David and I have been discussing on-and-off for the past year the idea of me writing his biography. The discussion started when I was working on his website – we’d spend hours sitting in his studio sorting through his files to lay out all the information on his huge catalog of works. I’d sit on one of the sofas and ask, “Who did you dedicate ____________ to?” and David would walk over to a row of filing cabinets to find the answer. Invariably, he’d turn and ask, “When did I write that?” His files are arranged chronologically, each successive work filed as it’s written, with programs, program notes, newspaper clippings added as they’re accumulated. Without missing a beat, I’d have the answer (I’d spent hours making databases of works information to plug into the web templates, and had had ample opportunity to memorize most of it without any conscious effort), and he’d pull out the information I needed.
During one of these sessions, this little exchange happened for the umpteenth time, and David turned to me and said, “You know, you’re the authority on my music, now.” I laughed it off, and said, “Well, people can come to me for this stuff when they start writing your biography.”
That evening, I was at my boyfriend’s apartment and related the story to him, prompting him to suggest, “You should write a book.” My response: “Don’t tempt me.”
But I was tempted. Of course I was tempted.
The idea stuck with me for weeks, and I turned it over and over in my head. There were lots of reasons why I should do it: it hasn’t been done yet, it’s about time it happened, it would be a big feather in my cap, etc. There were also a number of reasons why I shouldn’t, namely that it’s so much damn work! I’ve read enough biographies (my “academic fetish”) to realize how much work it must be. Plus, I’d recently read Meryle Secrest’s Shoot the Widow, which gave me further insights into the potential horrors of writing about a living subject. But the idea stayed with me.
It stayed with me until my next meeting with David at his partner’s apartment. We were editing some of the works information I’d put up on the beta version of the site, when he said something again about me being an authority on his works. I laughed and told him what Darien had suggested to me – “You should write a book” – and my response – “Don’t tempt me.” David blinked at me and said, “I’ve been thinking the same thing.” We finished the edits to the site, and as I left I suggested that we both think about the book idea a little more and talk about it next time we got together, which would be a week later. He agreed.
In the meantime, I discussed the idea with a few friends who are also close to David. Almost all were excited about the idea. My friend Marc asked the question: “Will it be a ‘critical’ biography, or an ‘authorized’ biography?” A good question, and something I hadn’t yet considered! Another friend tried to wave me off the idea, warning me against hagiography, in which I have no intention of indulging.
The next week, David and I chatted a bit about the idea before launching into more website work, mostly agreeing that it was an exciting idea, though certainly a lot of work. Toward the end of the meeting, David’s partner, Ray, came home, and we mentioned the idea to him. He, too, was enthusiastic. We agreed that the book would be a ‘critical’ rather than an ‘authorized’ biography, as the latter type tends toward concealing or rewriting episodes that don’t deify its subjects – and, as I said, I have no interest in hagiography.
After a bit more general planning, I launched into a bit of basic research – I pulled every article mentioning David’s name in the major databases of scholarly journals and newspaper/magazine articles. A hefty bit of reading, that! (The majority of it done on the 8-hour drive from Staunton, VA to New York City last May after a long weekend of preliminary Emerging Composer activities for the 2008 Staunton Music Festival.)
The next step was to set up interviews with David and start collecting more source materials. That’s when my final semester at City College comes in. In order to maintain a full-time schedule of classes for the sake of financial aid, I needed one more three-credit item on my class schedule – an independent study with David, aimed toward research into his life, with the goal of having written the first chapter and an outline of the book by the end of the semester. So, over the course of the semester, I’ll be conducting a series of interviews with David, and will most likely also go through papers, albums, etc. in order to meet the goal I’ve set for myself.
So: this will be the first in a series of blog posts about the project as it progresses. At the moment, I’m titling the book and the project “Addictive Riddle” – an anagram of David’s name that I think is strangely apt. I’m hoping to post accounts of each of the interview sessions with David, and with subsequent interviewees, as well as general insights into the project. This is very much uncharted territory for me, and I think that it will be interesting to chronicle the whole process – its ups and downs, of which there are certain to be many.