Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens
The Songs from Elegies…
Inspired equally by seeing the Names Project Quilt at its initial display and Edgar Lee Masters' "Spoon River Anthology", I began writing first-person free-verse monologues about friends who'd died from AIDS. Early in that process I thought there were theatrical possibilities in the material and called my longtime collaborator Janet Hood to see if she'd be interested in writing music for the piece. She responded enthusiastically and we began.
Because the poems portrayed the perspective of characters who had died, they are voiced in past tense. It wasn't until I started putting together the first full production of Elegies.. that I realised the lyrics I'd written were in present tense and were expressions of those left alive in the face of this tragedy. Two worlds were present on stage, the dead who spoke in verse and the living who sang. I found the dynamic between the two realms intriguing and became more focused on trying to show a canvas of the many types both infected and affected by AIDS.
Janet and I have been graced with many wonderful singers through the various productions of the piece. Due to constraints of time, space and money, the previous incarnations of Elegies... were done with piano accompaniment only (usually with Janet supplying her notable talent on the keyboard). When Giacomo Capizzano first optioned the rights to the piece, practically the first words out of our mouths were, "we'd like James Raitt to orchestrate the music" and with the Criterion production that dream finally came true.