The Secret Sound

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My husband takes the radio
into the bathroom so he won’t
miss his chance to call in.
Yesterday scanning channels,
he heard the Secret Sound
and all the callers getting it wrong:
pogo stick, bug zapper,
tambourine, microwaved foil.
So today our house is all
KRTY, San Jose’s Hot Country,
all the time. The easy barstools
of a last-call pun and a predictable
melody help you make it through
the workday. Sometime today,
they’ll stop the music and play
the Secret Sound again. Current
jackpot: 1300 dollars for guessing
a 2-second, out-of-context clip.
My music school listening exams
were a string of 8-second clips
cut randomly from the hour-long
symphonies and concertos
we had to identify. Stripped
of his tremolos, Beethoven sounds
a lot like Mendelssohn, who,
stripped of his gondolas,
sounds a lot like any canal town—
Bangkok, Thailand, for example,
which can sound, in a given
8 seconds, like a tambourine,
a pogo stick, foil crinkling
and sparking. The real secret was,
the professor would have taken
any answer, especially if it
made him laugh. That semester,
his wife of twenty years had left him
for a woman, their next-door neighbor.
I learned this much later, when
I also learned that my grasp
of the musical canon was based on
flimsy answers I’d convinced myself
were right. The real secret is
to stick with Today’s
Hot Country, which pours out
all the hackneyed stories
you want to hear, helps drown
the blistering particular.
This calls for a pedal steel solo
and no further questions. Now
my husband is talking over
the shower, shouting his answer
into the phone. Before the door
even opens, releasing first
the white cloud of steam, and then
the naked man, I know he hasn’t
got it. The music’s back;
the jackpot keeps on rising.