Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Lyrics from "Dr. Faustus," Part 2

This is another lyric I wrote to see what a musical version of Mann's Dr. Faustus might be like. This song was for Rudi Schwerdtfeger, the violinist whose role in the novel would take too much time to explain here (almost everything in the novel is a little hard to explain in words). But what I tried to focus on in the song was something that's implied in the novel but not really dealt with at length, which is the artistic relationship between Schwerdtfeger, the handsome, popular performer, and Adrian Leverkuhn, the experimental composer.

Schwerdfeger talks Leverkuhn into writing a concerto for him to perform, a concerto which (as described by the narrator) is recognizably Leverkuhn's own but more accessible than some of his other work, and Schwerdtfeger is just the kind of performer who can sell this new music to the public. So I tried to write a lyric that was influenced by the plot of Schoenberg's Moses and Aaron (since Leverkuhn is partly based on Schoenberg), where Moses is the bold innovator who can't make his work loved by the public, and Aaron is the smooth-talking populist who delivers the innovations to the public in a form they can understand. Since Schoenberg saw that as a Faustian bargain of a sort -- sacrificing truth for accessibility -- I thought that idea would fit in with the Dr. Faustus subject.

This lyric has its problems, including: a) It's too long, and b) Trying to deal with a subject like this in a song always winds up sounding like a Sunday in the Park With George knockoff (particularly the "Louis" song). But I'm printing it here because, again, I don't know what else to do with it, except to be glad I got the experience of writing it.

What's a prophet to do?
(I'm not talking of you.)

Moses, he's a prophet,
Prophets love to preach.
But like many wise
Prophetic guys,
He's dull and slow of speech.
Preaching to the people,
Moses isn't clear.
Every time he tries
To prosletyze,
He's not much fun to hear.
What a poor, pathetic
Shaggy-bearded Jew.
Wants to be prophetic,
Babbles till he's blue.

Aaron is his brother,
Smart and smooth of tongue,
He's congenial, and
By Bible stand-
Ards, reasonably young.
Aaron takes the message,
Aaron makes it sell,
He supplies demand
With gestures grand
And sounds that cast a spell.
Makes each innovation
Simplified and small.
That's what thrills a nation,
That's what fills a hall.

The man with a stammer
Wields truth like a hammer,
He's filled with intelligence,
Killed with indifference.
The public will clamour
For someone with glamour
Who knows what is popular,
Shows what is possible.

Moses, who composes
Lots of thoughts of God,
Is such little fun
That everyone
Considers him a clod.
Aaron, the performer,
Makes those thoughts a hit,
And when he is done,
The Jews will run
To see the sea get split.
Moses warns of bad things,
Moses' name is mud.
Aaron helps him add things,
Snakes and plagues and blood.

Now what Moses once knew
Isn't just for a a few.
(I'm not talking of you.)

Didn't Aaron distort?
Only tell people half?
And then lend his support
To the infamous calf?
You turn truth into lies
And turn thoughts into tears
When you popularize
For the popular ears.

But no ear ever hears
Till an Aaron appears.
He'll persuade them to wander the desert for years.
Moses stammers and hides.
Needs what Aaron provides.
Needs to prove that his truths are true.
I'm not --

I know.

I'm not --

Just so.

I'm not talking of who?

Of me.

Of you.

I see.

Just Moses and Aaron.

Moses and Aaron.

Moses and...

Moses and...

This was not about you.

You're through?

I'm through.

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