Another snippet from the new opera, The Boats: Canada. Method acting. Self-care. Healing broken bones when yer older. The Dorothy Problem. Glinda The Good Witch.
Roger CortonI’m sounding like a broken record, but here is yet another new snippet. Quite a change from last time.
JC HarrisYes, sir.
RCGo! Tell me about the song. Duuuh.
JCHOh. Right. So we know that the three sons will eventually decide to leave for America, Australia and Canada respectively. And they’re each thinking about it even as the who ‘rebellion’ is going on.
RCBut they don’t want to tell anyone and come off as though they aren’t one hundred percent behind the revolt, right?
JCHRight. As I keep hammering in, every main character in an opera gets at least one aria which tells you something about their inner life. So each of the boys’ aria is them musing about where they think about going. And this one is about Tomás and Canada. He hangs back after everyone heads for the bank to demand that the whole settlement be renegotiated. This is his ‘moment’.
RCI have to say, this may be the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard you do. First thing I thought of is that this borrows from the Canadian National Anthem, right?
JCHOh for sure. If you like the way it sounds, it’s probably because it is, in my opinion, the best national anthem in the world.
RCSo you want people to get the reference?
JCHYou betcha. That mind-sense is important for the listener. Plus it gives me an excuse to do a total rip-off (laughs).
RCNice. The other thing I hear? It sounds like you were really choked up singing the lyric and that reminds me of an article I read about Peter Gabriel. They would have him do takes over and over until they got that ‘catch’ in his voice; that place where his voice kind of breaks when he sings. I think Daniel Lanois called it ‘the cry’.
JCHInteresting. I think I know what he means. It’s that ‘method acting’ I rant about. You really have to get to an emotional place where you are truly saddened and your voice really is breaking. You can’t fake it. Or at least, I can’t. But like I keep saying, it’s dangerous.
JCHIt’s dangerous because, and this is something I’ve only recently learned, trained actors do a lot of things to get into that emotional state, but also to get out of that state; to do what shrinks call ‘self-care’. They study how to shake off the performance and become you again.
RCI did not know that. That is so interesting.
JCHIsn’t it? I sure wish I had known (laughs). For whatever reason, I seem to have known my share of psychologists over the years and they all talk about the toll it takes working with patients. So they have classes and methodologies for doing that self-care–so as not to ruin themselves. That’s a big deal in their world. Actors have similar exercises for ‘returning from the character’. I never did that.
RCYou didn’t recognize that working on such emotional material might stick with you like an actor who plays a part? Having it affect his ‘real’ personality.
JCHYes. And that’s a recurring theme with me. Arrogance and ignorance. Or ignorance and arrogance. I dunno which is the greater flaw. But I did exactly the same with my physical body. I never took care of my hands, my back, etc. while I was playing all those years. I just took it for granted that I’d wake up every day and everything would just ‘work’ the same regardless of how I treated them–or how old I was. And now, like lots of guys of my era, I’ve got real physical problems.
RCLike pro athletes. They wouldn’t take care of their bodies after the game so when their career ends, they’re a mess with arthritis and so on.
JCHExactly. When you’re young, you feel strong. You don’t bother with that self-care. You figure your body will heal itself as well at forty as it did when you were twenty.
RCI know what you mean. I remember you telling me how breaking a bone when you’re fifty will take many times longer to heal than when you were a kid. I was skeptical, but you were absolutely correct. I had that shoulder surgery and I’m convinced that if I hadn’t done the physical therapy I would not have been able to lift my arm right anymore. It was something. I had a similar injury when I was a kid and it pretty much healed all by itself!
JCHAnd getting back to the song…
JCHIt works exactly the same with emotional songs. To do them correctly you have to go to that place of real pain. And I never learned how to get in and out of that like a trained actor would. I’m only now realizing just how much I hurt myself and loved ones around me.
RCCan you give me an example?
JCHWell it’s like I’ve been saying. I noticed long ago that I seemed to have some of my best songwriting and recording when I was in the throes of some disaster. As I said, I’m now convinced that unconsciously I would sometimes make some kind of ‘drama’ happen to get me to that emotional place. Or, I would be working on a piece–and in that ‘character’–and not treat people around me as well as I should’ve.
RCBecause you weren’t ‘you’ at the time, is that what you’re saying?
JCHBasically yes. As cockamamie as it sounds.
RCIt sounds like a ‘Get out of jail free card’–you get to act like a jerk and then say, “Sorry! I was ‘in character’.”
JCHThat’s exactly how I felt about it! I would know that I wasn’t myself, but I would try to white-knuckle it–just pretend that everything is cool, even though the ‘character’ was affecting my day to day.
RCI believe you, but I wonder if anyone else would (laughs).
JCHI think that’s what makes relationships with ‘creatives’ so hard. People don’t ‘get it’. They can never tell what portion of those personality shifts are the work, or…
RCJust being an asshole?
JCHEXACTAMUNDO! (laughs) And frankly, sometimes I wouldn’t know either. So your partner has to be able to know you well enough to be able to say, “You’re being an asshole right now.” Get it? You’re not an asshole. But you’re not shaking off what you’re working on. Snap out of it!
RCWe’ve gotta wrap it up. I think it’s interesting that we’re talking about that with regard to this song, because the character Tomás is also covering up.
JCHAnd how ‘meta’ is that? (laughs). You’ve uncovered layers of shit I didn’t even think of. You’re like the Joyce Brothers of Prog, baby!
RCThank you. I think. One last thing about the music. This is as bare as it gets. When you’re doing a piece like this, do you ever feel, I don’t know if this is the right word but, ‘guilty’ for not using more instruments?
JCHYou mean, do I fret over the fact that 90% of the musicians on stage will be just sitting there picking their noses?
RCWell, not exactly, but…
JCHOh HELL yes. That really is an anxiety I have. You wonder if you’re ‘cheating’. I mean why write an orchestral piece if you’re not using the orchestra? It’s like some guy with a Ferrari but never takes it out of first gear! But you have to have the confidence to get past that and really hear what the piece says it needs. In fact, I tried this with a number of different orchestrations before I settled on this ‘stripped’ version. It’s so embarrassing the number of hours I spent on more complex ideas before I came back to this. It’s very much one of those deals where you spend two hours working on a letter and then the final version is like, you know, one paragraph.
RCBeen there. Done that. It is embarrassing. But sometimes you just don’t know until you try a bunch of other ways to go.
JCHI call this the ‘Problem with Dorothy’. You know, she spends an hour of the movie in Munchkinland, fucking around with flying monkeys and witches and all that shite. And at the end of the day?
RCAll she had to do was click her heels. I get you. But she couldn’t know that until she had gone through all those trials. Or at least, that’s what the Good Witch tells her.
JCHYa know? Every time I get to that spot in the movie? I just wanna punch Glinda DEAD IN THE FACE.