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Hep Imp

May 9, 2013

Earlier tonight, in the middle of the night, I was driving through the foggy, sinister streets of Charlottesville looking for an angry fix — or maybe just to see the trees spreading out under haloed streetlights — listening to the Hep Imp. The Hep Imp Show is WTJU’s most elusive program, rarely spoken of in light of day, dismissed by some as a mere legend. It is unearthly, strange and haunting. If you ever find yourself, in the middle of the week and past the hour when decent folk retire to their beds to practice for death, listening to the enigmatically titled work of an obscure Russian electro-acoustic composer who looks like Rasputin, has not spoken for ten years, and whose chief influence is the sound of his mother weeping, your radio is probably tuned to the Hep Imp Show. The long piece I heard tonight was in fact from Russia, and it seemed chosen by the DJ — a mysterious, gentle-voiced man who few have ever seen in the flesh — to accompany the fog. It was maritime, oceanic, submerged. There was the the sound of waves beating against a beach in the night (you could hear the night), strange liquid gurglings, the slowed sound of submersion, bells tolling like the bells of buoys.

As I drove, I passed near the U-Heights apartments. Which reminded me an evening from a couple of years ago. I was in my kitchen, cooking dinner (let me be honest: waiting for my dinner to heat up). I don’t know if it was something I read, or heard on the radio, or just a random passing thought, but I was thinking of how adolescents are so so often said to feel misunderstood. I realized that I had never felt that way, though I was in the appropriate demographic: isolated, alienated, miserable enough by the standards of that period of life. I read a lot of books, and was often in the thrall of thoughts that extended beyond the horizon of my mind. But it did not occur to me that I might be misunderstood, because it did not occur to me that I might be understood. I did not understand that understood was a thing to be. And I never really did. I realized this as I waited to eat my sad little dinner, and pondered it. Was this a good thing? A bad thing? An error? Or a truth?

And I remembered then something that was said to me years before, something that I had often thought of since, said to me in a car in the parking lot of those apartments.

But I had no need of any understanding tonight, as I drove through the night and the fog, through the empty streets of Charlottesville, with the sounds of the Hep Imp. Alone and united in the night and its indescribable music, I found a peace which passeth all understanding. A peace, or a refuge, or a darkness.

I have not listened to the Hep Imp Show often. It may not be something you seek out or schedule. The Imp finds you. It comes to you through the aether, filling the limitless space you are lost in. And though you share no understanding, it keeps the company of your solitude.

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