Laurent Draws a Crowd

Here is a real treat for readers of this blog, the first of perhaps a few short excerpts from The Savagery of Sebastian Martinelli.

If you’re looking for fun quotes from the novels, check them out here. 

This piece introduces Laurent Rousseau, a down-on-his-luck jazz musician who lives in the disused freezer room of a rundown liqueur store.

A decently sized crowd pressed closer, closing their eyes in musical rapture. Whether people were listening, Laurent hardly noticed. His saxophone squealed a melodic spill of sorrow and drug-induced madness. Behind his eyelids was not only darkness, but the piercing light of the sun as well, manifested like blithe ballerinas dancing in a horrifically fluid manner. The figures of his mind were corpses, held up by marionette strings; they pranced across the stage, powered by some unknowable force. The music compelled them to emulate a dance, and they jumped and spun and flipped in dull emulation of human expression.

Laurent opened his eyes, removed the saxophone from his mouth, and was startled by a shower of applause. He was almost certain of what the drugs were doing to him: he was going mad.

The music didn’t really help, of course; in fact, music was sort of like a drug in itself. If he could ever manage to pry himself from its melodious grasp, he might apply for a job at a burger joint or begin working for the post office. But there was an invariable and distinct appeal to playing music every day, even if he only earned enough to barely purchase food to eat, coffee to drink, and light bulbs to illuminate his miserable life and later vaporize.

Music is a drug. Just like heroin, it addicts.

Music served as an almost legitimate escape from his failed lifestyle; as far as his family was concerned, however, his playing music on the street was nearly as shameful as his drinking dog piss when he was sixteen so that he’d retch up.

Not many people know, but throwing up dog piss or cleaning supplies gets you high; that’s why when people get sick, they feel so dizzy and everything feels so surreal. It’s because those people are coming off a huge high, after their body has been beaten into normalcy.

Playing music, however, gets you high in a different way. It’s just like when twelve year olds choke themselves because it makes beating off feel better: that’s called autoerotic asphyxiation. When the carotid arteries on the side of your neck are compressed, the buildup of carbon dioxide makes you loopy— gets you high. When playing a musical instrument, a person utilizes so much oxygen, he can barely breathe. When the brain loses oxygen, the person enters a hallucinogenic state, like that of lucid dreaming. The effect, whether produced by choking oneself or playing a trombone for too long, is highly addictive .

The effects of sucking on the tungsten vapors and then depleting his air supply were wearing off: his vision was returning to normal; his breathing was slowing down; the faces of the clapping crowds were becoming discernable; Laurent was able to stand up. The scene was clearing up before him, and he concentrated on the smallest of his spectators, a boy no older than ten slipping furtively through the mass of bodies. It took a moment for Laurent to realize that the boy halted behind each person surreptitiously: a pickpocket.

Anger bubbled up inside of him; indignation washed over him like a tidal wave of flesh-eating acid. A young boy stealing from the few people who still admired his music— it was like rolling a joint to find that some oregano had been thrown into the bag along with the dope. It first occurred to Laurent to tear through the crowd and wring the child’s neck. He willed his body to move, but it lazily refused, and he plopped onto the edge of the fountain again, returned the mouthpiece to his lips, and continued playing.

Just hold your breath and pretend this isn’t happening.

The boy. Get rid of the boy. He ruins everything.

Laurent spent the next forty five minutes in a haze, holding his breath for twelve, fifteen, twenty measures at a time, each time releasing the note desperately early to swallow air.




When after holding his breath for too long, his notes lost their tone and waved irately. Stumbling, honking, and improvising sloppily, his behavior frightened his audience away.





As he drearily burped out the final note of Pennies in Heaven, he looked up to see that the crowd had dispersed.

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