The interviews with David have been going quite well lately.
We’ve progressed nicely, every two weeks (or near enough) tackling the next chunk of years and unearthing some interesting new stuff.
In mid-April, Kaity and I sat down with Tison Street, one of David’s close friends, and partner-in-crime from his Boston years. David and Tison performed new music regularly along with John Adams during the years when David taught at Harvard, and they continued to see each other when David taught at Boston University, commuting once a week from New York City and staying for a day and night before returning to New York. Tison happened to be visiting New York while David was in the middle of writing Final Alice, and crashed at David’s studio during his visit.. The story goes that David was so worked up over finishing the piece that at midnight one night, he kicked Tison out of the apartment and sent him to stay with Robert Helps in Brooklyn because he felt he needed every waking moment to hammer away at the score, and couldn’t have anyone around while he worked. For the second half of the interview, David joined us, and he and Tison reminisced for us. It was a great interaction to watch, and Kaity snapped some great photos of the interview. (It should be noted here that as an extension of the biography, Kaity is shooting portraits of all of the people we interview.)
For Interview #5, we covered the mid-to-late-70s. We talked more about Final Alice and the stress involved in writing it, as well as the professional and psychological fallout of the sudden major success and fame. With the success from Final Alice and the Pulitzer for In Memory of a Summer Day, David began to feel as though he were fated to write only Alice works for the rest of his life, despite numerous commissions for non-Alice works, which he consistently turned down, and despite the urging of his friends and colleagues to move away from Alice into something different.
Interview #6 was intended to cover the early- to mid-’80s, but was diverted into a discussion of the New York gay scene in the ’70s and ’80s, as well as a discussion of David’s experiences with alcohol during that time. The success of Final Alice started a decade of heavy drinking, which finally ended in 1986 when he stopped drinking entirely. The effects of drinking – and of stopping – were manifold, not the least of which being a relative slowing of output. After quitting in 1986, his output remained somewhat slowed until 1995, when his experiences at the Body Electric School caused a compositional explosion, which is still in effect to this day.
Interview #7 marked a pausing-point for the interviews. We revisited a number of old topics, broadly covered the ’80s and ’90s, and talked about David’s experiences with specific people from his past. It was decided that Kaity and I would spend the next several weeks doing more outside research: talking to several of David’s close friends and past acquaintances; collecting information from art colonies, schools, and music festivals; and beginning to go through David’s files. We’ll resume interviews most likely in mid- to late- July, when we’ll revisit 1937-1986 in greater detail, then move forward to 1986-present.
One of the really interesting bits from Interview #7 was the unearthing of a new score! David’s first boyfriend, John, apparently made off with a few of David’s manuscripts around the time of their breakup in the mid-1960s. He recently mailed back the manuscript of Nightpiece. Not the movement from Syzygy, but an earlier, stand-alone version that later became the “Nightpiece” that we all know about. The musical material is similar, as is the instrumentation, but they are two wildly different works. David had forgotten about it for 50 years, until John mentioned it in a recent phone conversation and mailed it back. Never a dull moment!
We’ve now got 18 hours of recorded interviews that need transcribing! In addition to the outside research, I’ll be looking for a way to make that happen without breaking the bank.