the blood’. Mayhem, along with many other Black Metal groups, used Diabolus In Musica as an integral part of their work.
“Hey, piano man,” one of you bawls, “sing us a song, sing us a song tonight!” Haw haw haw.
I smile back as though I’ve never heard this line before. As though it’s the wittiest thing I ever heard.
“Oh we’re all in the mood for a melody – and you’ve got us… you’ve… erm…”
“You’ve got us feeling all right!” Another of you chips in. Strange how many of you are Billy Joel fans, isn’t it? Haw haw haw haw.
Like slugs on a doorstep, you’re crying out for salt. Well, here comes the shaker.
At a wedding reception in Doncaster, mobile disco veteran Roy Winters, tired of watching newly-weds boogie their way to bliss every weekend before he himself drives home alone to a flat with no central heating and a TV than only gets BBC2, puts on ‘Ghost Town’ by the Specials, draws a pentagram on the side of his decks with an eyelash pencil some half-cut girl left behind when she came up to request Rick Astley, and waits for the screaming to commence.
Dumped by her boyfriend of seven months before an end-of-term party in her home town of Bristol, 17 year old Sadie Ashworth steals his mobile phone and downloads a new ringtone: Danny Elfman’s theme to The Simpsons. By candlelight in the Ladies she reads aloud certain passages from a yellowing grimoire she bought last week on eBay, then slips the phone back into her ex’s pocket. Later that night, a shard of glass from an exploding beer bottle pierces Ewan Trevor’s windpipe, spraying bubbles of blood into the face of his new girl, Jo. From a booth in the corner, Sadie watches and smiles.
And here, tonight, in the Champagne Lounge of the Gridiron Lodge, Oldbury, Birmingham, your pianist Clive Andrew Nixon, formerly of the band Rococo Drift (number one in Yugoslavia, April 1992, with our single ‘Baby I’m Always…’) performs, for your entertainment, an entirely new composition of my own devising…
Are you even listening?