Ricky Ian Gordon and other creative types reveal what gets their juices flowing.
WHAT CIRCUMSTANCES GET YOUR CREATIVE JUICES FLOWING?
Ricky Ian Gordon
(Composer-in Residence at The Lyric Opera of Chicago; currently working on Morning Star, based on Sylvia Regan's play with librettist William Hoffman)
"Right now, I'm in the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming at an artist's colony called Ucross. It's truly the middle of nowhere, but so beautiful it's almost painful. I have a log cabin that I write in; I moved the piano away from the wall so that I face the creek that the cabin is situated on. Towards evening, deer move through the cottonwoods so slowly that they seem like apparitions.
"I have trouble accepting that anything I could possibly do could ever match the beauty of this magical, enigmatic place. In the morning, though, I listen to Handel's Coronation Anthems and Bach's St. Matthew Passion. I'm reminded once again that whether or not I have any talent is beside the point: I will probably always believe in the power of music, so at least for now, it still seems like a worthy cause to aim myself towards.
"I'd rather do anything than work. But, when I have to, I make sure all my pencils are ready and the work area is neat and organized. I like to exercise and meditate before I write. I can't imagine being a writer without coffee, either. (I tried giving it up once, and was instantly not a writer!) I am inspired by life, loss, sadness, and new love. Today, between bars of music, I took a walk. Then I rode my bike into a space that enabled me to become as large as the world, through rolling ochre, sage, and gray hills. I stared down an antelope, saw bluebirds, prairie dogs, rabbits, a great blue heron, and eagles. I ate my lunch by a brook and prayed to God to make someone that I love, love me. Then I wrote and felt very refreshed. Today, I feel glad to be alive."
H.W. Robertson, Jr.
(Currently working on a stage adaptation of the classic B-movie Satan in High Heels, shopping his new play The Old Queen and His Diva, and considering the romantic overtures of a new agent)
"There's a great line from the film Humoresque when music patron Helen Wright (Joan Crawford) asks violinist Paul Boray (John Garfield) if he ever entertains himself by attending concerts. 'Not much,' Boray replies. 'When they're good, I'm jealous. When they're bad, I'm bored.' First of all, a line like that makes me jealous. However, as a writer, I couldn't disagree with the character more. Another writer's well-written play or screenplay actually inspires me to do my best work. If I am in the middle of a project, it urges me to completion. If I am between projects, it motivates me to begin anew. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I have never seen an inferior film or stage play that has been less than inspirational. 'If that crap got produced,' I reason, 'my work is bound for Broadway.'
"A fellow playwright once advised me that 'movement begets movement' and that I should continue writing even when my creative juices have seemingly run dry. Well, as movement begets movement, I also think that art begets art. It has served me time and time again to reread Flannery O'Connor, Tennessee Williams, and Edward Albee. These literary heroes have never, ever made me jealous, and their work simply inspires me time and time again.
"If all else fails, I simply brainstorm on my dream project: Xanadu: The Stage Musical."
(Composer of King Island Christmas, which is being taped for PBS Great Performances; readying a songbook, Listen To My Heart, to be released later this year)
"I do have one ritual when I write, which I'm afraid sounds a little unusual. When I sit down at my piano, I look up at a certain track light and say, 'Whattaya got for me?' I feel like I get inspiration from the light! I don't write these songs by myself--something or someone hands them to me.
"I just spent a few weeks in the country, and I do write a lot there; but I also write when I'm very busy and just barely able to squeeze it in. It's all incredibly sporadic for me."
(Composer whose #1 songs have won Grammys, Country Song of the Year Awards, and CMA Vocal Event of the Year Awards. Currently in Austin, Texas teaching a class in Professional Songwriting at the University of Texas)
"There are so many ways for my creative juices to start flowing, but the all-time great inspiration for me is to have a relationship end: A good, old-fashioned broken heart. My publisher of many years hated it when I was happy and in love. He yearned for the days that I would come into his office and tell him that 'blank'--insert any male name, I have dated them all--and I had broken up. His face would peel back into a huge, drooling, greedy grin, because he knew that I was about to write some great musical tearjerkers. And he would be right.
"Before I had hit songs, my motivation was also hunger. The fear of starvation will get you cranking out a tune or two, but I also mean the kind of hunger that makes you long for success in order to prove something to yourself and to all those who said, 'Isn't it time you get a real job?' I will never forget the day a gynecologist asked me, during that part of the exam, what I did for a living. I said that I was a struggling songwriter. He peered at me from the other side of my thighs and said, 'Isn't it time you stopped chasing rainbows?' I was 20 years old! I had not even begun to chase my rainbows! In the struggling years that lay ahead, there would be many times when I wanted to give up...but then I would think of that gynecologist and how he tried to burst my bubble. It would make me so mad that I would write, write, write!
"Thanks to chasing rainbows, I retired from writing three years ago at the age of 39. I'll bet that man is still looking at crotches."