Last Tango in Tantra
Author: Albert d'Ossché
Date/Studio: 1981 Spectrum, Portland, OR
Engineer: Dave Mathew
Producer: Baila Dworsky
Original Release: The Art of Dulcimer (KM217)
Current Release: The Complete Recordings (BSR 158)
This was never meant to be a serious song. Albert wrote it as a spoof-- a send off-- in the style of Édith Piaf (1915-1963), the French singer who rose to international fame with her songs about the losses and sorrows of love. Her style became known as a “torch song” (to carry a torch for someone) and heavily dripped with heartbreak and the drama of unrequited love.
The tantalizing, drawn-out melody that promises fulfillment only to be dashed by the upsurgent dramatic chords of rejection is pure theater in the Al d'Ossché style. A master of accents and funny voices, this song would be introduced on stage by his character, Nuah Piérre (first name pronounced New-ahh and lots of guttural disdain on the Piérre-- like, in ptooey). The introduction sometimes included a handkerchief. Properly raised, Albert was never without one as an item of use and as a prop.
Although we introduced it with a stage-kitsch flair, the tune was played true to the style of the torch song, despite our antics surrounding it. It was (and is) a valid, time-honored genre of one of countless musical expressions that Albert and I were, if nothing else, dedicated to using the dulcimer to explore. It wasn't so much of, “I wonder if I can play a Piaf tune on the dulcimer” so much as it was, “Hey, Flaco, look what I can play”!
Albert was a great synthesizer of cultures. He loved the collision of ideas flying in the face of someone's expectation. It would be quite accurate (and fair) to say that he absolutely loved those moments of cognitive dissonance when the world just ups and skews sideways for that heartbeat of time that lets true belly laughter be born. He didn't mind if people laughed at him. He always knew they were first and foremost laughing at themselves. As he was. Like Jack Benny, who he admired, he never cracked a smile. His dedication to being in character was always absolute.
In Albert's fertile, cross-cultural seeking brain the torch song was just a step away from the tango. In that form of dance the drama and tension of sexuality with its sultry subtleties of glance and movement combined with seemingly effortless grace of movement was a logical (for him) direction for the tune.
Tantra is a Hindi term that has deep and ancient roots in various practices of religious awakening. In the 70's it was especially prevalent in the Western world as it applied to combining sexuality and spirituality to attain enlightenment. Oh, Albert loved that! Attaining enlightenment through copulation? What's not to like?
In his mind the concepts of tantra and torch fit together quite nicely. It was about reaching for the unknown, the hoped for, the longed for. But, aha! This was also to be the LAST tango in tantra. Into this he poured his musical creativity and I had to learn it. Turnabout is fair play. Over the years he had learned my “crash-bang” use of exact timing. Now I had to learn his “it could happen at any moment now” sense of timing. He was a master of dangling expectations and the “come hither” seventh.
It was about being physical. He had decided the world was full enough with self-proclaimed metaphysicians who attempted to explain to everybody else the exact nature of reality as they perceived it. Enough already with the “this is how it really is” quacking and quackery. Be in the world.
He'd tell people we were pataphysicians (long-tailed terrestrial monkeys) . Anyone who saw us in concert or hung out with us could easily explain what he meant by that. What we did on stage was not much different than what we did in daily life. We created and celebrated Theater of the Real. Either it was all was all funny or it was all tragic. All was important-- or not. It was all to be celebrated.