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Sunday, April 10, 2016

"Scarborough Fair" is a really pretty song, especially as Simon and Garfunkel sing it. But it's one of those deceptive songs. It's a really, really angry song:

Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme;
Remember me to one who lives there,
For she once was a true love of mine.

Tell her to make me a cambric shirt,
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme;
Without any seam or needlework,
Then she shall be a true love of mine.

Tell her to buy me an acre of land,
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme;
Between the salt water and the sea sand,
Then she'll be a true lover of mine.

Tell her to reap it with a sickle of leather
Parsley, sage, rosemary & thyme
And to gather it all in a bunch of heather
Then she'll be a true love of mine

If you're just listening to the melody, you might not notice that the singer is basically saying, "Yeah, if you see my ex? Tell her I'll take her back when ... y'know what? Never."

The traditional version has both the man and the woman setting each other impossible tasks. It doesn't seem to have ended well.

There are a lot of songs that are a lot sadder or angrier than they sound. "Bye Bye Love," for example.

You can get a lot of mileage out of these. Chantal Kreviazuk took the lyrics to "Leaving on a Jet Plane" seriously and got a hit out of it. John Denver, who wrote it, makes it sound almost chipper. She's not the first; Peter, Paul & Mary really got into it.

I tend to think that "Walking After Midnight" -- which almost always goes down as a perky ballad -- is about a woman looking for her alcoholic husband after the bar closes. But maybe she just misses her ex. Either way, it could the Chantal Kreviazuk treatment.

Point is: listen to the lyrics, too.

I like to say that Shakespeare's plays are bulletproof -- if the actors understand what it is they're saying. Shakespeare's characters want stuff from each other. They say stuff to each other in order to get it. The poetry is there because sure, why not, but the plays are never "about" the poetry.

Interestingly, exegesis (the art of unpicking the knot of meaning) is a valuable skill to a creator. No one starts with a fully-fledged world. We start with a hook or a premise. What makes a coherent whole out of the work is that the rest of it proceeds from interpreting what you already have. We started WE HAPPY FEW with some premises: England, 1964, everyone wears happy masks, everyone takes happy drugs.

Building the world from there, we asked, why would people be taking happy drugs? Why are they wearing happy masks?

I pick up details about the world by thinking about them. Why are they taking happy drugs and wearing happy masks? Isn't that redundant?

Well, that suggests that they tried one and then added the other when the first didn't cut it. Doesn't it?

If there are people who aren't taking their Joy -- well, why not? Maybe it doesn't work for everybody. If it doesn't work for everybody, then presumably they've tried reformulating it. That's where we got the chocolate, vanilla and strawberry flavors of Joy.

If they have nowhere to call, then what do they do with all those phone booths?

Of course, sometimes you don't get to build the world from scratch. On CHARLIE JADE, we came on board as the replacement writing team. We had to read eight episodes and ask ourselves, "if these all made sense together, what sense would they make?" Since we were not in contact with the previous administration -- and since their episodes sometimes seemed inconsistent -- we did a lot of retconning.

And, a lot of exegesis. If Charlie is the enemy of Vexcor, why haven't they killed him? Aha, they must want to know who he's working for. Or they want to know what he knows.

I find it exhilarating when I "figure out" something about the world I'm creating. There's an "aha!" moment sometimes, when I realize, huh, if this, then that. And "that" can often be horrifying. But because it stems logically from what came before, it is inevitable and it is not gratuitous. And when the audience reaches it, they'll realize the same thing: "Oh, God, I hadn't thought of that. Of course that's true, too."

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