In the next series of posts for Project 194, I’ll be showcasing the songs of A Tiny Miracle, a musical I composed in 1999 and 2000. These tracks were made as a studio demo during my sabbatical leave in the spring of 2000, and feature students and pros who performed the work in December 1999 along with friends I roped in.
Let’s start with the opening “Prelude” of the show and the first song. You’ll recognize D’Arcy’s voice as the storyteller, Todd Waddington sings the part of the Grandfather, Joilet Harris as the Wise Oak and my young son (9 years old at the time) as the Grandson, Timothy.
This is a song from my 1984 musical BGDF, my first adventure into the world of self-producing in New York. The singers are D’Arcy and Gregg Edelman, who play Pat and Ted, a married couple who work together at an advertising agency. It’s a song about what happens when your problems at work start to spill over into your marriage. Both husband and wife address the audience directly when they sing, voicing their thoughts as they progress from self-deluding platitudes to growing despair; in the dialog sections, they speak – or, at any rate, try to – directly to one another, and their conversation repeatedly runs on the rocks of misunderstanding.
This is one of a number of songs that I’ve written about the challenges of being married. I wrote it the first years of our marriage, when I was a pretty lousy husband, if the truth be told – self-absorbed and uncommunicative, a constant source of frustration to my high-spirited partner. Somehow, amazingly, we hung in there; I managed to extract my head from my ass a bit more often and participate actively in our relationship, and 35 years later, we’re still together, older and wiser and often happier. I’m still a work in progress, however, and I’m sure my self-absorbed behavior continues to tax the patience of those who are closest to me. I’m so sorry about that!
I think I’ve written elsewhere about Gregg Edelman, who was not long out of college when we cast him in BGDF, a graduate of Northwestern who had recently arrived on the New York scene. It’s been wonderful to observe the trajectory of his professional career – he appeared in the premiere productions of City of Angels and Passion and major revivals like Into The Woods, Wonderful Town and Drood.
We have the perfect arrangement as man and wife.
You’ll understand once you’ve seen us
When there’s a problem between us.
We talk things out like mature adults do.
We get results, too,
Wait and see.
There is no better prescription for married strife.
When there are signs of dissention,
We try an ounce of prevention.
Being frank will keep things tranquil,
That’s a guarantee.
We share our views enthusiastically.
TED: It’s better not to let things fester.
If something has distressed her,
Pat is certain to reveal it.
PAT: If there’s a burden, then we share it.
Who wants to grin and bear it?
BOTH: It makes no sense to try to conceal it.
So here’s our simple solution for wedded life:
Not talking kills like a cancer.
Communication’s the answer!
You can bet that we don’t let our pride get in the way.
That might jeopardize our repartee.
When we’re feeling blue,
We just talk it through.
All we have to do is…
[Dialog – their conversation doesn’t go as well as planned.]
TED: I never lose my composure at times like these.
We’ve just a minor delay here.
Let’s see now, what can I say here?
Something that oozes with warmth and candor.
I understand her,
I aim to please.
PAT: It’s hard to say why I’m feeling so ill-at-ease.
You mustn’t get the impression
I’m on the verge of depression!
I fell almost sure that our rapport will save the day.
We’ll speak our mind and love will find a way.
TED: I can explain my hesitation.
This sort of situation has all kinds of dangers in it.
PAT: I know it may sound like a dumb thing,
But if we don’t say something,
I’m gonna lost my mind in a minute!
BOTH: Won’t you do something to end this?
I’m on my knees!
I’d start if I was prepared to.
The simple truth is, I’m scared to.
I’m afraid the fact is we don’t practice what we preach.
But talk to me,
We still can be okay.
It’s a rainy day here in Philly on Pi Day, 3/14/15 (that’s 3.1415 for the math nerds among us), and, having completed the presentation of A is for Anything, Project 194 is coming about, reorienting itself to start in a new direction. That’s a great occasion for this little amuse-bouche of a song, written especially for D’Arcy and premiered in her one-woman cabaret show Just One Step: Songs From The Edge. (If you were hoping for pie on Pi Day, I suggest you check out the “Pie Dance” in the selection from Harold and the Purple Crayon that I posted on Day 74!)
I have a passion for self-improvement.
It’s always been my goal
To be the mistress of my fate
And captain of my soul!
Though I pursue perfection,
Sometimes the flesh is weak,
Springs a leak,
In a manner of speaking,
And the captain starts thinking
Her ship may be sinking….
My overbite was a total disaster.
My orthodontist wears quite a grin,
His ship’s come in, I guess.
These little beauties are mere engineering.
I should be cheering.
My smile features perfect teeth
But the rage beneath
Means I’m still a mess.
It seems I’ve still got one sick piece.
One little kink that I can’t release.
Don’t think me whiny,
It’s just a tiny disaster
Living with one sick piece.
I see my analyst Tuesdays and Fridays.
I spill my guts while he strokes his beard.
The whole thing’s weird,
Friends say I’m less inappropriate,
Moody and manic.
I used to panic
But now I just call my shrink
And he helps me think
Things will be okay.
(Til it’s time to pay.)
And yet there’s still this one sick piece,
One minor problem that just won’t cease.
You think it’s funny,
But trust me, honey, it’s murder
Living with one sick piece.
My rhinoplasty was nasty business,
Cheap at thirty thou.
Anorexia? Licked that too!
Just watch me chew the chow!
How can I go on kvetching,
Now that I’ve come so far?
There’s a burr in my britches.
“With all of her riches,
See how she bitches!”
You may have noticed my elegant diction.
I useta tawk like a Joisey broad
But folks applaud me now,
I used my talents to balance my budget.
I weigh a hundred and eight
And my breath smells great
And my sex life’s… wait…
That’s more information than you need…
I’d like to think there’s a lesson here somewhere,
Perhaps a moral to be discerned
In all I’ve learned to date.
I see my life as a little bit empty.
Though other people might say
That it’s mostly full,
It is full of flaws,
So I clutch at straws
All because of that one sick piece.
One freakin’ squeak that I just can’t grease!
I do pilates but haven’t got easy answers.
After all I’ve done, I am stuck with one sick piece,
And it’s not much fun being stuck with one sick piece.
Could it be my luck to be stuck with one sick piece?
D’Arcy undertook the daunting challenge of making a one-woman show and created a program that was compelling and astonishingly successful. For years, I’d been carrying around the title “One Sick Piece” in my head, and when she announced her plan for the solo show, that was the incentive I needed to create a song worthy of that title. She and Linda Henderson performed her show to great acclaim at UArts, and later D’Arcy and I got the opportunity to perform it at Franklin and Marshall College, which is where this live recording was made.
I’ve been fascinated by the topic of self-improvement for quite a long time, and wrote a couple iterations of a show called Better and Better in 1979 and the early 1980’s to explore the comic possibilities in the subject. I think it’s the curse of certain people to be nagged by the thought that we’re not good enough. Martha Graham put it this way:
No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.
According to Martha, we should count ourselves lucky that we experience this blessed unrest, this constant awareness of our “one sick piece,” but without question it’s hard to make your peace with the voice that constantly reminds you that you, and your most recent attempt at whatever it is you just attempted, are just not good enough. D’Arcy does an especially marvelous job of transmuting this anguish into comic grist!
Worth noting: I don’t think even Bill Finn managed to get the word “rhinoplasty” into a song – though Thomas Pynchon managed it in one of the comic ditties that his novel V. is salted with.
As Valentine’s Day draws closer, it’s only right and proper that we hear from my Valentine, the one and only D’Arcy Webb, who made her off-off-Broadway debut singing opposite Gregg Edelman in my musical BGDF in 1984. This was the first foray into New York for both of us, and it was a hair-raising experience, but luckily we got a lot of help from our friend Richard Aumiller, a classmate and pal of mine from Delaware days who’d made the move a few years earlier and established himself in a Hells Kitchen walkup. Dick not only agreed to direct the show (and wound up doing a lot of the heavy lifting of producing an Equity-approved showcase) but came to our rescue when the apartment we sublet turned out to be an unspeakable chamber of filth and saved the day with a mop and a sponge. The one redeeming feature of our grimy sublet was that it had a piano, on which I composed this tune. Give it a listen, and I’ll meet you down below the lyric for a few afterthoughts.