Below is my totally informal and unpolished journal of the last few weeks of the Radio City experience. It's nothing too consequential or insightful, but for those who wanted a little behind-the-curtain view, here it is. Enjoy!
The Road to Radio City
Thursday, October 1
I’m a nervous flyer by nature. Yes, even after all this time and mileage, I get a bit jumpy boarding, even on short flights. In fact, oftentimes I’m worse on the short flights. I find international flights smoother – and anyway, once you’re on, you’re on. There’s something soothing about the resignation. If I’ve improved in any aspect, it’s that I only tend to get jumpy on outgoing flights. Heading home I’m usually so exhausted that I don’t care if we’re doing loop-de-loops and barrel rolls.
Heading out to New York for several days of press brought precious little resignation or calm. I’ve done tons of press before, but I’ve almost always been on the other end of the microphone. I’ve interviewed dozens of composers since I was an undergrad in college. And I’ve gotten pretty comfortable doing them… even back when the composers would call my home and get my mom on the phone. Heck, even when my mom asked Phillip Glass if he was one of my percussion students, or when she asked Quincy Jones to call back later because she wasn’t comfortable speaking with famous people! But I’m decidedly not used to being the subject of an interview. It’s strange that the more you have to talk about yourself, the more control you lose. The interviewer can take you any direction they choose, really.
I knew that I’d be speaking with Howard Shore at the Paley Center in New York. I knew that Billy Boyd would be joining us, and that Kurt Loder would moderate. I couldn’t figure out how it would all fit together, but was thrilled that it was Kurt’s job to moderate and not mine! A day or two before leaving, I also found out that they’d be shooting a short piece for MTV News. More pressure!
The much-dreaded flight was pretty uneventful. In fact, we arrived something like 30 minutes ahead of schedule, so it felt like I was barely on the plane. Fine by me! I used my extra time to grab a taxi and drop off my luggage at the hotel. More good news as I wasn’t really looking forward to dragging my belongings along the streets of New York. I walked over to the Paley Center and ran into Glenna Freidman entering the building. Glenna is a publicist, and was responsible for much of the Radio City build-up press. I’d been working with her for a few weeks – months maybe – and she’d arranged all the print and radio I’d been doing prior to this.
We headed upstairs and wound our way into the green room. Kurt Loder was already there getting his make-up done. The guy is ridiculously young looking, despite the fact that he’s almost exactly the same age as my parents. (For the record, my parents look pretty young too, but Mr. Loder’s appearance truly belies his age.) Kurt was great. Very nice, very professional. We’d spoken on the phone a few days before, but even then he’d clearly done his research. He knew all about the book. Knew about the Rarities album. Knew all about the late summer legal stress. Consummate pro.
Billy Boyd arrived next. His appearance surprised me a little. I don’t think it was his beard… I think I was shocked to see him full-sized! Sure I’ve seen him in Master and Commander, etc., but somehow I was shocked to see him sporting non-hobbit dimensions.
Howard, accompanied by his wife Elizabeth, arrived last. I’m always so happy to see them arrive. They really are family at this point.
We filmed our interviews, and I went first. I was considerably less nervous than the last time I was on TV, which was last May in Poland. I think a lot of the credit goes to Kurt’s style… but understanding the languages around me couldn’t have hurt either. I ended up learning a few Polish phrases in May, but nothing of much import.
We also shot a handful of group photos, which I believe were for the Paley Center. The photographer asked Billy to please button his suit coat. Billy jokingly asked, “Do you hate my shirt?” but I don’t think the photographer was listening. “Yes, yes,” she absently responded.
I was surprised that we walked through the audience in order to take the stage. I don’t think there was any sort of backstage area. At least nothing that I saw. Once again, Kurt ran things extremely well, keeping the interviews moving and making sure that everyone participated in a meaningful way. The audience’s questions were, overall, quite good. I felt bad for the gentleman who asked Billy to sing, both because it put Billy on the spot, and because it was clear that the guy wasn’t going to get him to do it.
We signed a few autographs out front, then the four of us – Howard, Elizabeth, Billy and I – went out for dinner. Very nice modern Chinese place. I think we were all starving. Howard asked where my hotel was, and I told him. He looked a little worried and said I should be careful around there. Teasingly said the area used to be “hooker central.” I assured him that everything looked pretty nice. The hotel rooms were clean and filled with books. Billy said, “Why would you need books in hooker central!?”
It turned out that Billy was actually staying in the same hotel, so we walked back after dinner. He pointed at a nearby building as we walked. “Elijah’s in there shooting something for Saturday Night Live right now.” Although we did a little LOTR talk that evening, we certainly didn’t focus on it exclusively. It was interesting to note, then, how often Billy brought up Elijah and Dom without prompting. Their friendship was, and is, genuine, not simply the result of effective marketing.
Friday, October 2
Friday was mainly a press day. I got myself up reasonably early in the morning, hoped next door for a cup of coffee, and went back to my room to await phone calls. After the interviews I had a meeting at CAMI’s offices. CAMI, of course, is the production company behind the live LOTR performances, and I regularly work with them as a consultant. Josh and Wendy are my two main points of contact, and they’re both terrific. Josh and I have met several times, though I don’t think we’ve ever actually met inside the U.S. before. Wendy I’d never met in person, but was just a quick and funny in person as on the phone.
Had one more interview in the afternoon, then dinner with Jim Lochner from Film Score Monthly and FilmScoreClickTrack.com. Jim’s a lovely guy, and it was immensely fun to hang out with him. We’d never met in person either (well, technically he’d said hello at Paley the night before), but we got on like we’d known each other for years. Had dinner at Le Halles, which was formerly run by Anthony Bourdain of Kitchen Confidential and No Reservations fame.
Saturday, October 3
Saturday began with another coffee run (are you sensing a trend?) and more phone interviews. After this, it was off to Barnes and Noble for a talk with Howard. The green room was well-stocked with hand sanitizer, and I now understand why. You shake a lot of hands at these things!
I was quite happy with the talk. It was actually fun to venture a bit outside of Middle-earth to discus the new Collector’s Edition CD, which I highly recommend. The “Coffee Suite” is killer, and not just because I’m hopelessly addicted to caffeine. It’s like the wiggly chromaticism of Ed Wood met the rhythm sessions of The Score. Great! The crowd questions were quite strong once again.
Howard very generously steered the conversation toward the book for a good long while, which was exciting for me. We plan on repeating this event, or others like it, when the book is finally released. Yes, we’re looking at a London premiere, but we’ll be sure to do appearances in the states as well.
I laughed on the way out when I noticed that they’d made a very large—and very nice looking—banner out of the headshots of Howard and myself. It was suggested that I try to bring the banner home for use as either a blanket or a cape. I did neither.
Afterwards we did a dinner/business meeting with some of Howard’s staff to discuss book contracts and some potential new collaborators. (I say “staff,” but they’re all friends at this point, so it wasn’t really much like a meeting.) Different Chinese place this time. By total coincidence, the party arriving at the restaurant before us was discussing “these upcoming Hobbit films.” They didn’t seem to be in the business, just fans. If only they’d seen who was standing behind them in line!
We all seemed to be on precisely the same page business-wise and creatively. Our legal stall may end up being the best thing that ever happened to this book. In short, we have to lay everything out once again. It’s a ton of work, but it’s worth it. At the Paley Center, Loder asked me if I felt any pressure working on a project of this size. I said, “Tolkien’s writing is absolutely amazing.” Pointed to Billy and said, “The movies were incredible.” Pointed to Howard, “The score is absolutely perfect.” Pointed to myself, “I can’t be the guy who takes this all off the end of the pier. This book has to be as good as everything that has proceeded it.”
The legal headaches have forced us to re-do a lot of work, but realistically, every time we do it, we do it better. I honestly believe it was meant to happen this way – that fate has forced us to back up and do one more polish. For whatever reason, the piece is supposed to improve in this way. In fact, we all feel that it was meant to be, and are very enthused about the upcoming work. The new production is toasted.
Sunday, October 4 – Thursday October 8
Up early Sunday, back to the airport, back to Chicago. Another fast, smooth flight… I must be running out of good luck.
I spent a few days in Chicago, although my mind was still firmly in NY. Wednesday was a conference call with Joe Augustine, project manager for Howe Records, and some of our new friends in London. I left the meeting with an extremely positive feeling.
During the off-week a dozen emails flew back and forth between Josh (at CAMI) and me as we try to figure out if there is time in the RCMH contract for pre-concert lectures and signings. By Thursday night, we were still not sure…
Friday, October 9
Back to the airport, but later than last time. This made me a bit nervous since the performance was only a few hours off. Airlines can be a bit unpredictable at the best of times, and this was a holiday weekend. I once missed a public speaking appearance for TORN because lighting storms shut down all flights until after my scheduled timeslot. They then offered to fly me out late at night, but it did me no good at all. Today again I was left in an understaffed check-in area, and by the time the line reached the counter, I was informed that I could not board my flight. I begrudgingly booked a later flight for both me and Jill, my better half, who was accompanying me on this leg of the trip.
We made the later flight, though it was still tight. I checked my email on the tarmac to see that the pre-concert was officially on for Saturday night only, which I quickly posted on the blog. As a general rule, if I post something uncharacteristically brief, it was probably posted in such a manner – via phone in an uncomfortable public place.
We dashed over to Radio City, got through (tight!) security and started wandering around backstage. Getting our bearings, we came through the stage door just as the orchestra burst into the Fellowship theme. Wish that would happen every time I entered a room!
I stopped for a second to get the lay of the land. Wow! Radio City Music Hall. I’d never been inside before. It’s strange that my first view of the place was from the stage toward the hall, not the other way around. I know it’s not the most amazingly acoustic room. Neither is it the biggest or most high-tech. But you can’t beat the history and cachet of this place. We’d arrived!
After dress rehearsal, Jill and I joined my brother and his wife for dinner at Rockefeller Center. They (Dan and Maria) were in town for the concert as well, and I was really glad they came. We walked back to Radio City together, and by this time the place was an utter madhouse. Throngs or people lined up and milled about, laughing with each other, barking at ticket tellers. I saw Timdalf in full costume posing for pictures under the marquee. Dan looked at me. “I’ve never seen anything like this…” As soon as I got into the house, I did a quick radio interview for Fictional Frontiers. Don’t know if anything I said was audible above the crowd din, but it should make a nice audio documentation of the energy in that room.
The performance… what can I say that hasn’t been said better by others? Seeing the films and hearing the scores like this is a completely new experience – a new art form. I’ve seen Fellowship like this nearly 10 times now, but it’s shockingly good each time out. Allowing the music to become the center of focus creates such a heightened experience. It’s still cinematic, but there’s something amazingly immediate, almost balletic about it. I hope other scores follow suit.
After the show it was time for signings. My brother actually got in line to get my autograph. Howard thought this was pretty funny, and asked me why he’d gone through the line. I explained, “He’s an accountant. He’s just wired to do everything in a certain methodical order.”
A few confused—and apparently nearsighted—souls thought I was Billy Boyd, and asked for autographs and hugs. They said, “You were my favorite hobbit!” They seemed so excited, I didn’t have the heart to tell them. I mumbled thanks hoping that they didn’t notice my lack of Scottish brogue, then scribbled a really bad signature so that they wouldn’t notice a complete lack of the letter B. Howard asked why my signature was getting “increasingly cryptic,” and I just laughed.
We were there until well after midnight, then hopped a cab to a nearby nightspot for a little snack. Home around 3:00 a.m. or so, and very, very ready for sleep!
Saturday, October 10
Up early to address emails concerned that the pre-concert talk hasn’t been properly announced. It was a realistic concern. We didn’t want to show up to give a lecture to 12 people. That would have looked awfully silly. Before I knew it, it was time for the blog dinner party. I knew going in that this would be one of the weekend’s highlights – and most likely, one of its great frustrations. My time would be limited – we had an engagement not too long after the party’s start – and I wouldn’t be able to really spend quality time with everyone there. There were so many people I wanted to meet. Actually, I didn’t want to just “meet” them, and I wanted to sit and get to know them. I guess that’s the weird tradeoff when any aspect of your life becomes public. You meet a million interesting people, but you’re kept at a distance. This is why I generally try to schedule an event or two on my own, like the book previews we did in London last spring. But there was no time for that on this trip. As we go more and more public, I wonder if those types of things will become impossible.
I was thrilled to speak with Doreen, Taylor, Georg, Tim, Marilynn, Glen, and other whose names I’m either now forgetting, or whose names flew past my ears too quickly. I was absolutely embarrassed by the number of gifts you guys brought – many of which I was simply unable to open until returned home! What beautiful, thoughtful creations!
And that cake! I spent the entire rest of that day lamenting that I never got a bite of it! I was already starving, but I generally don’t like to eat a big meal right before speaking. But the cake, the cake! I could have nibbled just a bit. I should have! The hungrier I got the more that cake became the sole focus of my world. ☺
While I was eyeing the cake, word came in from CAMI. The pre-concert talk was still on. Radio City wanted us on stage.
Time was not on our side. Howard had made an appointment for a guided tour of the Tolkien manuscripts at Fordham, and I was to join in. With our gifts in tow we quickly drove over to the library where the guide was waiting.
Many of you saw these materials, no doubt. They’re amazing documents, rich with detail and insight. But what pleased me the most was the manner in which they were created. Tolkien wrote with several different pens, which lent the documents a tattered, crazy-quilt look. Unused ideas were hastily scrawled and marked out. New concepts were jotted on the back of student exams and Oxford faculty menus. It reminded me of the knee-high stack of paper currently on my office floor with my own collection of margin doodles, red ink corrections, sloppy rewrites, etc. I’m not comparing myself to Tolkien, of course, but I was thrilled to see that that I’m not the only one who accumulates what I like to call “the detritus of endeavor.”
I think Howard took away something similar. He was happy to see that Tolkien didn’t always know where he was going with his massive creation, that he spent great time and effort to work out details, and let the story lead him when necessary. Howard creates his music in much the same way. He focuses on the moments before he focuses on the big picture. The big picture will always reveal itself, but if you try to attack it too early, it’s almost prohibitively imposing.
It was overwhelming to be in the presence of these documents, written in the hand of the father of modern fantasy. My mind reeled a bit. I wished I’d had some cake…
It was difficult attracting a cab afterwards. And once we got one, the driver seemed a bit confused about dropping us at the RCMH stage door. We arrived about 3 minutes before we were to hit the stage. I dropped off my gift collection and stretched out backstage, trying to forget what I was about to do. We were all still worried that the announcement regarding the pre-concert talks went out too late, so we didn’t know if anyone would actually be there. Thankfully, the house was about half full. That’s 2500 people attending a barely publicized talk about a nearly decade-old film. I can’t believe I’m allowed to be a part of this phenomenon!
It’s difficult to read an audience on an event like this. You don’t really see faces. You see heads. You see movement. That’s about it. We didn’t want to simply rehash what these people may have heard earlier in the week. In fact, we’d joked over dinner that we should go out and spend a half hour talking about the score to The Game, just to mix things up a bit.
In the end, I thought the talk went very well. As many of you noticed, our sound went a bit buggy at one point. I still don’t know what happened for sure. The techs told me later that they were “testing the decks, and someone accidentally left a channel open,” but what were they using to test the decks? It sounded like laser sound effects circa 1982! Oh well, it was a good tension-breaker… and now I can always say I got a few laughs from the audience at radio City… even if they were “at” not “with.”
The Saturday night performance was maybe even better than the Friday night. The orchestra seemed more electrified. Oh, the principle horn, what a sound! The chorus’ intonation and diction was even better, which was quite a feat since Friday was already excellent. The overall house mix was better as well. I didn’t mind the applause fest that spontaneously erupted on Friday night, but it did often seem like applause for applause’s sake. Saturday’s was more subdued – until the end. That Two Towers announcement really knocked the walls out!
The signings went well again. Thanks to the pre-concert talk, no one through I was a suddenly de-bearded Billy Boyd. Tim Curran from Film Score Monthly was there as well, but he couldn’t stay long enough to really chat. That’s ok, we’ll get together next time I’m in Los Angeles. I again wished I had more time to talk to people, but we were still on a schedule, and had a long line.
After the signing we returned to the backstage area to pick up our gifts from the blog party. We took one last look at the stage, which was being struck, then drifted out into the street. The marquee was already coming down. “It went so fast,” Howard noted. “Pretty soon it’ll be like we were never there.” It was one of the few times I disagreed with Howard. Whatever happens next, it will never be like we were never there.
Sunday, October 11
We didn’t get home until 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. after the Saturday show. Still, the morning alarm never got a chance to sound. I awoke early enough to get dressed, pack up my belongings, check out of the hotel, stash my luggage, and report to the Orensanz Center. I missed TORN’s presentation, which I regretted, and only made it in for the last bit of Colleen Doran’s interesting discussion of Tolkien art. Rats. Shortly thereafter, David Salo arrived and I met him in person for the very first time.
Elizabeth’s film, Journey’s End, was both a fantastic look into Howard’s creative/professional life, and a thoughtful, funny portrait of the man himself. A shorter version of this film came with the deluxe version of the ROTK OST. Whenever I’m asked what Howard is really like, I point to this film. This new version is even better, and I love that it doesn’t shy away from the “Use Well the Days”/”Into the West” situation. It was nothing to be embarrassed about. Creative projects often abandon an idea here and there. We’d just seen Tolkien’s own edits the day before! It’s funny how the more you know about these situations, the less sordid they seem.
Our talk this day was, I felt, our best discussion of the week. We covered everything from the music, to the book, to Howard’s work on other projects, to our own musical backgrounds. Fans even asked if we’d continue to collaborate on a Hobbit book. Howard said he’d love to if I were interested, then handed me the mic. I leaned in close said, “YES,” then handed it back to him.
Jill and I said our goodbyes to Howard and Elizabeth in the street outside Orensanz. There was a wedding coming in just after us, so we had to get out of the room quickly. We all hugged and promised to talk next week, ducked into cabs, and departed.
We stopped off for one last lunch with Jim Lochner, where we toasted the end of an incredibly demanding and wildly successful couple of weeks.
Jill slept on the plane most of the way home. The ride was bumpy as all get out, but I didn’t mind.
At home I finally unwrapped my gifts, and marveled at such generosity. I thought of the artistry I’d just seen, and of how lucky I am to be a part of such an inspirational crowd. I was exhausted, but excited about returning to book work the next day.
But before that, I fix myself a nice slice of cake!