Friday, May 25, 2007

"In-Flight Movies" for the Road

Wow, it's the 30th anniversary of Star Wars. I feel soooo old. It was Star Wars that got me into fantasy and science fiction, and in a way may even have had something to do with me becoming a writer because it really sparked my imagination and made me want to tell stories that sparked other people's imaginations like that. When I was in fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh grades, Star Wars was the jumping off point for most of my close friendships. It was a way of establishing common ground. Midway through the year when I was in fourth grade, when the original movie was still very fresh (it had only just left town after the initial run), a new family moved into our neighborhood. They had a daughter my age, and my mom invited her over while the movers unloaded all their stuff. At first, there was that silent awkwardness you get between two kids who've been thrown together just because they're the same age. Then in desperation I pulled out my collection of newspaper and magazine clippings about Star Wars, and that formed a real connection. We ended up becoming best friends, and even though both our families moved away that next summer, we continued writing to each other up through college (though we lost touch then -- Laurie Scrivener, are you out there?).

But although I could go on for hours about Star Wars (Maybe I'll hit the topic again on Monday), that's not really my topic for the day. I promised last week that I'd address my road listening music at some point, so that's today's topic. I'm basically a dork when it comes to music because I have no idea what's supposed to be cool, and furthermore, I don't care. I've never associated myself with a particular movement or culture based on music that influenced the way I dressed or who I hung out with (I guess the movement that influenced who I hung out with was Star Wars). I never was a kicker, goth, punk or anything like that. There may have been New Wave influences to my wardrobe when I was in high school, but that was more because that was what was in style in the 80s than because I identified with being "New Wave." Really, for the most part, the music I like most and buy the most is musical theater, and I don't know that there's a particular style of dress or culture built around that, other than the usual theater kid types, and we didn't have much of that at my high school. I was in the drama club, but we didn't do musicals, and we didn't have a typical drama club. The award-winning actors in the award-winning one-act play my freshman year were also star players on the district champion football team. Needless to say, we didn't have any problem with the jocks trying to beat up the drama nerds at my school.

I blame my mom for this particular quirk of mine because the music we listened to when I was a child was all Broadway cast albums. I knew there was the kind of music you heard on the radio, but I didn't realize you could buy those records. What we had at home was stuff like My Fair Lady, Fiddler on the Roof, the Sound of Music, Gypsy, South Pacific, Oklahoma, Man of La Mancha, etc. When I'm making long drives, I love playing Broadway cast albums on the car stereo because it's like having an in-flight movie. Singing along also helps me stay awake and alert while I drive. Since I'd be making a lot of long drives this summer, I bought a few new CDs to throw into the mix.

First, there was the cast album for Wicked, since I'd seen the show recently. I also read the novel, which is very different from the show. I'm amazed that someone could read that book and think it would make a good musical, and it certainly took some rearranging and rewriting, but hey, it worked. I'm a bit surprised that the character I like the most, identify with and would want to play is Glinda. Usually, I really relate to the shy, bookish, sensitive character that no one else understands, so I have no idea why in this show (and even in the book), I find myself relating to the bubbly airhead who sings "Popular." Maybe it's the deeply repressed ham in me that would enjoy getting out of my usual mode and cutting loose like that.

The next one I got was The Last Five Years. I bought that because of the composer, Jason Robert Brown. I stumbled on his work in a "Broadway in Love" compilation CD of romantic duets, which included the song "I'd Give it All for You" from Songs for a New World. That song was like a huge click for me, and it fit perfectly with the central conflict in the book I was writing at the time. I found the Songs for a New World cast recording to play on a drive to Houston, and it immediately became a favorite. I got to see a production of Parade with Jason Robert Brown himself conducting (Broadway fangirl squee). The only show of his I hadn't seen and didn't have in my collection was The Last Five Years, so I ordered it. It's a two-person show about the rise and fall of a relationship, with a very interesting narrative structure. The woman's songs start at the end, at their divorce and go backward in time, and the man's songs start at the beginning, when they meet, and move forward in time, so that we see the relationship build and unravel from different perspectives at different times. They cross at the middle with a duet when he proposes, then at the end, she's just met him and is all excited about the relationship, while he's at the actual end when it's all over. That means you only get one side of the story at a time, and only at the end do you see how it all fits together. I wish the CD player that's easy to program wasn't broken because it would be interesting to arrange the songs in chronological order and see how it works then (or, duh, I should load it into iTunes and play it that way, so it doesn't have to physically skip around on the CD). It's also a narrative structure that would be really, really fun to play with in a book.

What I didn't realize I was getting when I ordered those two CDs was a Norbert Leo Butz double feature. I was lucky enough to get to see one of his last performances in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and that was one of the most amazing stage performances I think I've ever seen. He was totally in character as this outrageously sleazy con man, but there were moments, such as during a mock romantic ballad, where you got the impression that he could really sing if he were in a serious role. It turned out that he had the male lead (such as it was in a very girl-power show) in Wicked and that he's the guy in The Last Five years. And, yeah, he can really, really sing, and he can do a lot more than play the goofball, but he does have a way with a funny, angry, sarcastic song.

My other new purchase was the original cast CD of Into the Woods, but that's an old favorite. I had it on cassette, and the tape no longer worked, so I finally replaced it. It should come as no surprise that I'm a fan of the fractured fairy tale, and I love the idea of exploring what happens after the happily ever after. I'd love to play Cinderella in that show because she gets a lot of the funny stuff, with all the pratfalls and the fast, clever Sondheim songs, but she then also gets one of the gorgeous ballads. Of course, playing any role other than being in the chorus would require me really mastering that singing stage fright. I'm better, but I'm not cured.

And now I have tons of work to get done, finishing a book proposal, doing some tweaks on book 4 (not that I'm highly motivated at the moment), starting another book proposal, updating my web site, plotting the downfall of Ballantine Books (who've taken over from the marketing division of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation as the bunch of mindless jerks who'll be the first against the wall when the revolution comes -- until, of course, they see the light, in which case they will be industry-leading visionaries), doing some manuscript critiques, planning a general overthrow of the publishing industry, cleaning my house and preparing some material for readings at A-Kon. Whew! I'm still planning to make Sunday a no-work day, so I guess I'd better get started, huh? Overthrowing the entire publishing industry will take at least a couple of hours, but I may be able to do it while I watch TV.

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