Composer’s Counterpoint #4 – A Big Steak

Posted: January 1, 2020 in Uncategorized

© 2020 G.N. Jacobs

In the spirit of Nelson Algren’s Three Rules for Life from A Walk on the Wild Side – Never play cards with a man named Doc – Never eat at a place called Mom’s – Never sleep with a woman whose troubles seem greater than your own – we sometimes expand the list to include fonts of wisdom like, never shoot pool at a place called Pop’s. And my personal favorite, never eat anything bigger than your head. Sounds like good advice…until you set out to do the musical equivalent.

My proposed opera series Tales of the Angel Association stalled about ten seconds after I changed my mind about not doing it. And the stall has little to do with the looming terror of knowing, except for free-styling on the mouth harp, that my last intelligible notes played from a score came from the woodwind section in sixth grade. Before I get there I have a huge writing problem…all kinds of epically large pieces written for other media that might not condense into an opera, movie, radio drama or book. A large steak, indeed.

The earliest pieces come from a novel that I leave unfinished because the circumstances of inspiration have changed. I changed comic book stores (the setting). And a certain woman, the direct sue me inspiration for a secondary villainess filling pretty much the same niche as Milady De Winter (go figure), disappeared back into the ether. But, there is a key element that I didn’t even know I was leading up to when I stopped the book. It must remain.

Negatively inspired by Mark Millar’s Wanted, I set out to show that if superheroes are possible that there will always be superheroes even after the villains kill them all off. Waiting in secret, the spandex gene or curiously radioactive meteor will always strike Earth at fairly regular intervals, shorter than the time between planet-killer asteroids and much longer than the time between dentist visits. The villains can’t murder in their cribs all of the people who could become spandex heroes…can they?

I envisioned a regular guy with more than a little science and chemistry working at a thinly disguised version of my then current comic book store. While beset by the unwanted attentions of a female stalker (at the time non-fiction) who also happens to be the public face hatchet of the secret cabal of spandex villains that had long since killed off or driven into hiding all the spandex heroes in the world, the comic book store guy falls for a young lady that almost wanders into the store by mistake.

The hatchet lady for the Legion of Chaos attempts to kill her rival and a couple other women investigating a dead writer who happened to be a good friend of the comic book guy. The comic book guy finds the techno-magical solutions to save these ladies while they linger near death giving them superpowers in the process. This sparks a covert war between the comic book store superheroes and the villain bosses because there just aren’t any superheroes anymore, Ducky.

And with all good literary universes with too many characters many threads converge into one. The trio of fem-zombie heroines track the villains to a graveyard in Ohio or some such place where the official grave of a former spandex heroine awaits her reincarnation to come and take the spear. But, the villains know about the “wait twenty years and the next version will come” limitation on this particular hero and have set an ambush that caught the next three reincarnations.

But, the fem-zombie trio, the fourth reincarnation that needs the spear, her college roommate, the return of a character that just barely passes the Six Points of Dissimilarity standard concerning the Superman archetype and the actions of two spandex femmes that work to destroy the Legion of Chaos from within all mix it up among the gravestones. Enough force is brought to bear that the ten villain Legion (of which only two villains have been written) is driven from their perch astride ten-percent off the top of the whole world’s economy, global scale protection payments, only to return next week with a new plot on this same Bat-channel at this very Bat-time.

So that is one thread where this big ass fight in a forlorn cemetery among the barn owls and crickets that has to stay in the opera or at least be sung about as backstory in all kinds of arias and duets.

Next, we get to the other threads to the same hyper-dramatic story of a team of heroes that call Los Angeles home (so sick of how Marvel depicted Los Angeles). Working concurrently with the thread leading to the Excalibur moment among the dead, I also worked on a lighter moment where guided by information on Meetup the new set of heroes that should’ve been wiped out by the Legion including survivors of the graveyard rumble meet about a year later to pool resources and make a team.

This part of the overall mythos exists as an excuse to put six (later seven) spandex people into the same living room to tell their origin stories, drink punch and tap hands to form the Angel Association (they are more than one and they live in the City of Angels, you can only reinvent the wheel a few times per franchise). About four of the original characters exist on paper and for one character at least one attempt to put this same story into a screenplay.

But, there is something missing…a narrator or Doctor Watson. I envision a teenager the single contrast to everybody else either being middle twenties or ageless and just looks that young. Again because most times dealing with 80 years each of mythology and the Big Two comics publishers and you don’t reinvent the spandex wheel, she merges with another teenaged personality to just barely be different from Iron Man.

This character also serves to save the Angel Association from a previous mistake making certain characters be too close to real life. I needed a lawyer protecting the interests of the team and its members and the implosion of another novel (long story, already said too much) deprived the team of its first attorney. So the young lady in the armor-symbiote suit just needs a father who can be the lawyer and I absolutely need to go as far and as public domain as possible from the original mouthpiece as possible.

Marcus Tullius Cicero the Elder (of the Latin placeholder text among other contributions to civilization) is a good way to go, the real guy is safely dead over two thousand years. And, yes, this is the beauty of this kind of writing, explaining how he’s still alive to be a lawyer with a big house in Beverly Hills is sort of my metier – “Rumors of my gruesome assassination at the hands of Marc Antony are greatly exaggerated.”

Adding the daughter of Cicero to all of these extant pieces, the abandoned novel (which might’ve been too closely based on real people, I got lucky), the original stories written in third person and the daughter’s narration in first person, makes for an unwieldy set of books. At least, the latest version of the book has an easy out for the otherwise ugly shift between third and first person – “This next part was told to me by…”

Meanwhile through all of this and my other projects, I’m going back and forth with other media for the Angel Association. Will it be a radio drama? A partial script exists using the story beats from the Metal Goddess-narrated version of these stories. Will it be an opera? Initially, I said no (see post). Now, I say yes.

Why? This huge over the top and completely operatic story with dark villains and many concepts sure to scare kids has over the eight or nine years of sporadic development become my narrative barnacle or white whale. I can’t walk away. I think Michael Corleone would get it – “Every time I try to get out, they pull me back in!”

And so here we are, I’m going to work on the basis for what will be more than one epic scale interlinked opera (at least doing the librettos, ask me in the Composer’s Counterpoint column about the actual music) for a long time. I have very nearly 200 pages of material from all these other sources causing the current problem of shaping the story. Opera aficionados have the same inability to sit still more than three hours at a time, as anyone else.

Clearly, I’ve cut off a steak currently bigger than my head. Now, once I procure the right steak knife and right oven with which to keep the plate warm, I can move slowly and eat well for a long time. More later. Get back to writing, you fellow definitions of personified laziness!

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