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Dc: Here's a musical landmark. The Bellicose Quartet has been together for 30 years. And this year's anniversary comes at time when America's political make up very closely resembles the Quartet's. The group was started in the midst of wrangling over the Vietnam War to show that Republicans and Democrats could create something beautiful by working together.
Joshua Pipkey plays cello for the Bellicose Quartet. Eva Nussbaum is the violist.
Josh: We were all young then, and very idealistic.
Eva: You, Josh? Idealistic? In what way?
Josh: Thinking we could cooperate in spite of our political differences... and make a success out of it. You know, be popular. And get rich.
Eva: Yes, that's your brand of idealism, all right. It has to do with YOU getting rich.
Josh: All of us!
Eva: But mostly you.
Josh: We split everything evenly. It's almost communistic!
Which makes Eva and Cyril very happy.
Eva: You should see the shell game he plays with his taxes!
Josh: What do you know about MY taxes? Or care? I pay what I owe.
Eva: Next time we play Switzerland, let's visit some of your money!
Dc: Such disagreements are common in the politically-divided Bellicose Quartet. In fact, it's their hallmark. The thirtieth anniversary boxed set of their recordings...
... begins with this exciting early performance at Carnegie Hall, New York City, September of 1972. As the group takes the stage to play a work by Haydn. It becomes obvious that every facet of the performance has been rehearsed except the seating arrangement.
Josh: I cannot be sitting on your left, Eva. No one could be more extremely LEFT than YOU are!
Eva: I thought we were leaving politics in the dressing room.
Cyril: Hey, you want extremists? Let's put a couple of chairs way out there on the nutty right flank for Nixon and Kissinger!
(crowd: nervous laugh)
Lara: Honestly, why do liberals think their opinions are so fascinating?
Josh: I give up!
(sfx: clatter of instrument)
Eva: You can't just drop your cello!
Lara: Let him be!
Cyril: He'll write it off on his taxes.
Josh: (fading) You can arrange with the people's republic to buy me a new one.
Dc: This was a typical performance by the Bellicose Quartet. All set-up, and a very weak follow-through that satisfies no one. Jane Lappin covers classical music and has attended many Bellicose performances.
Jane: They almost never get around to playing anything.
Dc: (q) Why do audiences continue to accept this pettiness?
Jane: Conflict is basic to all entertainment. They don't know what will happen.
Dc: Yes they do! They know that Cyril and Eva, the Democrats, will argue with Joshua and Lara, the Republicans, and vice versa.
Jane: Well, they know and they don't. It's never clear how it will develop. Will one call the other a commie or a Nazi or a tree-hugging fruitcake or a Neanderthal,... and who will storm off the stage first?
Dc: Any one of the four is capable of having a fit?
Jane: Oh! They make book on it in Vegas.
Dc: (annc) But one sure thing about a Bellicose Quartet performance or recording has always been the inevitable break down into resentment, division and silent glaring, maybe even yelling and wild accusation, such as this performance in Los Angeles in 1986...
(music: playing along until some dissonant element is introduced)
Eva: Stop! Stop!
Eva: You'd think Ollie North was playing violin!
Lara: Don't start with me about Colonel North!
Cyril: Ollie can play contra point, but not counterpoint.
Josh: He's an American hero!
Eva: He's going to take the fall for Reagan and Poindexter! Like this!
(sfx: crushing wood)
Josh: My cello!
(sfx: crowd aghast)
Dc: With classic recordings like this, it's no wonder the over the years, parents have asked the recording industry to place warning labels on the Bellicose Quartet's cd's. Ken Peacerabbit is an agitator with the kindness movement.
Ken: For thirty years the Bellicose Quartet has taught by example the following lessons. Be thin skinned. Argue. Break stuff if it doesn't go your way. Do not negotiate or compromise. Hold grudges. Assume the worst. These are lessons we can not and will not accept for our children.
Dc: But the Bellicose quartet continues to be enormously popular. This year more than ever.
Jane: They truly represent a marriage of politics and art that is so... perfect for the time. They are enormously talented...and yet totally useless.
(sfx: Christmas music fade in)
Dc: That's a good point. They show flashes of brilliance and then squander it in petty disputes.
Jane: That's why they are America's Quartet.
(sfx: music falls apart, bows out, a fight begins)
The music establishment loves them, and so do fans of the WWF.
I expect them to play a major role in the inaugural.
(sfx: punching, smashing wood, w, arguing)
Dc: It's amazing how musical and political fashions may change, but when we're talking about art and ideology, some things remain ever the same. And that's this week's show.
Thanks to the cast, Beth Gilleland, Lynne Warfel Holt, Peter Moore, Sue Scott and Jim Ed Poole.
Our show is produced at Minnesota Public Radio in St. Paul by Silvester Vicic, and is written by yours truly.
Join us again next week for more news not to be believed on DCR.