If you ever find yourself in the middle of a rock opera, strap yourself in for one doozy of a ride.
Maybe you’re puzzled by the idea of a rock opera and wondering if it too has a fat lady who sings. The answer, like most things in life, is maybe. What you can count on are several interesting plot points to build the story of the hero or heroine (that’s you), a low point (or one or two), a climax and the volta or turn of the story where the hero or heroine comes out ahead. The exception here is the tragic story line where the hero or heroine dies of consumption (Mimi, La Boheme), tuberculosis (Violetta, La Traviata) or death by stabbing from a former lover now driven mad with jealousy (Carmen). On the other hand, be glad you are in a rock opera and not traditional opera. It’s safer that way.
The months of April and May should have come with instructions. A warning of what was to come might have been stuffed inside an envelope delivered with the monthly bills and mail. I would see that as a courtesy. Instead, one announcement and event prepared me for the next as if someone gave me a domino and then asked that it strike other unseen dominoes to set off the chain of events. It’s a good thing I’ve learned to grow thick skin. It’s a good thing that my skin is so porous that I soak in what befalls me that I might attempt to fully appreciate each event separately and in tandem.
Let’s go back to rock opera first because a definition is necessary. Trusty Wikipedia defines a rock opera as “a work of rock music that presents a storyline told over multiple parts, songs or sections in the manner of an opera.” That sounds right.
In high school, I auditioned for and made it into an exclusive youth music choir group. One of the members of the group was a wisecrack named Michael Turner. He could make me chuckle or guffaw better than almost anyone with his quick wry responses or clever disseminations of a situation. He sang tenor and I sang alto with occasional forays into soprano territory. Some of my happiest memories of high school consisted of choir tours including one in which I clinched a solo rap that I can still recite with the right rhythm and bravado so many years later though I no longer wear my ball cap backwards.
After high school, I ventured off to college and would you believe it, Michael eventually made his way to the same college following a more circuitous route involving a get-away car, a high school sweetheart in Waco and a change of venue. But, first, he enrolled in the college’s theater program and auditioned for the lead role in their production of Tommy by the Who, the first rock opera.
Tommy was my first rock opera experience so many years ago. I watched my friend Michael transform into the lead character, a young boy who retreats into himself after a horrific experience, becoming blind, deaf, mute, finding music inside and a penchant for pinball. The story takes the expected turn with a climax of Tommy the pinball genius gathering a following of cult-like status who later revolt and leave. It doesn’t end on a happy note, but it doesn’t really matter. What I remember about Michael’s performance was his slaphappy look of joy playing pinball, oblivious, at that point of his popularity.
This story, my story does not have a sad ending, though it has a challenge or two thrown in for good measure. Recently, a mantra made its way into my head for me to sound aloud when I needed the stamina. It goes like this: “suffering leads to endurance; endurance leads to character; character leads to hope and hope does not fail.” These words became bedrock during my own rock opera.
In the span of one month plus change, my mom was diagnosed with cancer, underwent surgery to remove the cancer, and learned a week later, on Thursday, that she is now cancer-free without need for chemo or radiation. We whooped as much as one can do without raising your voice in sweet exultation in a surgeon’s office. Inside I sang a Hallelujah chorus by my lonesome. On Friday, a personal project made great strides which gave me the courage to go knock on the door of my father’s house and spend 10 minutes talking with his widow who I hadn’t spoken with for four years at her behest. I didn’t know that just two weeks later I would be laid off due to reduction in workforce.
One domino set the others into motion. The constant image in my mind during all of this is trying to find examples of what joy looks like. In spite of the more challenging parts of this rock opera, I, the heroine, can choose to sink or swim and I can see land in the near distance, so swimming is the only option. When one door closes, do you have the temerity to walk through the one that opens?
Suffering – Endurance – Character – Hope
So, the question I would ask you is how can you become the hero or heroine in your own rock opera? What change of tactic or mindset will help you see the horizon line- what will compel you to swim if you’re flailing right now? In the darkest moments of the time of my mom’s diagnosis or waiting to find out if the cancer had spread, when I found my hands gripping the knotted end of my rope, I held up a hand and tried to pull others up as a method for pulling myself up. All of us are starring in our own rock operas and the end doesn’t have to be tragic or grim. It is my hope for you that together we can muster through the tough bits to claim the glorious ones with the electric guitar solos that sing.