On Sunday I took my godfather, writer Dennis Rivers, to the freight to see Anais Mitchell's brilliant folk-opera, Hadestown. I first saw it in New York in 2011, standing with my dearest musical friends while they sang along to the songs of Euridyce, Orpheus, and Hades, and now Mitchell is the in the progress of adding new material to expand it into an Off-Broadway show. After first hearing it, I spent most of winter mornings listening and almost studying the record - how Mitchell's writing bridges the world of Greek mythology and American depression-era, post apocalyptic fears, how it swings from genre to genre, how a simply crafted rhyme could be as striking as its nearby lyrics of poetry.
Take my mouth that kissed her mouth / Take my tongue that sung her praise
Take my arms that used to reach out / In the dark to where she lay
If it's true what they say / I'll be on my way
So I ask you as a brother / And I ask you as a friend
And I ask you as a lover / And I ask you once again
Is it true what they say?
sung by Orpheus in If It's True
And I remember reading about her process of writing the piece - rewriting over and over to understand how much plot a listener could absorb in one pass, asking her friends to shovel snow out of the driveway and eventually join her on a community stage in props and costumes and characters. Recently I've been loving TS Eliot's idea that all creative work is a product of extensive incubation. That my job is in the trying, and not in producing the results. So often I get uncomfortable when my songs are in their half-formed, one eyed state, sometimes even leaving them by the side of the road instead of continuing on with them. Listening to Hadestown I was struck by how much is POSSIBLE when I as an artist continue polishing the abstract ideas that are knocking at my door, polishing them into their wholeness. And, how much I see community as part of that process - to carry the lantern when I can't, to add the knowledge I don't have, to invite me to fill in the holes.
And what a profound pleasure, as it unfolds in its new form, to hear songs that are just as rich in imagery and wistfulness and humor. In her new songs, I also heard a further exploration on the themes of money and artistry inside of a capitalist machine, a theme that is often in my mind as I spin my own plates of entrepren-artship, music, illustration.
Hey little songbird, let me guess / He’s some kind of poet- and he’s penniless
Give him your hand, he’ll give you his hand-to-mouth / He’ll write you a poem when the power’s out Hey, why not fly south for the winter?
sung by Hades to Eurydice in Hey, Little Songbird
I'll be adding lots more on this theme over the next weeks - hopefully bringing a more nuanced set of questions and ideas of how in the world we got stuck here, in black and white.
On Hadestown - www.hadestown-anaismitchell.com
On T.S. Eliot - http://www.brainpickings.org/2012/09/26/t-s-eliot-on-creativity/
Dennis River - http://www.univ-great-turning.org/spiral-journey-curriculum/