“A Passage For Trumpet” Shows The Elusive Nature Of Happiness

“A Passage For Trumpet” is a Twilight Zone episode that originally aired on May 20th, 1960. It involves a depressed alcoholic who commits suicide and is given a second chance at life.

At the beginning, a depressed trumpeter name Joey Crown is attempting to get a job back at a his old club. He confronts his old boss in the back and begs him to take him back. He tells him that he has been on the wagon for six or seven months. They move to where Joey had set down his trumpet case. His boss sits on the ledge and Joey grabs his case; it swings open and a small bottle of alcohol shatters on the ground. His boss looks him with a mix of disdain and strained sympathy, stuffs some money into Joey’s coat pocket and reminiscences briefly on what once was.

Joey used to be a great trumpeter, a man who drew patrons to the club to hear the dulcet tones of his prized trumpet. Yet, despite the joy that his craft brought to himself and others, he fell into the dark recesses of the bottle. He lost the joie de vivre that fired his life, turned to alcohol, and was now relegated to begging for table scraps from his old boss.

Desperate for money, he goes to a local pawn shop to hawk his once-prized possession—his trumpet—for a lousy $8.50. He morosely regards his old instrument before handing it to the proprietor and heading over the watering hole next door. He gets sloppy drunk at the bar and drunkenly stumbles to the pawn shop, just as the shop keeper is placing the trumpet on display—selling his beloved instrument for $25.00.

He leans on the glass, his rheumy eyes begging for something the shopkeeper can’t give him. The shopkeeper says this before dismissing him with a curt hand-wave:

Look, I got overhead! Guys like you don’t understand that. What kind of responsibilities do you have? Nothing! Nothing at all!

Joey takes this to heart, thinking he has nothing and is nothing in life. Joey repeats “Nothing at all” to himself before he decides to fling himself in front a truck speeding by.

He comes to some time later. He approaches what he thinks is a local police officer he knows to talk about the “accident;” but it turns out to be an officer he doesn’t know. Also, the officer is curiously refusing to speak to him.

He wanders a block down to the local movie theater. He tries to engage the woman at the ticket booth, but he finds—once again—the woman is unfamiliar to him and she doesn’t respond to him at all. Becoming increasingly irritated, he approaches a couple men walking out of the theater, asking them for a light.

Joey is anxious that nobody seems to be recognizing his existence until he notices a large mirror on the side of the theater. He is shocked to find that he has no reflection. He—slowly—realizes that he is dead.

Stunned, he stumbles into the watering hole he drank at before. He finds a seat at the bar, all by his lonesome; just Joey and the bottle. He muses aloud about his condition and the gnawing sense of irrelevance that it portends.

He goes to the record player, sidling up against it intimately, knowing it holds the recordings of his best trumpet monologues. He caresses it, realizing that he did have something to live for. He had plenty to live for.

a passage for trumpet

Depressed, Joey heads back to the club he used to work at. He is walking through the back of the club when he hears the familiar tones of a trumpet. He finds a talented man playing a pleasing tune on his trumpet. Instinctively, Joey compliments the man and the man responds, “Thanks!”

Bewildered somebody finally recognized him, he engages the man. Joey finds out that he isn’t dead, but rather that the other people in this world are dead. It is the afterlife’s way of giving the deceased space to come to terms with their own death.

The two engage in a brief back-and-forth in which they talk about Joey’s life. Joey rediscovers his love for the horn; he recounts the love he has for the people in his life. He realizes that at some point he crowded all that out—it isn’t stated explicitly, but he is referencing alcohol here.

Then this exchange occurs:

The Man: You’ve got a choice, you know?

Joey: A choice?

The Man: There’s still time.

Joey: Well, if I got a choice…I mean, if got a choice, then I’m going back!

With Joey resolute to live amongst the living again, the man decides to depart; but Joey chases him down, asking for his name. The angel responds, “Gabriel.”

Joey does indeed go back. He comes to on the sidewalk where he once jumped to his apparent death. The truck driver approaches him anxiously and whispers to him to never mention this incident to anybody so he can keep his clean driving record. He stuffs some money into Joey’s hand. Joey finds out this is enough to repurchase his cherished horn.

A Passage for Trumpet 7

Later that night, he is on top of a roof, with the melodies from his trumpet floating into the hazy air of the city. A woman timidly approaches him, saying she is entranced by the ariose tones of his instrument. He sheepishly engages her at first. She discloses that she is new to town and wants him to show her around. He begins to justify her decision to move to his city, quickly realizing he is justifying his decision to live in this city and—subconsciously—his decision to live once again.

He eagerly begins to describe to her the appeal and beauty of his city while the story fades out while Serling narrates:

Joey Crown, who makes music, and who discovered something about life; that it can be rich and rewarding and full of beauty, just like the music he played, if a person would only pause to look and to listen. Joey Crown, who got his clue in the Twilight Zone.

There is a quote by Abraham Lincoln that resonates here: Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.

There is no significant backstory to Joey in this Twilight Zone episode, but one can surmise there must have been intense personal demons that pushed him towards embracing the Devil’s spit. Unable or unwilling to draw on others or his accomplishments, he sought out solace in a drink cup that will never, ever feel full enough.

Happiness is nothing more than a man finding stability in his mind, tranquility in his soul, and his place in life. It is the easiest ideal in the world: if only a man truly wants it.

That being right and said, happiness is an elusive emotion. The fleeting happiness we get from career achievements or significant purchases, from new sexual relations and from general unique situations can stoke one’s fires, but only for so long. It is all too easy to fall through the cracks and find yourself on the outside looking in on those who enjoy their life. On those who don’t need a passage to happiness.

Why would one need a passage to happiness? That’s because they can neither accept the beauty in their life nor transcend the muck of their life. Like Joey, they can’t appraise their life in a positive way. They might be depressed alcoholics like Joey; they might be an overworked corporate drone. Regardless of their social posture, they all are incapable of appreciating what beauty they have in their lives.

Most men don’t fall into the heedless arms of suicide, but most men don’t often get a second chance to reappraise their lives. Joey got a second chance to be honest about his life and his role in it. How many men fling their bodies in front of a moving truck and walk away with a new lease on life?

Life is a long and often boring journey, but one that we make with people and memories that carry us through the low bogs of the mundane and the depressing. Joey learned that he has to fit the nice dressing next to the sour as it goes down hard. Life isn’t perfect, but it can be beautiful enough if you learn to understand your place in it.

A man has to decide to be happy. He has to evaluate his life and what it means to him and that those that matter to him. A man has to weather the storms that will inevitably find their way towards him. He has to find his footing when he finally achieves his dreams.

Happiness, then, isn’t so much a goal in and of itself, but a state of equilibrium. Happiness exists as a ward against the depression of the soul and the ego of the mind. It is a decision that reflects the maturity that age can bring.

In other words: A man could be happy if he weren’t so focused on being unhappy.

Read More: A Stop At Disenchantment: The Social Retreating Of Men

27 thoughts on ““A Passage For Trumpet” Shows The Elusive Nature Of Happiness”

  1. Excellent article and quite profound. ROK continues to produce quality stuff. Thank you.

  2. Loved this article, I’ve always been a big Twilight Zone fan and this was one of the best episodes. Thanks for the excellent read.

  3. 2wyked you also need to put out a book.
    Good article and i notice you find a lot of inspiration from the classic Twilight Zone – great fucking show.
    Finding happiness is indeed a state of equilibrium but seems more difficult today under the current globalization and complete decline of the West. But I’m going assume that the equilibrium of happiness is a personal / existentialist resolve. It sure as fuck cannot come from anything external today.

  4. An excellent retelling of the ancient story from the excellent Twilight Zone, but . . .
    what if you came to life, only to find that those around you were the dead?

  5. Older television shows are interesting in their approach. You’ll note that this show approached Joey as if he had value and never wavered from this. Joey is a drunk who sold his only means of earning an income yet the point of the show was to prove that such a man is valuable, can be valuable.
    An episode like this couldn’t be produced today. Joey would be labeled a demon right out of the gate and if he sold his only means of support that would be the last straw. How could he pay his holy child support and all his taxes? A man today is defined by what use others have (particularly women and the state) of his resources not any inherent value he possesses as a human being. The second the man lost his ability to be used by definition he becomes worthless to today’s society and of course he better produce to quota or else.
    Its uplifting and at the same time disheartening to see the greatness of what we once were and what we’ve descended too. Joey gets help in this episode and not only help from above, but people, real people, put money into his hand out of pity. Today of course Joey would be condemned because those who want to take money out of him aren’t getting what they consider to be enough – therefore Joey is evil. What he doesn’t have to contend with is an army of people spitting on him, stealing from him, and pretending that the theft of his mind, body, spirit, and resources is moral, proper, expected, and holy which is exactly the state of men in America today. Any “absolution” by such a character today would need to include a very quick turn around culminating in him handing over a large check to the child support apparatus and tax man. Only this would “save” him in the eyes of the current society. Re-written for today, Gabriel would show him how to make enough money to double up on his alimony so as to get current – which of course is the only way of restoring his worth (what men are told today).
    Thank GOD that heaven isn’t run by such accountants. Even if we no longer here that men have any worth beyond what we can produce for our masters doesn’t change the way things really are. Churches, governments, television, employers, women, our parents, our relatives, our “friends”, all agree that the only value men have is what we can produce for others to consume. Evil means late or lacking payments. There is no value in what we are only what we do to allow others to live lavishly. Parasites are allowed to define what is morally right and wrong at all levels. Red pill truth means realizing that this is wrong and that every last one of them can and will likely go to hell. If you can take care of yourself fully, even if your life is modest, you are already better than any government or woman who cannot exist without parasitizing you. You are worth more than what lavishness you produce for others. That is the takeaway and would that we could see this more nowadays.

    1. A lot to chew on there. You’re completely right, society only deems you worthy if you “bring something to the table”, and that something is almost always monetary. All of the classic virtues are practically worthless today because they do not make money. I think ultimately that is a choice men make at some point: money or virtue.

    2. “There is no value in what we are only what we do to allow others to live lavishly. Parasites are allowed to define what is morally right and wrong at all levels. Red pill truth means realizing that this is wrong and that every last one of them can and will likely go to hell. If you can take care of yourself fully, even if your life is modest, you are already better than any government or woman who cannot exist without parasitizing you.”
      I hear what your saying. Similar to “going Galt” I assume? You are absolutely correct in what you say, the only drawback after realizing the bs of society and deciding not to partake in it, is dealing with the the tediousness of being remained daily of what a second class citizen you are for not being what the current state of affairs mandates you should be. It is easy to say that it will never bother you, but after a while the zeitgeist eats away at you like an acid. The only way to be able to avoid this entirely is by literally living off the land in remote places on the planet (which are becoming less and less) but I know guys who attempted this and it is far more difficult to do than you think. Living off the land is a theme addressed in Thoreau’s book “Walden” but he olnly lived just outside the civilization and had releatives bring him food.
      The question remains is: How does a man who chooses a modest life not let his designated second class citzenry bother him?
      Kudos to 2Wyked for a kick-ass article, and to Remo for among the interesting insights on how the theme of that Twilight Zone episode applies today.

      1. Not necessarily going Galt although that could be *your answer*. I left the U.S. five years ago when I got tired of having others define my goodness based on what they could take from me on a monthly basis. I still pay some tax, but I don’t have debts that I don’t choose, and I live a clean, simple, and to my mind full life.
        Letting others define what your value is based on what you produce for them is the greatest tragedy. Put this into Google: “A real man pays” the first thing that pops up is “child support”. Why is that? So this means that if some judge says you must pay 10 million dollars a month and you can’t you are not a real man or you’re immoral? Since when should a persons worth or manliness depend on something like this? That is letting someone else define your worth based on your ability and willingness to hand them money. How much “support” did Genghis Kahn or Alexander the Great pay? Not real men are they? Heck how much support did GOD pay to the Romans for Jesus?
        The point is our society is setup to do one thing – put a man into debt service and keep you there. Any missed payments for any reason means you aren’t a “man” and therefore you are evil. This is like asking a leech if a host is immoral if its out of blood – yes – will be the leeches answer. If you want to be a man you need to define yourself not let others define you. This modest television show illustrates that a real man *can* be more than a wallet and hearkens back to a time when others knew this too and supported him even when he was down. How much we’ve lost and deserve to lose for lack of this simple lesson now.

      2. You make the decision and stick to it. If others continue to wear you down, shut them out of your life.

    3. “Evil means late or lacking payments.”
      Indeed. Or “Evil” could also mean not having any debt, not acquiring Debt.

  6. Excellent piece ! It’s a story that gives a man power to restore his life, making you understand that, you always – ALWAYS – have a choice. Choose to live a simple life, have little needs, earn your bread and be fulfilled without the hustle of the money. This still is our world, even though it’s been changed and monopolized, the world has seen much worse. This current state of materialistic mind-set will evaporate in maximum 10-15 years time. It has no use to humanity.

  7. Happiness can be a choice. I ran into my ex-gf who was going into the club just last weekend and at that moment, I realised that I had a choice: to either go in and follow her like a beta male, make a fool of myself and possibly get thrown out by the bouncer or to leave her in the past, go to another club and be happy. I chose the latter and was definitely happy cause I pulled a hot 8 out of the place later on. It was a profound moment for me because I realised that I didn’t had to be a slave to the past and to my emotions and I could at any time, choose to make the right choices in my life.

    1. Just be cautious, and avoid making the same mistakes as you did before WRT your ex-gf.
      A man can be ‘good’ or ‘great’, and not be a skirt-chaser, or ‘husband’.

  8. A worthy piece and important moral here for us all to remember, written with much grace. Great stuff.

  9. Just noticed this – did you guys notice, that whenever an cognitive challenging article is written, no females bother to comment on it ? just saying.

    1. Obviously not a lot of men, either. Lots of opinions about sluts but not much on meaning of life.

        1. We all have to learn how to deal with our own demons at our own pace. We can’t be ‘forced’ to learn a lesson until we are READY to get out of our erroneous mindset and learn.
          If we have been in an ‘abusive’ relationship (and I mean a REAL one, not the PC-jargon crap that is so prevalent today), we also have to heal first, before we can move on.

  10. Nothing to add. This was a great article. The subject material is also my favorite Twilight Zone episode.

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