In the wake of revelations emanating from the Washington Post this weekend, secret sources have confirmed that Upper West Side classical pianist Jeremy Denk has been scrupulously or virtually ignored at any number of locations in the New York City area.
Our correspondent followed Mr. Denk around yesterday in a shocking and heartbreaking experiment.
He emerged from the New York Sports Club at 4:46 pm and positioned himself poetically in line at the 93rd Street Starbucks. By most measures, he was quite descript: a graying youngish (with a certain musical emphasis, or "accent," on ish) white man in workout pants, a sweaty T-shirt, and a jacket he got on sale at an outlet mall ten years ago, radiating a confident odor of the Elliptical Cross Trainer. Our reporters watched, amazed, as he hummed through several phrases of the Archduke Trio, and gestured expressively into the air around him; clearly this was an artist at work, digesting great music behind his soggy brow, and yet his artistry, if anything, seemed to dissuade the attention of passersby. Would anyone notice?
Mostly mid-level yuppies pass through this familiar location: mommies, daddies, assorted persons of fungible sexuality, the occasional painfully metrosexual European family on vacation. In this quasi-erotic crossfire, each had a quick choice to make: do you stop and notice the bedraggled artist or do you scurry past with a blend of disgust and desire, aware of your cupidity but afeared of odor or solicitation?
Showered and transformed, Mr. Denk ventured out to Chelsea. At Patsy's on 23rd Street, he sat and ate an entire Rigatoni Bolognese. It was beautiful to watch. The acoustics of the restaurant were surprisingly kind, underscoring each appreciative smack and munch. He brought passionate forkfuls of pasta to his mouth, leaving artsy swatches of tomato across his chewing cheeks, which, like a true rebel, he refused to wipe away immediately. To this reporter's mind, he oozes, even suppurates artistry. But there was no response: nothing, but the clattering, random helter-skelter of a slow night at Patsy's. Even the waitress, amazingly, seemed a bit indolent in refilling his water.
At 36, Denk's an enigma. Medium-height, big-nosed, with constantly changing but unsatisfying hairstyles, he formulates an interesting countertext within the inherent binaries of the glamorous-artist archetype. "I like to live," he said, "you know, according to the moment. I also like snacks in my dressing room. And snacks, in general."
He consented to this article on one condition. "No," he said, "don't use the word genius." He mused for a moment, crumbs of Aztec Brownie slipping out of the delicate corners of his thoughtful mouth, "what about poetic soul? or associative mind? No, no, wait, let's call my publicist."
We followed Denk into Blades of Glory at the Chelsea Clearview. We paid a friend (who prefers to remain anonymous) to go with him; we wanted to see if it was just the stigma of solitude that was causing this pianist to be ignored. But no! There, too, events seemed to proceed in total disregard of Denk's musicality. Denk hit a low ebb when the two guys in front of him started making out. "But then I realized," he debriefed us later, "they were ignoring both me and the artistry of Will Ferrell ... I was in pretty good company ... at least there was that..."
Asked to sum up the day: "I mean the guy at the gym said, 'have a good workout,' and the guy at the Starbucks asked me if the brownie was 'the one with the weird peppers in it.' That's about it for meaningful interaction."
According to Mr. Denk, the only truly artistic reception he received yesterday, April 9, 2006, from 9:28 am to 1:31 am the next day, was on the phone with friend Lisa Kaplan. "I said, 'Lisa, let me sing you something,' and she said 'let me put you on speakerphone,' and I knew she wanted her friend Barbara to hear me sing, and I said 'No, no!' and as I started to sing she put me on speakerphone anyway."
We hesitate to report the rest of the story. "Barbara said my singing was like 'I saw into her soul,' but I realized she meant it ironically," Mr. Denk told us, choking back tears. Is there nothing left untouched by irony in these uncultured days?