"Concrete": Robert Ashley tells stories and sings

I told the salesman I've been dealing with for years at Sweetwater that I
should be recognized as the oldest composer to be using Abelton Live. He
asked, 'How old are you?' '76.' 'Boy, that IS old. Well, just keep doing
it.' Thanks, kid.
- Robert Ashley

We were privileged to be part of the audience last night for the premier of Robert Ashley's latest opera, "Concrete" at La Mama. It's sad to imagine, as I do, that only in future generations will large numbers of people be familiar with the work of this giant in our midst today. Even though it could hardly be described as "difficult" and even though its creator has been at it for almost a half century, this music is almost unknown to the people who are both the artist's muse and the only subject of his loving creation.

Not every one music listener today would be a candidate under any circumstances for the ranks of adoring fans of Wagner's Ring or Stockhausen's Licht cycle [I confess I am almost fanatical about both], but it may only be the tight corporate control of access to radio and television waves that can be blamed for the general public's total ignorance of the wonderful stories and music of the man who invented televison opera decades ago - and specifically as a popular and indigenous American art form.

Titles like these (from his catalog) are not made for an elite, and should not be kept in its possession: "Your Money My Life Goodbye", "Purposeful Lady Slow Afternoon", "Interiors Without Flash", "Outcome Inevitable", "Improvement (Don Leaves Linda)" and "Music Word Fire And I Would Do It Again (Coo Coo): The Lessons". The music is even lovelier.

Performances of "Concrete" continue through Sunday.

Last night at the end of his rich daydream odyssey one of the voices of this semi-autobiographical opera's protagonist sighs, "I tell stories and sing; I've nothing else to do."

NOTE: "concrete" is here an abstraction for the poet's cherished city

[image from robertashley.org]

Ashley is a genius - way back in the 80's, I did my Master's Thesis on him for my degree at the Eastman School of Music. "Atalanta (Acts of God)" is really, really, really just incredible.

Thanks, Todd, for the reminder. I had almost forgotten about "Atalanta". It's possibly my favorite Ashley.

I bought the LP box more than twenty years ago but very soon after that I had damaged one of the records beyond recovery. I couldn't locate a replacement and I was inconsolable until Lovely Music reissued it as a CD box in 1997. I guess I keep the LP set as something of a cult object.

It's an awesome piece of music, but reading the short introductory note (unattributed) just now I'm reminded of just how majestic the overall concept is.

I watched the "perfect lives"opera on UBU and either it is a masterpiece or its so bad I like it. I cant decide which.Ashley is an ominous figure in the suit and sunglasses with hands in pockets almost like a fixture. Ashley is as cool as Beefheart and as mysterious as Trotsky. I am going to watch it again but I dont Know why.