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Joel Roston Composer | Instrumentalist
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Look What’s Happened to Rosemary’s Baby

24 Feb 2016


I’m just going to state this as clearly as I can for the entire world to see:

I love the film Rosemary’s Baby.

I feel like it’s fair to say that I roll deeper with Rosemary’s Baby than I do with possibly any other film that DOESN’T depict events taking place on Saturday, March 4th, 1984 at Shermer High School in Shermer, Illinois (60062).

I read Ira Levin’s original book just to find out what the hell “I told Sister Veronica about the windows and she withdrew the school from the competition” means.* I’ve authored lengthy treatises in my mind comparing the film to Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” on women and the societal pressures of childbearing, and on Roman Polanski’s whole making-films-about-creepy-apartment-building-communities.† Lastly, I’ve been obssessed with Krzysztof Komeda‘s haunting and transforming‡ score for years and years.

Here’s the main theme:

I bring this all up now because I was digging around in [one of] my hard drive[s] this week and I came across an arrangement of the main theme that I sketched out last year for solo classical guitar, which you can hear here:

Upon my first re-listening, I thought something like, “G-minor! How coincidental! Cross-instrument arrangements rarely work out to be in the same key as the original!” at which point I opened the notation and discovered that I had actually written it in E-minor, as you can see here:

Joel’s Special Arrangement

This is the part of the blog post wherein we take a walk back through time and witness a questionable event in the life of young Joel.

See, the best explanation for the E-minor/G-minor difference is that I figured out that the theme worked on a guitar really well in E-minor, but enjoyed it more in G-minor, so I just threw a capo on the third fret before recording it. This is a problem because, even more visceral than the horror of the film Rosemary’s Baby is the horror of me employing a capo. This is a completely irrational and ludicrous position, but I was pointedly engineered to be this way.

Here’s a story:

I was nine or ten years old when I had my very first guitar lesson and, at that point, still held the childish belief that there were people in the world who actually knew what they were talking about. I was excited for guitar lessons because they seemed like a logical step to take if I was going to be a non-Ringo Beatle. At my first lesson, with an instructor who shall remain anonymous, and who is still giving guitar lessons in the, like, larger metro-area of my hometown, I pointed to a capo and said, “What’s that?” to which he or she replied, “It’s a moveable bar for people who don’t know how to make their own.”

Now, just to be clear: Using a capo is a wonderful, perfectly reasonable, and sometimes necessary choice. Like, unless you can personally wrangle the laws of physics in some non-standard way, there are some things that just can’t be played without a capo.

The sad part of this story (you can cue the sad music or just re-play the theme from above while you read this) is that I didn’t really have any reason to employ a capo for another few years and when I finally did, my only association with them was that they were for people who didn’t really know how to play the guitar. Like, the only reason I even OWN a capo is that I needed one years ago for a performance of someone else’s music.

And, again, just to clarify, a capo is an awesome, standard guitar-tool — like a tuner. If I don’t sound convincing, ask this person:

I think we’d all be hard-pressed to find a more totally-business guitar player with or without a capo.

This is all to say that coming to the realization that I took my perfectly adequate E-minor arrangement and unholy-ly shifted it to G-minor was something like the Joel’s-musical-life version of Rosemary coming to the realization that everyone around her (apart from poor Hutch) was conspiring to steal her child. I mean, it wasn’t that bad, but, like, close; different circumstances, same horror.

So, as you might’ve guessed, I’ve been doing some soul-searching over the past couple of days. I’ve been scouring my compositional and general musical process for other unnecessary restrictions and limitations and thinking back over the past few years — remembering myself throwing a capo onto a steel string acoustic in order to figure out how to play “Katmandu” by Cat Stevens and rationalizing it in a “Yeah, but Cat Stevens is one of the good ones.” kind of way.

I mean, check it out:

The song is calling out to be played by you, alone, in your living room late at night and the capo is what makes it possible.

So, just to sum up:

1. I love the film Rosemary’s Baby.
2. Due to an off-the-cuff comment made by a haphazard guitar teacher, I’ve shielded myself from an entire load-bearing technique on my instrument.
3. I’m trying to get better.
4. Bonnie Raitt and Cat Stevens are both effortlessly incredible guitar players.

Now, if we could all just get people to stop using eBows…

*Which marked the second time I’ve read a book for the sole purpose of trying to decode an esoteric component of a horror movie — the first was The Shining in an attempt to figure out what the hell the guy in the dog suit is all about. Bonus: Here’s my review.. (back)
†Like, this and this. (back)
‡The score is transforming both in that the main theme changes and is re-orchestrated and re-stated in many different ways over the course of the film and in that the theme actually transforms listeners (thanks, in part, to Mia Farrow’s creepy “la-la-la”s). (back)

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