The Best of Times Short Story Competition

Autumn 2018 Results

Stoep Leowa - Pianist

Copyright © Tony King 2017

Stoep Loewa, which is pronounced stoop, was not Dutch, but from the dog racing capital of NSW, Dapto. His real name was Steve, but he had gone to enormous lengths to distance himself from the place where there was no future unless you were a whippet or a blowfly. His name change was loaded along with his backpack onto the ironically branded Greyhound bus when he made good his escape to the big smoke.

Stoep had fallen into an advertising firm by drinking at the same coffee shop in Melbourne, where his accidental hipster beard had bonded him instantly to the brainstorming ad men who spoke only in riddles. He had always talked in riddles and was quickly invited to do 'some seriously cool shit!!!' with Enigma Advertising.

There was a pianola at the Puzzle Cafe and Stoep would plonk his lanky bare foot frame at the keys and wait for inspiration. He had never played the piano but he found that by furrowing his brow and squeezing the piano lid down on his little finger until a tear was born, and then playing a lazy D minor arpeggio at the speed of a Slow Loris playing chess, people would start gathering around sighing, “That’ beautiful.”

He would wait a considerable amount of time before replying and would deepen his look of world weary concern and say, “You...think so?”

Stoep had a voice that sounded like a yawn was learning to speak.

When people asked what the piece was called he would reply by saying, “That’s... for you to say.”

As the days stretched on, an audience began to build up like vacuous clouds. He was spending more time at the cafe than working at Enigma Advertising and when they let him go, nobody could figure out 'what he had been let go from'.

He did some of his best work silently stooped so far over the keys that it was impossible to tell whether the old Price and Teeple pianola was slowly eating his beard, or whether his beard was eating the pianola. It all happened so slowly.

With his hands fully stretched to both ends of the pianola and his nose wedged between some black notes in the middle, he looked like Jesus falling asleep while being crucified.

His audiences frequently fell asleep during his laconic performances and woke up saying, “That was brilliant!!!”

He worked his own miracle which he called ' music'. He certainly had a miraculous thirst.

There was never any shortage of bottles queued up at the Price and Teeple alter or someone in a wheel chair being shunted to the front row.

It wasn’t long before Stoep’s fame really took off, but he never released his music for sale or streaming, so you had to turn up at concert halls to experience his 'happenings' as he called them.

He very rarely did interviews and when they did happen, as was the case with a famous Rolling Stone piece, the reader came away learning far too much about the interviewer but nothing about Stoep.

In performance, he left so many gaps of silence that the audience had to fill them in with their own imagination.

People took to humming.

They had to hum expansively to fill the sonic Fjords he created.

At one concert, Hamer Hall sounded like an enormous bee hive when the humming got out of control and the doors had to be locked to stop actual bees coming in from the botanic gardens. It wasn’t the only gig Stoep did in which he never laid a finger on the keyboard. He was well known for pacing the stage to the sound of his rustling kaftan as he pleaded to the heavens for an idea.

His avid fans often yelled out melodies and he would play those rather than think up his own.

He once said, “Some...of my best done by..... my audiences.”

He was the IKEA of music. You had to assemble it yourself and even supply your own Allen Key.

He never travelled with a sound engineer but he always had a piano 'un-tuner.'

He hated tuned pianos and was fond of placing a half eaten falafel in front of piano strings he deemed to be too 'in tune', or wedge a used chamomile tea bag in front of a note that was on trial for being too 'strident'.

His most notorious piece, based on a non-existent Dutch childhood, was called 'Finger in the Dike'.

It was one note, which he held down on middle C until he scratched his beard some twenty five minutes later.

Billboard ordained him as the 'Future of music – a much needed antidote to the complexity of modern life.'

Stoep never showed his feelings publicly but he demonstrated his frustration on occasions through his poster art for albums he would never make. One such album poster was 'Pigeon without a hole' which consisted of a constipated looking pigeon perched on a piano keyboard. It was widely interpreted as his exasperation writ large at being shoe horned into the ambient genre.

The photographer from Enigma Advertising did the shoot and swore on his Hasselblad that the pigeon walked up and down the keys for an hour as Stoep feverishly tried to remember the notes, later passing it off as his own work.

It was a leap of faith to believe in Stoep and his fans leapt in sandals and all. Whiskers Monthly magazine declared 'Just because you can’t find anything in his music, doesn’t mean it isn’t in there, like a peppercorn lost in a beard.'

Huffingfton Post pronounced him 'The new Messiah. Finally an artist not scared to leave out the unnecessary… or the necessary.'

Brian Eno said, “He is the Hemmingway of the keyboard, no fat…no skin…not even any bones.”

Stoep maintained that the purity of his musical under statements made complete sense when heard around the diminished latitude of 52 degrees, which took in his mythical birthplace of North Holland, preferably under French rule.

He said, “Ideally…. you should hear it…there….back then…”

Of course nobody had heard it either there or back then because he had never been there, especially back then, let alone performed there.

Stoep inadvertently spawned the incredibly irritating 'Back then' movement, whereby audiences would dress up in the clothes of the era people decided music sounded best in. The unforeseen problem being that nobody could agree on what that era was, so a typical crowd looked like several differently themed fancy dress parties had all converged erroneously on the same GPS co-ordinates.

He was described affectionately by his own mother as 'a kind of Don Quixote, without a donkey, or a lance, or a windmill, or a mission.'

At the conclusion of Stoep’s final concert he shuffled to a lone microphone at the front of the stage, raised his arms theatrically under a single beatific beam of light, and with a voice like an angel breaking wind, he declared…

“I... am a blank canvas...
paint on me......whatever you like.......