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In defense of the Pied Piper

“Human beings, vegetables, or cosmic dust — we all dance to a mysterious tune, intoned in the distance by an invisible piper.”

— Albert Einstein

One would think the literary geniuses over at GQ would do a bit of homework before trying to lure an iconic performer into a trap. It appears that doesn’t always happen.

A headline in the February 3, 2016 issue of GQ reads, “Why R. Kelly Calls Himself ‘the Pied Piper of R&B.’” Author Chris Heath was on a mission to discover exactly why the basketball player turned singer, songwriter and record producer had suddenly taken to referring to himself in that way, the implication being that it was negative.

To me, Kelly’s explanation seemed forthright and honest. “I started calling myself the Pied Piper when I started using the flute sound in my music,” he explained. “Snake,” “Fiesta,” and “Step in the Name of Love” are all good examples of his songs that include the alluring sound of the flute. “I was the Pied Piper. You know, blew a flute. I started calling myself the Pied Piper because of the flute.”

So far, so good.

But Heath digs deeper. First, he explains to Kelly that the Pied Piper, in an act of revenge for not being paid for ridding the little German town of Hamelin of its rats, lures all the children out of town and kills them. Then the writer asks Kelly if he now understands why people thought his description of himself was strange, to which Kelly responds, “Absolutely not.”

GQ’s writer Chris Heath is attempting to extract a gotcha moment from R. Kelly based on what I believe is a false premise … that the original Pied Piper killed all of Hamelin’s children. That’s not the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin I read as a child.

Fast-forward three years. R. Kelly was arrested last month, charged with 10 counts of felony aggravated criminal sexual abuse involving four alleged victims. Leave it to notorious attorney, Michael Avenatti, to amp up the media frenzy surrounding Kelly by brandishing a video of the singer allegedly engaging in a criminal sexual act with a 14-year-old girl. But the story gets better (twisted).

About the time Kelly is bonding out of Cook County Jail in Chicago, Avenatti is browsing the jailhouse graffiti scrawled on his cell wall in one of New York City’s notorious slammers, charged with attempting to extort more than $20 million from Nike. Suddenly the chain of evidence in Kelly’s case is tainted with the indelible fingerprints of an attorney from which even a two-bit hooker desperately wants to distance herself. No doubt, Kelly’s attorneys are giddy at the prospect that suddenly their seemingly loser of a case has taken the proverbial turn for the better. (Attorneys love it when that happens.) It’s a development that could only be trumped by Kelly tapping Jussie Smollett’s stash of get-out-of-jail-free cards.

The United States of America is governed by the rule of law, a principle under which all persons (except Jussie), institutions, and entities are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced, independently adjudicated, and consistent with international human rights principles.

Unfortunately for the Pied Piper of Hamelin, no rule of law existed in 13th century Germany. (Or in much of 20th century Germany, for that matter.) After seven and a quarter decades, perhaps an appeal to the court of public opinion on behalf of Mr. Piper is order. Allow me to recap:

Circa 1294, rats had taken over the town of Hamelin. Robert Browning, one of England’s foremost Victorian poets, described the problem thusly:


They fought the dogs, and killed the cats,

And bit the babies in the cradles,

And eat the cheeses out of the vats,

And licked the soup from the cooks’ own ladles,

Split open the kegs of salted sprats,

Made nests inside men’s Sunday hats,

And even spoiled the women’s chats,

By drowning their speaking

With shrieking and squeaking

In 50 different sharps and flats.

During the Middle Ages, an infestation of rats brought with it three disturbing results: starvation, disease and death.

With starvation, disease and death on their minds, all the people of Hamelin stormed off to Town Hall to demand that their government find a solution to their rodent problem or they were going to boot them out of office … take away all their power.

The mayor and councilmen sat around council chambers a good long while, scratching their heads and plotting their escape. Then something amazing happens. A tall young man wearing a pied coat of yellow and red appeared at their door. The man politely offered a solution to their rat problem. He told them that he possessed a secret charm. “I chiefly use my charm on creatures that do people harm.” Then he gives council his two-minute elevator pitch after which they contract with Mr. Piper to pay 1,000 guilders for his extermination services.

The Pied Piper wasted no time in getting to work. He stepped into the street, got into the zone, and started playing his flute through the streets of Hamelin. The rats came running by the thousands. They followed Mr. Piper to the Weser River where they all plunged in and died … except for one.

Thrilled with their rat-free environment, the townspeople launched into a cleaning frenzy, clearing away all disgusting traces of the rats. Eager to leave Hamelin and get to a celebration in his honor for ridding the town of Bagdat of nest of scorpions, Mr. Piper politely asked the mayor for his 1,000 guilders, the amount for which he contracted without any hidden costs or change order up-charges. But the mayor refused to pay and the other town officials agreed too because they had spent the people’s tax guilders on re-stocking their private wine cellar. And Super Bowl ads, and gilded office drapes, and steroid-infused hamster fights, and holograms of dead comedians, and Grateful Dead memorabilia. Sorry. Those last few where things upon which our government spent OUR tax dollars.

The mayor of Hamelin offered Mr. Piper 50 guilders and told him to take a hike. Ever the intrepid entrepreneur, the Pied Piper took a hike alright, into the streets of Hamelin with his pipe. All the children in town came skipping and dancing out of their house to follow the Pied Piper while all the adults stood dumbfounded, watching as a passage opened in the side of a mountain through which they all stepped … except for one. No bodies, no weapons, no witnesses and no forensic evidence of the children’s demise was ever found. I rest my case. Now maybe the decades of libel and slander against the hardworking flautist for crimes he did not commit can finally be put to rest.

Because Kelly and Avenatti are innocent until proven guilty, we, as a reasonable society are tasked with throttling back our collective indignation until the verdicts are in. Then we can lock up any guilty parties and throw away the keys.

In the meantime, journalists need to do their jobs that require at least a modicum of research and introspection before attempting to label someone a liar and out of touch with reality. Through his actions, R. Kelly is perfectly capable of demonstrating exactly who he is without any prompting.

The moral to the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin is reflected in Browning’s conclusion:

So, Willy, let you and me be wipers

Of scores out with all men — especially pipers:

And, whether they pipe us from rats or from mice,

If we’ve promised them aught, let us keep our promise.

I say a big “amen” to that, brother.

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