Posted in Short Stories

“The No-Talent Kid”

I’ve grown to like George M. Helmoltz, Kurt Vonnegut’s fictional Lincoln High band teacher.  He knows who he is and knows who he isn’t.  He goes for the gusto within these limitations -and usually gets it!  I’m only basing this observation on two stories that include Helmholtz, both contained in Vonnegut’s collection Bagombo Snuff Box.  If there are more, I look forward to reading them.


In Vonnegut’s “The No-Talent Kid”, Helmholtz tries to pass this view of life on to Walter Plummer, his C Band clarinet player who likes to challenge the A Band members.  Plummer eventually understands Helmholtz and they both help each other get what they want.  The wheeling and dealing between the high school teacher and his student amused me.

As in the other Helmholtz story I read, “Ambitious Sophomore”, the light enjoyment gained from reading this story is  just as much a testament to Vonnegut’s brilliance as some of his stories that have more of a social commentary attached to them.  I found this paragraph interesting as it gave a small inkling of Vonnegut’s World War II background:

While members of the C Band dropped out of the waltz, one by one, as though  mustard gas were coming out of the ventilation, Mr. Helmholtz continued to smile and wave his baton for the survivors, and to brood inwardly over the defeat his band had sustained in June, when Johnstown High School had won with a secret weapon, a bass drum seven feet in diameter.

Perhaps Mr. Helmholtz had been in the army during World War II?

3 thoughts on ““The No-Talent Kid”

  1. Hi Dale,
    I think the best Herman Helmholtz story might be “The Kid Nobody Could Handle.” (It’s in Welcome to the Monkey House, if I remember correctly). He also appears in “A Song for Selma,” a good story in “Look at the Birdie” – a collection of unpublished short stories by KV, that the KV Memorial Library is discussing next week.

    1. I looked ahead and “The Boy Who Hated Girls” also has Helmholtz in it. I’m probably going to start Welcome to the Monkey House soon – while I’m (still) reading Moby Dick.

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