Q: In college you did a rock musical called The Dream Engine. Can you tell me about it?
A: The Dream Engine was a "rock epic." I've never really found the right words for it but "epic" is the closest. It was amazing. What was most amazing about it is that it came at the very beginning of the '70's - the end of the '60's - and there was all this stuff like "Hair" going on at the time when I wrote this thing. It was incredibly brutal and tough. It was a real savage work. It was great, I thought. I still think it's the best thing I'll ever do.
Q: Can you give us some song titles or lyrics?
A: The opening song was 'How Do You Bury The Skull Of Your Country?' That was the one of the lighter songs. Then there was 'You've Got To Love Me With The Sun In Your Eyes Until The Day That You Go Blind.' There was a great song sung by the villain, who was a killer nun. All of the villains were killer nuns. It took place in the future and the church had all the money so they merged with the army and had munitions. The army was basically these killer nuns, with these huge, flapping habits, that strangled people. But she [the villainous killer nun] had a wonderful song called 'Mother River' which had this great chorus:
"I'm the only one that's free
'Cause I'd rather have my children die for me"
And she sang in this huge Joan Crawford type habit. She was part of the church of Saint Joan Crawford The Divine. It was a very unusual piece. It was about a pack of kids living in Big Sur in the future after some sort of apocalyptic event. They were like little savages that wandered around in nomadic sort of groups and came to clash with this evil city that was run by the military and the church.
It was very funny, I mean, it was this 3 1/2 hour epic and it had amazingly angry and brutal choreography. It was very "West Side Story" influenced. What was special about it, at the time, was that everyone else was doing all that really bad hippie stuff and "Hair" type stuff. It came about a year before the National Guard in America massacred kids at Kent State and before Charles Manson's group did the massacres in Hollywood. Both those elements were actually in it in a sense because these killer nuns were like the National Guard and these kids ended up becoming murderers. They all ended up devouring each other. So it was pretty unusual.
Q: Needless to say very different from your normal academic projects?
A: The school didn't appreciate it at all, but I had a great time. I got all F's on it, I got graded terribly on it. All the teachers were personally insulted. But, I actually made money on it. If you can do that in college, on anything, it's a great accomplishment.
Q: Did you, at the time, think this was just a diversion to your academia or did you know this was your career?
A: No, I just thought academia was a terrible interference with my diversions. This was all I was interested in doing and I just got the chance. It was my senior year and I was about to flunk out of the school for about the fifth time - I had flunked out about four times already and I kept getting back in because my grandmother kept dying. I remember going before the school board and pleading terrible cases of personal anguish over the death of my grandmother. It took three years before they realized my grandmother had died three times and, before I could get to my grandfather's horrible death in a tractor accident, they suddenly caught on. So I didn't have many options except that they had this program called "Independent Study" where you could avoid taking any courses, which I had managed to do for three years anyway, but you could officially avoid it by doing one mammoth project. So, I did The Dream Engine.