Conversations with Dead Geniuses

Mozart - Part 1

I first met Mozart in the same place I meet most dead geniuses, just off Interstate 15 barely inside California on the way home from Las Vegas.

I saw the tell tale plasma flash about a quarter mile off the road and into the desert on the south side of the highway.  I knew from experience that there would be a disoriented genius stumbling around out there, and unless it was a military genius or an explorer or something like that, he wouldn't last too long. When they first show up they are really confused, liable to wander into the road or drink out of someone's swimming pool.

There were no exits coming for miles, so I pulled over to the side of the highway and just left my car half in the emergency lane and half in the dirt.  I dodged my way across two lanes, the ditch in between and then the next two lanes to reach the south side of the road.

I found him just about exactly where I had seen the flash. After only a second or two of looking at him, my first guess was this guy had to be Mozart. Turns out I was right. He must have just come from a big party or maybe an audience with the emperor because he was dressed like one of the Beatles on the Sergeant Pepper album. He had taken his powdered wig off in the heat, and was clutching it in one hand while he held his knees to his chest, just sitting in the sand, like a scared little kid - except he wasn't a kid. I think he was 26 when he died.  His eyes were closed and he rocked back and forth like a fresh lunatic.

"Hey," I called in a friendly voice.

His head flicked toward my voice like a squirrel.  He was small and pale.  This sun was going to tear him apart soon.

"You Mozart?"  Until I asked, of course, I couldn't know for sure.  He looked like Mozart, but really could have been anybody from that era with the balls to walk out of the house in a pink silk suit and matching tri-cornered hat.  The hat was on the ground beside him, by the way.

"I..." he stuttered.  Thank God he spoke English.  Unless "I" means something else in German.

I found out later that Mozart spoke several languages.  German, French, English, and Italian.  Not that this should surprise.  He was a genius.

"I am Herr Mozart."  He finally spit it out.  "Who are you?"

"Steve."  We nodded a shaky hello and I pressed ahead.  "Do you know where you are?"

He thought about it before very sincerely asking,  "Hell?"  It was kind of touching and pathetic.  I really felt bad for the guy.

"No."  I glanced around at the hellscape.  "But it's an easy mistake to make.  We're a little north of Baker, California. "

He was shaking and already sweating through his pink outfit.

"Listen," I explained in the gentlest tone I could muster.  "You're gonna die out here in this sun if we don't get you..."  this is the problem with people from the distant past,  geniuses or not. They don't understand things like Air Conditioning.  Everything is a whole big conversation just to explain the littlest parts of what's going on now.  So I started over with something I already knew would work.  "I've got a horseless carriage waiting just over that rise there.  I'll take you to my home.  Out of the sun."

"A horseless carriage?"

"Yeah, yeah... It's just like it sounds," I moved things along.  It was hot as balls out there.

So after a quarter mile hike back toward the highway spent in relative silence, the sight and sound of cars and trucks whizzing along the horizon at 80 miles per hour were starting to freak Mozart out more and more the closer we got.

I tried at first to explain them to him, but then I remembered what happened with Galileo in the exact same situation.  I decided it would be best for Mozart to just cover his face with his wig and I would lead him like a nervous horse across the four lanes of traffic.

He trusted me, which was great, but three different drivers leaned on their horns as they had to slow down for us, and gunned their engines as they passed (all three had BMWs - go figure).  Mozart was white as a sheet by the time I got him into the car.

To see all this through his eyes, picture yourself in the typical alien abduction story.  Only you're wide awake for the tractor-beam, the big-eyed all-nude space men, the operating theatre and the orifice probing.

"Just take it easy, Mozart." I said as I jogged around the car and fell into the driver seat.  You don't usually think about things like this, but the modern world is really, really loud.  I mean, here's a guy who spent much of his life in orchestra pits at the opera, quite possible the loudest place in the world at the time, outside of the cannon ports on a ship, I suppose.  I think that highway was very likely the loudest and most obnoxious sound he'd ever heard.  When I closed the door behind me he recoiled from the "bang" like a house cat from a vacuum cleaner.  "This might all seem a little weird to you right now, but I promise you're better off here than out in that desert."

I turned on the ignition and cranked up the AC.  Ice cold breeze.  One little bit of comfort tipped the scales and calmed the little guy down just enough.

With some dead geniuses the trip home in the car can be pretty cool.  I knew that would not be the case with Mozart.  The man was soft and ill-prepared for surprises, let alone incomprehensible shocks of science and engineering.   He was shrieking like a banshee before we even got up to 40 miles an hour.

"Put the wig over your face and shut the hell up, will you?"  I had lost patience in record time with this guy.  I mean, once Galieo realized we were actually inside one of the monsters from the highway, and it was actually a machine under my control, he had a ball.  He was playing with dials, making the hazard lights flash, rolling down the window and sticking his head out.  When he finally found the radio...

Radio!  Duh.

I switched on the radio.  Metallica.  No.  And the volume was already way up too.   Mozart clenched up and covered his ears.  I turned it down, turned on the Sirius Satellite, and found "Classical."

Something familiar.  It was something written 200 years after he died, of course, but he knew all the sounds.  Music.  He calmed down.  Between that and the wig, we made it the last 4 hours back to L.A.

To Be Continued...

Part 2 is here


  1. Very cool! I like it! Love the use of the wig and the radio.

    And you're right that this is a great example of a single point of suspension of disbelief. Thanks for sharing it with me. :)

  2. Thanks to Jamie I just found your blog for the first time! I LOVE the concept and the history. I keep asking myself what would I do?

  3. Thanks Matt. I don't know if everybody does this, but almost every time I fly, usually staring out the window, I start a running dialogue in my head where I imagine trying to explain everything that is happening to Shakespeare, or Thomas Jefferson, sitting next to me on the plane. I can entertain myself with that conversation for hours just guessing at the questions a brilliant mind from the past might ask an average mind from the present. I thought it would make a cool series of blog posts. Really glad you liked the first one!

    btw - that's a really cool cover on your upcoming book. Good luck with it.

  4. Great story here Steve. Like the idea of linking the past into the present.

  5. That was so much fun! Thank you Steve. A definite share!

  6. Ok, I'm a little late to the party, but this is really cool Steve!!!!!!

  7. Thanks Wendy!

    And thanks for the share Debra!