Friday, April 10, 2015

The Twilight Zone: A Passage for Trumpet

"A Passage for Trumpet" is another episode in which Jack Klugman plays a lonely, depressed man with a talent for one thing, but unlike in "A Game of Pool," he is able to find redemption and purpose here.

Klugman is a Joey Crown, an accomplished trumpet player reduced by alcoholism to standing in the alleyways outside clubs, hoping to play. After being rejected by an old friend for another chance with a band, Joey pawns his horn for $8.50, spending the money on booze, Then, he walks out in front of a truck. Afterward, when no one seems to hear, see, or talk to him, Joey realizes he must be dead; his suicide attempt worked.

An early image in "A Passage for Trumpet" becomes important later: a silhouette of a trumpet player. Joey sees the image early on while standing outside the club and peering through the back door of a club, and the horn player's shadow no doubt reflects how that kind of musical fame is elusive to Joey, an illusion he can't touch. It can also be seen as how dark his life is; the shadow is a reflection of what Joey becomes: a dark trumpet player not really there.

After the truck incident and realizing what it means, Joey is at first happy, or at least relieved. For the first time in his life, Joey declares, he succeeded at something. See, at one point before his demise, Joey says, "Half of me is this horn." He spent his whole life devoted to playing the trumpet, and while he can play beautiful, moving music, success and recognition for his talent went unnoticed. However, instead of getting a chip on his shoulder, he withdrew to the bottle, dismissing the rest of the world as a cold, quiet, empty, ugly place. Take away that trumpet, and Joey feels there's nothing left worth living for. When he sells his instrument and tries to kill himself, Joey becomes a literal phantom.

But after a while, Joey realizes maybe life isn't so bad. If he thought life was quiet and empty, he didn't realize how much worse death was. He sits and remembers how the bartender ordered a record that he played on and put it in the bar jukebox. Then, he hears a beautiful trumpet sound and finds another player in the back alley, and when Joey says what a great performance that was, the man (John Anderson) shocks him by answering. Turns out this guy should know something about trumpet playing: he's Gabriel. We first see Gabriel sitting in shadow, but unlike the aforementioned silhouette, he has body; he's tangible and he offers Joey redemption (it should be noted the silhouette at the start appears in the background, and Gabriel appears in the foreground, highlighting the positive future ahead of Joey).

The climax of the "A Passage for Trumpet" isn't Joey being chased by some representation of Death; it's a conversation between an angel and a man who has to decide for himself whether he'll live or die. Ultimately, Joey decides that life, just like music, can be beautiful.

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