Beethoven and a Quirk of Fate

One of the greatest and most monumental sonatas in the violin repertoire was composed by Beethoven and is usually referred to as the “Kreutzer” Sonata. The reason for that is an intriguing story in itself and has great bearing upon my novel, Danse Macabre.

Beethoven actually composed the piece in great haste for a black violinist who was the European sensation of the day and whose name was George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower. Bridgetower was on a concert tour that took him to Vienna and Beethoven wanted to impress him and the public with a new, grand sonata. It was so hot off the press that at the premiere he and Polgreen sight-read some the piece off the piano score.

George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower
George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower

Nevertheless it was a huge success, and after the performance the new buddies, Ludwig and George, went off to the beirstube to celebrate. Unfortunately, they both probably drank too many lagers, because they got into an argument–some say it was something that Bridgetower said about one of Beethoven’s lady friends. Regardless of the exact reason, Beethoven tore up his dedication. But always the pragmatist, decided that Rodolphe Kreutzer, the great Parisian violinist, would make his new sonata famous (and profitable), and so rededicated it to him.

Ludwig
Ludwig

The irony is that Kreutzer, when he finally saw the piece, didn’t like it and never played it! Yet, it is one of the main things that has made his name famous, and at the same time, Bridgetower’s name has faded into the annals of dusty music history.

Rodolphe Kreutzer
Rodolphe Kreutzer

How does this relate to Danse Macabre? Well, we have a young, somewhat brash African American violinist who has rebranded himself by the name of BTower. He’s a super talented violinist, but has made his fame as a crossover artist, much to the dismay of the  concert world establishment. At a critical point in the story, after being challenged by our hero, Daniel Jacobus, BTower becomes fixated on the opening note of the “Kreutzer” Sonata. His rivalry with the beloved virtuoso, Rene Allard, is the source of public gossip, so when Allard is brutally murdered…

You’ll be able to hear excerpts of my performance of the “Kreutzer” Sonata and much more on the Danse Macabre audiobook, but for now enjoy the entire first movement: http://www.geraldelias.com/music_DM_beethoven.html

Thank you so much if you’ve supported my Kickstarter campaign to make DANSE MACABRE into a unique audio experience. If you haven’t yet made a pledge, we have only two weeks and $3,000 to raise! https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/717644612/music-and-mystery-spring-break-a-unique-audio-book?ref=user_menu

A Devilish Endeavor

Recording the music in Devil’s Trill. A story within a story.

We wanted to do something different.

Something creative. Something artistic. Something that had never been done before. With Devil’s Trill, we wanted to make an audio book that integrated music and narrative.

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And there was so much music to go with the mystery! Hours of it. Should the music be performed in full? Should the compositions come at the end of the chapters in which they had been part of the story? At the end of the book in the form of a recital or master class, perhaps? My producer, Alison Larkin, and I discussed countless possibilities.

Ultimately, we decided that for the sake of the story we’d adhere to the philosophy, “Less is more.” The story was king, and the music must serve the story. We would use excerpts of the music to augment, to highlight, and to provide clues to the listener regarding the theft of the infamous Piccolino Stradivarius and the murder of Victoria Jablonski.

So the first task was to decide: What music to record? During the course of the book there were performances or discussions of countless repertoire, including the Mendelssohn Concerto, the Beethoven Concerto, the Paganini Concerto in D, Sicilienne by Paradis, the Sarabanda from the Bach Partita in D Minor, Zigeunerweisen by Sarate, and of course, the most important composition relative to the story, the Devil’s Trill Sonata by Giuseppe Tartini.

Oh, and I’m leaving out an unknown composition by the legendary (and mythical) diminutive 17th century violin virtuoso, Matteo Cherubino (aka Il Piccolino). I would have to compose three minutes of a wistful Sarabanda which he improvised for his lover, the Duchess of Padua, as he stood naked in a cold bedchamber.

With these tasks in hands I started practicing months in advance of our goal of finishing the project by the end of 2016.  As I practiced all this music I had to not only hone my technique, but also distill the hours of music to the essential excerpt for the purpose of the story. They had to fit within the story.

When I was finally ready for that I went to a recording studio in Utah which provided incredible state of the art equipment and a first rate recording engineer who created the sound of a European chamber music hall as the context of my recording. He gave me the cue to start and let me go. Most of the music was for violin alone, but there were a few things that required piano. A local pianist, Jayne Galloway, whose able playing I’d known for many years, arrived at the studio. We started to record without even rehearsing, but within a half hour we felt we had accomplished what we needed to for the Paradis Sicilienne and Paganini Concerto. Then, for the next few hours I just played and played and played each excerpt–each of which was anywhere from 20 seconds to three minutes–until I had a sufficient number of takes for each composition from which I could select one that was good enough. At least that was my hope.

The engineer sent me a single audio file, several hours long, to my computer. I put on the headphones. I  had to listen to each take endless times to make sure there were no flaws, either technical or musical. For example, for Piccolino’s Sarabanda, I used a different violin tuned down a half step to reflect the intonation of 17th century Italian Baroque music, and played with selective vibrato that was the performance practice at that time.

Once the excerpts were selected was the next crucial step: where exactly to insert them into the reading of the story. (The reading, by award-winning audio book reader Jim Frangione, had already been completed at a studio in Massachusetts.) So again, with my headphones on, I stopped and started the playback of Jim’s reading to decide upon the exact split second, noting where each excerpt should start, how long it should go on before the reading recommenced, and whether at that point the music should end or simply taper under the voice.

Having made all those decisions, I shared my ideas with Alison and Jim for their input and we further refined the process. I then got on a plane and went to Massachusetts to huddle with them in a tiny studio in the basement of recording engineer, Jason Brown. I had my fingers crossed that Jason could accomplish a couple of special special effects I requested. For Piccolino’s Sarabanda he was able to create the echoey sound of the violin resonating in a stonewalled room with a high ceiling, and for the Paradis Sicilienne he was able to add the distinctive scratchy sound of an old 78 recording. We spent hours haggling over timings, volumes, and fades. Everyone had their own opinion, voiced from the perspective of their own expertise. It was a fascinating process and though we were exhausted by the end of it, we emerged still friends and with a unique and amazing Devil’s Trill audio book. You can listen to a sample HERE. And between now and August 21, for every download purchased on this link $5.00 will be donated to the Stockbridge Sinfonia, a wonderful amateur chamber orchestra, for its student scholarship fund.

Having gone through the process, we’re ready to move on to the next book in the Daniel Jacobus mystery series, Danse Macabre. Some of the great music in Danse Macabre is the spectacular Kreutzer Sonata by Beethoven, the elegant Sonata in D Major by LeClair, and of course, the diabolical Danse Macabre by Camille Saint-Saens in which the devil raises the souls of the dead from the grave with his beguiling violin. I hope you will enjoy my performance by clicking on the link HERE.

To raise money for the production costs of Danse Macabre, I’ve established a KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN, which in its first weekend raise more than 25% of our goal! I invite you to become one of the backers of a unique musical literary experience and be a part of mystery!

Danse

DANSE MACABRE

 

“A musical feast for mystery and music lovers.” Library Journal

A Touch of Jacobus

HERE is the introduction to one of the zaniest characters in my six Daniel Jacobus novels: Shakespeare-spouting Drum Stick Man, a denizen who lurks in the murky recesses of the New York City subway system in Danse Macabre. Jacobus, with his mind other things, wasn’t paying attention to what he was doing and has gotten himself lost, when he hears some odd tapping.

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As he mulled over just what he would say to Hennie, Jacobus suddenly realized that the usual sounds and smells of humanity had ebbed into the ether.  No voices, no scuffling, no car horns, no sweat, no perfume, no exhaust fumes.  All he could hear was an echo of dripping water, some jazzily rhythmic tapping off in the distance, and his own uneven footsteps.  His arthritic hip responded like a barometer to cooler, musty and dank atmospheric conditions.  Where the hell am I? he thought.  I shouldn’t try to do two things at once, dammit.  He stopped to reconnoiter, instincts momentarily befuddled.  He decided to turn left.

“Hold Mortal, lest thou will surely perish!” declaimed a voice, followed by a drum riff on what sounded like a set of paint cans and cement.

Jacobus stopped.  “What are you talking about?” he asked.

“A yawning abyss beckons ye, of which thou art presently astride.”  Bdop-bah.

“Who the hell are you?” asked Jacobus.

“Men have called me the Drum Stick Man, and honored be I to make your acquaintance.  Welcome to my dark domain.  ’Tis dark here, yea, but I perceive ’tis darker for you still.  Thou canst not see this dormant track bed unused, lo, in the memory of man.  One more step and thine earthly coil will surely be kaput.”  Bop-bop-bop, bop-bdop-baaaah.

Jacobus turned to his right.

“Egad!  Go not that direction, neither, gentle Sir.” Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr-op.

“Why the hell not?  And knock off that ridiculous tapping.”

“But ‘tis my very nature to tap, Sir!  I tap on cans.”  B-dang, b-dang, b-dang.  “I tap on walls,” Knk-knk-knk.  “I e’en tap ’pon my head.  Ow!!

“‘The man that hath no music in himself,

        Nor is not mov’d with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils.

“If thou goest right, M’lord, thou wilst ne’er return.  Right is wrong.  A community of Gatherers awaits ye yon.”  Bp-bp-bding.

“And what, may I asketh, gather they?” asked Jacobus.

“Everything, kind sir.  Everything . . . But fear not!  For I will lead you from these things of darkness and this precipice, just as stout Edgar did lead the orbless Gloucester.  Follow me.  Perchance my tapping will please you now.  Dawdle not!  It be not far.”

“You live down here?” asked Jacobus, following the Drum Stick Man’s tapping.

“Verily.  Long has it been since the light of day has crossed my path.  Passageways without number abound within these dank, dark depths.  Forsooth ’tis a world unto itself.  Aha, here is the end of the line for me.

“‘Walk now thou straight and true,

                        and the world above ’twill be there for you.’”

Within moments Jacobus began to hear the familiar sounds of civilization within easy distance.

“How much do I owe you?” he asked, putting his hand into his pocket.

“Never a beggar nor chooser be!  Now get thee to a bunnerie.  I am awaaaay!”

Jacobus heard the tapping nimbly recede into the distance.  Now again with the type of humanity to which he was accustomed, in short order he was shoved up the escalator towards what was—for everyone else but him— the light at the end of the tunnel.

Walking the few short blocks from the station to the Bonderman Building, jostled by people in too much of a hurry to slow their pace even for a blind man, Jacobus contemplated the nature of insanity.  On one hand was this individual he just encountered who lived underground, talked funny, and liked to bang on things.  That person had undoubtedly saved his life out of the goodness of his curiously perverse heart.  On the other hand was a society which killed people, occasionally the wrong ones, as punishment for killing other people.  BTower and Allard, for example.  Jacobus wasn’t sure which side of the sanity fence he was on.  He had little need for creature comforts and since the world was black to him anyway—in more ways than one—the prospect of living a peaceful subterranean existence, like Ziggy’s, far away from all the things which daily annoyed him, didn’t seem all that unreasonable. That’s one reason he had never given up his hovel in the Berkshires.  No one bothered him except for those who he desired to bother him, like Nathaniel and his dwindling cache of students.

If you enjoyed this excerpt from Danse Macabre, please support my project to make it into a spectacular audio book!

Danse

DANSE MACABRE

 

 

Be A Part Of Mystery!

Danse Macabre, the Audio Book!

I’ve just launched an exciting project on Kickstarter.com that I want to share with you.

I’ve got 36 days to raise $6,000 for production costs for a unique audio book version of the second novel in my Daniel Jacobus mystery series, Danse Macabre. I’m writing to you first, my blog followers, in the hope that in the next few days you’ll consider becoming a backer, which will create the momentum necessary to reach my goal, before opening up the project to the general public.

I’m sure you have some questions. After you’ve had a chance to read the answers below, please click HERE to go the site, see what rewards you’d like to receive, and become a backer. If you have any additional questions, please don’t hesitate to ask!

 

Danse

DANSE MACABRE

What’s so unique about the audible book? I’ll be recording excerpts from the music that’s intrinsic to the mystery, including the eerie Danse Macabre itself, providing clues to solving it. The music will be recorded separately from the spoken narrative, and then the two will be magically interwoven to create a seamless audio fabric. Actually, I have to admit, it’s not quite unique. It has been done once before–with my first mystery, [click on Devil’s Trill for a sample] earlier this year. This is what Audiofile had to say: “Violin performances by the author sprinkled throughout provide clues to aid in solving the mystery, which will be appreciated by those musically inclined and provide a pleasant backdrop for those who are not…a solid mystery.”

 

What do backers get out of this? If you go to my project site, you’ll see a whole list of rewards depending on your contribution level–everything from a handwritten thank you letter from Daniel Jacobus himself, to free autographed books, to your own private performance of music and reading. As a kickstarter backer, you won’t need to worry whether your investment will return a profit or not. You’ll get your reward upfront as soon as we reach our fundraising goal. But mainly, you’ll have the satisfaction of having had a hand in creating something of unique literary and artistic value.
 
What are the production costs? Basically, paying for a world-class audio book reader in Jim Frangione, a top notch recording engineer, and the studio time. All of my time recording the music is gratis, and we’ve got funds set aside for marketing and distribution.
 

Isn’t it standard practice for the production company to pay for it? The major production companies were not interested in doing anything out of the cookie cutter mold. Alison Larkin Presents is a young, small, independent company with a boldly artistic vision. That’s why, for now, we need to build upon the success of Devil’s Trill and Danse Macabre with your support, and are looking at the possibility of recording the entire six-book series!

Who is Daniel Jacobus? He’s a blind, curmudgeonly, reclusive, and brilliant violin teacher who has a knack for solving murders, but only after getting himself into very deep hot water.

 

What is Danse Macabre about? Just after his Carnegie Hall swansong and before his imminent departure for retirement in France, beloved violinist and humanitarian Rene Allard is brutally murdered with a mysterious weapon. Jacobus is dragged into the case kicking and screaming, and reluctantly follows a trail of broken violins and broken lives as it leads inexorably to the truth, and to his own mortal peril. Among the strange and wonderful characters in Danse Macabre is one of my favorites from all my books. He goes by the name of Drumstick Man, and is a Shakespeare-quoting denizen who lurks within the deepest subterranean recesses of the New York City subway system. Is he friend or foe? Or both?

 

Any good reviews? Glad you asked:
…the twists and turns of his plotting will keep readers guessing.  The real hook here, however, is the insider’s view of the musical world.” [Booklist]
And then there is one-of-a-kind virtuoso Jacobus, perhaps one of the most unique protagonists in mysteries. Elias’s debut, Devil’s Trill, was a great reading experience; his new book is outstanding. A musical feast for mystery and music lovers.” [Library Journal]

YOU CAN GO TO MY KICKSTARTER SITE HERE.

THANK YOU FOR HELP MAKING THIS PROJECT POSSIBLE!

Authors of Hate

As an author, my goals are to entertain, to enlighten, to educate, to engage, and at times, to challenge. One thing I try never to do is to incite hate.

We traditionally tend to think of authors as those who write books or plays. As professionals who make a living by writing. But in this day and age, anyone who writes a blog, an email, a text, a Tweet, a Facebook post, a customer review, or an online commentary, is in fact an author; an author whose oeuvre is as indelible and permanent as the authors of To Kill a Mockingbird or Mein Kampf.

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In today’s Salt Lake Tribune a friend of mine, Dave Folland, had a letter to the editor published. Dave’s a retired pediatrician who now volunteers his time and energy to Citizens Climate Lobby, a wonderful, politically nonpartisan grassroots organization with the goal of creating the political will to pass climate change legislation in Congress. (In the interest of full disclosure, I too am a member of CCL.)

CCL recently presented Rep. Mia Love, a Republican Congresswoman of Utah, an award for being an active member of the House Climate Solutions Caucus, one of the few truly bipartisan bodies in Congress. Indeed, in order to become a member, a Democrat and Republican must join simultaneously. To date there are 21 from each party, working constructively, side by side, on their climate agenda. Dave’s letter was an endorsement of the award bestowed upon Rep. Love.

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Rep. Love after receiving the CCL award.

Personally, while I appreciate Rep. Love’s courage for going against her party’s grain and speaking forthrightly about the challenges of climate change, I don’t think to date her actual actions have merited this particular award any more than dozens of others. Though it should be acknowledged that for a Republican politician in Utah, the country’s reddest state, to take even that level of a public position requires a degree of courage rarely demonstrated by our other representative, I disagree with her on almost every other issue. That, however, in no way condones the kind of repugnant invective hurled at her and Dave in the online comments by my ideological comrades. Here are but a few:

If she acknowledges the problem, but fails to criticize Trump’s withdrawal from Paris Accord or take any other action, I would suggest instead that we send her a bottle of Ivanka’s Complicit perfume.

Typical spineless Republican hypocrite.

So Doc, are you going to be handing out awards to Lee, Hatch, Chaffetz, Stewart, Love and environmental terrorist Rob Bishop?

Jeez Doc, you really puckered up for that bit of tripe!

One good act in a swarm of evil doesn’t make her decent.

     More like a swarm of Mia sitting on her keister.

One possibility: Mia is conceived in Haiti and ends up in Utah and declares it … “Feels cooler to Me!”

The Doc must be wrangling for federal funds or a job, otherwise why write this fantasy LTE. Come on, Doc, what’s your angle?

I feel her “climate” award is nothing but a phony pat on her back by a bunch of pathetic lap dogs.

Yup! just another piece of S—-

I‘ll tell you what. The minute she walks into the Oval office and tells Donald Trump that he’s a horses a** for his climate denial dementia, I will be glad to send her a thank you note.

     If she were to walk in to the oval office, you know Trump will asker her “do you want to blow me?”

     Mia then asks, “Is there an award for that?”

     More likely he’d ask her why she was late emptying the trash cans in the oval office. I’m   sure Donnie T. has no clue that Mia “tap-dancing” Love is an actual congress person.

And these are the people with whom I agree on the issue of climate change. Think about those who disagree and read vitriol like this.

Is there really any surprise that a deeply troubled James Hodgkinson went on a rampage and shot Sen. Scalise? The real wonder is that this doesn’t happen everyday, though in the future I fear it will. It appears Americans, from both the right and the left, have learned absolutely nothing from the Scalise shooting about the connection between hateful speech and violent action. Yes, there was a 24-hour ceasefire with much hand wringing. Now, after the obligatory platitudes we’re back to our daily routine of character assassination.

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James Hodgkinson

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Sen. Steve Scalise

To my friends on the left, if we want to encourage Rep. Love to do more, to work with members of the Climate Solutions Caucus on crafting meaningful climate legislation, rather than insult and condemn with revolting language, what would be so objectionable to saying, “Yes, so far you’ve taken a small step, but at least it’s a step in the right direction”? What harm is there in saying that? Is that not macho enough? To my friends on both ends of the political spectrum, would it not be better to try to heal wounds, to be the adult in the room, to be the first to say “enough,” to painstakingly attempt to forge consensus, instead of burning everyone with whom we disagree at the stake? Is it not possible to turn a ceasefire into a truce into a lasting peace?

Can’t we hold our pens a moment longer and think before we write? After all, we’re all authors here, and authors can choose the words they use.

 

SUPPORT THE ARTS WITH DEVIL’S TRILL!

BETWEEN NOW AND MAY 15, I’M DONATING $5.00 TO SINFONIA SALT LAKE  FOR EVERY DOWNLOAD OF THE AUDIO VERSION OF MY AWARD-WINNING MYSTERY, DEVIL’S TRILL.

SINFONIA SALT LAKE, THE ONLY PROFESSIONAL CHAMBER ORCHESTRA IN SALT LAKE CITY, IS CELEBRATING THE END OF ITS 2ND SEASON WITH A VERY SPECIAL CONCERT ON MAY 15. THE CONCERT I’M CONDUCTING WILL FEATURE MOZART’S GLORIOUS EXSULTATE, JUBILATE–SUNG BY THE WONDERFUL SOPRANO, MELISSA HEATH–AND HIS MAGNIFICENT DIVERTIMENTO IN D, K334. ON THE FIRST HALF WILL BE RARELY HEARD MUSIC BY JOSEPH BOLOGNE CHEVALIER DE SAINT-GEORGES, AN AMAZING PERSONALITY WHO ROSE FROM BEING THE CHILD OF A SLAVE THROUGH STRATIFIED PARISIAN SOCIETY TO BECOME A FINE COMPOSER, VIRTUOSO VIOLINIST, EXPERT SWORDSMAN, DECORATED COLONEL IN THE FRENCH REVOLUTION, AND FIGHTER FOR THE ABOLITION OF SLAVERY IN FRANCE AND ENGLAND! WATCH KUED-TV’S CONCERT PROMO HERE.

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Joseph Bologne Chevalier de Saint-Georges

ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS CLICK HERE TO ENTER THE MYSTERIOUS, DARK CORNERS OF THE WORLD OF CLASSICAL MUSIC AND BE A PATRON OF THE ARTS IN THE BARGAIN!!

DEVIL’S TRILL: THE AUDIO BOOK, IS UNIQUE! EXCERPTS OF THE MUSIC THAT PLAY A CRUCIAL ROLE IN THE STORY IS PERFORMED BY THE AUTHOR (ME), GIVES THE LISTENER CLUES TO THE MYSTERY, AND IS INTERWOVEN INTO JIM FRANGIONE’S AMAZING NARRATION.

“Reading Devil’s Trill was a nonstop page-turning pleasure. Now that the words are imbued with the author’s beautiful violin playing, this audio version will surely mesmerize.” —Cho-Liang Lin, world-renowned violinist. 

“Captivating… wholly original…” ―Library Journal *STARRED REVIEW*

“A thoroughly engaging mystery…packed with violin and concert lore.” ―Booklist

“This richly plotted mystery will thrill music lovers, while those not so musically inclined will find it equally enjoyable.”Publishers Weekly

A 2009 BARNES & NOBLE “DISCOVER: GREAT NEW WRITERS” SELECTION!

The Smoking Brisket Conspiracy

In honor of the Jewish holiday of Passover, which starts today, I’m posting this article I wrote for Berkshire Fine Arts magazine a few years ago. Among the traditional recipes for the Passover Seder, perhaps the most beloved is brisket. But if someone tries to tell you they’ve got the perfect recipe, beware!

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In case you were wondering.

Go ahead, call me a conspiracy theorist, but don’t you occasionally have this sneaking suspicion that our lives are being subtly manipulated by evil, highly sophisticated marketing genies, converting us from presumably sentient beings into veritable retail slaves?  Does that sound extreme?  More than a modest dose of healthy cynicism?  Here’s a recent case in point.  You decide.

A slew of family members recently descended upon our Berkshire home for a weekend visit and I wanted to cook something out on the deck that would satiate a slew with varying tastes.  A smoked brisket sounded like just the ticket.  As one of the “in” foods of the decade, what better entrée to trot out to the fam?  Southern style smoke houses have been multiplying faster than boll weevils.  Swarms of suburbanites have been spotted migrating to big box stores to purchase ever more impressively-equipped contraptions to keep up with, or if at all possible to out-smoke, the Joneses. (Remember back in the ‘70s when everyone had to have a hibachi?  Where have they all gone, I ask you?)

When I looked up smoked brisket recipes online is when I felt the first shiver of a qualm of an inkling that I was being subliminably manipulated.  Half the recipes trumpeted something to the effect that under no conditions can one properly smoke a brisket without a super-duper, hoopdiedoo smoker outfit.   Now, I personally happen to be the proud owner of a certified, vintage El Cheapo gas grill that after all these years has yet to explode on me, and I wasn’t prepared to run out and spend hundreds of dollars to cook a slab of meat, so I didn’t bother to go further with those particular recipes.  The problem was, even those that didn’t mandate a state-of-the-art gizmo listed more ingredients than the number of times House Republicans have tried to repeal Obamacare, and recommended advanced degrees in culinary history and meteorology, not to mention alchemy.  For example, they demanded I come to terms with a quasi-mystical concoction referred to as The Rub, which required minute fractions of teaspoons of various rare and exotic products that can be obtained only in Timbuktu on market day, and we all know how expensive it is to get a good flight/hotel package there these days.  Then, assuming The Rub was successfully conjured, there followed The Sauce, a potion involving yet more esoteric components.  Where, I ask you, does one find 3-year aged persimmon vinegar?  (A slight exaggeration for dramatic purposes.)

Screen Shot 2017-04-10 at 9.46.51 AMIn the end I threw caution and my computer to the wind, and decided to wing it!  I determined to smoke my brisket without any recipe whatsoever on my El Cheapo…and I lived to tell the tale!  In fact, some said it was the best brisket they had ever eaten.   What’s more, it’s a foolproof recipe that can be prepared successfully even by the proverbial dolt who can’t boil water, because for the most part it doesn’t matter what you do!   Take that, marketing-retail complex!

There are only two things you need to make a great smoked brisket: 1) a brisket, and 2) smoke.  Everything else is optional and variable, including, for that matter, the smoke.   For example, to simulate The Rub I rummaged around my kitchen cabinet and discovered a small container of something called Montreal Steak Seasoning tucked behind the Cheerios.  How and when it got into my cupboard, and what exactly Montreal Steak Seasoning is, I didn’t know; regardless, I suspected it might be a good find.  Montreal is, after all, in southern Canada, I reasoned.  I also found Chili Powder and Ground Mustard, both of which had colors that pleased me.  I stirred up arbitrary amounts of the three ingredients in a bowl, poured them onto the meat and rubbed it in with fervor.  My guess is, other than salt and pepper, you don’t need any seasonings whatsoever to make a blue ribbon brisket, but I have to say rubbing it in felt great, so I recommend it.

Some of the online recipes stated in no uncertain terms it’s essential to let the massaged brisket sit in the fridge overnight wrapped in foil in order to absorb the flavors.  Keep in mind, if you decide you seriously want to take this step, you may have to first purchase a larger refrigerator.   On the other hand, it wouldn’t do to let the meat sit out overnight as it might attract some family members you hadn’t invited.  After weighing the pluses and minuses, I disregarded this instruction because it doesn’t make a difference.  So either put it in the fridge or on the barbecue, whichever moves you.

Next, making smoke.  Go to your supermarket and get whatever barbecue wood chips or pellets they have on the shelf.  If there’s more than one variety, get the cheapest.  Some recipes say to use mesquite, others hickory.  Fancy-asses like apple or myrtle wood, but it makes no difference what kind you get.  It’s all fine.  Just follow the instructions on the bag…or not.  Some say to soak the chips for 1½ millennia, but you probably don’t need to soak them at all.  If the store is totally out of wood chips, don’t worry, because you don’t really need them, period; but if it’s fun for you to make smoke and it makes you feel like you’re doing something “authentic,” I say go for it.

Here’s the one and only important thing you have to do.  You have to cook the brisket really, really slowly; otherwise it will be as tough as three-week-old road-kill goat.  So what I did on my 2-burner El Cheapo is this: I turned on the left burner to the lowest setting and put the smoking packet on the grill above the flame.   Then I set the meat on the unlit right grill, closed the cover, waited about eight hours, and voila!  (Eight hours is merely an estimate.  If by accident you step on your watch, or the brisket changes time zones, don’t worry; an extra hour or two will only make it more tender.)  Chances are you can also bake a brisket in the kitchen oven on the lowest setting and it will do just fine, but if it makes you feel manly doing it on a grill, then do it on the grill.  Also, if you enjoy poking and prodding every so often like I do, it’s easier to do on the grill than in the kitchen…unless it’s raining.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention about The Sauce, probably because like everything else, you really don’t need it.  But if you want barbecue sauce, anything you find on the supermarket shelf will taste just about as good as something that takes three hours of messy anxiety to prepare, and if it makes your life feel more meaningful to brush it on the meat about an hour before it’s done, who’s to stop you?  Or you can just pour it on when it’s all done.  Just as good.

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I leave you with this final thought.  I believe there are powerful invisible forces at work here: forces that would try to convince you that for a good brisket, 1) you need to go to a “real” Texas or Kansas City or North Carolina barbecue restaurant where you have to stand in a long line to pay top dollar for two slices of meat (and up to two sides, excluding fried okra which is extra) “traditionally” served on a paper plate with a roll of paper towels for napkins and where you sit at a Formica table on which your forearm sticks to the surface; or 2) you have to make a financial choice between sending your kids to college or buying a smoker that you’ll end up using once every ten years.  If you resist buying the “right” ingredients or the “right” merchandise, these unseen forces make you feel queasily less than adequate, less American even.  To that I say: Rise up and buck the system!  My recipe-free brisket could well be the first step in freeing yourself and your hard-earned cash from the insidious marketer’s vicious cycle.  Ignore this advice at your peril though, because once you succumb to the smoker, it’s only a matter of time before they’ll nail you with the outdoor wood-fired pizza oven.

That’s about all she wrote, but if you end up forgetting any of the details I’ve painstakingly provided, don’t worry.  It doesn’t matter. Happy Passover.

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