Ivory Tickler

Van Cliburn died today. He was 78.

There's really no reason you should know who he is. Really no reason I should know who he is.

He was a famous classical piano player, but hadn't performed with any seriousness since the mid seventies.

Van Cliburn is most known for winning a Tchaikovsky competition in Soviet Russia in 1958 when he was only 23 years old. He was loved by the Russian people for his genius and celebrated at home like a hero. In the first few years after his triumph he became wealthy playing his winning routine, but was later harshly criticized whenever he tried to slip a little Mozart onto the setlist.

Kind of imagine Jimmy Buffet trying to play a Beatles tune at a margarita festival.

I know all this stuff cause I read an article on in when I heard the news.

As I said there's no real reason I should know who he was.

Except that he wrote a book.

An autobiography.

And like Mozart on the set list, Van Cliburn's autobiography must not have been highly praised because there used to be twenty copies of it gathering dust in a bookstore I managed in the mid-nineties.

The store only sold remainder books. It bought them by the pound.

Van Cliburn's book must have been very light.

We were selling it for $6.00.

And then for $5.00.

And then for $3.00.

I remember seeing it every day. And telling myself to at least read the stupid thing, cause, and this is true, I imagined that I would be the only person in the world aside from Van Cliburn himself, who had read the book cover to cover.

The would make us in some way connected.

I knew he was a famous musician, cause I read the inside cover, but I never read the book.

Nobody did.

At least nobody bought it.

After three years of moving his autobiography from one shelf to the other, there were still twenty copies gathering dust.

Could be they still are.

I'll bet that if they are still sitting in that bookstore, there's a good chance there's a seventeen year old clerk who has been waiting since September to see if he could sell just one of those copies.

And I'll bet that he listens to NPR and heard the news about Van Cliburn's death at the same time I did.

And I'll bet that he races to work and buys all twenty copies for $13.50 and puts nineteen of them up on ebay as fast as he can.

The tenth he keeps for himself.

The tenth he reads.

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