26. October 2020 · Comments Off on Writing a musical · Categories: Olio

Newton invented calculus during a pandemic. Shakespeare wrote King Lear during a pandemic. I’m not as smart or creative as those two (Who is?) and our pandemic is small potatoes compared to theirs (Thank heavens for small favors.), but we are in a pandemic and I’m pretty smart and creative. What was I going to do? Write a musical, of course!

Why a musical? I love musicals. Musicals are probably the only type of popular entertainment that I truly enjoy and don’t just watch so that I can understand what other people are talking about. I actually do a fair bit of watching and reading for that reason – trying to understand popular culture even though I don’t find it enjoyable – and that reason alone. I could have written another novel during this pandemic but the market for Jewish-themed literary fiction and comic literary fiction is dead, dead, dead (even more dead than the market for just plain old serious American literary fiction). Those are the kinds of novels I write, read and love. Actually, I think there is still a sizable market for those types of books, but publishers disagree. I’m done unless publishers change their minds. It could happen.

Write what you love. I’m not going to write some revenge porn thriller that attracts middle-aged male readers. No stories about dudes with guns blasting away or spies deftly avoiding and killing bad guys. I’d hate myself even if I were successful at it. I’m not going to write some sob story about a woman in trouble for middle-aged female readers, either. There’s a definite market for all those kinds of books, but every time I read one (so that I can understand what other people are talking about), I scratch my head and wonder, “Why on earth are people reading this tripe?”

I don’t fully know why, proud artistic snob that I am, I love musicals, but I can make some guesses. One, musicals are usually about romance and I’m a romantic dude. Two, they almost always have comic elements and usually are comedies. I like happy endings. I live for comedy. Three, they are usually filled with 32-bar AABA songs and I think that song form is golden. Fourth and ignoring the esoterica of song form, they have music. I love music. Fifth, they are live entertainment and I love seeing real people in 3D doing their thing.

But writing a musical? That always seemed like too big a mountain for me to climb. It’s not the lyric writing. I’ve written hundreds of songs. It’s not the melody writing. See note on lyric writing. It’s not the libretto. Those are fun to write. It’s putting it all together: the songs, the lyrics, the libretto, and the non-singing musical elements into one coherent, delightful, snappy story that can make people smile, laugh, and jump out of their seats at the end to applaud. It always seemed like too much for one person to do. Until now.

For some unknown reason the mountain didn’t seem as high during this pandemic. Maybe that’s how Newton felt about calculus and Shakespeare felt about King Lear during their pandemics. Who knows? All I know is that I felt I could do what I never thought I could do before. Truth is that when I started to write this musical, I was hoping for someone to work with me and write the music. I’d do the book and lyrics, both. But I asked a composer to work with me and his response was, “You write good tunes. There’s no reason you can’t write the whole thing by yourself.” Actually, I think musical writing to him is the equivalent of writing a spy novel for me – beneath him – but I appreciated his cheerleading.

So I wrote a musical comedy about two 18 year old women in love in DC during the era of a fictional awful, lying, dictator-wannabe president named Crumb (yes, he’s a stand-in for Trump). ¬†How did an old Jewish dude come up with that idea? Originally, I was going to write a musical based on a satirical novel about a tobacco lobbyist. But It turns out that writing about a man with zero redeeming features who proudly champions a product that kills people and has no capacity for love is not exactly musical material. While doing research for that idea for a musical, I started reading about a soda-pop lobbyist who was once a bigwig in the Log Cabin Republicans and who is a Never Trumper.

I think the Log Cabin Republicans are inherently funny, kind of like the way I think Jews for Jesus are inherently funny. There’s something about the “yuckstaposition” of a pro-LGBTQ group (actually a pro-gay group that pretends it supports the entire LGBTQ community) in a political party dominated and partly defined by its homophobia that is both tragic and funny at the same time. Funny to me at any rate. Now I was getting somewhere in terms of a musical.

The soda-pop lobbyist didn’t seem like musical material, though. What if I replaced her with someone without the baggage of promoting obesity and diabetes in our population? Someone younger and more idealistic. What if a young libertarian was in love with some Green New Deal type because opposites attract? Now that’s musical comedy. I was off to the races.

I wrote the libretto in a flash. The tunes came in a hurry, too. Now I’m working out the tough part for me, actually arranging the tunes into mini-scenes with music composition that involves no singing at all. Real composing! Slowly but surely I’m getting there. I’m about four weeks away from finishing all the non-singing composition.

I love this musical. I’m as proud of it as anything I’ve done creatively. Its title is Never! It’s not as impressive as inventing calculus or writing King Lear, vu den. What is? But it is ambitious. Plus it’s damn good.