The Four Hammers of Jukebox Boethius

The Four Hammers of Jukebox Boethius


POST-the-fourPOST-the-four2 POST-the-four3 POST-the-four4

Programme notes

This rambling text was the main part of ‘The Hammerhead Arias’ that toured in 1999 with Anne La Berge and Aurelia Saxophone Quartet. A character named Jukebox Boethius is awoken by a horrendous clanging sound, and in trying to locate it, comes across every thunder god I could find in history.


One hammer, two hammer, three hammer, four…

Boethius woke up in a middle age crisis
from the bangin’ and a-clangin’ out out his back door
with a foggy voice he shouted ‘cross the Monte Cassino
If I can track that racket there’ll be hellfire for sure,
there’ll be hellfire for sure
Who’s rattlin’ my windows? Who’s shaking my floor?

Well, it wasn’t the first time that his nodding was invaded
no, it wasn’t the first time that his slumber was aroused
it began every nightfall, he said, “Pliny, you hear that?”
Pliny said “A younger man would, but I’ve been four hundred years dead,
I’ve been four hundred years dead.
It’s been a long time runnin’ since someone pried me from my bed.”

When the night was in its waning, the pounding started up again
it was a nightmare of a nocturne beating time upon his head
three times a-woken, three times he growled
“Who’s party keeps tired? My sleep is scattered and fouled,
my sleep is scattered and fouled!”
And his voice carried through the forest
the trees shivered from his anger as the nightwind howled

At the hour of the cockcrow, Laudy, the roof began to shake
In his prime blackout time, the plaster crumbled like cake
when he walked into the diner that morning, man, he was terse;
Juke said, “Gimme some coffee and make it as black as a hearse.”
he stumbled out of the diner into the Roman daylight
He headed ‘cross midtown with his body still dragging but his mind full of fight
As the java hit his bloodstream, his eyes began to dance
he said, “I’m gonna wrap what’s making that tapping
between two stirrups and a branch.”

There were jugglers, there were singers and peddlers shouting out their price
it was a square of a thousand people making the noise of daily life
There was noise up to your eyelids and it was hot and it was loud
Boethius shovin’ back old ladies trying to make through the crowd
It was a roar to fill Death Valley but he didn’t hear a thing
‘cept the pounding from the forest that had him staggering from its


At the edge of the forest, at the ancient city gate
a beady-eyed dwarf with a Stockholm accent comes up and says “You’re late.”
Juke says “I don’t know you, I’ve no time, go away.”
Dwarf says “If you had all the answers, you’d be François Boulangér.
Now, you’re a modern guy, I can see mythology leaves you cold
but times are not what they seem despite what you’ve been told
all about this earth, well, priests and politicians can hoot and stammer
but things get done and undone between an anvil and hammer
the world in which we live gets pounded everyday
between an anvil and hammer, from Cairo to China Bay
some can hear the thunder as if from a distant shore
but most live in silence, as deaf as they are poor

A man like you with a problem like yours
must steal the hammers that ring the world in fours
A man like you with a problem like that
you’d better grab those hammers before they pound you flat
A man like you with ears tuned so fine
must grab the hammers from hands evil and divine.”

So, Boethius made tracks into the forest so dark and deep
to nab the hammers that drained his night of sleep
the clanging and the banging were the only clues he had
so he headed straight into the noise that was driving him mad

An hour, maybe longer, a day, maybe two
he came upon a clearing where the rain had just been through
a rainbow filled with crimson stretched out across his trial
it shivered in the sunlight like a bridge about to fail
from the pounding and the ringing of swinging steel on steel
that came from the far end where the rainbow began to kneel
and then the earth began to open like a hungry, rabid sieve
so Jukebox crawled up along that crimson rainbow bridge

At the far end lay a valley where fallen heroes played
who died the death of glory a hundred times every day
the sound of clashing metal, of swords and knives and shields
echoed down into the world and across its battlefields
but each and every evening they dined without a stratch
Juke was thinking twice of taking on even the weakest in a match

Through a palace window of gold and silver frame
he watched the fallen feast on every sort of fine wine and game
At the h uead of the table, one ate with steel glove
Thor sent the table flying with an angry shove
that room was filled with mighty gods and Thor’s strength was double
but tonight, he cried like a little boy, his heart was deeply troubled
“My days are filled with sweet battle but my nights sorrow laden
what I wouldn’t give for the love of a human maiden.”
Well, Boethius was frayed and hungered but he was still long from dim
he saw this was his chance, a chance named mighty slim
he slipped away to the servant’s house, found a golden chest
he chose a wide lavender veil from Persia and a nice Armani dress

One hammer, two hammer, three hammer, four
Jukebox Boethius couldn’t take it no more
Four hammer, three hammer, two hammer, one
Four hammers poundin’, cold steel ringin’
No place to hide when the hammers come down

At the stroke of midnight, a man-sized lady laid the trap
Soon { Thor laid his hammer on the fair maiden’s lap
Now, gods were never perfect, they’d screwed up big before
but no god had ever blundered like the thundergod Thor
Juke threw off his veil and grabbed the hammer fast
As he slipped across that crimson bridge he said, “And they said it wouldn’t last.”


Now, the pounding was slightly duller but it carried on the same
Boethius had one hammer but three did still remain
He walked for a day and seven after that
At the other end of the forest, the ground turned hard and flat

The sun was hot and thirsty,
the breeze had crawled away and died
Boethius came up to a mountain
it was splitting slowly in two before his eyes

He passed a broken steam drill
a dead captain lay at his feet
every driving shock of steel against rock
exploded in his head through the heat

he dragged his body up higher
every rock upon the mountain had turned to gold
Boethius had only one thing on his mind
to add the hammer to the others he had stoled

a stream of water ran down the rock beside him
he bent down to take some in his hand
but salt was all he tasted, it was the sweat of a steel drivin’ man
it was the sweat of a steel drivin’ man

A thousand chinamen had come before him
to lay the rails of the wild young west
but John Henry was the only to beat the steam drill down
and he fell with a pain in his chest

lightning struck the ground beside him,
the devil was coming for his soul
Boethius grabbed the hammer out of John Henry’s hand;
he heard a bell began to toll, somewhere a bell began to toll

The pounding still continued, half a job lay ahead
Boethius was walking through a dream without a bed
So he dragged on for a week and another went by, too
when he came upon a half a boot, its lumber smelled like new
an old man sat grumbling “you can’t get good help these days.”
and he went back to pounding ten inch spikes, his eyes in a sleepless glaze
this was a man getting orders from a testy god on high
and he was working on deadline as he looked up at the sky

“Take a rest, old man, you need it, in an hour it’ll be dark.
Let me have that hammer and I’ll finish up your arc.”
Well, Noah was wary of the stranger
but his body was weary, too
as he handed over the hammer a bitter wind blew
that night it started to drizzle, the next day it really poured
Jukebox built a raft with the three hammers he had scored


Four hammer, three hammer, two hammer, one—
left over but ya still ain’t done

He had walked sixteen hours, he walked sixteen more
his stomach was on empty, his nerves rattled ‘til they were sore
he comes upon a chinese dive, an ‘open’ sign lightly swung
under a bigger half-lit neon sign that tried to say ‘Lei Kung’
10 tables clothed in blood red and none of ‘em occupied
he flipped open a menu but only a mirror lay inside
a bowl appeared before him, a girl says “Pleased to serve you rice.
But you spill it, Lei Kung get angry, customer never leave alive”

Boethius chuckled and attacked that rice like this supper was his last
he was just starting to think clearly when his future hit his past
he reached for the soy sauce and knocked the bowl to the fl ∂oor
and the sound of a thousand chinese new years filled the world with a roar

Boethius made for the exit but his luck was running foul
Lei Kung’s standing in the doorway with claws of a crow and a big head like an owl
he’s got a cleaver clutched in one claw and a Black & Decker in the other
Boethius was thinking twice about taking on the little mother
an evil little voice whispered from behind the feathered mask
“Ten courts of hell await you if you can’t answer what I ask.”

Now, every out was blocked with fire, every exit raised in flame
Boethius eyed that hammer and said “I’ll play your little game”
Lei Kung spoke in a voice that terrified the souls of all who pray
“Why are those who’ve sinned punished with such delay?”
Boethius raised a massive eyebrow, said “The answer could be yours,
but if I know then I walk with that hammer out your door.”
Lei Kung nodded but you should’ve seen his temperature climb
when Boethius says “Even a god can only be in one place at a time.”
He grabbed that Black & Decker and headed out the nearest door
‘cause he heard the sound of hell behind him rising up through the floor


Thunder gods from China, thunder gods from Greece
Holy blacksmiths from Persia, their souls finally released
War lords from Babylonia who crack heads like they were eggs
They all came up through Lei Kung’s floor right between his legs

Etrusan gods of death who carried their hammers with iron glove
to finish off those lying on the battle fields of love
to finish off those dying on the battle fields of love Û

the last chinaman on a railroad with a chain around his neck
the last shipbuilder working for an angry god on spec

those who worked in forges of destruction that fed the mouths of war
those who forged Teutonic cymbals now still forevermore Ω
those who forged the swords for slayers of dragons we all know
those who forged the sword so sweet that dealt the final blow

Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius

hammering the nail that holds up the sky
hammering on the cross we bear for letting Jesus die
hammering upon your head in the bed in which you sleep
they’ll hammer you into the motherless ground
until you’re sixteen hammer blows deep

one hammer, two hammer, three hammer, four…

©1999 Saprophone Music, Amsterdam