The Rock Opera
(Staring at the Sun from Underwater 1.1.6)
Since Benny Zane couldn’t practice, Flip (I mean Fred) and I took mushrooms or acid with his birdlike classmate Helene Windrose and tripped around the Heavenside street festival, horrified that we might become flattened into the marshmallow morass of smiling oblivious Victorian yuppies. So we skedaddled back to Helene’s place to watch a pot of water boil. Since Helene is a religious studies major, Flip wanted to disprove the veracity of the old wive’s tale, which took forever, staring at each bubble as it rose to the surface while Helene ate a head of lettuce with her bony violinist fingers, not giving a fuck about our water.
While wandering around Heavenside, Flip had come up with the idea of writing a rock opera, about a 300-pound graffiti-artist drag queen named Tink, on her quest to stop hordes of robotic lumberjacks from marshmallowizing the world, turning everything into that bourgeoisie Flatland we’d barely escaped getting stuck in earlier. So after we reached a rolling boil we rushed back to my apartment to write it, Flip on drums and I on a distortion and reverb laden guitar, Tink’s leitmotif beginning in a delicate adagio—a fat man in a tutu dancing in a summer rainstorm—boiling upward through echoed notes, until, wait for it, here come the lumberjacks!
I kicked on the distortion and slew them all, in sharp downward arpeggios that multiplied at our feet, spilling out from the five lines and 4/4, the staff notation suddenly just another arbitrary order barely able to contain the coda, notes not faster now but with more space in between them, hemidemisemiquavers cut open so we could fit whole arias in the interval. The beauty of music is, as Beethoven said, in the rests between notes, but the magic is in the total onslaught, the boiling over of emotions.
Except, up against the rows of grey robots who control our lives, the things we have to offer sometimes seem so frail. As Fred kept grinning, “This is an opera, we have to sing, you know, words.” But our words were too fragile and insecure to tell this story. The bubbles popped.
And then suddenly Phoebe Zeitgeber showed up with a new amplifier she’d gone down to Dead City to purchase, followed by, oh gods, her mother, who had driven her back up and came in to say hello. Though we were tripping and horrified to talk to an adult while on acid, Phoebe’s mom insisted that we jam, breaking out her violin until Flip grew so paranoid that he couldn’t play another snare roll and ran out the door.