Well, let’s hope it’s true that it’s better late than never. Today marks the launch of my first poetry video, The Muse: Chameleon Fire, on YouTube—15 years after it was made. The poems were originally part of a limited edition, handmade chapbook that combined original graphic art with a series of poems published in 2000 by Chameleon Fire Editions. I’m also premiering the much more recent production, Dead Crow: Prologue on YouTube at the same time. This video is part of a project planned to eventually include a full one-hour touring show. Right now I’m touring the Prologue plus several poems from my recent book of poems, The Price of Transcendence. Noel—truly the musician’s musician—does a set of his own superb original songs for the show. In honour of the late great David Bowie—a lifelong influence for me—he also performs his versions of Starman and Life on Mars.
The Muse took as its starting point a different theme for each poem: Work, Family, History, etc., using a prose poem form with arbitrary line breaks. I wanted to break out of standard lyrical verse forms and challenge myself and it seemed to work. The break from habit produced not only a chapbook of poems, but a series of masks that were exhibited in the Mildred Erb Gallery of the former Nelson Museum. The introductory poems Chameleon and Fire set the stage, exploring the nature of the creative process. (Chameleonfire also happens to be my personal ‘brand.’)
That led me somewhat naturally to the idea of also creating a poetry video for the series. With the help of the late Tony Salway, I obtained a $10,000 production grant from the BRAVO TV BravoFACT Foundation, then in its early days. At the time I was living in Nelson—quite possibly the creative capitol of British Columbia’s southeast interior—it wasn’t hard to find top-notch collaborators. My dear friend Dawn Scott (now Dawn Bird) was eager to get into film and I was lucky enough to pair her with another young talent, dancer and choreographer Jasmine O’Brien. With advice from veteran Nelson choreographer Tamasine Drisdale, she choreographed the dance you see in the video. Guitarist/composer Steve Montgomery of Skip Rock Productions did a fabulous job on the soundtrack based on cues I gave him from the music of Peter Gabriel and Dead Can Dance.
You’ll notice that The Muse features a mask prominently in the sequence. Masks have been used for thousands of years both as ritual objects and important tools for artists and actors since the earliest Greek chorus plays. There’s an innate magic to the mask: an object that is lifeless and inert, yet when worn on a human body it acquires a sudden animation that can be compelling, even eerie. So the symbolism of Jasmine (‘The Muse’) handing the mask to Dawn at a critical moment is a metaphor for both the artist’s license to create and her tool for doing so. Dawn’s character is a young artist just beginning to come into her creative power, so her somewhat tentative movements as a dancer further illustrate this point.
Why did it take 15 years to see the light? This is where the story veers into the personal. In 2002 I suffered a major health collapse that left me unable to work for some years. At the same time, my personal life was in a state of sudden upheaval. I decided I desperately needed a change from Nelson and tried living in Vancouver and Victoria before finally settling in the Slocan Valley in 2003. For me, the city was no place to rebuild a life. Both literally and figuratively, it was my ‘Wilderness Years’ period. I needed to regroup and reconstruct myself both physically and spiritually. That left little energy for mounting major productions, tours or promotions. Unfortunately The Muse fell victim to those circumstances, and gathered dust in the boxes of my various moves. Sadly that meant that along the way, any photos and production stills from the video seem to have been lost. At least I managed to hold on to the video!
The history of The Muse is as much a history of recent technological changes as it is a part of my own history. When we made it videotape was still in fairly common use, although the newer digital media of DVDs were already on the horizon. At the time Bill Heath, a maker of renowned ski films, had set up a state-of-the-art digital editing studio in his Nelson home, and graciously cut us a generous discount. His young protégé Jeremy Grant was a whizz kid editor and if it hadn’t been for his efforts, it’s unlikely the final result would be as fine you see it here. But just to illustrate how far digital technology has come in 15 years, the cost for editing alone ate up roughly three-quarters of my $10,000 budget, and that was with a discount. Nowadays the same editing job could be done for a fraction of the cost. Remember, this was still pre-YouTube, pre-iTunes, pre-iPads. Napster was still the most exciting thing in digital music online, and there was as yet no equivalent for video. Consequently, in the confusion of my various moves, I had a VHS tape only for all our efforts, and eventually that was transferred to DVD, and finally this year to MP4. Welcome to the 21st century! Just a reminder of how quickly we take current technology for granted—in historical terms it’s all still brand-new.
I’ve already written fairly extensively about Dead Crow: Prologue in a previous post (here: https://chameleonfire1.wordpress.com/2016/10/04/introducing-dead-crow-the-video-launch/) so check that out if you’re interested in what motivated me to create such an offbeat character. In European mythology and fairy tales, the Crow is often a harbinger of death, a haunter of battlefields, as with the Celtic Morrigan goddess. I wanted Dead Crow to go beyond that connotation, to balance the yin/yang energies of light and shadow, hence my drawing on the First Nations traditions of Raven as a Creator/trickster figure. And being a great fan of film noir movies, I couldn’t resist giving him a jaded, been-there-seen-it-all kind of voice. All of which seems particularly apt in this time of collapsing empires and economies.
And once again I’ve been blessed to work with superb collaborators: Noel Fudge, who composed the soundtrack to Dead Crow: Prologue, and Isaac and Orsi of ICandy Films. So call me a late bloomer. See if I care. And enjoy!
LINKS: The Muse: Chameleon Fire: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LC_04Fo3Z_g
Dead Crow: Prologue: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KC-mOdDygto