Yes, yes, I know I haven’t written in weeks. It’s not that I’ve been busy, it’s that I’ve had nothing to say. I haven’t worked on any music since April, the news about Stephen not returning to GHP threw me for a loop, so sue me, and the meeting with Lee Johnson was interesting and fun but inconclusive, whatever that means, and most of my creative energy has gone into things that are better published over on lichtenbergian.org or lacunagroup.org. And there’s my annual early May funk, which on other blogs perhaps might be worth a whole week’s worth of posts, but I don’t presume that my irrational tailspins are of any interest, not even to me.
I might have written about Jeff and Marc and Grayson working on “What a Wonderful Bird the Frog Are” for the Masterworks Chorale concert tonight. I guess it’s important, since it’s the first time a choral piece of mine has ever had an actual performance, but really, “Frog Song”? It has a lot to recommend it (here are the score [pdf] and an mp3), but it’s hardly William Blake. They’re accompanying the chorus with “something percussive in nature,” which in their case means rubber mallets on a chest of drawers. If we can work out the finer points of the comedy before tonight, it should be quite amusing.
Today is the first, and only, day I have off between postplanning and GHP. I awoke early and got straight to my first task: cleaning my study and the stairs leading up to it. That’s mostly so I can drag down all the stuff I need to pack without tripping over crap.
Much of the stuff I’m straightening and tidying are not in point of fact mine. They belong to another person who lives in this house who, when faced with mounds of clutter, often buys containers in which to put said clutter and then puts the containers up in my study. So I was picking up all the family photos, framed, that have somehow escaped their containers when the interior decorator and this other person were scouring the house for stuff to redecorate the den with, when I came across this little black file box.
Since all this is in an area of my study that I don’t often go, mostly because of the mess but also because I don’t use the resources on those shelves very much, I hadn’t really paid attention to this box. I thought it was the old GHP box that my predecessor in the assistant director position had passed off to me. I haven’t used the box in years, as my systems and forms rapidly outgrew the box. (I will pass off a huge tub to the next person.)
As I looked at it, thinking I might actually be able to toss the contents, since I haven’t looked inside it for eight years, I also was getting some cognitive dissonance vibes: I remembered the box as being in another location, and I knew it didn’t have this translucent “pencil box” thing going on in the lid. What was in this box?
It wasn’t the old GHP stuff. It was the box I used to organize the score pages of Figaro for copying/collating for the cast. I had utterly forgotten about it. It was a thing of beauty: about a hundred file folders, the sturdy brown kind, each with a label printed out from a database I had created specifically for the purpose, showing the act, scene, the page numbers in the score, the number of copies I needed of those pages, and a check-box listing of the cast with who needed those pages. The file folders marched in even, unbroken thirds: left, center, right. Even I was impressed as I gazed upon it.
And in the translucent pencil box? A pencil, it looked like, and a sticky note pad. I opened it up.
It was not a sticky note pad. It was a cassette tape. With a shock, I realized what I had found.
It was Aces & Eights.
I hesitate even to write about this, since I’ve had very bad luck recently when I disparage anything. The internets is a creepy kind of magical place, and I just know if I write about this work, the original author is going to sense a disturbance in the Force and come looking for me. So, please, original author, who I am not going to name, thank you, just know that your work has given me untold hours of joy. In its own way.
Many many years ago, I hosted a theatre chat room on American Online called The Stage Door. We met every Monday night from 8:00-12:00 EST, and talked about theatre in our lives. Participants were many and varied: teens who would squeal about Rent, community types like me, professionals at many levels. We had actors, techies, lighting designers, musicians, directors. It was a fun time. That’s where I met Noah, who hosts all my websites. I met BrnySmurf, who yes, voiced Brainy Smurf and is now a casting director in LA. (He’s the smartass med student in the opening scene of Young Frankenstein.) Another regular was the music director of Guys & Dolls. Nicky Silver popped in every now and then, chatting about the woes of trying to find a gorgeous man who could act for Food Chain. (Silver, we finally did that show here. You owe me an autographed copy.) Steven Weber came barreling through one night, totally pumped up about the work he’d done on that day’s shoot of Jeffrey. Ah, the days when AOL was actually a community.
We also had a fair number of playwrights, and whenever they found I was the artistic director of NCTC, they’d ask if we took scripts. I always said yes. I guess those scripts are still down at the theatre. One or two of them were really interesting and we should have done them, at least in the Second Season venue.
So one night, a girl in the room realizes that I’m open to receiving scripts, and she enthuses about her boyfriend’s musical. Can she send me their tape? Certainly, says I. A couple of days later, I get Aces & Eights: a musical play about Wild Bill Hickok.
Oh my. I think many of you who read this blog have actually heard the tape, so you’ll know what I mean when I say that the contents of that tape were the most appalling collection of songs ever written. In listening to it in my van, I actually had to pull off the road a couple of times because I was gasping for breath. Yes, it is that bad.
I was supposed to return the tape, but I never did. I couldn’t. Here was the world’s worst musical, in my hands. How could I give that up? Fortunately, I never heard from the girl or her author/composer/lyricist boyfriend again. (Given my luck with this kind of post recently, I bet I do now. Pace, guys. You’re just going to have to forgive me.)
One can always forgive the clunky synthesized sound, at least I hope we can always do that, and I know that if I tried to record William Blake’s Inn singlehandedly with maybe Marc and Ginny and Mary Frances, that our end result might not sound any better than this. However, technical quality is not the issue. Artistic quality, alas, is.
Melody? Not so much, and he must have planned for Wild Bill to be played by Mandy Patinkin, since the vocal range on many of the songs forced him down an octave mid-phrase. Accompaniment? Leaden, or ear-grindingly repetitious. Lyrics? This is where the creator really shines. You have never heard such ghastly stuff in your life: sledgehammer rhymes, inapposite images, abandoned scansion, you name it, he kills it. Dead. Over and over and over.
After listening to it for a while, it was no longer funny. We all know what it takes to create something, anything, and even my sympathies were engaged. For a while. Then it became funny again, and it remains so to this day. I would bring it to rehearsals at the theatre at that point just before we’d begin running the show, when everything is falling apart and everyone wants to quit, and I’d play it just to remind everybody that no matter how bad we think things are going, we are not as talentless as these people.
In the creator’s defense, I have to agree with Grayson, who commented one day as we got out of the van: “He actually has a good idea, and all the songs are exactly where they need to be and are about the right thing in the script. It’s just that he’s no good. If he were talented, it would be a great show.” The great Lichtenbergian fear, indeed.
It must have been a couple of years ago that I decided I needed to transfer it to CD so that it wouldn’t be lost forever. But then, horrors!, I couldn’t find it. I thought I could remember putting it somewhere for safekeeping, but it wasn’t any of the places I would have chosen for that purpose. It was gone. I truly grieved. Aces & Eights held a special place in my life, and I was distraught thinking I’d never have it again. Worst of all, I’ve had to rely on my own work for bottom-of-the-barrel comparisons, and you know how depressing that is. (Viz., IV. Lento)
So every May, when I printed out my packing list for GHP (another database… stop laughing at me), there would be Aces & Eights on the list to pack, to get the VSU media people to transfer it for me, and I’d make another half-hearted attempt to locate it, but in vain.
Until today! O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!
I am chortling in my joy.