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In 2003, They Secretly Cloned Mozart

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"House Backs Ban on Human Cloning for Any Objective" –The New York Times, August 1, 2001

"Despite Warnings, 3 Vow to Go Ahead on Human Cloning; Secrecy of Separate Endeavors Makes It Difficult to Gauge How Realistic They Are" –The New York Times, August 8, 2001

I'll tell you a strange story. Okay, it sounds screwy, but I checked it out a little, and I think this guy was on the level. He used to come into the bar a couple of years back, just now and then, not too regular. Pretty young, but he had that saggy look, like too many years of wife trouble or something. I see a lot of them like that.

So it's Christmas Eve 2040, and I'm the only bartender still working that afternoon, and the house is practically empty. I see this guy down at the end of the bar, sitting by himself. He's looking even more saggy than usual, and I think, "What the heck–it's Christmas." I bring him a fresh drink, on the house, and wish him greetings of the season. He says thanks, but doesn't smile and barely looks up. So I start drying the glasses–they're dry already, but the customers don't talk if you look too interested–and ask him, casual-like, if there's something particular on his mind.

Now he looks at me, sort of funny, and says: "Do you know who I am?"

Reddish-brown hair, sharp nose with a prominent arch, weak chin, chubby cheeks. I try to remember if I've seen him on TV or something.

"Are you the guy who rides around on that goat in those used-car commercials and says, `I promise you, this ain't no bull'? Man, I love those commercials."

He groans.

"Here, maybe this will help," he says, and he pulls a little picture out of his wallet. An old portrait, really old, like centuries old. Looks like it was cut out of an encyclopedia. It's a young man in profile: sharp nose, weak chin, definite resemblance to my sad friend here. At the bottom, there's a caption: "W.A. Mozart."

Now it's my turn to look at him funny. Then it hits me like a brick. "You're that clone guy," I say. "The guy in the papers back in the '20s."

Finally, he smiles a little. "In the flesh. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. I have his brain, his heart, his DNA. He's my father and my mother and my brother. He's my identical twin, except I was born 247 years later."

By now I'm not even pretending I'm not interested, so he starts talking. It takes him a long time to explain, and I didn't get it all, but I got a lot, and some of the rest I filled in later from the newspapers.

In 2001, Congress passed a ban on cloning humans, but of course your cults and fruitcakes and mad scientists went ahead with secret cloning as best they could. Mostly they failed, but there were always stories surfacing in the tabloids about how this or that attempt had succeeded. It was hard to be sure what to believe, because most of the claims were bogus, and anyone who might really have made a clone destroyed the evidence to avoid a long holiday in Sing Sing.

Anyway, there was this software billionaire with a passion for music. He was nuts about Mozart, and he was especially nuts about Mozart's Requiem. That was Mozart's last piece, commissioned anonymously by a count who planned to pass it off as his own. Mozart died before he could finish the Requiem, but what he left behind was the first half of one of the greatest masterpieces of all time. Ever since then, people have been trying to complete it, starting with a version by one of Mozart's students. No one could approach the original.

Well, this billionaire put his hands on some of Mozart's remains or something, which he bought from some Czech family. He set up a secret institute in Switzerland and hired some top biologists and swore them to silence. He told them they'd get $1 million each for every baby they cloned from Mozart's DNA. And he told them that once the Mozarts were 18, he'd pay $10 million to each clone for a finished Requiem.

In 2003, the institute managed to bring four babies to term. Two died shortly after birth. Two survived. All of this was top secret, of course. The billionaire figured he'd unveil his clones and his musical masterpiece to an astonished world 20 years down the road, and at that point everyone would have to hail him as a visionary instead of just calling him a wacko. But then the dumb SOB died, and his company collapsed, and so did his cloning institute. The staff scattered, and one baby Mozart was put up for adoption anonymously. No one knows what happened to that one. The other baby was adopted by one of the scientists, who was a big Mozart buff herself.

"And that's you," I say.

"Yep. That's me. You're looking at the greatest musical genius who ever lived."

He had talent, that was for sure. Seemed like any instrument he saw as a boy, he could play. His mother, of course, didn't tell him or anyone else who he was, but she told the boy how special he was, how he was a genius, what a great composer he could be. She knew that Mozart's father, Leopold, devoted himself to developing his son's genius, spurring him on and then showing him off all over Europe as the wonder of the age. So she pushed her little Mozart toward music.

But the 2010s weren't the 1760s. The boy may have had talent, but he also had his own priorities, and they didn't include violin sonatas. He liked rock music and he liked it loud, and then as he got older he liked beer and girls and raunchy jokes. The harder his mother pushed him to be a great composer, the less he wanted to be one. They fought, and he swore he would never touch an instrument. After a while his mother gave up, and he got so bored with school that he dropped out. By the time he was 20, he had a decent job working in a frame shop in San Antonio. And that's when the roof fell in.

Some reporter got wind of the institute and the cloning experiment and tracked him down. Plopped the documents in front of him, right on camera. He rushed to see his mother, and she told him it was all true: He was Mozart! Poor guy was overwhelmed. For about a week, the media were all over him. But no one could prove he was a clone of Mozart without digging up the original, so the media treated him as a freak, a joke. You know, here's this guy who's supposedly a clone of Mozart, and he's putting frames around black-velvet kitties. It just crushed him. He tried running away. He joined a Buddhist monastery in Japan. One day, while he was there, he heard the Requiem. Not for the first time, but this time it was different.

"My God, it was beautiful!" he says. I notice that when he talks about the Requiem, he's passionate, not saggy at all. "I felt a realization explode inside my head. I just felt it somehow: That music was mine. It rang inside of me. I'd finish it, or die trying." He knew he could never walk away from who he was. He knew that if he could finish the Requiem, he'd be famous for real, a genius instead of a schmuck. He felt the Requiem was his best shot at fulfilling his destiny. He immersed himself in Mozart's music, read all the books he could find, even bought an old-style fortepiano. Nights, weekends, all the time, he drove himself, working on the Requiem.

I pour him another drink and one for myself. "And? What happened?"

"I'm 37," he says, miserably.

"Buddy," I say, "I'm 58. Life goes on. Take it from me, 37 ain't old."

"No," he says. "That's not it. I turned 37 four months ago. I've been working on the Requiem for 15 years. Mozart died when he was 35. I should have finished the Requiem two years ago."

"And you haven't."

"Oh, I've finished it a dozen times. Two dozen times. At first, I wrote it for classical orchestra with four vocal soloists and chorus, same as the original. But nothing I tried sounded right. So then I decided I was being too literal and I tried conceptual approaches. I thought I could bring back his spirit instead of his sound. I mean, it's my spirit and my sound, right? I tried electric instruments, Haitian percussion, blues rhythms, folk lyrics. I added dance elements and electronically reprocessed Gregorian chant and traffic noise." He sighed. "It's all crap. Just crap."

"Well," I say, "maybe you should just keep trying. Nothing comes easy."

He looks at me for a while, stirring his drink. Like he's not sure if he should say a lot or nothing at all. Then he finally shakes his head, looks back down at his glass, and says into the ice, "You don't understand. I have his genes but not his genius."

And with that he drops a tip on the bar, puts on his coat, and without looking back wishes me a happy holiday and is gone. I never saw him again. If the Requiem was ever finished, I never heard about it.

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