Episode 037: The Fool
In which we discuss divination, bouncing, and the expulsion of gas for profit
I suppose all artists dream at some point of creating art that will last through the ages. Something that survives them and impacts generation after generation. Even if it’s only one piece.
Shakespeare, Picasso, Beethoven; bodies of work of this lasting magnitude are, of course, heights no artist can sanely aspire to. But just one thing? That enters the realm of possibility, no matter how distant. And that would be wonderful. Just one thing that continues to stir emotion.
That said: how many artists would sign up to have their work live through the years anonymously? People would recognize their work immediately, but their name would be lost in time.
This is the case with Pamela Colman Smith's legendary tarot deck, most often known as the Rider–Waite Tarot. Anyone who has ever handled a deck of tarot cards knows it. And talk about having a permanent spot in art history: somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 million copies of the deck exist throughout the world. Millions of people look at Miss Colman Smith’s art every day but have no idea who created it.
My favorite card in the deck is doubtless “The Fool”, for which this week’s beat was composed. But the entire set is…well…Magical.
Such an interesting story about how this deck came to be – not to mention the story of Ms. Smith herself. Young life in London. An early trip to study in New York. [She studied with Arthur Wesley Dow, the same NYC teacher as Georgia O’Keefe.] Costumer and designer for the Bram Stoker-managed Lyceum Theater Group. Buddying around with William Butler Yeats. Membership in the metaphysical secret society the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.
This woman had her underground-occult-bona-fides rocking.
Reduction notes: Seems a simple scene, but there is so much movement. Water flowing, wind in the Fool’s hair, the dog jumping, sun rays shining down. The whole thing looks pretty bouncy.
Really wanted to get the puppy (and to a lesser extent the sun] in there, but there is only so much room. Plus, it’s called “The Fool”, not “The Fool and The Dog and The Sun”.
The beat for this bouncy image needed to be bouncy, right?
A big hollow subbass. Guitar trills. A shaky tambourine. Lots of bouncy things for a bouncy fool bouncing around.
This may be my favorite theme I've written for one of these beats. It's just one long through-composed melody with a bunch of imitation, but no repetition. This melody also changes keys a number of times throughout and is as usual completely oblivious of whatever harmony is going on underneath it.
I very rarely fade things in or out, but something about the lasting nature of Smith’s art and the long history of tarot made me think this beat should have a no-beginning-and-no-end vibe.
Finally: I wanted the fool to talk throughout—which he does if you listen carefully—but especially in the middle of this. So during the middle section breakdown, I created an interesting wordless-vocal sound to play in unison with the bass line. I am imagining this kid blabbering.
Really, when I think of a fool, I don't necessarily think of a carefree young lad walking off a cliff with his puppy and his hobo stick. I'm usually thinking of the noble court jester, sitting next to the king and queen waiting to make them laugh.
And the greatest of all the fools, all the harlequins, was unquestionably Henry II's own Roland the Farter.
I'm sure Roland had many talents. I'm sure he could juggle. Balance chairs on his chin. Run around in circles singing songs, making himself dizzy until he fell down.
I'm confident he had a fantastic tight five.
But, the one thing he's known for after all of these years, is breaking wind. On cue. Hell, it ultimately got him Hemingstone Manor and 30 acres from the King. Nice work if you can get it, I suppose.
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