I'm not sure how I want to celebrate my 250th birthday. But I don't want people digging up my bones.
Mozart is not so lucky. The famed composer would have been 250 last week. Of course, nobody lives that long. But don't tell that to a television network in Austria. With the bravado of Geraldo Rivera, a documentary titled "Mozart: the Search for Evidence" promised to reveal, once and for all, if an ancient skull that was missing its lower jaw was really that of ta da! Mozart.
Never mind that the skull had been in a museum for more than 100 years, and you'd think someone would have asked that question already.
Worker 1: Do YOU think it's Mozart?
Worker 2: It don't look musical.
Worker 3: What's with the jaw?
Still, there's nothing like DNA to pump up the hype. Researchers apparently took two teeth from the skull and compared their DNA with samples gathered a few years ago from the thigh bones of skeletons exhumed from the Mozart family grave.
(It's a good thing the dead can't talk. How'd you like to be one of Mozart's relatives, minding your business, under ground, and, suddenly, a guy with a shovel wants your thigh bone? And not because he's interested in you, but because he needs to ID your obnoxious cousin, Wolfgang.)
Anyhow, there was great anticipation. And when the program aired, the answer to the breathtaking question "Are these the bones of Mozart?" was ...
They're not sure.
Ah, well, it's for the best. I mean, let's say the bones really do belong to Mozart. So what? It's not like a skull can write you a sonata.
But all of this got me thinking. How many artists are 250 years old and still have a following? No offense to Tom Cruise, but do you think, in the year 2256, anyone will be watching "Cocktail"?
Yet we still listen to Mozart. There are classical stations named after him. His work is newly recorded every day. Anyone who ever heard the first notes of "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" or the haunting voices of his "Requiem" or the childlike hum-along melodies of "The Magic Flute" or the way he cascades wind instruments like fluttering leaves in his works for oboe and clarinet well, OK, I'm beginning to gush here. But Mozart has that effect on people.
I am not, in general, wildly passionate about classical music. I don't go to Beethoven festivals. I don't wear Bach T-shirts. But if it's Mozart, I'm there. There was something about his sense of melody, how he tapped into notes that last for centuries.
I am to Mozart what some are to the Grateful Dead. I will follow wherever he goes. Like a Deadhead.
Which brings us to his skull.
I don't know why it matters who has Mozart's bones. I guess his death still fascinates people. He died when he was just 35 and was buried in a pauper's grave. Some speculate he was murdered. Some say he was sick. Either way, it was hardly a happy ending to a short life.
Then again, he led one life in the flesh and quite another in music. We live in a world today where artists' personal lives often loom larger than what they contribute. (Jennifer Aniston, Brad Pitt or Britney Spears come to mind?) If they ever found the other half of Mozart's jaw, his skull might tell people, "Yes. It's me. You happy? Now bury me and go play my stuff."
Truth is, you don't need bones to live on. Mozart proves that every day, when someone closes his eyes and absorbs, with an inner smile, the timeless music he created.