Many people around the world have heard of T.S. Eliot and although may not know his works Like Prufrock or The Wasteland but at least they've seen Cats on broadway.
Nevertheless, you still may be asking yourself, "Who the blazes is T.S. Eliot?!"
T.S. Eliot circa 1915
T. S. Eliot was a very famous poet who was one of the progenitors of "Modernist Poetry" or to put it simply, poetry that spoke to the horrors of the industrial revolution and to the alienation of modern society of the early 1900s. His poems were unique and quite shocking as they did not follow traditional rhyming patterns associated with poetry of his day and were not poems about traditional subjects like love. Suffice to say that the opening line from the poem, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,"…
"Let us go then you and I
when the evening is spread out against the sky
like a patient etherized upon a table."
…was simply shocking to folks who were not used to his dark and disturbing metaphors. And to call it a love song (a song was another word for poem in those days), with an opening like that left many readers incredulous. Add to the fact that the subject matter was (at times) not very pleasant and was (for many) impenetrable (Eliot commonly used references from various scholarly, religious and somewhat obscure sources). Nevertheless, because of another famous poet, Ezra Pound, who at the time was excited about Eliot's work and Modernist Poetry, Eliot's poems began to gain popularity and his scathing commentaries about modern life and humanity's alienation from the machine of industry and high society were acknowledged and deeply appreciated.
Yours Truly was taking an English Lit class in the late 70's which became a profound form of inspiration. As we read the poem out loud in class I could literally hear melodic patterns throughout. But even more importantly, the poem took me by storm with its genius. Unlike many poets who preceded him, T. S. Eliot had a way of writing that emulated a stream of consciousness. It's almost as if, when reading Prufrock, you are in his head (Prufrock's head, that is) and because Prufrock suffers from human weaknesses we all share, we timidly identify with him. It's just incredible.
"The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" was published in 1915 in a booklet that looked like this:
The Heresy CD
So what we've done is to use the same spartan design for the cover of our CD to give it a more historic flavor and an homage to the original booklet from 1915:
Although the cover of the CD is sparse, the back cover, inside and 12 page booklet is not. As an example, here is an early draft of the CD back cover (designed by Amy Bates):
Okay - so now that we've got all that out of the way, let's talk about the album itself. There are sixteen "songs" that follow the poem as precisely as possible and we've attempted to match the mood of each section of the poem musically. We worked long and hard at this because we wanted to create an atmosphere which coincided with the poem and most importantly, featured the poem as the focal point of the piece. I came up with this idea because I love the poem and wanted to bring it to people who would otherwise never have heard of it. Like all of my "solo albums" (The Epic of Gilgamesh, Big Star Way, Ahab and The Silk Road Journey of Xuanzang), my sole purpose is to honor the original works through a modern musical adaptation. It's simple really - people remember melodies that go round and round in their heads and when those melodies feature great works people begin to look to the original work for more inspiration - for the true inspiration.
For those who wish to delve further into what the poem is about, we've provided some fun sites and some pretty heavy duty scholarship and information on the poem and T.S. Eliot:
Poetry Foundation: Here's the poem in all its glory, for those who don't have the booklet that comes with the CD
Schmoop: This is a really fun look at the basic themes of the poem - and its done with flair and intelligence. Check it out!
Gradesaver: This goes through the poem line by line and does a pretty good job of explaining it in plain terms
Modern American Poetry web site: This contains some excellent essays on the poem, my personal favorite written by Michael North (you'll have to scroll down a bit)