Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The night I saw a piano frozen in a 13-ton block of ice hacked at with pickaxes and set ablaze

(Photo by Ryan)

As posted at

Parris Patton never learned to play the piano. But it wouldn’t befit the artist to just take lessons and be done with it. No sir. To work through his aggression, Parris found it necessary to freeze an antique piano inside of a 13-ton block of ice, spend an entire day and evening hacking away at it with a number of sharp metal implements, and aimed to send it off to piano heaven by setting the traumatized instrument ablaze, appropriately dubbing the project “Because I Can’t Be Beethoven.”

Naturally, witnessing such a ridiculous and completely unnecessary endeavor seemed a good way to spend my Saturday night.

My friend and I pulled up to the Dangerous Curve gallery downtown at about 8:45 to find there was no parking. Who knew so many other locals shared my intrigue for the bizarre? We finally found a spot and made our way through crowd in front of the giant ice cube, keeping an eye out for Ryan, who’d described it thus far as “incredibly foolhardy.” We agreed this was a fair assessment. Streams of water trickled past our feet as men wielding blowtorches doused the block in flames in an attempt to get the damn thing to melt. Though pickaxes and sledgehammers had been pounding away at the ice since at least 7pm, the piano remained completely encased in the still-enormous frozen block.

After watching that for a bit, we decided to find the booze. Complimentary two-buck Chuck was being served inside the gallery. By the looks of the crumb-ridden table inside, it looked like there’d been cake and cheese and crackers and such earlier. Lucky for us the Firefly catering van slinging pulled-pork sandwiches, sausages and baked potatoes hadn’t left.

After grabbing a bite and some more wine we returned to the ice. The front of the piano, charred and dripping wet, was now visible. Progress! Lots more people showed up. Lots of my friends showed up. Things looked promising.

A soaked-to-the-bone and visibly exhausted Parris continued to intermittently hack away at the block. From time to time he’d recruit adventurous onlookers to have a whack at it. A couple of my friends grabbed the pickaxes and hammers and went to town. Though normally pretty participatory, having just downed my third glass of wine I opted to sit this one out.

Another hour came and went. It was now 10 p.m. The fiery finale didn’t happen. The huge ice block was nowhere near gone by the projected time, and the fire marshal had to leave. No more fires. People started actually contemplating the flyers they’d been handed for various parties around town. Everyone started to leave and we did, too. Ryan went to Art Share for more performance art. My friends and I headed over to Bar 107 to start phase two of our evening.

Though it didn’t go down in a blaze of glory, Parris Patton’s oddball display of performance art was an interesting way to start off a Saturday night. And thanks to his handy official program for the evening, I now know what to do should I decide to freeze my own piano inside a huge block of ice.

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