Monday, July 5, 2010

Day 88: A concept for you

Sometimes life just throws up some imponderables. Take today for instance: I’ve spent the morning working on a script consultancy gig, interrogating a comedy screenplay where the story or narrative structure is barely discernible, at best, following a story logic that makes very little sense (to me), now, it’s the afternoon and I’m pondering The Moody Blues and a particular record of theirs.

In 1967, The Moody Blues (a pop/rock band who were a precursor to Prog Rock outfits of the 1970’s) released a seminal concept album entitled ‘Days Of Future Passed’.

Let me take a step back, for anyone not of my generation. The ‘concept album’ is defined in the dictionary as: “a rock album featuring a cycle of songs expressing a particular theme or idea.” Friends and peers of my own age will certainly have their particualr favourites as the early 1970’s were a fertile ground for such works: ‘Tommy’, the rock opera about “a deaf, dumb and blind kid” by The Who and ‘The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway’, Genesis’s final (and arguably finest) album with Peter Gabriel on vocals, telling the story of “a modern day Pilgrim’s Progress about a Puerto Rican ‘punk’ Rael, are two of my favourites that come to mind.

Rick Wakeman - once keyboard player with cosmic prog-rockers Yes - made a healthy solo career out of any number of concept albums: ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ (a track for each wife, duh), ‘The Myths & Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table’ and ‘Criminal Record’ (each track devoted to a crime or “criminal”, Judas Iscariot being one, the Birdman of Alcatraz, another). Rick’s most notable ‘concept‘ moment however, must surely be his take on Jules Verne’s ‘ Journey to the Centre of the Earth’, replete in recording with the London Symphony Orchestra & the English Chamber Choir and Rick, resplendent in performance, wearing a silver cape. Apparently, this album of 36 years ago, forgotten by most, has achieved historic musical status in, of all places, Brazil?! By all accounts, Rick has to regularly don the cape and journey to Rio to play stadium concerts of this concept piece; I kid you not, there’s also a “Return to the Centre’ CD, just in case the first outing didn’t suffice.

My own take on things (unlike the Brazilians) is that ‘Days of Future Passed‘ has probably stood the ravages of time a little better. The Moody Blues - themselves aided and abetted by the London Festival Orchestra - were answering a brief from their record comapny, Decca, to record their “version” of Dvorak’s ‘New World Symphony’. Somewhere along the line, thoughts and ideas shifted and the concept or narrative that actually runs through the album is that of “a day in the life”, the tracks being: The Day Begins, Dawn (Dawn Is A Feeling), The Morning (Another Morning), Lunch Break (Peak Hour), The Afternoon (Forever Afternoon[Tuesday]) and Evening (Twilight Time). The album famously concludes with a song about the Night, the magnificent Nights In White Satin.

I just want to quote John Lodge from the sleeve notes on the re-issued CD: “We were so excited about this album, we put some speakers up in the studio and invited our friends and the people from Decca down. We turned the lights out and played ’Days Of Future Passed’ from the beginning to the end. It was like a concert in the dark.Then it finished, the lights went on and you could see a smile on everyone’s face as though something magic had happened. I can still get that feeling now.”

Day #88 Tip: Time to tell a story
The three months of working on 3x5 Index Cards are all but up. I’ve whittled my 200+ cards down to 40-60 and fiddled around with them over a day or two, to get them into a structure and order that gives me a narrative flow across Acts 1, 2 and 3.

The story begins with an Inciting Incident that knocks the character’s world out of balance, sending him on a quest for an object of desire that will restore that balance to his world. About fifteen or so cards into my story and there is a plot point bigger than any that have come so far which sends the quest into another direction (often bring about a reversal of fortunes). this is my Act 1 Turning Point. Act 2 begins with progressive complications, leading to a Mid-Act Climax some thirty cards or so in, before heading through more progressive complications to another major plot point, some cards later, which is my Act 2 Trurning Point. Act 3 progresses upwards towards a Crisis, Climax and then the Resolution; this is my story structure.

I will take each card and type out the story moment written on the card until I have 40-60 lines in order, over three or four pages. I’ll tweak those lines, playing around with them and when happy, I’ll print off the pages.

I’ll then commit each line, in order, to memory, until I have the story in my head and ready to tell.

Then and only then, just like The Moody Blues, I’ll tell my story to listening ears and open minds, but I’ll probably not turn the lights down. Hopefully my story will make sense and maybe some magic will happen.

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