‘quel flop!!’ the headline read.
three of us were gathered in my hotel room to try and translate the review of the john adams opera we were playing in montreal, the first city in a one city tour that followed the opening run in berkeley, ca. the headline needed no translation and the article was fairly merciless. and rightly so. while the music was mostly good, the libretto was terrible. i knew it would be when someone brandished a published copy of it during the first rehearsal. i’d done enough theater to know that it was pretty cocky in a collaboration such as this to not expect to want to change some things as the story was being staged. but june jordan was a poet and had never done any theater. and it was called i was looking at the ceiling and then i saw the sky. i love those classic opera themes. and it just rolls off the tongue. but mr. adams is america’s premier opera composer and so he gets his work produced. sometimes i think the only criteria for being america’s premier opera composer is writing them.
they had been looking for improvising musicians that could also play styles and read well. since it was the bay area being good at two out of the three got me the gig which proceeded to kick my ass. adams was bringing music in daily so i was sight-reading like i never had to before. and his music is repetitive yet full of subtle changes so once you get off, you’re fucked. trevor said it best,
‘i was looking at the music and then i lost my place.’
there was only one spot in the whole piece where i was to actually improvise and until the first nite when the conductor, contractor and composer really loved the solo i played, i was under the constant threat of being fired. so it was weird when adams came up to me gushing at the intermission and said i sounded like bill evans. he is an affable, absent-minded composer type and i liked him and have great respect for his talent so i didn’t take too much offense that he didn’t know what he was talking about. the heat really was off me when during the fifth show the guitar player forgot to switch guitars and was staring off into space while the conductor was frantically trying to get his attention to start the next song; a song he started alone on the acoustic guitar which at the time of the cue was sitting next to him on a guitar stand. major train wreck.
it had been an interesting and challenging experience and so i agreed to go on the tour. two weeks in montreal. and so there we were after one of the shows reading the reviews and trying to figure out what we wanted to do with the rest of the evening when trevor says,’hey, let’s go see deicide.’they were playing nearby and trevor being a metal devotee knew all about it. i am a posing metal interloper so i was down to go and the clarinetist went, too.
i was so not dressed for the occasion, but there we were standing shoulder to shoulder with the headbanging masses of montreal. deicide cranked up one of their hits, kill the christians, a galloping number in three that everyone around us knew the words to. i turned to the clarinet player and said,
‘bet you’re glad you’re jewish.
”i usually am,’ he replied.
the singer, the guitar player and the bass player had formed a line across the stage and were headbanging a synchronistic cousin itt choreography of dancing hair that covered their faces and most of the front of their bodies. we were all so into it that we later decided to form a metal trio of clarinet, bass and drums and call it goat lore. we drew straws to see who would get an upsidedown cross tattooed on their forehead like the singer from deicide and i lost. so i didn’t get the tattoo and that band never happened.
that was well over ten years ago and quite possibly the last time i played with trevor who since moving to new york around the same time as me has played with john zorn, fantomas and his own trio convulsant. our paths have not crossed as much as i would like but tonite he will be joining the trio.