Monday, October 5, 2009

DBTL 31: And the Banned Played On

This is the latest installment in the Drowned Baby Timeline, an alternate history where Adolf Hitler drowned at birth and where World War II never took place. The largest state in Central Europe is the Polish Commonwealth, which includes the historical Second Polish Republic, eastern Germany, and the former Soviet republics of Byelorussia and Ukraine. Following victory in the Second Soviet War, the Commonwealth is experiencing a cultural renaissance . . .

Warsaw, Polish Devo, Polish Commonwealth
30 May 1946

"Walter, can we talk a moment?"

Wladziu Valentino Liberace knew there was bad news on the way, because his brother George always spoke English when he had bad news to share.

"Of course, George," said Wladziu, motioning for his brother to join him in the dressing room, "what would you like to talk about?"

"Well, I've just come from a discussion with the network's new director general," said George Liberace, as he carefully closed the dressing room door. "He said that there would have to be some changes in your programme."

There were alarm bells ringing in Wladziu's head -- out-of-tune ones. "What needs changing? We've got the most popular show on the PRT." Although immodest, this was true. In the last three months, Wladziu's show, broadcast every Thursday night to television sets throughout the Commonwealth, had created a public sensation. For half an hour, Wladziu would sit and play an eclectic mix of classical and popular music. From Chopin (of course!), DeBussy, Addinsell and Rachmaninoff to Sousa, Gershwin and boogie-woogie. The critics sneered, of course, as critics invariably did, but the viewing public was enthralled, as much (Wladziu admitted to himself) by his charm and showmanship as by his musical talent. The show was an adaptation of the act Wladziu had crafted in nightclubs across America for five years: a gleaming golden piano with a candalabra, a running monologue with his silent manager/violinist/brother, a chatty introduction for each piece he played, and the immaculate white evening clothes he invariably wore. As soon as the show had become a permanent fixture in Warsaw, Wladziu had brought his mother over from Milwaukee, and her beaming presence had also become a regular part of the programme.

There were, Wladziu knew, more and more American entertainers showing up in Europe these days, drawn by the booming prosperity that had somehow eluded the United States. George had booked them a European tour the year before, and Wladziu had found himself drawn to Warsaw. It had taken the two of them almost no time to relearn the Polish they had absorbed from their mother as children, and Wladziu was delighted by the way Polish impressionists had mimicked his American accent and ready smile. A guest appearance on a popular PRT variety show had turned into a weekly programme of his own. But now the PRT had a new director general, and he wanted to make some changes to the network's most popular show.

"He says," explained George, "that it's part of the PRT's new policy. No more klezmerol is to be broadcast, either on television or radio."

"Why, that's absurd," said Wladziu. "Why single out klezmerol?"

"He says he's received complaints about it, Walter," said George. "Viewers find it vulgar and tasteless."

"That's absurd," Wladziu repeated. "I'll admit, nine tenths of it is rubbish, but then nine tenths of all music is rubbish. Nine tenths of all art and literature too, for that matter. That's the nature of human creativity. But there's nothing wrong with the other tenth. What about the Vontzim's 'Yesterday'? That is absolutely the most gorgeous song ever written (did you know the tune came to Herschel Grynszpan in a dream? It's true!), so how can anyone dismiss the whole style as vulgar and tasteless?"

George seemed to be looking everywhere in the dressing room except at Wladziu. "That's just what he said, Walter."

A nasty suspicion was beginning to form in Wladziu's mind. "I don't suppose this has anything to do with klezmerol's Jewish origins, would it?"

George remained silent. He stared fixedly at the floor.

"That's it, isn't it, George?" Wladziu demanded. "This new director general is one of Sikorski's creatures, isn't he? And he thinks klezmerol is too 'ghetto'. Well, if this fellow thinks he can force me to toe the party line, he's got another think coming!"

Now George looked up in alarm. "What are you saying, Walter?"

"I'm saying that I think it's time I did an all-klezmerol retrospective. And while I'm at it, I think I'll invite David Bernstein from the Shmoozing Heads, and Grace Selznick from Piast Aeroplane too!"

"Walter, no! They'll cancel the show!"

"Cancel their most popular programme?" said a skeptical Wladziu. "The programme that people arrange their Thursday nights around? This show is the reason people all over the Commonwealth are buying television sets. And even if they do cancel, so what? I've had offers from the BBC, CBS, and Metropolitan. The truth is, they need me more than I need them. They'll find that out when they find themselves facing fifty thousand outraged fans. And what's more, when they find themselves facing Mom!"

Standing up from the dressing room mirror, Wladziu Liberace declared, "Sometimes, George, you've got to fight for your right to tummel!"

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