Saturday, August 1, 2009

Ongoing Discussion Thread [August, 2009]

I freely admit it, I'm feeling a little glum today.

Last night I was soaring. The book was done, it came out beautifully, we made it! But I woke up today, and for the first time in nearly a decade, was no longer someone writing a book. I was someone who wrote a book. I know the technicalities of printing schedules and release dates call the accuracy of that statement into question, but I'm sure you get the point. The former is vital, so full of potential. The latter, a done deed.

Maybe I don't desire legacy. I'm designed to crave the embroilment and creativity of a project en media res. Crazy as it sounds, I like to finally set my head on the pillow at 4:00 a.m. knowing that 30 minutes later I may be awakened by a panicked phone call regarding a misplaced comma. I like the frantic searches through conductor's scores when I really should be leaving for the airport. I relish loudly looping a 27 second clip of music, racing to properly describe the harmonic implications before the neighbors stave in the wall and force me to stop.

Now I'm mourning my newfound freedom.

As I've mentioned before, I'm a musician by trade. That's really how I think of myself. Writing has been like another instrument for me -- a form of musical expression. The research is my practice room. The words, the images, the literary structures -- these are all notes and phrases. I came to this book for musical purposes. I wanted to see if I could elevate the existing discourse. I must admit, I was a little mercenary in my approach. I adored Tolkien, of course, but I approached The Lord of the Rings largely as a vehicle. It was my battering ram -- my way of cracking open up a certain musical world. That eventually changed when I realized that in discussing a piece of art, you could also create a work of art. The book became infused with the sprit of its subject, much to its betterment.

But now it feels positively odd to be eyeing non-Tolkien projects. Even though my publishers are submitting some remarkable musical collaborations, once you plant your flag in Middle-earth, it's always your home. It claims you. Of course, it's probable that I'll venture away from that home at some point. I suppose I really have to, right? I mean, my proclivity for embroilment is hardly addressed if I only write one book.

I think Howard Shore feels much the same way -- though I certainly don't pretend to speak for him on the matter. To the public-at-large, Howard will always be the composer of The Lord of the Rings. But he didn't come to that post until his mid 50s, and he has an immense and varied body of work that predates LOTR. Likewise, he's continued to create ingenious works in the 6 years that have passed since the series closed. But he loves the world of Middle-earth dearly, and it takes almost no provocation at all to set him musing about Tolkien's world. He's a composer first, and always will be. He will forever look upon all his musical children with equal love and familiarity, but there's just something about Middle-earth...

I guess that comes down to "legacy" versus "vitality," too. In order to create, we must move forward. Progress doesn't equal abandonment, per se, but it does require us to divert our focus. Or at least widen our gazes. That can be a difficult transition.

These heady thoughts and their brethren seized and wracked my head around 9:45 this morning. I was lost in a cloud through most of the afternoon, my mood moored to the bleak grey skies above. About 3:30 the phone rang: "Hi Doug, it's me!" Howard was calling to offer his congratulations... and to chat, since so much of our contact in the past weeks has been business-based. Inevitably our conversation turned to the future -- to The Hobbit, which he spoke about in surprising detail, since things are finally beginning to solidify on the production. "Are you ready to do this again?" he asked. I don't know if my response was much smoother than it was 8 years ago when we first spoke about collaborating on LOTR. Literally, I don't know. I never remember what I say in situations like this. Clearly, I made some sort of affirmative utterance, because pretty soon we were off planning how we could do this one differently. How can we get started earlier? Can we establish a regular schedule from day one? Can I attend the sessions again?

My work on The Music of the Lord of the Rings Films has defined my creative life for many years. I began the work shortly after grad school, literally from my bedroom in my parents' house. As I've intimated, I may look at a non-Tolkien property before the heavy lifting on The Hobbit really sets in, but in many ways I feel like I'm not going to break stride at all. Middle-earth is going to continue to be my creative home -- our creative home -- for years to come.

That feels right to me, and I hope you agree.

The book is now in the printers' hands. I don't know when it actually hits the production floor, but the next time I see it, I'll be holding a physical book. I've promised myself that I won't look at the digital file again. Don't want to start second guessing myself at this point! Early next week, we'll finish the design on the Rarities CD art and envelope. And that will be it.

Actually, let me clarify. That will be it for the product. We will then enter a phase wherein I have to learn a whole new skill set. It's time to promote our creation. I'm already getting better versed in press releas-ese, but radio and t.v. are entirely different matters. If current plans hold, I'd better start studying up. Looks like a number of public appearances are going to be integrated as well. In the coming weeks, I'm going to add a request form to the blog. If you think your local book store or college class would benefit from a signing/lecture, we now have a way to make that happen.

The Music of the Lord of the Rings Films is an incredibly unique beast. It's a rare attempt at mass marketed musicology, but it's also the first time a film score has been examined in this way. If we'd come out the gate with The Music of Manos: The Hands of Fate, we may have been neatly tucked under the rug and ignored. But this is Tolkien, and people are starting to pay attention. The initial feeling is that maybe we've got something special on our hands, and maybe, just maybe, we can connect with a wide audience in a very big way. Maybe this goes beyond the standard niches. Or maybe in my eager naiveté, I'm far too ready to chomp down on a heaping spoonful of deluded, self-generated hype and don't realize it! Just after Fellowship hit theaters, one of its creators confided in me, "You never know whether you've got Star Wars, or whether you've got Dune." So I followed their model and put my nose down, threw my soul into the work, and hoped for the best.

Pretty soon, you'll let me know what we've got. Be gentle, ok?

In the meantime, we have a few more pre-Radio City magnets to distribute. [See here.] And blog updates should continue regularly, since we'll have plenty to talk about. The road goes ever... well, you get the idea.

See you on the boards!

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