Evolution of a Song: Part One

I often proclaim — not without pride — that I wrote most of the music to Eden in Babylon in my head, without a musical instrument, without music paper, and without music notation software.   While this statement is true, it is not true of the entire score.

There are two songs in this show that were actually written a long time ago — in 1971 and 1982 respectively.   They had different titles and different lyrics, but the same music.   Also, half of one song was written in 1984, and 1/4 of another song was also written in that period, around about 1980.   Otherwise, all the songs were written between 2010 and 2016, when I was homeless in the San Francisco Bay Area.

These older songs were obviously written by a much younger man.   So it might be interesting to explore how they evolved and found a place in Eden in Babylon.

One of the songs is “Midnight Screams.”  This song has had three different names.  First it was “Child of No Emotion.” This was the first ballad in a rock opera I wrote in 1971, called Euphoria.  

Ah, how I remember Christmas of 1971.   I came home from U.C. Davis, my brother Steve was there, I sat down at the Wurlitzer spinet on which I learned how to play piano as a little boy, and promptly played the first five songs in Euphoria.

I remember after the fifth song, “Child of No Emotion,” Steve smiled, and in an uncharacteristic departure from his usual inscrutability, I heard the words:  “I love you.”

I don’t recall having reciprocated his expression. I have always loved him, of course, but I was so self-absorbed at the time, I believe the next words I said were:

“How does Euphoria compare to Jesus Christ Superstar?” (This being 1971, the famous rock opera from England was making a big splash in the States.)

“So far,” said my admiring younger brother, “it’s better!”

I’m inwardly laughing, because I happen to think Jesus Christ Superstar is the closest a rock opera has ever come to replicating a true classical opera.   I hold it to be a masterpiece.   But back in the Day, I remember my brother and I, in our youthful arrogance, deciding we were “done” with Jesus Christ Superstar.  He had learned the entire score on his bass, and I had learned it on the piano.  We had played the score so many times together, that one day the two of us ran out in the middle of the street and stomped the two-album set — and we’re talking vinyl — to pieces.

Ah, the fond memories of misspent youth!   

I might contact Steve later on tonight because he’s really good at keeping family mementos, and it’s very likely that the Euphoria libretto is among them.   I can’t remember the last time I saw the text.  Knowing me, I probably lost it in some storage unit somewhere along the line.   Unlike Steve, I’m a minimalist.   (That’s a positive way of framing the fact that I’m very bad at hanging onto things — and very good at being able to hit the road at a moment’s notice.)

While I don’t remember many of the lyrics to “Child of No Emotion,” I do remember that the title figures on the fourth line of each verse, where the words “where the wind is howling” and “desperately prowling” are found in the present-day lyrics of “Midnight Screams.”  

I’ll look for the libretto.   Meanwhile, stay tuned for a sequel.  I forgot all about “Child of No Emotion” until I decided to write an opera in the year 2009.   In 2010, I was fortunate enough to have landed an under-the-table gig in a sleazy hotel on MacArthur Blvd, which is when I dredged up the Child and decided it was now a song with new lyrics, called “Cloaks of Art.”

There’s a story around that one that’s just a wee bit more colorful than a tale of two whippersnappers ripping an old vinyl album to bits.    

TO BE CONTINUED

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