Tonight was a sharp reminder that the other thing I wanted to do with my life was: study the brain.
How many migraineurs out there? How many Imitrex-dependent headaches?
Any [of the aforementioned] classical musicians also take beta blockers?
Suppose you’ve ever mixed the two – not on purpose, of course, but of necessity. You know, you have the headache; you have to perform. You take care of the headache first so you can eat and then, then you take the beta blocker, an hour before curtain.
Now, we are not talking about the time you took an allegra and then a benadryl and THEN called the pharmacist to ask if it was okay. Nope. That was a dangerous mistake, and a stupefyingly enormous one at that. Even if the kids thought you were a laugh riot.
No; I’m talking about the “head game” the synergy of two powerful drugs plays with your pre-frontal cortex and your long term memory. That, even when the pharmacist puts you on hold and looks them up and says that they are safe when taken together.
You are strangely relaxed, in a really unfamiliar way. Then, you discover that your edge is missing, the part that drives your impetus. It takes noticeable effort to pull off the simplest maneuvers, the kind that is more unpleasant than the jitters you have to suppress without the panacea. This is because the serotonin levels in your brain are way too high, negating the customary angst, sturm, und drang that produces a work of art, and you have absolutely no blood pressure.
Somehow, you make it through all the tough passagework and the phrases in this rickety contraption that has become your body. Then, you hit the home stretch.
Fatal Mistake: you think you’re already there.
This is when your brain throws it.
Suddenly, no warning. Your auto pilot jams and tosses a garble that would rival Elmer Fudd, auctioneer. You hear it happen but, like an acute attack of PMS, you are powerless to grasp after any remedy. Your hand is a runaway spider on a greased monkey. And, the thing has no choice but to play itself out until, by some miracle, you reach the final cadence and the eternal mercy of the last note.
People describe your performance. They use words like “great!” and “Thank you for playing!” and “SO musical.” This is code for “You Screwed Up.”
But, you know it. And, this time, you know why. You just wish you could prove it. You wish you knew the mechanism that clogs the synapses and capillaries, that spits out some clunk version of a flawless rendition of the dramatic chromatic ascent that everybody recognizes as the pre-orgasmic hook in the Prelude by Bach. You only know it as the part you’ve played what seems like a hundred times, each one sexier than the time before.
And, all of this titillating sensation is lost on two lousy pills the size of one pinkie fingernail combined.
Those who know the piece make the mental note that you have about as much musical depth as that pinkie fingernail. Those who do not shift in their seats and wonder why they are feeling like they just don’t like this song all of a sudden. Either way, you’ve lost your chance. Your audience. Your moment to make the music.
All because of one lousy migraine, and the belief that you couldn’t do it alone.
Funny about beliefs. Some people stake their lives on them. I think it might be time to dispense with them altogether. There is entirely too much beauty and truth waiting in the wings not to be wasted.
© Ruth Ann Scanzillo
3/15/15 p.s. There’s a version of the piece in question on my blog. Keyword “Bach Prelude from Suite I.” It’s a tad plodding and indulged, but the hook will take you all the way. If you need to change your pants after, chalk it up to the least I could do and know that Bach did it for you. I was just along for the ride.