This is the sixth installment of the WMSP series that began here.
I didn’t know exactly how old AJ Moulfair was, though I assumed he was about ten years older than I was, which would have made him about 39 in 1978 when we met. I did pick up that he had gone to Columbia University, which is where he met and developed a lifelong friendship with Arthur MacArthur IV. Arthur invited him to dinner several times, which is when AJ got to know Arthur’s parents while they were still alive. AJ always spoke warmly of the General (that’s how he invariably referred to him on the infrequent occasions that he mentioned him, and it took me a while to figure out whom he was referring to). AJ may have been one of Arthur’s only friends, as Arthur apparently has lived the life of a recluse even to this day. (Put another way, as I gathered from one of AJ’s other friends, AJ may have been one of the few friends that received the approval of the strict General.)
AJ, of course, had an interest in old recordings of operas, and one time he got wind of a collection that had recently come onto the market (presumably due to a death). As I had a Rabbit hatchback, would I be willing to drive him to NYC to pick up said collection? He promised to pay me a princely sum for my efforts. So one morning we set out bright and early, probably a Wednesday as that was my usual day off from Channel. After we stopped for lunch I drove us to the dealer, somewhere in Greenwich Village, and parked my blue Rabbit directly in front of the dealer’s storefront. AJ needed a few hours to go over the collection, which consisted of old 78 rpm recordings, vocal scores, plus a few other odds and ends, and to presumably haggle over the price. Meanwhile, I was free to wander around Manhattan.
When I returned, they were loading the collection into my Rabbit and I began to panic. There were far more 78s and scores than I had anticipated, and they were heavy. Remember how heavy a single 78 was? Well, imagine an album of 78s big enough to hold a whole opera (you may recall that one side of a 78 can hold perhaps five or six minutes of music). They had folded down the rear seat of the Rabbit to completely fill the back compartment of the hatchback with the collection, and now the rear tires of my poor blue Rabbit looked like they were flat. I honestly didn’t think we’d be able to make the long journey back to Harrisburg.
When we stopped for supper at the rest area on the NJ Turnpike, I kept peering out the restaurant’s window at the car. AJ thought I was checking to make sure no one was stealing his valuable collection, but no, I was worried that those tires were going to explode.
But somewhat to my amazement, we did make it back to Harrisburg, and when we reached AJ’s place, his brother helped to unload the two tons of records and scores. AJ reimbursed me more than generously for the gas and my time, but no amount of money could reimburse me for the toll on my nerves. Had those tires burst, I had no idea how we could have made it home.
I think it was shortly after that trip that AJ took me to a little Italian restaurant in an area of Harrisburg that I hadn’t known existed. It was one of those bistros where the tables were tiny and way too close together, but the food was out of this world delizioso. I have no idea what its name was, let alone whether it’s still around.
One Wednesday morning AJ called me and sounded agitated. He was in big trouble at WMSP. The station manager Dave Zett had just read him the riot act and AJ wanted me to try to calm him down.
What was the problem?
The previous evening AJ had devoted his program to the music of Richard Strauss and in between recordings had entered a passionate defense of Strauss as not being a Nazi sympathizer which too many folks still incorrectly believed. This had led to a firestorm of complaints from the listeners, not directly to AJ but to the station management.
Since I agreed with AJ’s position, I was only too happy to oblige.
So I drove downtown and entered the WMSP offices where I found Dave sitting at his desk. I started to explain that I was there to defend AJ, but Dave cut me short.
There was nothing to defend. It didn’t matter what AJ had said, it didn’t matter who was in the right, or who was in the wrong, AJ needed to apologize.
I was stunned.
Dave continued, and he was clearly angry.
It seems that one of WMSP’s largest contributors had threatened to withdraw his support. Dave was hoping he wouldn’t actually go through with his threat, but that was a larger issue than AJ’s defense of his hero. Dave said a few other things, but I got the point. AJ needed to apologize.
When I relayed this back to AJ, he was not happy. But ultimately he calmed down and he did issue an apology, not heartfelt, but he did say the words that needed to be said.
Within a week or so, things at the station were back to normal. Meaning there was some other crisis to navigate.
AJ composed a few piano pieces here and there. He gave me copies of a couple of them. Here is his Gavotte in D♭. He was hoping I could learn to play it as he wanted to hear it played by someone other than himself. Yeah, right, as if I’m gonna play something in D♭!