September 2001. Aesthetic fetishism becomes a federal crime -- film festivals are shuttered, vintage clothing stores torched. Jackbooted thugs descend upon Quentin Stoltzfus's three-story Philly home -- henceforth called a "compound" -- and confiscate the offending material: vinyl by acoustic weirdos John Fahey and Syd Barrett, psych symphonies by Brian Eno, and enough Brian Wilson ephemera to fill a file cabinet. Mazarin's singer/mastermind is cuffed, jostled, and taunted: "Hey, sicko, bet no one makes fun of you in cool record stores, huh?"
Mere weeks later, the government attempts to prove that A Tall-Tale Storyline is pornography. The prosecutor presents the album as exhibit A, waving it over his head: "Cooler-than-thou pomo hippie slackers indulging in pop esoterica with no redeeming social value!" An objection is made but overruled. The prosecutor turns toward the jury: "Do you want your children infected by this man's pathologies?"
Stoltzfus's attorney rises. "I ask you: Can my client help it if he happens to have influences that others have abused? I shall demonstrate to this court of law that he makes music every member of this jury could enjoy, regardless of his or her clothes or haircut. This album is sunnier even than his '99 debut. Virtually every song is a big, swaying column of bold strumming, reedy harmonies, wistful strings, trippy synths, and pop-perfect drumming -- so bright you could use the tunes to treat depression. "The Limits of Language' is a skipping country ballad, and "What Sees the Sky' is perfect music for a picnic. Does this sound elitist to you? Let me read you something, and you can tell me if these are the words of a shallow poseur: "You don't have to pretend to be more than you're worth/ You don't have to pretend to be smart every day.'"
The prosecutor paces the floor. "I'm sure we all appreciate my colleague's open mind. But may the jury note that, as the former drummer for Azusa Plane, Mr. Stoltzfus is partially responsible for a 27-minute track titled "Strings 8.' And the band name, Margarine... excuse me, Mazarin, is an Umberto Eco reference. What do classical aspirations and cultish literary references add up to? That's right -- prog rock!" A gasp is heard throughout the chamber. The prosecutor turns to the jury. "Mazarin is a gateway drug! Do you want your children becoming Rush fans?"
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The defense counsel is unruffled. "Ladies and gentlemen, if every book were judged by its cover, what would become of our civil rights? I ask that you listen to these songs without prejudice. They are gracious, personal, and sweet -- even "Suicide Will Make You Happy.'"
A boom box is activated, and within minutes, the mood lightens. As they deliberate, jury members prop up their feet, lean back in their chairs, and nod along. Soon, the judge orders that exhibit A be left with her for "indefinite further inspection." Case dismissed.
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