Way back during my brief stint among the contributors to *The Conservative Philosopher*, somebody or other asked us all to tell the story of how we became conservatives. I dutifully wrote something up, but, for better or worse, got myself banished before I could post it - after taking the wrong side against our host in a slightly unpleasant contretemps over the morality of foxhunting. (No kidding!) So it was duly consigned to the vaults.
Anyway, while hunting through said vaults, today, in search of stuff in need of deletion, I came across it, once more. On the off-chance that it might afford my internet neighbors a moment's amusement (what else do we live for, after all?), here it is:
In the end, I suppose that I owe my conservatism to Andre Kostelanetz. He's almost totally forgotten, now, but when I was a kid, back in the day, he enjoyed a certain fame as a popularizer of classical music - a bit tonier than Liberace, perhaps, but not as respectable as Leopold Stokowski. Anyway, my mother had this album of his called "The Romantic Music of Rachmaninov," or something like that, consisting of orchestral arrangements of purple passages from various works by that composer. She used to play it, from time to time - and, one of those times, I found myself liking it. A lot. In fact, I liked it so much that I soon wore the record out, along with the patience of everybody else in the house, playing my favorite bits, over and over, as kids will do.
Well, one thing led to another. Soon I was plowing through the rest of my mother's modest selection of classical albums and clamoring for her to buy more. It was not lost on me that few if any of my fellow 5th grader's shared my enthusiasm for this old, boring stuff, but that did not deter me. I decided that this must prove that I was an intellectual, like Mr. Peabody on the Rocky and Bullwinkle show, or the Professor on Gilligan's Island. I began searching out the sort of stuff that I thought they might like - not just in music, but in pictures and books, too. My indulgent parents even bought me a whole collection of Reader's Digest "condensed classics for young readers" - which held me, for a while.
But then somebody told me that the greatest writer of all writers was a certain William Shakespeare, who was not included in my Reader's Digest collection. So I hurried to the library and checked out all the Shakespeare books with the neatest covers. I particularly favored the ones with pictures of Kings and Queens or guys in togas.
Needless to say, I didn't understand a word of any of them, but I liked to carry them around, and to be seen carrying them around. Every now and then I would even open one up and try to puzzle out a scene or two.
Well. All this came to a head a year later, in the sixth grade, when the music teacher announced that we would be putting on skits for a school assembly. I was thrilled. I had just managed to work out to my satisfaction most of what was going on in the first couple of acts of *Julius Caesar*. I couldn't quite figure out why the play kept going on after the hero was dead, but I loved it - up to that point.
I loved Shakespeare and I loved Julius Caesar. Julius Caesar was my hero. I would play Julius Caesar. Brutus would kill me. He would kill me in the capitol. All would acclaim my historic interpretation of Caesar's death scene, which would be accompanied by...what else? The "romantic music of Rachmaninov." It would beggar description.
Well, it did. Needless to say, the performance was a fiasco - my first, and, perhaps, my greatest, prior to my much later debut in the role of an academic job seeker.
My fellow students, both on stage and in the audience, simply refused to appreciate the full grandeur of my conception. The guy in charge of the record player kept playing the wrong music, and the cast members delivered the wrong lines at the wrong time, or forgot their lines altogether and just started making stuff up. I had to keep stopping the play and telling people: "no! that's *his* line! *You're* supposed to say 'beware the Ides of March!' You're the soothsayer, and not Brutus. And Cassius isn't supposed to be over there!
Well, eventually everybody on stage got tired of being bossed about, so they all just pushed me down and poked me with their rubber knives and squirted ketchup all over me. And, to make my mortification complete, they began to dance around my prostrate form, chanting the words that I can never forget:
"Stab him in the back!
Kick him in the head!
Dead, dead, dead!
I wanted to jump up and shout out: no! no! it's not my fault! It wasn't my idea! Shakespeare didn't write that!
But I was supposed to be dead - and, besides, I could never have made myself heard over the cheers of the assembly, which quite liked the chorus - or the fact that the skit was finally over, or both.
Anyway, as I lay there on stage, with the curtain coming down and Rachmaninov's immortal Prelude in C sharp minor Op 3 No 2 snap-crackle-popping over the cheap school phonograph (for the disc-jockey had finally found the right track) it dawned on me, with all the blinding luminescence of revelation, that, no matter what my social studies teacher might say, all men were not created equal. Some were better than others. To be exact, I, the unappreciated genius, was better than those unwashed Philistines on stage with me - to say nothing of that howling mob of an audience.
In retrospect, I must admit that this was not exactly the most obvious lesson for me to have learned, under the circumstances. But there it is.
Incipit Zarathustra. I was ready for Nietzsche.