Sunday, March 26, 2006

The Man Who Ruined My Marriage

Wife told me she needed absolute quiet. She was facing a deadline and could not be disturbed, and even if I tried, she would be in a intellectual trance, a meditative hibernation of pure creative thought. Any attempts to bother her would be fruitless.

But I knew better. "All I have to do is dance around naked with a fake violin and a Joshua Bell mask," I said.

"You're right," she said, sighing, drifting into wonderful thoughts that had nothing to do with me.

I didn't dance naked while wearing such a mask — dancing naked worked just fine — but the larger point is that Joshua Bell, a famous fiddler who headlines concert halls across the world, has, in short order, taken over my wife's heart and is putting a dear strain on our blessed union.

Wife "discovered" Bell a few years ago, and her passing fancy for this handsome fellow is wavering towards the "obsession" side of the Celebrity Crush-o-Meter. In the past eight months, Wife has gone to see him at least three times in concert and once at a bookstore appearance, and probably several other times in secret. Nary a day goes by in which I do not hear music blasting in our home that originates from Mr. Bell's precious "Strad."

Admittedly, I think the guy is obscenely talented, I enjoy his concerts thoroughly, and from what I have heard of him interviewed, he seems like a genuinely nice person.

I don't try to stop Wife. But maybe I should. She brings him up in casual conversation ("Joshua is playing next week..."), endlessly promotes him to friends ("You must see him!"), and stops strangers on the street, looking them in the eye and saying, "I wish you could see J.B." (Yeah, she calls him "J.B." Like they're best buds).

But I've got her racket figured out. There are older, more accomplished violinists (Itzhak Perlman), violinists who are as young and are considered perhaps as talented (Gil Shaham), or some who are at least as well-known (Anne-Sophie Mutter, Midori, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Sarah Chang). If you don't see the differences between these violinists and Joshua Bell, you haven't been paying attention: Bell is younger than Perlman, cuter than Shaham, and, unlike the quartet of ladies mentioned above, has more than one bow to play with.

Let us not underestimate the handsome factor. If Bell looked like, say, the late, great Marty Feldman or an animated corpse lacking a heart or soul, Wife would have about as much interest in "Joshua" as I would in shagging Tammy Faye Baker (which, I promise you, is none). Wife would not have Joshua Bell's autograph on her CD of Tchaikovsky's violin concerto and would not be bothering me to see a Joshua Bell concert following an out-of-town wedding this summer.


Nor is there any doubt that if Joshua Bell weren't such a heartbreaker would he command the devoted affection of legions of females. Joshua Bell is the Elvis, the Beatles and Bono of classical music. Go to a concert and you will be surrounded by women — lots of women, of all ages, all swooning and filling seats that would have gone empty otherwise. Check out the many fan sites and blogs devoted to "Bellheads," who follow him with the same fervor as Deadheads following around Jerry Garcia, except Bellheads have jobs and bother to bathe more than once a month.

I would also say that if Joshua Bell were a writer, no matter how talented, I would have a hard time being a fan. No reflection on any specific writer (or reader, for that matter, or Wife), but those fiction peddlers who also happen to be attractive are not to be trusted. Why, you ask? Anthony Lane, the brilliant wisenheimer literary and film critic for The New Yorker, put things succinctly when he said that if one is pretty, one usually has little reason to complain, and thus nothing to write about:

My idea of a dependable writer is Flaubert, who looked like a dugong with a head cold, or George Eliot, who bore a surprising resemblance to last year's winner of the Kentucky Derby.

Off the top of my head, I can think of several well-known writers of both sexes who are reasonably attractive and who I consider excellent talents, but I would bet a trainload of banknotes that they just didn't start writing fiction because they thought they were good at it. Something bothers them, eats at them, whether from childhood or adolescence.

That's what I'm talkin' about

Does anyone who is beautiful, wealthy, well-adjusted, and happy suddenly wake up at age 30 and say, "I'm going to write the next 'Ulysses'?"

This insight into the world of letters gives me no relief, of course. J.B, please do me a favor. Write a letter to Wife, in care of Bookfraud, and say that you're gy, even though you’re not, not that there's nothing wrong. Please. It's my last, desperate measure. After all the money this household has spent supporting your career, It's the least you can do to save my marriage.