Sunday, January 24, 2010
Buried in a long interview (originally in the New Yorker, I think) with John Adams, is a description of how at one point the interviewer looks over at Adam's work desk and casually notices the sketches for a new opera. He seems surprised, because all he can see is a single long vocal line interspersed with a few piano chords stretching off into the distance. And with just that, goldfish-like, his attention wanders somewhere else and the interview continues. I sat there staring at the article, whacking my forehead repeatedly, trying to will him to go back and investigate it further.
One of the most difficult things is try and discover is just how someone starts. Most composers seem to be amazingly cagey about this, even between friends (and I frequently ask). To somehow articulate the beginnings of a piece would seem to rob the process of all the magic it might posses; and one suspects that everyone sits there in the same half-assed way, mucking about with a few notes or sounds they have in their heads before they start to structure it. To admit this level of haphazard working-out of ideas (or lack of) would fly in the face of the reductive view of analysts and the quasi-scientific use of instrumental reason that it is hoped to give a musical piece any legitimacy. And it is strange that of all the arts, only contemporary music seems to labor under this need for something mapped against the physical world rather than in the intentional.
But back to that quote. The picture above is that of the switchyard at Escobedo. So I've been sitting here most days with the lyrics that Malcolm fronted me a month ago sketching out an opening aria for Neal Cassady, with his final journey one winter night on the Altiplano (up at 7000 feet in central Mexico), walking the railway tracks on a cold rainy night in just a t shirt after partying in San Miguel De Allende for days, planning on getting to the next town, which was Escobedo. Legend has it that he counted the railway ties as he went, and it was the last thing he said while delirious from exposure when they found him the next morning. "Sixty-four thousand nine hundred and twenty eight." But his departure that day, February 3, 1968, was just that bit too soon for him to pilot the Magic Bus to Woodstock, where it was all going to change. Well, for a while, anyway.
So that quote about Adams workbench precipitated the onset of The Great Doubt , but not in a good way; or maybe it is.. I'll have to go back to Hakuin about this. So out went a couple of months of work; 6 minutes of a full orchestral realization, and I started again with a blank page: a pair piano staves beneath a vocal line. So here we go. This is where I sort of endeavor to violate the law of the excluded middle. And the painting by Hakuin below would seem apt, not only featuring a long thin line, but the subject matter of the bridge with the blind attempting to cross it.
But it's not all work; well, Jane's been in India, and I've just been having wild bachelor parties here all month, full of girls in bikinis with beehive hairdo's twisting till dawn around the pool while a crazy Modern Jazz Quartet platter is on the turntable... man.
You know, who doesn't love those those cocktail parties full of safari suits and A-line mini skirt-suits in 60's films...so just go out and large it. But now I've got to tone it down a bit. Just kind of chill out with some MJQ vibes and a dry martini. Just like at Lupo's, which I visited again over Christmas. Lupo himself was going from booth to booth, recounting (again) the DEA raid to any customer who would listen while they wearily tucked into their fried clams and onion rings - he just always seems a bit unnaturally bright for whatever time of day it is; probably too much coffee. But be sure to get there on Wednesdays.