Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Music History Monday: Never Eat Anything That Can Bite You Back!

Alice Cooper (born Vincent Damon Furnier, 1948) with his beloved boa, Julius Squeezer, before the “breakfast incident”
Alice Cooper (born Vincent Damon Furnier, 1948) with his beloved boa, Julius Squeezer, before the “breakfast incident”

On June 5, 1977 – 46 years ago today – the shock-rock superstar Alice Cooper’s pet boa constrictor and concert co-star, a creature rather cleverly named “Julius Squeezer,” suffered what turned out to be a fatal bite from a live rat it was eating for breakfast. No doubt: Julius probably should have ordered the scrambled eggs and toast, and in doing so would have heeded the advice offered by the title of this post: “never eat anything that can bite you back.”

This is a heartbreaking tale, a tragic love story between a boy and his reptile, a love story brought to an ignominious end by an alpha-rodent. But it is also a story of hope, renewal, and love rekindled, as the auditions Alice Cooper subsequently held for a replacement snake allowed him to discover his new boa, a precious girl-snake named “Angel.”

Now of course we’re going to expand on this saga of reptilian eradication-by-rambunctious-rat and subsequent replacement in just a bit. But first, we’d observe two other, date-relevant items.

Martha Argerich (born 1941) in 2015
Martha Argerich (born 1941) in 2015

First, we mark the birth on June 5, 1941 – 82 years ago today – of the pianist Martha Argerich, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. To my ear and mind, Argerich the pianist is an enduring miracle. When she plays in public (which, since the 1980s, has happened with painful infrequence) we listen, because her technically flawless pianism is expressively and intellectually compelling. Like the greatest of actors – and I’m thinking here of people like Laurence Olivier, Meryl Streep, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Katherine Hepburn – actors who become one with the roles they play, so Martha Argerich has that alchemical ability to become one with the music she plays. Speaking as a composer, this is, to me, the greatest (and rarest!) gift a musician can have: to remove one’s own ego from a performance and live entirely through music as it is written.

That might sound a bit flakey, but still, it’s true. A Martha Argerich performance – “volatile, explosive, quixotic, astounding and mesmerizing” though it may be – is never “about” Martha Argerich. Rather, it is “about” the music she is performing. Like her living pianistic contemporaries Vladimir Ashkenazy (born 1937), Maurizio Pollini (born 1942), Murray Perahia (born 1947), András Schiff (born 1953), and Krystian Zimerman (born 1956), Argerich is truly an advocate for the composers whose music she plays. But unlike all the marvelous pianists just mentioned, Argerich’s legend is such that the mere implication that she might show up to a venue and actually perform will sell out a house in minutes.

In order to discuss Maestra Argerich in the manner she justly deserves and, as well, to recommend three of my favorite Argerich recordings, she will be the topic of tomorrow’s Dr. Bob Prescribes post.

Be there.

Moments ago, I mentioned that we’d get back to Alice Cooper’s snake and the rat after having discussed two other date-related items. The first was Martha Argerich’s 82nd birthday. The second item follows, under the heading of “can we really blame him?”

On June 5, 2003 – an even 20 years ago today – a pirate radio station in Wakefield, Yorkshire, in the United Kingdom, was shut down by local authorities. The “pirate” himself has been identified only as a “grandfather” who went by the rather questionable name of “Ricky Rock.” Grandpa Rock had set up a 32-foot-high radio transmitter in the garden of his house, and had taken it upon himself to illegally broadcast hits by Elvis Presley and such bands as The Beatles and The Beach Boys. When questioned as to why he had done such a thing, this Robin Hood of the air waves told the authorities that his local radio stations did not address the listening needs of his generation, instead playing music by what he called:

“talentless boy bands and dance music.”

Can we blame Grandad Ricky Rock for doing what he did? No, we cannot.…

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