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Egotism fortissimo

The world's worst biographer tells all about the world's worst composer

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Shakespeare claimed, "Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them."

And some, he should have added, chase greatness like a junkyard dog and never catch it. Such was the case with Simon Silber, the avant-garde composer who now, sadly, is decomposing. His oeuvre has just been released in a four-CD boxed set, amply annotated by Norman Fayrewether Jr., in this satirical debut novel by Christopher Miller. (Alas, no CDs accompany these liner notes.)

Fortunately for the field of musicology (and comedy), Silber realized that the world would not recognize his genius on this side of the grave, and so he began hiring biographers to write his life story "as if he already were famous."

It was not easy to find just the right Boswell for so complex (and abusive) a figure, but Silber was not a man to take life sitting down. (In fact, he removed all the chairs from his house and never sat down, even to play the piano.) When his first biographer proved insufficiently pliable and vanished mysteriously, Silber moved on to Norman, "an author untainted by the 'educated' musical prejudices of the day." Together, they produced this "multimedia collaboration between a little-known composer and an even more egregiously neglected author."

Some may question Norman's qualifications for this task, but as an artist with equally unlikely hopes of future grandeur, he proves to be the perfect biographer. In a footnote, he drops his modesty long enough to brag that, in addition to taking a night course on composition at the local junior college, he's also a pledge-drive supporter of the classical-music station. (His single published book, a vanity-press collection of aphorisms, contains gems like this: "Some people shudder to think, and some think in order to shudder.")

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