The place: Kalamazoo, Michigan. Home of Gibson Guitars, celery, taxicab production, etc. This may turn out to be important.
The mystery: So I’m watching what must have been PBS during the day. Possibly over the summer, since I was a school aged child at this time and the only other channels I indulged in were Nickelodeon and the USA Network when they were showing Space Ghost. This show, however, was definitely not my beloved superhero of the stars. In fact, the more I think about it the more I am convinced that it was PBS. The budget was just that low.
This show consisted of a fellow, possibly with a beard, who would read a chapter from a great work of children’s fiction. As his voiceover read the chapter the multiple cameras would remain fixed on the man as he began his sketch. The sketch would relate to some element of the chapter, but whether that scene was at the beginning or the end of the was unknown until the sketch was done.
Now there was a nice variety of books read for this show, including titles like Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (the sketch involved the man with no nose, which I’ve always found memorable) and Caddie Woodlawn. One day, though, the sketch was from a book called Lizard Music by Daniel Pinkwater. I’d never heard of the book. I hadn’t heard of most of the books this guy did, but this one definitely sounded interesting. Particularly when he got to this part:
“I was almost at the point of running into the kitchen and looking up the number of the resort where Mom and Dad were staying, when the lizard band came onto the screen. These were real lizards, not people dressed up as lizards, and they played regular musical instruments. There were five or six of them. At first it was scarier than the movie, especially the close-ups, but as the lizards played and swayed together, I sort of got used to it. The music was very strange. It wasn’t like anything I’d ever heard before.”
The story, if you want the condensed version, is about a kid named Victor who sees these mysterious musicians on his television after the late-late movies have broadcasted (his parents are out of town, y’see) and he wants to know where they come from. The book is a bit of a cult hit too. Originally published in 1976, since its creation I’ve heard it mentioned as the Daniel Pinkwater touchstone. Seek ye to know the mysteries of why men all over this country go crazy for his stuff (including Neil Gaiman and Cory Doctorow, judging by their blurbs on the back of this reprint), look no further than this brand spanking new edition published by the fantastic New York Review Children’s Collection.
According to the bio in the back, this was the first book Pinkwater wrote. He has, as you may have noticed, continued his productivity relatively unabated since. I’ve kept an old and original 1976 copy on my own library branch’s shelves, just in case a Pinkwater fanatic (or, simply, “Pinknatic”) asks for it by name. Now that I’ve cast mine eyes on this pretty little edition, though, I may scrap the old for the new. Here’s the old:
The covers are gratifyingly similar. Fortunately the new one classed up the title’s font a bit.
But wait! I mentioned a mystery earlier, did I not? Well, much like Victor, I too saw a mysterious television program. And like Victor, I didn’t know its source. Now years later I cast my mind back and wonder what the heck that show even was. It was possibly local (though the PBS in Kalamazoo came out of Chicago at that time, weirdly enough). This guy could have been someone who lived down the block from me or he might have been nationally syndicated.
So I post this question to you: Isn’t it cool that they’re republishing Lizard Music at long last?
And I pose a second question to you as well: Did anyone else ever see that show?