Saturday, September 27, 2008

Kathy Acker

Stravinsky and Dylan Thomas were to write an opera together but Thomas drank himself to death before they could begin. Stravinsky wrote that this was "a terrible blow to me as well as to all those who knew Dylan Thomas's genius."  Stories of creations unmade, like this one, always seem so insufferably sad to me.  Even though we did receive In Memoriam Dylan Thomas out of the tragedy, what might have come? 

I have my own story along these lines, an opera unborn, hardly at the same culture-defining level and probably not even a real possibility, but important to me OK, goddamn it, and such a source of regret.  Unknown to me, Carla Harryman invited her buddy Kathy Acker to the original production of Little Girl back in '95.  I didn't see her until the end of the performance, at which point I ran up to her. Erling: Ms. Acker, I'm a huge fan of yours (quoting from Blood and Guts in High School) "Her father's touch is cold, he doesn't want to touch her mostly 'cause he's confused. Janey fucks him even though it hurts her like hell 'cause of her Pelvic Inflammatory Disease." I'm so happy you came. Kathy: (doe-eyed) I'm a big fan of yours too. 

Well, maybe the doe-eyed bit is an exaggeration, but I told her I wanted to work on something together and she said yes in the way people do when they are invited to go to Budapest for the May-December wedding of The Accordionist, the National Hero, and they say yes, sure, knowing that they aren't really going to go but, at that moment, really wanting to go, imagining it, thinking that it could actually happen.  For months after, the thought rattled around in my head without ceasing and, a number of times, I picked up the phone to get her number from Carla but then put it off, partially because my possessive mistress at the time didn't trust Ms Acker, saying she had stolen someone-or-other's husband or boyfriend or whatever but, all the time, not knowing that the cancer that would kill her was already growing in her breast - and then she died.  A terrible blow to me. What would have come from it?

Friday, September 19, 2008

RIP Lou Teicher

Last month and somehow I missed it.  The confluence of sentimentality and John Cage, kitsch and Henry Cowell.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Towards a Libretto for an Opera on St Cecilia

Early evening, an apartment in Bethnal Green, garishly decorated, St Cecilia in her early 30s, hair in curlers, slouched on a couch. She sleeps, lightly dozing and, touching her body, stirs. The television is on, turned very low, with music playing, and the blue TV light is on her, adding to the soft evening twilight filtering through an uncovered window.

She turns, then sleeps a bit longer, rolling over on her side, head on her arm, one foot crossed back on the other, hand under her chin. She wears a blue kimono with a crane pattern in gold. She turns again, now with her back to us, the crane pattern bold across it, the bottoms of her feet dirty, and then she sleeps again, her side rising and falling in rhythm with her breath and with the music.

Shortly, she wakes, turns partially back to us, brushes the hair from her face, and drags a finger across her eyes.  Still sitting on the couch, she stretches, cat-like, and begins to sing. When she sings, it is not with a human voice, but rather with a full ensemble of instruments, the sound issuing from her mouth but with a supernatural presence.

She rises from the couch, continuing to sing. As she walks to the stage left, each step she takes, each object she touches - the arm of the couch, a lamp, a chair - makes a beautiful sound in perfect counterpoint to the music. 

The romance of St Cecilia begins with Cecilia as a young girl, born into a noble Roman family, promising her virginity to God. Her family, against her wishes, arranges for her to be married to a Roman nobleman by the name of Valerian. During the wedding banquet she sings a song to God, quietly, to herself, and is provided an angel, a guardian to preserve her chastity. This very angel appears to her and her husband, hastening his conversion to the faith and his respect for her continence. Unfortunately for them, the husband's faith is an active and proselytizing faith, bringing him and his brother to the attention of the prefect, Turcius Almachius, who orders the two men to be executed. The power of their convictions converts the first executioner sent, but not the second, who dispatches all three. When Cecilia buries the three men, in a Christian manner, she herself is condemned, locked into a sealed sweat room, the fires stoked to maximum intensity, and is left to die. As we might expect knowing her exalted state, when the chamber is opened she is found quite alive, in aspect of prayer, with nary a bead of sweat to mark her brow. As is typical in these stories, such supernatural events serve only to anger the brutish prefect, who orders her head removed from her body. After three blows are attempted, the maximum the law allows, Cecilia, although bloodied, still lives, sending the executioner fleeing in fear in the consideration of his brazen act against the divine, and Cecilia is left, praying and teaching to her fellow Christians until her death three days later. Over the centuries, her relics are exhumed and reinterred on a great number of occasions, each time found to be incorrupt and with, on one hand, three fingers outstretched and, on the other, one finger, denoting her belief, even in death, of the mystery of the Trinity.

Tony Kushner, best known for his lovely play Angels in America, was commissioned by the San Francisco Opera in the late 90s to write a libretto for an opera by Bobby McFerrin. He chose to adapt Heinrich von Kleist's St Cecilia.  When I first heard of the project, I was quite upset. I hadn't been asked to do this music for this project even though I was an actual opera composer, not merely a famous person brought in to boost ticket sales, and in fact had made copious notes for an opera on this subject.  Unfortunately, it put me off the whole deal, which is too bad since, in the end, Kushner finished the adaptation but McFerrin bailed on the project. 

[A somewhat less related but maybe informative story: Years later, when I was part of the Oakland East Bay Symphony's Words and Music project, Ishmael Reed came and told us a story about a similar event in the early 90s, where he was commissioned to write a libretto entitled Gethsemane to be the basis of an opera, as it turns out, to be completed by the same celebrity. In his story, the celebrity showed up in his stretch limo plus entourage, breezed into Mr. Reed's house, proceeded to demonstrate his lack of ability to carry this project through, and left, never to be seen again.]

Friday, September 12, 2008


fognozzle and I are collaborating on a something-or-other to be premiered next June with the San Francisco Composers Chamber Orchestra.  Too early now to say what it will be except of course fabulous and full of beauty.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Lynne's latest

Her recent absence from Society has been due to a number of majorly lovely projects, including the one above, with before and after pix on her blog.  I was involved in some of the measurements and higher mathematics of the project (but not her use of Sphenic Numbers) using various steam-powered approximates to what we probably could have achieved in an instant with the right laser interferometric sextant or astrolabe or whatever.  Suffice it to say that small errors in rise can lead to large errors in surface area, the basis of estimation in the decorative painting biz.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

l'homme en flammes

Best things burning, as I recall them: trampoline, ice cold Budweiser (the American kind), dust storms, apples, gingerbread people!, pin-drop quiet for 20 minutes during the temple burn, the spectacle, big fire, handheld flamethrowers, showers, whipped cream makings, dressing up and then dressing up some more, ridicule of boot covers, underpants that advertise their sexiness, fresh food, trendspotting, Death Guild DJ, my campmate, the word scrot, stories around the campfire, escape from the tendrils of the day-to-day, jewelry massive and jewelry hand-made, sandwiches among the smoldering ruins, Coca-Cola, empathy, TB303 through a million dollar sound system from a mile away, the beautiful smart and bad girl Momo raiding and sniffing, running into Adam and Tara, the blood bags hanging from the ceiling of Spike's bar, the stripper pole, HOME, the sunrises, the sunsets, the mauve-orange-gold rain, Fuck Hippies, old and young hippies, Playa Love, uniform = radical self expression, shirtcocking, Tania spraypainting 'my mother should have swallowed' on the backs of unsuspecting thunderdome fighters, aromatic heterocyclic organic compounds of the monoamine alkaloid family, uninterrupted happiness, the hugs, oxidizers drunk from a beautiful golden chalice, cigarettes, blowing flames out the ends of cigarettes.

Lynne often tells me that, when she dumps me for her next boyfriend, she will be the pretty one, as she believes that I eclipse her with my sartorial elegance but, on the streets of Black Rock City, I was the one made plain, hardly visible in the shadow of the gorgeous Miss Erika, glowing without the need for chemo- or electro-luminescence.

My boy

My son Duncan, pictured above with the "Game Over" t-shirt & playing the part of Beausoleil, has hooked up with PianoFight to put on a series of scatological sketch comedy riots, viz., The Shit Show, starting this Friday and Saturday at Off-Market Theaters, tix here.  I am pleased and proud and I highly recommend it. Their description:

Premiering September 12-13 in the black box of Studio 250 at Off-Market, the ever-humble PianoFight proudly presents the first installment of the "Stop Hating Imagination Time" Show (which could very well be turned into an appropriate acronym). The S.H.I. Time Show was conceptualized by a few recent Berkeley grads / imaginative but immature man-childs (men-children?), whose overwhelming need for attention led to the creation of a somewhat offensive and vaguely illegal sketch comedy show. This fast paced comedy riot, and follow up to PianoFights smash hit ShortLived, is sure to enlighten and entertain.

Come see why SF Weekly called PianoFight "Better than SNL"!

The show is loosely tied together by a simple premise: a production company has lost a bunch of money in a "deal" and is running out of time to save their theater.  The theater boss has deftly trapped 4 writers in his basement, and forced them to come up with the best show they can. The resulting hilarity runs the gamut from coherent to absurd, and will be topped off with an amazing performance from the piano/vocalist tandem Toby Dick'.

And, as always, brown bags encouraged ...

NOTE: No-one under 16 years old will be admitted.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Polluting the Global Name Space

We, those suffering from the disease of ambition, whose names are almost Globally Unique IDentifiers, live with the fear that another of the same name will appear and displace us, rolling us down from the hilltop on which we reside. For this reason, I have enlisted a legion of friends 'round the world who keep one ear to the railroad tracks and one wet finger on the telegraph lines, and another legion, not so friendly, waiting to remove those that stray onto my appellative territory, politely at first, then with ever increasing prejudice. It is a rarely used but most important part of the infrastructure of my career, not covered by the average business consultant, but necessary nonetheless. 

Recently, my friend Nicole, perusing the Norse business pages, found this shocking reference.  Immediately, a call was made (not by me, as my manicured hands must float above such earthly deeds), resources were inventoried, strings were pulled, and after a deliberate but immediate decision, certain highly placed members of the Kriminalpolitisentralen were called upon, reminded of their duties, and this usurper, this moniker-expropriator, was (1) found to be in possession of certain strategic government documents, (2) outed as an egregious pederast who used chloroform, toluene and other disabling agents to render his victims insensate and (3) a victim of a ghastly failure of the banking system which left him penniless. To some, these sanctions may appear harsh, but I have learned to harden my heart in such matters, those concerns that transcend weak and typical morality. 
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