Beethoven sure had it rough. Composing for that big finish. Will Progress ship on time? More on Yes. Structure. Julia Roberts. The rare Yellow Bellied Sapsucker. Close To The Edge. Creating on cue. What breaks up relationships. Fertility treatments. Self-pleasuring.
Roger CortonWe’re getting down to the wire if your plan is to get Progress done by Thanksgiving, right?
JCHIt’s gonna be tight.
The idea is to make the piece feel like it’s all building to that conclusion. So the more times you hear it, you start to see the planning towards that inevitable big finish. And I love working this way now with larger pieces because it frees me from having to wonder ‘where do I go next?’ All I have to do is figure out where I want to go. And then as I write I just keep looking at to see if I’m on course
RCTighter than a drum, Homer?
JCHTighter than a frog’s butt, Jethro. Haw, haw, haw.
RCThat’s pretty tight. So, I see no new snippet. What’s the deal? If you’re so close to finishing, why don’t we see some results, son?
JCHI’ve been obsessing over Beethoven the past couple of years.
RCOh no, not another lecture on Structure. Anything but that!
JCH(laughs). No, man. No music appreciation today. Maybe it started as minor delusions of grandeur or self-pity with the ‘sick artiste’
RCYou mean deafness?
JCHNo, man. I don’t think people realize that deafness was almost the least of Ludwig’s problems. The list of ailments the guy had starting from childhood was ridonculous. A huge part of the reason he looks so crabby in all his piccies is that the guy was always in some medium to heavy duty form of distress. He was constantly pissed because on the one hand the guy could not understand why God gave him this super-human talent and this super-human level of energy… but at the same time made him sick as a dog all the time. It seemed not just unfair but irrational and that’s what made him give up on ‘God’.
RCSick in what way?
JCHWhere to start? First off, he wasn’t ‘deaf’ most of his life. He had a terrible form of tinnitus, which I’ve had after loud shows. Your ears are just screaming noise all the time. It’s maddening. And then there was the chronic diarrhea. Liver problems–which means the guy itched like crazy all the time. The list just goes on. And what’s worse is that they would do shit to him that was so medieval and just made him sicker. Milk enemas. Leeches. Bleedings. Poking a hole in his guts (no anesthesia!) and flushing cold water directly into his belly. Oh and did I mention he frequently added lead to his daily wine as a flavor enhancer?
RCChrist Almighty. It’s a wonder he didn’t die from the treatments.
JCHIndeed. And still the guy created all this beauty. It literally makes me want to cry. I mean right now, I’m getting choked up just thinking about it.
RCYou? Damn. You are.
JCHYeah, I dunno why. Stuff that other people react to, you know, piccies of the kids, cat videos, etc. don’t get a rise out of me. But something like that? I just melt. It’s kinda embarrassing. I mean that thing where Julia Roberts cries at the opera? I’m that kind of sissy.
RCThe hooker with a heart of gold? (Sorry. Couldn’t resist.)
JCHBut back to Ludwig. So as I’ve been studying his music–not just his bloodletting–I keep coming back to this notion of composing from back to front. Early on, it became his habit to, as early as possible in the process, write the end of the piece. The end became the whole point of a piece. And once he had the end figured out, he’d then write the front and work towards that end. A number of scholars see this as the real genius. Apparently no one before Beethoven worked that way.
JCHWell, that’s the prevailing wisdom. The idea is to make the piece feel like it’s all building to that conclusion. So the more times you hear it, you start to see the planning towards that inevitable big finish. And I love working this way now with larger pieces because it frees me from having to wonder ‘where do I go next?’ All I have to do is figure out where I want to go. And then as I write I just keep looking at to see if I’m on course.
RCBut you have to figure out where you want to go? Isn’t that restrictive?
JCHWell, the whole point of Progress is limits, so I guess I must be cool with it (laughs). But it is a total PITA in the beginning. It’s like working out a Rubik’s cube or some other really hard puzzle to figure that out. It’s a good thing I live in a sound isolated place because the yelling is pretty much non-stop! But once that’s done? It’s like finding yer lost car keys.
RCRelief! A real sense of accomplishment.
JCH(laughs) Exactly. Anyhoo, that’s why the snippets are so hard to come by. Because I know where I want to go, but anything that sounds ‘finished’ doesn’t come into focus until literally the very, very end. In fact, I like that image a lot. The whole thing is there in front of the camera. I can see it. But I’m operating this enormous camera and turning the focus wheel takes MONTHS. So if I share the image with you now it looks seriously crap. I can say, ‘No, no, Roger, this is THE RARE YELLOW BELLIED SAPSUCKER!’ but all you’d see is this fuzzy lemon blob and think, “What a moron!”
RCInteresting. As you were speaking I was thinking about those Steve Howe videos we looked at last week and it’s funny how Yes worked just the opposite back in their golden age. They just added parts ad hoc as they went along. Stringing ideas together. No real ‘plan’. Considering how great those pieces turned out, it’s amazing to me that they weren’t pre-planned as you were talking about.
JCHRight. Right! When I was a kid, I always thought Close To The Edge and Relayer (albums by Yes) were put together like ‘real compositions’. Who knew? Sometimes you’ve got the right guys in the right room at the right time. Sometimes you just get that ‘spark’ and everything you lay down just works! But you can’t count on that long term. As I’ve said before, I think part of the reason they couldn’t keep going is that eventually everyone’s luck runs out. If you don’t have some training in writing longer pieces, you can’t do that more than a few times with good results.
RCYou don’t buy the idea that Yes’s music got weaker because of Punk Rock or personality conflicts and egos, etc.? That’s always the critics’ explanations.
JCHCritics always focus on that stuff because they aren’t musicians!. Sure, personality conflicts and egos and fame ruin bands, but the bottom line is that, as with most bands, on their early records, they were brimming with ideas and so they could just go in and wail on those. That’s why most bands’ early records are their best. You’ve got all these great ideas saved up since you were like fourteen!
RCOf course. And then ‘the sophomore curse’!
JCHExactly. As the years go on, if you don’t have a plan–I mean a way of working to generate ideas and good structures, it gets a LOT more tedious. It’s like sex. I mean the first few times with -anyone- are usually pretty good, right?
RCI hear ya. All the pent up excitement. Newness.
JCHBut after you’ve been doing it together for a while, the ideas get harder to come by. (No pun intended).
RCOf course not.
JCHAnd trust me, there are few things that generate a fight more than people sitting around aimlessly in a recording studio for days on end trying to stir up ‘excitement’. To complete the metaphor, in a relationship, you can just roll over. But when yer on a deadline to finish an album? It’s like those couple having sex as part of some fertility treatment. From what I’ve read, a -lot- of divorces start from being stuck in a room together being forced to (cough) ‘create’ something.
RCSo what does it do to you sitting in a room for days on end doing that all by yourself?
JCHScoutmaster Roger Corton making a joke about self-pleasuring? Well I do declare! I should probably play the Super Lotto today (laughs).
RCI did nothing of the kind, sir. It is only your mind which lays constantly stuck in the gutter (laughs).