“Murder to Music” — Anthony Burgess

Anthony Burgess is the world-renowned author of the dystopian novel A Clockwork Orange. His other novels include Inside Mr. Enderby (et seq.), Earthly Powers, and The Long Day Wanes trilogy. Several of his short stories, including this one, can be found in his book The Devil’s Mode. Although most readers probably know Burgess because of his fiction, he was a prolific writer of non-fiction and criticism, and he worked on a number of screenplays and as a translator. Burgess was also a composer of music, which, as you might guess from the title, served him well in writing this tale.

The first wife of prolific author Isaac Asimov once chided him for spending so much time working, saying, “When you’re on your deathbed, and you’ve written a hundred books, what’ll you say then?” To which Asimov replied, “I’ll say, ‘Only a hundred!’” In point of fact, Asimov had written or edited closer to five hundred books by the time he died. In a world of poseurs and dilettantes, of people who chatter constantly about the art they intend to create “someday” or “when I have time,” it can be inspiring to see people who are so dedicated to their work that the terms art and life become inseparable, and who keep on working right up until the end. The legendary Japanese artist Hokusai, known for masterpieces such as Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji, is said to have exclaimed on his deathbed, “If only Heaven will give me just another ten years… Just another five more years, then I could become a real painter.” If you’re one of those people who’s moved by the idea of an artist practicing his art right up until the moment of death, you may find this next tale highly inspirational. Or maybe not, given the circumstances.