Sunday 30 December 2012

CORKY LAING: The ongoing saga of the drummer, the academics, the opera and the ethics of genetics (osa yksi)

Corky Laing (pictured on the left with Gonzo grande fromage Rob Ayling) is a legendary drummer. He joined Mountain just after Woodstock, and has been playing with the seminal Canadian hard rock band on and off ever since. But he has also had a rich and varied  solo career, and - in a pattern which is beginning to seem familiar - is now involved in one of the most peculiar, demanding, challenging and certainly interesting projects of his career..

Now, this is very difficult to explain, so forgive me if - over the next few days - I give you a series of glimpses into this remarkable project. First of all, here is an email I received from Tuija Takala: 

Hello Jon,

I understand that you've been in touch with Corky regarding this.

And that you might be away this week, but least I, again, forget, here's some general info about the project.

The original idea for Test: the Rock Opera is based on years of academic work on the ethics of genetics by Matti Häyry (prof at the University of Manchester, UK) and myself (University of Helsinki, Finland). Our combined publications in the field include more than a dozen international books and numerous scientific articles. 

The initial storyline was developed on the back of some of our research topics (savior siblings, immortality treatments, genetic engineering, and designer babies), but soon, as an American-Canadian-Finnish-Swiss collaboration, it became to include the expected human interest stories of rivalry, jealousy, love and death. To help with the music, Corky was invited to join us, and he has since become an integral part of the production team more generally.

The long-term goal of the project is a full stage production, but we are proceeding in stages. During 2012 we’ve written and recorded 22 key songs for the Opera. The album, Playing God, will, the plan is, be released in early 2013 and distributed by Voiceprint. After the record release there will be concert shows and then, eventually, the full stage production.

One of the key advantages of this project is its close connection with the academic world. The idea for the rock opera has already been presented at Universities in Finland and in the UK, and at international academic meetings. The response has been enthusiastic. For Summer 2013 we so far have two concert shows lined up at international academic conferences in Europe (Paris, France and Basel, Switzerland). In addition, there will be seminars and workshops in University settings in Europe.

However, while the Opera rests on solid academic research, it is intended for the public at large. The University connections are important and provide a good starting point, but the music and the storyline are definitely meant for to reach larger audiences.

Attached please also find a very short draft synopsis of the Opera with references to the songs on the album.

That's it for now, I suppose.

Let me know if there's anything you'd like me to do. And feel free to forward me any questions you might have.



That was intriguing enough, so I telephoned Corky:

JON: Tell me about this opera of yours, it sounds wonderful.

CORKY: The opera is building brilliantly.  The idea of the association with the universities is really cool.  You are aware that we are doing a consortium and a show in Paris at the university there on June 19th next year which we perform the songs from the opera like a live show.  It won’t be staged, so it won’t be a staged opera, it will be presenting the audience with the storybook of the opera and they will read along as the songs are performed I believe. 

And then we are going to Basle, Switzerland August 15th to do a show at the theatre there.  When I started it, I just sort of looked at it and thought well it could be very interesting to get into.  I was doing some lecturing at the university regarding the ethical lifestyle of a rocker – in Europe and especially Scandinavia they take heavy metal rock as much more that just sort of a frivolous music thing; it’s part of a lifestyle, archival history – I guess it’s a sociological humanity thing like why do people have tattoos? Why are they putting rings in their ears?  What’s the story about that?  They are not really asking the question and they are trying to figure out what it’s all about. I don’t think there is any judgement.  

There’s this very unique association with the university, the academic approach to the ethical lifestyle of people in the last 50-60 years living in rock and roll without any rules, it was basically a controlled chaos that started way back, and I guess my role in this, if I may be so presumptuous, is since I have the pulse, I’m still living and I basically carried on with my life in a non-celebrity aspect, but just on a basic, I would say even blue collar attitude with rock and heavy metal.  I am a drummer and I managed to stay alive in a world of decadence etc.  And this is before it became corporate – I go back to the ‘50s when I was playing – I was a little kid but I still made money playing drums even at 12 and 13. And not a lot by the way. But I guess that is my value to these people who are studying the humanities and are saying what was it like in the music industry in those days?   

<I hadn't realised, but Corky had drummed for the legendary Ink Spots back in the late 1950s. My late Mother would have been seriously impressed by me interviewing a member of her favourite group>

There wasn’t a music industry, there was just this thing you did – a sort of entertaining thing you did.  This was pre-Beatles and you’re talking basically about be-bop.  I go back and my sister – she actually took goofballs – you ever hear of goofballs?  I love that.  It describes speed – they are speedballs basically.  

What happens is, I was living and breathing music before there was really an industry and then the industry came in and again there were no rules – in the last 20 years there are rules, you have your stadiums, it’s become major corporate, USS feel, the whole thing, and it’s actually the music industry and business – there are two things for me, there’s the industry and then there’s the music business.   

The music business is dead – it is gone the way we knew it because there was so much greed they actually sucked out everything in the music business that had any mystique.  You’ve got The Voice, you‘ve got the X-factor, you’ve got all this bullshit.  It’s got nothing to do with the heart and soul of music inventory which comes from the heart, so I am telling you that the value of I guess they looked at my value to the university, if there is one, to try to intelligently inform them as much as I can about and describe the lifestyle over 56 years in this music form or art form or however you want to describe it.  That’s where I came in to meet these academics with these professors, who came to shows – they are heavy metal fanatics themselves, but they teach philosophy so when I go to do the lectures at the university of Finland, and I went to the show at the Central Lancaster University in Preston, and that was great because I wasn’t in the music department, I was in the philosophy department because that is the interpretation – that is where I get my association with the colleges, it is not the music department, which I sort of get a kick out of, because I know nothing about music really.  I just do it, and you know, it’s great. But I am saying to you, what was I doing in the philosophy department – bio-research like a research situation.  I almost feel like a guinea pig and I’m way past the guinea pig part of it.

So that’s where the opera and my association came in.  I don’t know if you know this, but there are more heavy metal bands per capita in Finland than in any other country in the world.  They really love their heavy rock.  So that’s where I believe they asked me to come in.  I have been very fortunate to be a part of some good songs and some good bands and so that’s a nice catalyst there and so we started with the opera. And of course the opera steps off into the bio-genetic manipulation – the gift of life to really make the perfect person, but much more on the stem cell aspect, you know.  It’s more on the fact that you can get a person who can’t hear to hear, which is interesting because the deaf protagonist in this opera, the parents don’t want her to hear – she’s deaf, they want her to stay in the loop with them, and apparently this is common around the world is that deaf people have their societies and they don’t encourage their offspring to get their hearing back, which is possible in many ways.  And I thought this was amazing because everyone wants to hear, and why  would the parents not endorse that?  So that’s one of the things. 

Very serious stuff. And it’s becoming currently very topical around the world, because, you know, but they’re already doing all that stuff.  They are already genetically manipulating people  all the time. They started with animals and now …. but so does that give you a basic idea of my participation and what this opera is about, and I believe it’s a long term situation.  I don’t believe – I mean if we can establish this opera I think it’s going to be relevant.  

We have run out of room, so will be continuing tomorrow...

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