One two three four five six seven. All good children go to heaven.
Eight nine ten eleven twelve thirteen. That won’t be the fate of Lothar Preen.
This pretty little rhyme was devised by the maestro himself, Lothar Preen, he of the majestic bouffant, flailing baton, psychopathic personality disorder, and criminal associations in the dockyard taverns of the Marseilles underworld. One can see here Preen the self-mythologiser, relishing his seemingly inevitable descent into the bowels of hell. There will be no heaven for him.
We do not of course know what became of Lothar Preen after death, save that his corpse was eaten by worms. So great had his legend grown that his grave, in the pretty little churchyard at St Bibblybibdib’s, was dug up, a few months after he had been buried, just to make sure he was actually dead and gone. That is when they saw the worms, gobbling up what was left of the maestro, by the light of their tarry torches on a foul October night. The churchyard did not look so pretty then.
Some said that is how he would be remembered, as supper for worms – the worms that had even gnawed through his conductor’s baton, which was buried with him, alongside his favourite tea-strainer and oodles upon oodles of unpaid bills. But of course that is not why we remember Lothar Preen today. We remember him for the magnificent recordings of The Phlogiston Variations, of Clamp’s Fifth, of The Pretty Little Tea-Strainers song cycle. We remember him, too, for the incident in a Marseilles dockyard tavern when he stabbed a rival maestro in the eye, as if he were Marlowe, and for the many many wells he poisoned, and for feeding that cellist into a sausage mincer. He was never convicted of any of these crimes, for it was said he committed them when the balance of his mind was disturbed, when he was unhinged. But quite frankly, was he ever hinged, from the moment he first became conscious, in the pretty little convent hospital of St Spivack’s, as his mother lay dying?
His childhood alone is a tale of unhingements, best avoided by those without strong stomachs. For every example of precocious musical genius, there are twenty or thirty murders, stabbings, slicings, loppings, poisonings, stranglings, and other gruesome and grisly doings. Few people have been able to read his memoir, A Childhood Of Precocious Musical Genius And Murderous Psychotic Unhingement, without keeping a bucket beside them in which to vomit.
Vomit, indeed, seems to have played an important part in the life of the adult Preen, if we are to believe his accounts of riotous carousing in the more insalubrious taverns down at the Marseilles docks. It was in such squalor the maestro would hold court, his bouffant a thing of blinding grandeur. When he was not stabbing rival maestri in the eyes, he was jabbing at them verbally, taunting them with his superior baton flailing technique, or simply waiting for them to keel over drunk before giving them a good kicking in the head. It is part of the legend that at no time did he ever pay for a single drink during these nights of high debauch.
His finances, or lack of them, were always a mystery, and in the years since his death various lawyers and accountants have been kept busy untangling the chaos he left behind. There are claims that Preen’s Byzantine wheeler-dealings are at the root of the world’s current financial meltdown. That one man could be responsible for the global chaos seems on the face of it absurd, until we pause to consider that the man was Lothar Preen. Of what was he not capable?
This is a man, remember, who quite apart from all the murders and stabbings and slicings and loppings and poisonings and stranglings and other grim and grisly doings, was capable, in what we might call his more humane moments, of gathering together thousands of pretty little birds – siskins and linnets and wrens and hummingbirds and jackdaws – and training them to sing the long, complex, and breathtakingly beautiful choruses from Prog’s comic opera based on the life of Charles Hawtrey (1914-1988). That the maestro devised his own grand finale, in which the birds are savaged by cats and then electrocuted one by one, we may deplore yet recognise as a characteristic and ineffable Preenian touch.
“Preenian”, “Preenesque”, “Preenish”. It is a mark of his genius, perhaps, that none of these words has entered the vocabulary. In the last analysis – actually, in the first analysis – he was simply unique. Did those worms beneath the soil in the pretty little churchyard of St Bibblybibdib’s know how fortunate they were, to be gnawing and munching the rotting remains of the great maestro? One bit of him, of course, they did not get to eat, and that was the bouffant, which was removed from his head before burial, and placed in a preserving jar. It has had its own adventures. Initially sold at auction in order to settle at least one of the debts he left unpaid, the bouffant-in-a-jar was stolen from its (anonymous) purchaser, who was found, the morning after the sale, chopped into a thousand pieces. It was next seen adorning the beer-stained counter of a tavern in a particularly sordid Marseilles tavern, but disappeared after a knife-fight among thugs. A year or so later, it turned up next to a waste bin on a pretty little towpath next to an unimportant canal. The bouffant, in its jar, is currently thought to be under lock and key in a bank vault, though by all accounts it is the kind of vault, and the kind of bank, favoured by criminal gangs planning heists which can later be immortalised on screen.
Lothar Preen himself has never been depicted in a film. No cinema would dare to show it.
Fourteen fifteen sixteen seventeen. I am the maestro Lothar Preen.
Eighteen nineteen twenty twenty-one. When I am gone they will blot out the sun.
And they did. It is still pitch dark.