Of Bach and Beavis

You might say my mother has a thing for classical music.

All the time growing up, she taught private flute lessons out of our home. All her kids are gone now, but she still teaches. In fact, she has more students now than she’s ever had. Of both my parents, neither of whom is retired despite collecting Social Security, she is easily the busier of the two.

Because of her musical pedigree, she spent an awful lot of time inflicting high culture on her children with varying degrees of success. With me, it didn’t really take, at least as far as classical music was concerned. Given a choice between Beethoven and Mozart, I would hole up in my room and crank up the Rolling Stones, which wasn’t really my mother’s métier. I think she’s forgiven me for that, but I can’t be sure.

However, one vestige of the classical music exposure I received in my youth has survived into my middle age.

I adore PDQ Bach.

For those of you who don’t know him, I quote from his official biography, which can be found in its entirety by clicking here.

In the 17th and 18th centuries the name Bach was synonymous with fine musicmaking: Johann Sebastian, certainly the biggest twig on the family tree, was both preceded and followed by many accomplished and well known musicians, some of whom were in the service of royalty. It is easy to understand, therefore, why the Bach clan was loath to admit the existence of a member who was called a “pimple on the face of music,” “the worst musician ever to have trod organ pedals,” “the most dangerous musician since Nero,” and other things not quite so complimentary. They even started a rumor that P.D.Q. Bach, without a doubt Johann Sebastian’s last and least offspring, was not really a member of the Bach family—the implication being that he was illegitimate, or, even better, an imposter. Although P.D.Q. Bach was born on April 1, 1742 and died on May 5, 1807, the dates on his first tombstone (before he was moved to an unmarked pauper’s grave) were inscribed “1807-1742” in a transparent attempt to make it appear that he could not have been the son of J.S., who died in 1750. Nice try, Bach family—close, but no cigar: some of us, or at least one of us, are not fooled, or at least, is not fooled.

PDQ Bach is actually the alter ego of Peter Schickele, who represents himself as a Professor of Musicology from the University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople. In reality, Schickele is what you might call the “Weird Al” of classical music, except that Schickele came first and is far more talented.

Mom dragged us to a couple of Schickele’s concerts, which involved the good professor swinging onto the stage from a large rope and conducting such PDQ Bach masterpieces as Concerto for Two Pianos vs. Orchestra, where musicians who commit fouls are put into the penalty box.

Over the years, I’ve picked up most of his recorded stuff. My is Oedipus Tex and Other Choral Calamaties, in which one oratario freatures a Pepsi ad in the middle of it, and another consists entirely of bad jokes put to music. You can listen to a piece of it here.

PDQ Bach is a semi-highbrow guilty pleasure. But I can go way, way lowbrow, too.

I love Beavis and Butthead.

During a very trying time in my life, I took refuge in the antics of these two Icons of Stupidity.

Watching Cornholio still makes me spew milk out of my nose.


My wife, a decent human being, loathes Beavis and Butthead, as all right thinking people should. My children would probably be beaten if they were discovered watching any of this. I probably would be, too. But there it is.

This one isn’t mo mother’s fault. I can’t imagine her sitting through a Beavis and Butthead episode without having an aneurism.

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