Part two of the ‘interview’ I did last week with long-time supporter Roger Corton. Part One may be found here.
RCWhat’s up with the Portugese in “I’ll Be Right There”?
JCHI had this dream about two lesbian women fighting.
RCSounds promising so far.
JCH(laughs). It was just these two ordinary women shopping in some city. The one is clearly a serious foodie. She’s obsessed with all these fancy ingredients. You know the type. Anyhoo, they’re about to get into their car on the street and they’re having an argument; in Portugese. But because it was a dream I could understand them. The one woman was complaining and worrying and fretting and she’s so upset she’s struggling with the keys to unlock the door. So the other woman just loses it. She goes round to the other side of the car and she just drags the first woman bodily away from the car, shakes her and says something like, “You don’t get it! I love you! Relax. We’re going to be fine!” She was just fed up with all the negativity. “Stop worrying!” And then they go back to what’s really important: shopping for all their gourmet ingredients! Like nothing happened. To me, that’s love.
RCLet’s try again. Why Portugese?
JCHI dunno. I love the sound of Portugese. It’s the sexiest language in the world. You can recite the BBC Shipping Forecast in Portugese and it sounds hot. But the point of the dream was how ‘normal’ they seemed. They were having a row. But it was the kind of row I’ve never seen in public.
RCYou’ve seen people argue in public.
JCHCall me sheltered but I’ve never seen a lesbian couple argue like that in public. Have you? Occasionally, and I do mean occasionally, I’ll see lesbians show affection in public, but even that is still pretty rare. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a lesbian couple have a blow out on the street. And this is Seattle. The Gay Chicago. Straight people do that. You’ll know there’s ‘equality’ when you see lesbians and gays having knock down drag out arguments in public like ‘normal’ people (laughs). But that’s not the really funny part.
RCNot sure I want to hear this.
JCH Was that abuse?
RCWhat? Was the second woman abusing the first? I guess not.
JCH What if it was a man? We’ll be really ‘liberated’ when either nobody has that kind of fed up interaction anymore or when a man and a woman or two guys or two ladies can have that type of row and no one calls the cops.
There’s this Woody Allen movie, ‘Play It Again Sam’ where the Bogart ghost says ‘Sorry I had to slap ya around, sweetheart but you went crazy when I said no more.’ (laughs). But in my short lifetime the rules have completely changed. You can’t even joke about that anymore. Full stop. The moment the second woman laid hands on the first, the cops should be called. But in my mind, in the dream, I knew they were OK. It wasn’t some abuse thing. It was just them being them. But if you cut them more slack just because they’re both women then are you fully evolved?
Don’t look at me that way (laughs). This is why I don’t like to explain these things. Don’t like my dream? Get your own!
RC Or maybe heterosexuals will ‘evolve’ to never having knock down drag out arguments in public.
JCH Touché. But I doubt it. I think people are people and one of the ‘rights’ of equality that the second women expected was the right to lose it when your spouse is being a pill (laughs). And that ladies and germs is true love. That’s what the song is about.
RCSpoken like an expert in marital advice. Moving on. Apparently the CD version of ‘Sisyphus’ is very different from the download version.
JCHYes. By about five minutes (laughs). Two things. First, remember it’s a CD and the practical limit is 60 minutes. I couldn’t just jam everything onto that. Second, and more important, they’re different. The one complaint I hear over and over at every concert is “Man, why don’t you blow like that on the record?” So on the digital downloads I stretch out.
RCWow. Well, first of all, why don’t you blow like that on the record?
JCHI don’t do it because that’s not what the music needs. Think about any great song with a memorable solo of any kind. It tells a story. It’s eight, sixteen bars. That’s it. It’s not jazz. It’s like the 2nd theme in a Sonata. It complements the main theme and then takes you back. On all those ‘prog’ classics, the solos people remember are to the point.
RCIs that middle ’12 Tone’?
JCHNobody asked that. You made that up! (laughs). Yes, it’s called ‘Atonal For Dummies!’ When I was just starting in college we had an exercise to try writing this stuff. Since I didn’t know what I was doing, it was pretty easy for me to fake (laughs). But it was the one thing the talented kids really struggled with. Turns out that it’s very difficult to put down a melody that sounds goofy when you’ve learned to do it ‘right’. Most of us don’t feel it. We lapse back into do-re-mi pretty quickly. We have to work at sounding dissonant. An old buddy of mine and I used to watch this Planet Of The Apes movie that has an ‘atonal’ sound (Ed. Note: Beneath The Planet Of The Apes). We’d go around like idiots singing this Hymn To The Holy Bomb! By the way, the composer of that was Leonard Rosenman, who also did ‘Fantastic Voyage’
RCRaquel Welch in a wetsuit. Can’t beat that.
JCHRight (laughs). But it was always one of my fave scores of all time and he was the only guy who did 12 tone movie music. I tracked him down and wrote him all these fan letters. Great stuff.
Anyhoo. I always practiced this kind of junk a lot as ear training. It’s a joke because I’m not trying to be Schoenberg, but it’s not a joke because it’s a real work out. So the middle section of Sisyphus is just “I Got Rhythm” dressed up like The Holy Bomb! Lots of guys do tricks like this. For example, I’m always surprised that people don’t hear the blues in that Steely Dan song ‘Peg’. That’s all it is. It’s just a blues with a twist to the harmony.
RCReally? That’s interesting. I’ll have to go back and check it out. But I think what people want to know is why not include the extra material on the CD. There’s a tendency to feel cheated.
JCHWell, not if you don’t tell ’em! (laughs)
Adding that material on the downloads was an experiment. It’s not like anyone’s getting ripped off. If you want to get the longer versions (and you paid for the CD), just go to the web site and get it. Now, if you’re saying that I could’ve marketed it better? So nu? (laughs). I just didn’t think it was worth shouting about. New album. Now with 25% MORE ATONAL!
But what I think is interesting is how I can never get this crap right. If I were Radiohead and I put some ‘hidden’ material up on the web site, people would be absolutely thrilled to find the mystery shit. My demographic? Whine. whine. whine. (laughs).
RC But the implication is that there are more Easter Eggs out there. OK, so…
JCH You may well think that. I couldn’t possibly comment. Seriously, I’ll try to do this sort of thing better. If it comes up again. Which I’m not saying it has. Or will (laughs).
RCFor the grand finale, I’m condensing several questions into one. In one sentence: Why the whole opera thing? Why should anyone care about ‘opera’? Isn’t that the height of pretentious ‘prog’ stuff? You basically checked out for three years, so why do that?
JCHI was never an opera fan. Like most people I made all the usual jokes. But then I found myself in a really bad place in life. I had to do something and I figured this was my shot. I’d spent 30 years learning to do music well enough to do something meaningful and I wanted to tell a story. And I felt like the story: I’ve spent my entire adult life working on something, in an industry that has fallen apart. And yeah, you wonder.
Also, for some reason, as I got older I started liking opera. It snuck up on me. I dunno why. It certainly wasn’t the fat people screaming and dying. But the more I thought about what opera really is, the more I felt that it’s a great art form that’s just become a caricature of itself. I’d go and I’d see what it’s supposed to be, probably not what you would see on stage.
RC Fat people screaming and dying.
JCH Exactly. But think about West Side Story or Fiddler On The Roof. Great musicals are a kind of opera. And if I wanted to get someone interested in opera I would start there and not with Puccini. But the idea is the same: there’s a drama that simply doesn’t work without the music. And vice versa.
RC OK, but still… opera? You must realize that it’s one in a million to get it performed? You’ve said so. Couldn’t you have picked something with more ‘commercial potential’?
JCHOpera is in a terrible place. The business is easily as messed up as our political system. Corruption. Bad people. People who can’t change. Frankly, I didn’t know how bad it was when I started. I actually started getting some grant money and small encouragement right away which kinda led me on. It’s a long story.
Anyhoo, I wrote the kind of opera that I’d want to see. I was (and am) naive enough to think that people aren’t so turned off by the word ‘opera’ that they might check it out on its own merits. So maybe you can think of it like Ralph Nader running for president. One person might say, “He’s right on the issues so he should run!” Butd then there’s another type of person (who may well be the vast majority) who says, “He’s Don Quixote. He should be doing other things with his time.” I get that. But frankly, you reach an age where you have to do something more. You can’t and shouldn’t do the same crap forever. Now I admit that most older guys tend to make some very suspicious choices in this regard.
RC You mean like Rod Stewart singing standards?
JCH On the nosey! (laughs) But I think that the album Songs From Detroit is one of the better things I’ve done. So in the end, my only regret (so far) about Detroit The Opera is that I haven’t marketed it better.
One last thing. I realise now what a complete gift this so-called career has been. Everything happened so auto-magically back in 2000, with guys like Vito, Nick, Sasha and yourself. And because it was so easy, I didn’t do my part in terms of marketing. As much as anyone, I bought into the whole ‘internet revolution’ crap. I mean I actually lived it as opposed to everyone else who talk about it and get nothing in return. I didn’t see that there was a 4-5 year window to get things done and I was lazy. If I had been really entrepreneur-guy I woulda leveraged and pro-activated and synergised and gotten further. To that extent I apologise to everyone.
JCH Don’t start with that ‘farther/further’ crap.