The Your Turn Challenge prompts me, “Tell us about something that’s important to you,” and my response is: Songs are important to me, and teaching people to make them, and to perform them successfully, those are all important, too. I’ve spent more than 40 of my nearly 60 years on the planet making songs and making musical theater. Along the way, I’ve also had a terrific marriage (34 years) and raised two sons (24 and 29) – and the three of them are very, very important to me. I’ve also spent my professional life working in academia, and being an educator – imparting skills, opening eyes, blowing young minds – is important to me, too, an almost sacred responsibility. But I want to write a little more about why songs matter so much to me, because that’s a less obvious answer to the question. Why would songs be important to anyone?
This fall I taught a new course called “Enchantment Studio.” I chose this particular name because I believe that songs are a form of enchantment (the root word “chant” refers to singing), that is, a kind of magic. Songs are magic spells that pervade our lives, that inspire us, comfort us, rouse us, soothe us, awaken our tender feelings and our sense of connection to something bigger. I wanted to work with students from all different backgrounds and I wanted to explore the power of songs. I wanted to find out about what songs meant to them, and see if they could learn to collaborate and make them together. It was an exciting experiment, one that confirmed me how important songs are to all of us.
So I’ve spent years and years making songs, making little bombs of pleasure and insight engineered to detonate as they reach the listener’s ears. Done properly, a song can light up your neural pathways, and I remain fascinated by the challenge of how to make that happen. It would be great if that made me rich and famous, but even though both of those have eluded me thus far, I keep doing it anyway. It’s that important to me.
Multiple Windows is a song I wrote 19 years ago, in 1996, for a musical called Realities. It’s sung by a character called Cybil, and as you can tell from the lyric, Cybil is a woman with many identities. When we first encounter her, she’s a punked-out Lisbeth Salander type with purple hair and a brash demeanor. In this scene, she’s dressed in business wear, preparing to meet with her banker father to negotiate a loan. The metaphor of “multiple windows” came to me as I thought about the screen on my computer, and how it’s possible to maintain multiple identities simultaneously during online chat. The song was intended to be accompanied by some sort of video projections or music video that translates its central metaphor into visuals, but you’ll have to imagine that part of the experience as you listen. The vocalist is Jennifer Avila.
Real life is just a window
A frame through which I view
One set of finite possibilities
I open many windows
Each time I go on-line,
And take my pick of personalities
Don’t be seduced by what your eye sees
I smash the mirror
And show you the pieces I please
[As Cybil sings a verse, an image appears on the video wall in which she is made up and costumed as the personality she describes. With each successive verse, additional images appear, showing Cybil in multiple guises.]
When I’m on the school computer
People see me as a student
But that’s only partly true
Engineering test on Thursday
Quiz in Physics 102
E-mail from the finance office
Student loan is overdue
Here I play the dominatrix
Call me Suzy69
I perform all kinds of gay tricks
In a fetish group online
Got a girl in Copenhagen
With a taste for cybersleaze
When I read her sexy e-mail
My fingers wander from the keys
(Spoken) My multiple piercings give her multiple pleasures…
Elsewhere I’m a ninja hacker
DataQueen at rage dot com
Slipping into someone’s mainframe
Stealing data from their ROM
I’ve a major reputation
For the codes I’ve learned to crack
I’m in league with Phiber Optik
Someone that the feds can’t track
Have you seen my Rushmore homepage?
I’m his most devoted fan
I download his concert schedule
From a website in Japan
I have links to Quick Time movies,
Music clips and JPEG files.
Readers of his Usenet newsgroup
Know me and my shrine to Miles
[The various images on the video wall come to life and sing contrapuntally in a “chorus of Cybils.”]
Try to imagine the possibilities
Allow me to be what I please…