Listen up. I’m going to tell you something and it’s very important that you believe what I say without question. I would go so far as to say that your very existence depends upon it. Are you ready to hear it?
Here goes. The actor who played the fiddler in Fiddler on the Roof is the same person who was the banjo player in Deliverance. You may find that hard to believe and I don’t blame you. That said, you need to resist the urge to look it up for yourself.
If you do, IMDB is going to say that the fiddler was Tutte Lemkow and the banjo player was Billy Redden. A lot of people, especially fact-check fetishists who blindly follow Big Veracity, believe that settles the matter. They are wrong.
Let me give you an example of how a little detail can spread like a cancer and ruin your whole day. Consider Tom Selleck, the star of “Magnum P.I.” with the porn ‘stache and the personable demeanor. He also starred in a flick called High Road to China. It kind of sucked in that way most 80s movies do, but was at least tolerable because it asked little of the people watching it.
That was until I learned that Selleck was supposed to play Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark, but had to turn it down due to contractual obligations with CBS. High Road was his chance to make up for that and it just didn’t compare. To make matters worse, there was that “Magnum” episode “Legend of the Lost Art.” On its own, it was merely derivative and lame. With the added bit of information, it became pathetic and embarrassing. At long last, Mr. Selleck, have you no sense of decency?
But I digress.
Back to fiddles and banjos. I’ll start with the former. I’ve read that the titular roof fiddler represented tradition, the anchor of Tevya’s way of life. That’s probably true. I enjoyed him as a lovable scamp, but I also appreciated his musical accompaniment to the story. His sympathies were well placed so it wasn’t like he was going to play “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” during the pogrom scene.
I know I’m going out on a limb here, but the banjo player in Deliverance performed essentially the same role. I’m sure there are those who disagree, saying the inbred kid was not on the side of the Voight, Reynolds, Beatty, and Cox characters, but with the rapey, murderous hillbillies. You know what? I would agree with them on this point, but not their understanding of the story.
It was not about weekend warriors who got themselves in over their heads, but rather about those whose land they invaded. Like Tevya, these people faced an existential threat in the form of a dam under construction that would flood the river they called home. Unable to defend themselves against the powers that be, they struck back at the only available target. And if that meant killing one city slicker and forcibly sodomizing another, so be it.
I am neither Jewish nor a hillbilly, but I am a fellow human being and I believe there is more that unites us than divides us. I may not face circumstances as dire as the good people of Fiddler on the Roof and Deliverance, but I am no stranger to an unwinnable situation. And when I find myself in such circumstances as I do here, a little musical accompaniment helps take the pain away.
Which brings us to where we are right now. I am sitting across from you in this booth near the front window of a diner on a busy city street. I need you to listen carefully. Do you hear that? Not the clattering of plates from a table being cleared or the sound of traffic outside. It’s the music that holds you, me and this whole scene together.
It’s jazz being played on a kazoo. I don’t like jazz well enough to know much about it, so I can’t tell you what kind. However, I do like the movie Naked Lunch so let’s say it’s the kind of jazz played there. As for the kazoo player, I’d like to have the fiddle/banjo player, but wouldn’t be feasible. It’s been over 50 years and I doubt he’s available. Besides, the kind of crazed, disjointed improvisation cannot be played with a normal mouth. A cleft palate is required. Therefore, the kazoo player is Joaquin Phoenix.
The music allows us to exist in this space, pushing aside the sad truth that you are a pug and I am fit to be a pug owner. It is not enough that I have named you Pugnacious J. Reilly and outfitted you with a scarf and hunting cap. I know that pugs need to be groomed regularly so they don’t get mange in their skin folds. There’s the rub. How can I be expected to do this when I can’t even be bothered to brush my own hair?
“Pug,” I say. ‘Listen to the music. As long as we hear it, the spell will not be broken and we can enjoy our breakfast.”
I can see your tongue curling into the shape of a question mark that has keeled over. You have no idea what I’m talking about, but that’s OK. I can do the thinking for both of us.