That look to me

About six years ago I started this blog and I suppose the blogaversary compels me to reflect about blogging. And one thing I think is that the whole thing is way too big. 347 posts about musicals – sheesh! If you’re someone with an interest in how musicals are created, my unique take on things, etc. – you might come here and go “347 posts! When am I going to have time for this?” It’s as if someone expecting to be tossed a thin magazine had the O.E.D. hurled at them instead.

I’m not sure what to do about that. Posting less often has a certain appeal. At this point in my life as a writer of musicals and as a parent, this blog has been relegated to the back-burner. It’s getting harder to find the time to do it. But even if I posted every other week, before long it’ll be 350 posts and that’s still daunting to a new reader.

Galumphing hand and hand with this thought is the notion that I may be close to saying all I have to say about musical theatre writing. I find myself referring people to posts from five or six years ago; there’s that sense of “What’s left to say?” And I don’t want to repeat myself, but find I do: Musicals need to tell stories effectively, ideally engaging the audience’s minds in a way that makes them wonder what happened next. Craft is particularly important in lyric writing, and I take false rhymes as an indication that the creators don’t understand craft. Music is hardest to write about, because I know readers have different levels of understanding; repeating the overly familiar tropes of sixty years of pop-rock is a lazy way of composing. All elements need to be in concert with the narrative drive, which is why language and harmonies that clearly don’t belong in the time and setting of the show is so jarring.

Providing examples is always a problem. Quite often, I dislike musicals that other people love. So, if I devote a post to the many ways Evita is an awful and boring show, somebody’s going to react “No, it isn’t! I thought it was great!” and then discount all the examples I’ve given. I was just trying to illustrate a point. There’s this strange delusion I’ve encountered again and again: no matter how terrible the show, there’s somebody out there maintaining it’s wonderful. Ken Mandelbaum’s famous book about flops is called Not Since Carrie because, in a way, Ken is saying Carrie is the worst of them all. Just this week I met somebody who told me it’s a great musical. If we can’t agree on what’s awful, how can we discuss a cautionary model of ineptitude?

And then there’s the thorny thicket of using my own shows as examples. Few of you have seen any of them. And whatever video or audio I have always strikes me as a woefully inadequate representation. In writing about my own shows, I don’t want to pin laurels on myself like some guy I just saw in a debate. But the hope is that my experience getting 18 shows on the boards may yield some helpful tidbits. And I just reread that sentence and thought: Where else can you find a blog by a guy who’s written as many shows?

So, here am I writing this instead of writing more of the musical that’s consumed me since 2014. I like to hope that there’s something good about me setting down thoughts about my struggles with it while they’re happening. But it’s a little like opting to live in a fishbowl. It’s harder to do a thing when you know you’re being observed doing the thing. Sometimes I fear I’ve set out so many “don’t do this” prohibitions here that I’m hindered from writing. Fearing making a mistake is not a good place to be. So, my blogging about what not to do is an unpleasant bedfellow with my spewing out more and more of this musical.

And I use the word “spew” because it’s half of my favorite description of the writing process. The first step is spewing, because all kinds of music is pouring out of you and, ideally, you don’t hamper yourself by saying “Oh, this is terrible” or “I shouldn’t do it this way.” The later step is editing: taking a cold, hard, critical eye toward your creation, and then fixing it, and throwing out the bad stuff. When I regard the storyboard with two dozen songs before me, I try not to think that’s way too many songs and the piece will be way too long. It’s just spew, now.

Here’s something I said to a young friend yesterday: “I see the care you take, the energy you put in to getting everything right. Well, it’s paid off. So now’s the time to relax, take a deep breath, look at what you’ve accomplished and pat yourself on the back. Spend a moment of two acknowledging that you’ve done great work, restoring yourself before you go on to the next.”

It’s a common paradox: I wish I could take my own advice. I wish I could celebrate the six years of blogging, appreciate that there are some really helpful essays in there. (God knows how you’d find them, though. The tagging business befuddles me.) I usually remember to throw in a few jokes. Click on a picture and you’ll probably hear a song. And they said blogging was going out of fashion six years ago. And here I (still) am.

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