Another snippet from the new opera, The Boats: Martello Towers.James Joyce. Mental Disorders and Creativity. Writing to order sucks. Forcing the magic.
Roger CortonAnd yet another new snippet. You’re on a roll!
JCHWith jelly, baby.
RCAre you on track to finish soon?
JCHI’m not sure. Right now I’m fighting the fact that I’m starting to get sick of it.
JCHWhat? I’m not allowed to say that?
RCAre you serious? You’re impossible. You go all in on this thing and then half way through, it’s like, “I’m getting sick of it.”
JCHKinda whiny, huh?
JCHLook, you started this whole weekly ‘reality show’ gimmick. I’m supposed to ‘share’, right? (laughs). But in my defense, what they don’t tell ya in opera composers school is that writing a show means writing on deadline. Because you have to write all this stuff ‘to order’. Which for me suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuucks.
RCTo order? Who’s order?
JCHWho? WHO? I’LL TELL YA WHO! ME! THAT’S WHO! (laughs). Ya get all excited about the idea for the show. And maybe ya get a bunch of cool ideas. But then, over the weeks and months as things start to come into focus, ya start building an ever-expanding list of ‘have-tos’; all those things that need doing but weren’t part of your initial inspiration. Ya keep avoiding them, doing all the fun bits, but then it creeps up on ya that at some point, yer gonna have to ‘buckle down’ and deal with those all those ‘have tos’. And the pressure–yer ‘conscience’ as it were, begins to NAG. Like a motherfucker.
RCI get it. It’s what the rest of us call ‘acting like adults’ (laughs).
JCHTouché See it’s actually worse than writing on deadline. That would probably be OK if I were writing background music for, you know, a TV show. But this really is about ‘inspiration’. I have to feel it. And that’s something I’ve been thinking about lately. A LOT. Oh and by the way, this concerns this Snippet. SEE! SEE! I didn’t go off on a complete tangent! HA!
RCYou’re so pleased with yourself.
JCHOK, we’ve talked about that old notion of mental illness and creativity, right? Depression and Bipolar. Creativity and madness. All that shite.
RCRight. I don’t remember when it was, but we talked about how you joked that you sometimes thought you wrote your best stuff when you were depressed. You said you sometimes wanted to feel bad just so you could tap into that.
JCHRight. And that’s where it gets wacky. It’s not depression or mania that’s the psychological flaw. It’s becoming addicted to that process.
RCYou mean you start to try to act depressed in order get the creativity going?
JCHOh, I’ll take it even further. I’ll say that I’ve actually done lots of self-destructive things, either consciously or unconsciously, just to get to that creative place.
RCWoah. This may be getting deeper than my pay grade.
JCH(laughs) It’s deeper than my pay grade. But getting back to this Snippet, this aria is between Pól and his girlfriend. And he does something very Irish and very stupid. He tells her he’s decided to go off to Australia. But he doesn’t ask her to go with him. He hopes she’ll ask to go with him, but he does not ask her. But she does something he doesn’t expect: she gets really hurt.
JCH(laughs) I told you it’s an Irish thing. We screw ourselves a lot.
RCI guess. So is that what happened?
JCHHell no.That’s me. That’s what I would have done.That’s a totally repressed Irish thing to do to see if she really cared. Men of my generation would need that reassurance. But my unique twist would be that, even if it didn’t work out? It’s still all good because I’d have this glorious depression that would lead to some really bitchin’ creative material (laughs).
RCWow. I… got nuthin’. Seriously.
JCHYou should read some James Joyce. Seriously. Just read Dubliners. It explains everything about the unique fucked-up-edness of the Irish (laughs). And by the way, you can also learn all about James Joyce at the James Joyce Museum Martello Tower in Dublin.
RCWell played, sir. So what’s a Martello Tower?
JCHSo Martello Towers were these round stone forts all along the coast of Ireland. They were built by the Brits to defend against the French. The Brits were always half expecting them to arrive and help the locals with a (cough) ‘rising’. Anyhoo, the towers are kind of romantic touristy spots now. People go walking around them or take selfies. They might get married at them.
JCHSo in this case Pól has to tell his girlfriend that he’s decided to go to Australia. And the gag is that she thinks back to their first date together…
RC…at the Martello Tower. Got it.
JCHSo in the first half, she absorbs the news by kind of wigging out. She starts to go on about how she felt on that date. It was love at first sight. And then in the second half, he comes back with “I never thought it would get to you like this.” He really is taken aback by how hard she’s taking it. He wasn’t expecting it. And by the by, this is a very common device in Irish songs; where each verse has a first half where the woman says her bit and then the second half where the man says his. Each verse is usually filled with recriminations. (laughs)
RCHusband and wifey get things off their chests.
JCHRight you are! But remember back to last week when we talked about the dramatic truth vs. ‘truth’? Well this is another example. There is no Martello Tower anywhere near where I grew up. The closest one I think is up the coast in Donegal near where we would get our catch processed.
RCWell, it’s not really a ‘greater truth’ unless you specifically mention the place where the opera is set, right? You don’t do that. You just say it’s on the west coast of Ireland.
JCHBy jove, you’re right! Dodged a bullet there! (laughs) Seriously, that actually helps. Sometimes I forget it’s a made up story. I mean that it’s not autobiographical.
RC(laughs) Glad I could help.
JCHAnyhoo, the meat of the story is totally true. Pól’s girlfriend was devastated and so was he. The amadán had no clue she was so crazy about him.
RCAmadán. Is that some ‘Gaelic’ expression?
JCHKnucklehead. Goofball. Village Idiot.
RCYou mean like Monty Python?
JCHNothing quite so erudite, I’m afraid.
RCMore of a self-taught idiot.