On Connections and Inspirations: Spell and Everything Must Go
Something I didn’t mention in the Everything Must Go write-up, which I’ve been reminded of and encouraged to mention (especially so as to break up these massive blocks of text of ME talking about MY WORK, yeesh) was the influence of outside, older artworks in the creation of these pieces.
It’s rarely other theatre or playscripts that stick in my head and bounce around, causing some kind of inspiration in what I’m working on myself, but usually visual art and popular musics that do the trick. Sometimes film (as was the case here).
For example, in the midst of all the inspiration for EMG, in language, and dance, and images in my head of light on bodies moving, one picture and song kept coming back to me (and both wound up being used directly in the show itself), Richard Hamilton’s 1956 collage Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?:
And a song by Roxy Music that may have been somewhat inspired by Hamilton’s collage (Hamilton was a teacher of Brian Ferry at the University of Newcastle), “In Every Dream Home a Heartache”:
Somehow these captured the feel of the consumer culture/advertising world I was dealing with in the show.
For Spell, a more mysterious combination of image and song asserted itself. First, in a way that I cannot explain in any logical, conscious manner, another great 20th-Century collage filled my head in an unexplainable. inspirational way, John Heartfield's Hurrah, die Butter ist alle!:
"Hurrah, the Butter Is Finished!"
Goering: "Iron has always made a nation strong, butter and lard have only made the people fat."
Bob Dylan hung over Spell in some strange spiritual way (his song, "High Water (for Charlie Patton)" from Love and Theft has been close to me since 9/11/01, and part of a direct line of thought that led to the play). For some reason, a song of his that isn't at all one of my favorites - it's nice, but not one I ever would have put at the top of my list of Dylan classics - became important to the show, "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" - in particular, the version performed by The 13th Floor Elevators:
I had started Spell with some fragmentary texts that suggested a woman being interrogated by a figure that could be a doctor or a law-enforcement official. She appeared to have mental problems. Gradually, it became apparent she had done something monstrous and murderous. Then these Witches appeared - voices in her head, and they used numbers to communicate (a detail mostly dropped from the final show, but there are bits and pieces of it scattered around in there). And songs that used numbers in strange, incantatory ways suddenly became important to me - I had planned to quote from them in the show, but they mostly wound up being regulated to the pre-show mix, but something in all of them felt "right" for the show, and somehow inspired the tone of the show, like the traditional "Children Go Where I Send Thee" here performed by Johnny Cash:
"Papa Legba" by Talking Heads, performed by Pops Staples:
"Monkey Gone To Heaven" by Pixies:
"Highway 61 Revisited" by Dylan, performed by PJ Harvey:
and Love's "The Red Telephone":
This last song became not only important for its use of numbers, but also for the outchorus talking about madness, some of which is quoted from Marat/Sade (more on that in the next entry), which led neatly into the opening image of the show itself.
(another important inspirational song which didn't have the number conceit, but was connected to the show in other ways, was Patti Smith's version of "Hey Joe" where she turns it into the story of Patty Hearst - I'd include a video of that, but I found a neater video of the song done live in 1976 in a medley with "Horses," but without the Hearst conceit, so I'll just link to it - it's HERE)
Spell and Everything Must Go were created slowly over months, as I worked bits and pieces of them, and figured out what the shows were about as I went. I would hear music like some of the above, or other tracks, and know they belonged in one of the shows, but not be sure which one. The shows are extremely different, but have some strange overlaps that connect them. Berit said that EMG, which is subtitled (Invisible Republic #2) is about the Invisible Republic I keep returning to in my work (the America beneath the bright shiny surface where all the horrible scurrying things go on), and that Spell takes place inside the Invisible Republic, which seems right to me.
With the dark, nasty Spell and the deceptively cheerful and funny EMG going on together, I was reminded early on of the two films that Ken Russell made in 1971, the dark and nasty The Devils and the deceptively (?) cheerful and funny The Boy Friend, and I rewatched both films, and came away with a great deal more inspiration for both than I had anticipated.
They were both closer than I had figured to what I was trying to do in some way with my own shows, and, as I'd always had the feeling was true with Russell, I needed each show, the dark and the light, for proper balance. Here are both movies in their entirety - really. I was just looking for trailers or clips or something, but instead found that these two films (as yet unavailable on DVD) have been uploaded to YouTube. So here's Ken Russell's two 1971 features that directly influenced my two 2008 plays:
And here's The Boy Friend:
(and if you actually want to watch these for any length of time, I suggest clicking on the links in the titles above each video here to open the playlist directly in YouTube, where you can click on each chapter of the playlist to "watch in high quality" - an annoying new YouTube function which means embedded videos never look as good as when you see them on YouTube itself - and you HAVE to choose the "high quality" setting for each chapter as it comes up - NOTE: not all chapters of each film have a "high-quality" mode)
Once I had seen that there was some kind of connection between the two shows in my head, little bits of each show began oozing into the other -- the company where EMG takes place is mentioned in Spell, and the title of that show and the inclusion of The 13th Floor Elevators somehow fall through into EMG. Now they are a kind of matched pair, resembling each other barely, but echoing each other totally. At least for me.
Next entry: The original texts that started Spell, and more on the inspirations for that specific show.