Paul Heinz

Original Fiction, Music and Essays

Filtering by Tag: Cats

Andrew Lloyd Webber's Memoir

My favorite reference to Andrew Lloyd Webber is Elvis Costello’s lyrics from his 1989 song, “God’s Comic.”  He writes of God:

So there he was on a water-bed
Drinking a cola of a mystery brand
Reading an airport novelette
Listening to Andrew Lloyd-Webber's Requiem

He said, before it had really begun
"I prefer the one about my son

I've been wading through all this unbelievable junk
And wondering if I should have given
The world to the monkeys"

For whatever reason, Webber is a composer that musicians love to hate.  Non-musicians, too.  I recall an episode of a short-lived 1990’s sitcom called The Single Guy, in which the lead character is mocked for having purchased tickets to Cats.  (Robert Russo has an excellent summary of Cats and why some people hate it.)

But love him or hate him, Webber has had the kind of success that warrants a memoir, in this case a 480-page book called Unmasked that puzzlingly only covers the author’s life up through the year 1986, when he was on the cusp of what some claim to be his crowning achievement, The Phantom of the Opera.  No details about Aspects of Love, Sunset Boulevard and School of Rock, which is a shame, because I would have loved to have read less about Webber’s first forty years and more about his last thirty.  The author admits, “my verbosity got in the way,” and that is an understatement.  The details with which he describes the meetings, compositions, rehearsals, trials and tribulations of productions are sometimes interminable.  As a musician, I got some of the name-dropping references, but there were hundreds of other details that ended up muddling up the narrative.

Details aren’t Webbers only problem, unfortunately.  It’s good that he went into composing rather than writing, because as an author his prose is often cumbersome, filled with choppy sentences, unnecessarily convoluted similes and obscure references, not to mention questionable punctuation (he seems averse to the use of hyphens).  When I actively chose to read faster, I found myself having to slow down, as the narrative lacked flow.  Consider this sample from page 86: 

“EMI had such a postboy.  His name was martin Wilcox.  I don’t know if he ever blagged his way into the top honcho’s offices.  But he did get as far as Tim Rice.”  This choppiness makes reading 480 pages very laborious, indeed.

Which is too bad, because Webber has had a hell of a career.  Like many professionally successful people, he risked it all, leaving Oxford after only a year to pursue writing full-time with Tim Rice, the type of decision that often separates the wanna-bes from the real thing, and the accounts of Webber’s struggles to get productions like Evita and Cats off the ground are inspiring.  The former opened to terrible reviews in New York but still ran for over 1500 performances, and despite the jokes sometimes directed at Cats, it was the longest running musical on Broadway until another musical broke the record: The Phantom of the Opera.  So there you go

Webber wisely addresses his personal life sparingly, thankfully admitting to transgressions without dwelling on them, and referring to his past wives with respect.  He delves a bit deeper into various professional rifts he’s had over the years, but usually only slightly, often referring to a heated topic only to conclude, “It’s best left at that,” but on occasion he quotes unflattering letters he’s received from the likes of Tim Rice and Ken Russell, effectively settling old scores by using his wrong-doer’s own words against them.  Nevertheless, Webber’s decision not to write a tell-all book is refreshing, as is the modesty he portrays at various points, and I don’t get the sense that he’s feigning for the benefit of posterity, though I could be wrong.  He writes in detail about which sections of his Requiem are subpar, and he admits to being in over his head when composing Variations.

I’ve only seen two Webber musicals on-stage:  a traveling production of Aspects of Love in 1993; and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat when my girls were toddlers.  Other than that, I’m only familiar with a handful of tunes.  Go figure.  I do wonder if Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music will have the staying power of, say, Stephen Sondheim or Richard Rodgers, but as a musician, it was interesting for me to gain a little insight into the creative process and how melodies composed for one purpose were resurrected for other stories, and Webber also does an admirable job of covering the business side of the industry, describing financial difficulties and concepts like grand rights in an accessible manner.

He also shares a few tidbits he’s learned over the years from people he admires.  After seeing Webber’s failed musical, Jeeves, Hal Prince wrote to Webber, “Remember, you can’t listen to a musical if you can’t look at it.”  And a meeting with Richard Rodgers led his conclusion that no one can take in too many melodies in one listening, a fact that often leaves me scratching my head after a musical crams two hours of new material down patrons’ throats with no melodic reprises.

All in all, I’m glad I read Unmasked, but I’m afraid I wouldn’t recommend it except for the most ardent fan of musicals in general, or of Webber’s specifically.

Feline or Foe?

I’m going to make a confession despite the ensuing calls that are sure to come from my daughters, my sister and my vet if they happen to read this blog.  Okay?  Here goes.  I would be happier if my two cats – the orange tabbies Fred and George Weasley Heinz – would suddenly…um…not be alive. 

There.  I said it. 

Now don’t get your undies in a bunch.  I promise not to go all “Apt Pupil” on them and commit felinicide.  (Haven’t read the Stephen King novella?  You should.)   I’m not insane.  But yes, the cats do, from time to time, drive me insane. 

“Oh, come on,” you might say.  “What on Earth could two cute little cuddly cats do to upset you so?”

Well, I’ll make a list of the things my two cats have ruined since they joined the family nine years ago, right after my sister’s dog paid a visit to my home and played with our two hamsters until they were dead, hence clearing the Heinz household slate as far as pets were concerned.   We had an opportunity to replenish our deceased pets with something grander.  A dog?  One would think, but no.  We heard about someone getting rid of two flea-ridden kittens (the adjective unknown to us until we got them home), so we took the bait, and here we are nine years and many ruined household items later.  Allow me to share the items my cats have destroyed either by tearing them apart with their teeth, knocking them over onto the floor, or via urination:

A futon mattress.

A futon cover.

A shower curtain.

Three bean bag chairs.

Dozens of stuffed animals.

Four pillows.

A rug.

Two antique vases that had survived for eight decades, only to last two nights in my home.

Two plants.

Countless cut flowers, to the point where we don’t buy flowers anymore, and if someone gets us some as a present, we store them on TOP OF THE REFRIGERATOR!

Several scarves.

Several gloves.

Several hats.

Several blankets.

Several sweaters.

Several Crocks.

A few pairs of flip-flops.

Still think I haven’t earned the right to be mildly disenchanted with my feline friends?

“Oh, but the joy they bring,” you say.

Yes, the vomit I’ve had to clean up on an almost weekly basis.  The litter boxes they’ve failed to hit with their apparently malfunctioning weaponry.  The rug I had to spray from edge to edge while using an ultraviolet light to illuminate virtually one big mass of cat urine.  The $1200 I spent bringing George back from the brink of death after he swallowed a toy.

Joyful indeed. 

We now have to keep our bedroom doors shut at all times because doing otherwise will invite the Weasley twins to tear apart clothing and any other moderately fuzzy artifact lying about in our house.  But here’s the thing:  on hot days when the air conditioner is running we have to keep our doors open, so lo and behold there were days this summer I spent vacuuming up the little plastic beads spilled from the torso’s of stuffed bears, lambs, and other assorted Beanie Babies.  And since our doors were open, the cats felt obliged to wake us up at 6AM for their morning breakfast, be it a work day or otherwise.

(I know what some of you are saying: “Paul, you don’t work anyhow, so who gives a shit?”  I DO work.  I work cleaning up after my two demon cats!)

We must be among the first generations of mankind to put up with this kind of nonsense.  Would an average Joe living in 1850 put up with this crap?  Of course not.  He’d kick the damn thing out of the house and maybe even drown it for good measure.  Hell, I know a person who shall not be named who took his wife’s cat away for the day for a “little trip,” and only one living organism returned.  The wife is much happier now as a widow.  (I’m only kidding, but not entirely.)

@@ I know a someone who took his wife’s cat away for the day for a “little trip.” The wife is much happier now as a widow@@

I will not resort murder, though a blurb in TIME Magazine last week certainly put me on edge.  Seems a cat in Oregon named Corduroy has claimed the title as the oldest living cat.  Get this: TWENTY-SIX YEARS!  And that’s NOTHING!  The oldest cat ever on record is Crème Puff, who lived to be over 38 years old!

So Fred and George, I promise to keep feeding you and keep cleaning out your litter boxes.  I promise to play with you and talk to you.  I promise to let you hang on me when I’m watching TV.  I promise to continue to spend a small fortune on your checkups with the vet.

But do you think you could promise to bow out gracefully after, say, another nine years or so?  That seems like a fair deal, don’t you think?

Copyright, 2017, Paul Heinz, All Right Reserved