Being yet another theater project update
and a return to full-time writing about flashbacks . . .
Now I sit with different faces
In rented rooms and foreign places
All the people I was kissing
Some are here and some are missing
In the nineteen-nineties
I never dreamt that I would get to be
The creature that I always meant to be
But I thought in spite of dreams
You'd be sitting somewhere here with me
'Cause we were never being boring
We had too much time to find for ourselves...
And we were never holding back
or worried that
Time would come to an end
We were always hoping that, looking back
You could always rely on a friend
--Pet Shop Boys, "Being Boring"
In the past week my work on the novel took a backseat to (or at least a costarring role with) the theater project site. During this time, my normal six-hour book-writing days weighed-in at something like three hours. The rest of the time (which wound up being way more than those missing daily three hours) was devoted to rethinking and redesigning the website of the theatrical presentation, as explained in the previous post.
All those years in publishing have made me a pretty good estimator. Exactly a week ago to almost the hour, Bazz and I sat in a neighborhood grill and, over a couple of beers, decided to Get Serious about theater project site. At the time, I said it'd take a week and, well . . .
For those interested, the sneak preview of the new site has been updated to reflect the latest, near-final changes to the design. It can be found here. Being a sneak preview, not all the links are working--but the ones needed to navigate the three sample pages are functional. Also, the overall speed of this preview also approximates its real-world build and refresh rates.
(And--ahem--as for the fan mail I've received regarding my bio photo in the sneak peek of the site, gee, er, thanks--I think. The favorable response suggests that (a) I should smile more often in photos or (b) continue to use artful lighting or (c) move the photo to my blog biography and retire the pic of Snotty Me (which saddens, because I work very hard at being snotty). Or maybe all of the above. Also know that the whole Gregory House Thing has already been noted by friends. Unfortunately--for all of us--they are referring to my personality and leg in addition to the beard. But, again, thanks for the well-meaning comparisons to an unpleasant Vicodin addict . . . )
While I've been up to my moustache in coding, Bazz has been polishing the demos to be featured on the New and Improved Site, both remixing and re-recording a number of the tunes. While this is necessary as we prepare for recording the backing vocals with two pretty phenomenal singers--and also desirable in that both the site and the songs will be newly shiny--the rethinking in the studio has yielded some remarkable course corrections.
For instance, as the theater iteration of the story shaped up, it became clear to Bazz that "I Love You Now" needed to be made a bit disquieting in a way that would foreshadow the story arc of the libretto. Because of this, something amazing happened in terms of the lyric's reading--rather than underscore the "time" aspect of the song, Bazz remade it emphasizing "no guarantees." The change of psychological inflection is startling. Full of wonder, it still chronicles a love story--but one, perhaps, that has begun to fray even as it reaches its peak. And in beginning to crumble at the edges, the new "I Love You Now" sets up the conditions for the next song--the disco duplicity of "Losing Ground."
Heard in the context of the project--surrounded by the other songs in proper programmatic order--the impact is spot-on. I'm thankful for Bazz's insight because I'm certain that I'd never have been in the position to have a similar ah-ha moment. I wrote the piece years ago as a meditation on eternal love in a temporal world. It took someone sufficiently sensitive and at a distance from my own sensibilities to see that the snake had already entered the garden: Bazz didn't add lines; he simply shifted the focus to "there's never guarantees"--which were part of the lyric from the outset.
For audiences, the interplay of songs with libretto has been made more seamless by Bazz's understanding of the song. But for me, it has been a revelation--albeit seven years later: Damn! That's what I meant! Of course! The unconscious is an amazing thing, and I'm afraid that mine is like one of those multiplex cinemas. I had no clear idea that Doubt had already been playing on screen eight all those years ago until Bazz highlighted it.
It occurs to me that this anecdote it a good example of the iterative nature of my collaboration with Mr Atlas. First come the words, then Bazz's musical response, then my response to the complete song, then Bazz's response to my reaction and--sometimes--a radical new reading of the words. In this instance, his latest insight to the song has made me clearly see that the last verse--the "bare-breasted" stanza--needs to be eliminated from the theatrical version of the song: That Beatrice remains asleep throughout this new, disquieting version of the song is essential. It's now obvious to me that the new reading of the song makes it the perfect stage moment--someone who's there-but-not-there all at once; which is Beatrice's signature characteristic.
Hopefully, the missing happy-ending stanza can be restored for the pop-song CD, where Bazz could lighten the implications of the song by emphasizing its "time" aspect once again. This is one of the reasons I wanted a collection of pop-songs to comprise the third panel of the triptych--so neat, contrasting versions of the same material would coexist. And with Bazz's new reading of "I Love You Now" for the theater piece, we're on our way to achieving an artful dissonance between the three projects. I couldn't be more pleased.
The other latest changes to the theater songs include a new version of "I Don't Live There Anymore," which pushes the song closer to a danse macabre; a version of "Autumn Beach" prepared for backing vocal sessions; an enhanced version of "No Rules In Love," featuring a fuller drum sound; a more vocally complex "Post-Modern Pop Song;" a simplified, shortened version of "Intimate;" a remix of "Hold On" that harkens back to the original demo; and, finally, two remixes of my personal favorite, "On Your Way"--a new theater version and a new mix of Nashville-inflected version intended for the pop-song CD.
The other noteworthy news is that I'm considering a more distinct differentiation of the triptych's constituent parts. The perhaps too-subtle differences between the titles of the novel, theater piece and CD are beginning to niggle at me. Currently, I'm wondering if a better idea might be to call the theater piece Racing the Sunset, dub the CD Post-Modern Pop Songs and simply title the novel Formal Absence. As an enitity--a virtual box set--the triptych would be called The Formal Absences of Precious Things. I'm still of many minds about this, but after my return from the research trip to the Midwest, I hope to have more clarity about all of this.
And now, with most of this stage's heavy lifting behind us, I can move on to the past in the form of my backward-spiralling novel. While there's some coding left to do, it will exist in a more balanced relationship with my work on the book. I hope to lock-down most of the new site before I leave town to research additional locales for the novel. (In another instance of life mirroring art, I'll be visiting cities that figure into the story's midsection even though I will doubtless be devoting my hotel-room evenings to simultaneously honing the book's conclusion. Talk about time-tripping . . .)
And that's all the news from The Front--at least the stuff I can share at this point. Even with balance restored between book and theater piece, I'm curious who will win the race to existence--Stage Beatrice or Page Beatrice? A more reasonable man would look at these Pandora-esque projects and strive to nail them shut. But not me. Because with regard to writing, I am thoroughly unreasonable, and I'm working as hard as I can to set Tony's demons free. One of my many unpopular opinions holds that the worst things happen in dark, locked places which remain out of sight (think about the Bush Administration at every turn). So beyond art, see this three-medium project as a kind of Sunshine Act for the soul--and, fingers crossed, the exact opposite of being boring.