David Bruce: 250 Music Anecdotes

Letters

• Manuel de Falla, a Spanish composer of romantic music, took his time answering letters, which piled up. When he learned that the Basque Spanish painter Ignacio Zuloaga had died, he said, “What a pity! He died before I answered his letter which he sent me five years ago.”

• Before Emmylou Harris became a famous country singer, she wrote Pete Seeger and said that she wanted to be a folk singer but she was afraid that she had not suffered enough. Ms. Harris said, “He wrote back to say life would come back and hit me hard soon enough.”

Mishaps

• Mishaps occur on stages, including opera stages. At the opening-night performance of Julius Caesarat the Metropolitan Opera, Spiro Malas, who played the role of Ptolemeo, forgot the first two words of his next aria. He went offstage to look up the words, and his small band of soldiers also went offstage. These “soldiers’ were extras whose orders were to simply follow Mr. Malas wherever he went. Beverly Sills and the singers in the opera were amused because these are the two words that Mr. Malas had forgotten: “Julius Caesar.” Of course, on-stage mishaps also occurred to Ms. Sills. While playing Queen Elizabeth in Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux, Ms. Sills at first wore a putty nose to make her nose bigger, but she sweated so much during each performance that the putty nose fell off by the end of Act II, so eventually she performed the role with her own nose. Due to an automobile accident when she was a teenager, Ms. Sills had two capped teeth. During a performance of Anna Bolena, the caps fell out. She recovered them and continued to sing, and during a break her makeup artist, Gigi Capobianco, used Duco cement to make sure that the caps stayed in place. Ms. Sills said, “The only problem was that the next day the dentist had to use a hammer and chisel to remove them so that he could replace them properly.”

• Alice Cooper frequently gets “killed” by zombies as part of his act. He also uses a lot of stage props — something that sometimes results in accidents. For example, he used to “hang” himself on stage — a wire kept him from actually breaking his neck in the noose. Alice remembers, “We’d made the thing ourselves, and used piano wire as the support cable. But what we didn’t figure is that if we used it 300 times, the wire would eventually lose its strength. Then one night in London it snapped. Fortunately, I instinctively put my neck up and slipped right through the noose. I fell 6 feet, hit my jaw. Man, was I lucky!” A live prop was a boa constrictor that once suffered from onstage diarrhea — something that made his stage crew, who were onstage dressed as clowns, vomit. (After the concert, Johnny Rotten said, “Alice, that was the most magnificent thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life.”) Alice also stabbed himself in the leg with a sword — accidentally. He remembers, “I looked down and thought, ‘Well, it’s already in there, so I might as well carry on.’” Alice realized the importance of stage props from his days as a high-school student: “One of my teachers had a guillotine, and if you were late, he’d put your head in it. I was late all the time.”

• Almost everyone is familiar with This is Spinal Tap, a 1984 mockumentary directed by Rob Reiner, but not everyone knows that sometimes a version of something that occurs in the movie happened in real life to real bands. For example, the fictional band Spinal Tap had an on-stage disaster with a prop that was designed to look like Stonehenge. The prop was supposed to be 18 feet high, but due to a mishap was actually only 18 inches high. In real life, the real band Black Sabbath had trouble with a Stonehenge prop. Black Sabbath ordered a 15-foot-high model of Stonehenge, but the company that built it made it 15 meters high. Band member Michael “Geezer” Butler said, “It was 45 feet high and it wouldn’t fit on any stage anywhere, so we just had to leave it in the storage area. It cost a fortune to make, but there was not a building on earth that you could fit it into.” By the way, in American slang “Geezer” means old man, but Mr. Butler is British, and when he was growing up, in British slang “geezer” meant a good man or a cool dude.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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