Tour cancellation and writing 372 refund notes. Trump and China. Igor and Young Frankenstein. Healthcare. Allan Holdsworth and death. Health Care. Whither Protest Music? Beethoven and re-invention. The Heiligenstadt Testament and career counseling.
Roger CortonLucy. You’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do!
JCHDo I? I mean that implies there are even a few people left out there (sniff).
RCYou may have a point. (laughs) No sniveling, son. OK, let’s recap. You cancelled the tour. And then we took some time off to recover from shock.
we’re in an age that should have great protest songs. There are issues just as powerful as in Woody Guthrie’s Depression or Dylan’s Sixties. But they just don’t seem to resonate because music is no longer a tool that people use. It’s now reverting back to being entertainment
JCHAnd now weeeee’re back baby.
RCRight. So let’s get right to it. Now why did you feel the need to do something so extreme?
JCHI want to be clear. There wasn’t anything ‘tragic’ going on. I’m not ‘dying’. But about sixty days to go, I re-scheduled the first weekend–your weekend, because, as I was rehearsing, I was having quite a lot of neck and shoulder pain and couldn’t get through an entire mock show comfortably. And as the days went by, instead of getting easier, it only got worse. With thirty days to blast off, I realized that it was just not going to improve. So I pulled the plug.
RCYou cancelled the entire tour because you were not ‘comfortable’?
JCHWhen I say ‘comfortable’ I mean I just couldn’t get through it. Full stop. Look, one hates to sound defensive, but you’ve seen the show. How would you describe it?
JCHYeah, how would you describe the show to someone in twenty five words or less?
RCWell, the arrangements are extremely difficult, dare I say acrobatic. It looks like you are pushing yourself to your limit for most of the show. By the end you look like you’re about to fall over. When I first saw you play it was pretty unbelievable. You looked like you had been in a rainstorm.
JCHThank you. Er…. I think. I want people to feel like they get full value for their money.
RCThat’s not your problem (laughs).
JCHDuring the two weeks after re-scheduling, I tried all manner of combinations of sitting, standing, taking breaks, altering the flow of various numbers. It made no difference. The conclusion I came to was that the only way to do the show would’ve been to come up with new, ie. less complex arrangements. And that was a no go for two reasons: a) because it wouldn’t be what people were expecting and b) the practical fact is that there just wasn’t time to do such a thing. So… I started writing 372 individual refund notes.
JCHYes. Big mistake.
JCHSoul-consuming. I swear to you, with each note I felt like a little piece of me was dying. I can’t think of the last time I felt that kind of repetitive guilt or regret.
JCHI have no idea. For some reason I felt like I had done something really wrong to each of these people.
RCWeird. I will never understand you, my friend. OK, for the uninitiated, why all the pain?
JCHI was sick as a kid. Without going into the details it left me with a pretty twisted spine. It doesn’t ‘look’ bad…
RCNothing like Igor in Young Frankenstein?
JCHYou had to go there dude. It’s totally not Marty Feldman, but thanks for calling to mind that image. Anyhoo, the long-term effect is that on an X-Ray my spine looks like a Jenga tower. The whole thing from neck to tailbone is unbalanced and various nerves are always pressing on one another in some wrong way. They just haven’t invented enough surgeries to fix it. Sometimes it’s OK. But usually everything is aching or causing headaches, numbness or various bits to simply stop working at precisely the wrong time. So I’ll be playing along and my arm will simply stop. Or I’ll get a headache and just pass out. My ankle will shake. I’ll start barfing. All of a sudden I’ll feel like I just got kicked in the nuts.
JCHThere’s no predicting it. And then? Things will go along vaguely peachy for months at a time, I’ll start to plan my life, get a girl, sell some tickets, try to make fans happy and then…
JCHIndeed. Of course, people will say they understand but at some point, it simply gets frustrating. Hell, I get frustrated. It’s the total lack of predictability. That. Becomes. Simply. Maddening. After enough cancellations and reschedules and frustrations? Sooner or later, everyone moves on.
RCOr in our age bracket, dies. (laughs).
JCHNo shit. We’ll get to that. But anyhoo, if I were a boss? Hell, I’d fire me.
RCYou beat me to it. (laughs) Sorry.
JCHThat’s OK. No one gets through a conversation these days without at least one Trump reference. I think it’s one of those Executive Orders.
RCSeriously. (laughs) And I know you’ve had some other setbacks recently as well. Anything you want to say about that stuff?
JCHNo, not really. Well, actually, yeah. Check out Allan Holdsworth’s funeral, right?
RCSad. The man. The legend. You worked with him a couple of times, right?
JCHThat’s not what I mean. I mean Check out his FUNERAL. The guy needed a kickstarter for his FUNERAL.
JCHThat got to me. I’ve been going through this sort of crisis of faith recently. I thought it was me, right? Just garden-variety insecurity. But Allan was a god for fusion-era guitarists. There is simply no reason for a guy like that to have financial problems, both because he was a fine artist and because he was supposedly successful enough that he shouldn’t have had to worry about nothing.
RCI know how much you loved that band with Bruford.
JCHYeah. Anyhoo, my point is that the whole “disrespect for the arts” tune that I’ve been whistling for so long is probably way worse than even I thought. I’ve been singing it so long even I’ve stopped listening to it. But as I’m seeing a whole bunch of my peers pass away this year I’m starting to realize just how ill-prepared we all are. Not just because we’re ‘boomers’ but because none of us were as well compensated as we all thought we were. In other words–maybe none of us were doing as well as we thought we were.
RCSo what’s to be done?
JCHNothing. Not a thing. Monetarily at least. See what’s killing me is what I see as the increasing lack of regard for music as art. And what we might be able to do is prevent us from moving back in time.
RCBack in time?
JCHYeah. If you look at music history. Music was pretty much just pure entertainment outside of palaces and churches until The Enlightenment. You know, Beethoven’s time. The idea of ‘musician’ as being a well-regarded profession is a very recent idea. Musicians really clawed and scratched for some respect and now its slipping back to being what it was… mere entertainment. I know that sounds self-pitying, but it’s just the deal.
RCSo what’s the plan, Stan?
JCHI honestly don’t know. The whole world feels up in the air. Just putting one foot in front of the other. Keep working on this opera because, hey that’ gonna be such a GOLD MINE! (laughs). Also, I’m gonna try this new-fangled therapy next month. Fingers crossed. It involves RADIO WAVES!
RCOoooooooh! Ahhhhhh! (laughs).
JCHNot at all. Your tax dollars are paying for it, so brighten up. At least the world is supporting my art in that kinda way!
RCI can’t tell if you’re cynical or not.
JCHWell, there’s kinda this point where the meter goes past cynical and then points back to sincere. I mean, I honestly think everyone deserves decent health care but when I started writing these angry songs…
RCLike, I’m guessing, Health Care?
JCHI was talking from the inside. The way we handle it in this country is not only devastating financially, but it is exactly the opposite of what people want. See… and you’re more conservative than I am so you can take this with a boulder of salt but my point is this: most people do NOT want charity. They are NOT looking for a handout. I certainly am not. But the American healthcare system humiliates people. It makes people, regardless of what kind of plan you have, but especially people at the low end of the scale, feel bad about getting looked at. We’re taught as kids not to whine. So then you finally decide to go and get help. And the lines are long. The paperwork is endless. The questions confusing. The phone calls frustrating. The processes largely de-humanizing. The doctors don’t even pretend to really know you..at least until you get really sick.
RCThat’s true. But I found out that they tend to get personable when you get cancer.
JCHGood to know. It’s all blatantly about ‘cost’. And that was before so-called ‘ObamaCare’. That was before anyone tried to fix things.
RCWhat’s your point?
JCHMy point is that we’re in an age that should have great protest songs. There are issues just as powerful as in Woody Guthrie’s Depression or Dylan’s Sixties. But they just don’t seem to resonate because music is no longer a tool that people use. It’s now reverting back to being entertainment.
RCWell maybe ‘Healthcare’ or ‘Iraq’ or ‘Opiates’ or ‘Infrastructure’ don’t resonate with people the way issues did in the sixties. Maybe they seem too mundane?
JCHMaybe. Or maybe people like watching video games and movies and escapism rules the day. Maybe there’s just no appetite for any kind of art that’s about something, music or otherwise. Maybe we’re past the point of caring because most people honestly don’t think anything can be fixed. There’s no point in getting upset anymore. I dunno.
RCMaybe you’re just depressed, son (laughs).
JCHNo more so than usual. DAD.
RCOne more time. What’s the plan? What is your plan. Did you notice that when I asked you before, all you did was to start riffing on medical stuff. What about music?
JCHThat’s a very good point! The more I’ve been diving into the opera world, the more self-conscious I’ve been getting. And it’s all wrapped up in this goulash of insecurity with the health crap and Beethoven and finances.
JCHDo you believe in the subconscious, Rog? WELL DO YOU?
JCHI dunno if I’m psychic or just psychotic but all these ‘threads’ have been coming together in the past couple of years. The whole obsession with Beethoven.
RCYou’re going deaf?
JCHNo man. Everything but that (laughs). An acquaintance of mine I haven’t heard from in years popped up out of nowheres a few days ago. He’s an academic I met in Germany years ago. Anyhoo, just for kicks he shows me one of these, like, four billion masters theses written on Beethoven. I’d link to it here but it’s a) it’s in zeeee Germaaan and b) it’s technically not strictly um, er…
RCI believe ‘legal’ is the word you’re looking for. Don’t worry. Nobody but you would even bother reading it. I don’t think you get that. (laughs).
JCHYeah but it’s just soooo delicious I gotta gas on for a second because I’ve had several true EPIPHANIES lately.
RCWeeeeellll…. if I have to (Red Green voice).
JCHOK so there’s this famous letter Ludwig wrotes to his brothers when he realised he was going deaf. It’s called “The Heiligenstadt Testament”. It’s sort of a will. But it’s also sort of an explanation for why he’s been such an asshole for so many years; why he’s so unhappy; a plea to God for some relief; and also a vow to not kill himself.
RCWell that’s thoughtful.
JCHLook, they didn’t call it ‘The Romantic Age’ for nothing. Everybody’s writing style was seriously flowery and overblown back then. You’ve seen that Civil War TV show right?
JCHWell, on those letters the soldiers write home, even the lowly privates write like, “My Dear Euphonia. How I longeth to reclaim our parsimonious times of ya da ya da.”
RCPoint taken (laughs).
JCHOK, so that letter is considered this huge turning point in the guy’s life. It’s like in a Hollywood movie. With that letter, the hero literally just decides like right then and there, “I got nuthin’ left. I shall live only for my ART!” That’s how it’s taught to music students. Like I said, it’s all very epic. But this guy, you know, his thesis, points something out I hadn’t ever thought about, I mean literally never even considered!
JCHPeople have been taking the text as this literal romantic poetry for two hundred years. Like Beethoven is in Streetcar Named Desire. “OH WHATEVER SHALL I DO WITH MAH LIFE?” Which the author thinks is totally the wrong interpretation. He thinks that people only wrote that way. They weren’t thinking that way. They thought just like you and me. You take my meaning?
RCSo we’ve been interpreting it as all flowery but…
JCHBut Beethoven is actually worrying about PRACTICALITIES!
JCHThe B-Man is saying goodbye to his identity, his livelihood! Check it out. He was originally from this backwater town and he’s now living in the equivalent of Manhattan. He’s short. Butt ugly. Chronic diarrhea. Opinionated as hell. Tellsdirty jokes like you would not believe. But of course he only hangs out with aristocrats. I mean those are his fans. So the only way he gets fancy food and sex and like 80% of his income is by dint of being a gunslinger virtuoso. That was his only claim to fame. The guy was a shredder! An iconoclast! And now he realises that as he’s going deaf, that ALLLLLLL goes away. He’s gotta make a CHANGE. But he’s gotta do it on the sly. He’s gotta figure out how to do it without anyone noticing! You dig? He can’t say, “I’m going deaf, I’ll fire up LinkedIn and network with people who can help me!” That would not only be instant career death, it would also be instantly emasculating. The only thing that makes him feel like a man is his ability as a swaggering pianist who doesn’t need help from NOBODY. Women would (and did) laugh at him if could no longer walk into a room and just rock the house.
RCThe B-Man? But OK I get it. You can’t be a needy rock n’ roller trying to get a job as a graphic designer. Is that what you’re saying? (laughs)
JCHEXACTLY! So for this academic, the letter isn’t some abstract cry from the soul about ‘art’. It’s a guy who is not only losing his LIVELIHOOD, but also his MACHISMO! And even worse? He now has to learn, on the fly, IN SECRET, to reinvent himself as some kind of ‘door to door composer’. He has no position! He’s like a temp! He’s inventing the job of composer for hire! Never been done before! Can you imagine the stress?
RCWell no wonder the guy has stomach trouble. (laughs) So you’re telling me that you think you’ve been subconsciously identifying with Beethoven?
RCSort of like Shirley McLane.
RCDo you know how insane that sounds?
JCHNot talent-wise, dude. Unemployment-wise, dude! (laughs). I may not be Beethoven, but I can sure have diarrhea like Beethoven! I dunno exactly how, but I think I’ve been bonding with LVB’s gastric ailments across the vastness of the space time continuum. I can’t think of another reason why I’ve been so fuckin’ obsessed with reading the guy’s biographies the past couple of years. And, until this piece, they’ve ALL been exactly the same stupid crap.
RCNo pun intended.
JCHI think, to a certain degree, Beethoven must’ve felt like he had no choice but to get cranking on composing, not just because he was so confident in his talent but because he literally didn’t know what else to do to make that odd Florin. And that’s kinda how I feel right now. I honestly don’t know what else to do. So maybe it’s not like Beethoven so much as it is like Cortez. I’ve pretty much burned the ships. You asked me what I planned to do next? Well, I just gotta keep writing the notes.
RCOK I have to admit, that Beethoven story wasn’t as boring as I expected. But enough with the history lesson. What’s next for you?
JCHLike I said, I keep working on The Boats. Hopefully nice people like you stick with me and maybe I can broaden some mind in the Prog Rock community to get with it.
RCYou bet. Where you at with it?
JCHWell, it’s slow right now. It’s sort of like building a virtual world. It’s fun working on the big cities–the numbers, but then you have to do the connective tissue–the bits between the towns where characters get from one place to another and that stuff is TEDIOUS!! And I run into just hundreds of dead ends. You asked me why I didn’t have a partner on this like most opera composers and these are the moments I ask myself exactly the same question. There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t want to say, “Hey Bob. Why don’t you take over this bit over HERE.” (laughs).
RCWhere’s that ‘Bob’ when you need him, right?
JCHRight. Anyhoo, thanks for asking. And maybe the new back zapper treatment works and I can do a solo tour for reals. I’ll know by the fall. Or maybe I can come up with a new kind of show that’s easier on the spine. Or maybe we can do a full band tour in the fall. We just. Keep. Moving. Forward.
RCRight on. I’m praying for you.
JCHThanks, man. Hey, what’s the word count?
RCAbout three thousand.
JCHThat’s huuuuuuuge. For us. But less than the size of a New York Times feature article. So that’s pretty good. Thanks for staying awake!
RCNo problem (laughs). For what it’s worth, it’s still about a tenth of the length of a New Yorker article.
JCHThose drive me nuts too.
RCBut given the circumstances, I think it’s worth the extra word count.