Only Golden Fingers Could Play So Heavy
Motivation and Meaning for "Only Golden Fingers Could Play So Heavy"
I got my first real six-string
Bought it at the five-and-dime
Played 'til my fingers bled
It was summer of '69
Bryan Adams might have been writing about me, but for the fact
that I bought my first guitar from a friend at work for $50.
But my true desire was
to play bass, and I finally bought one after graduating high school in
1971. I helped form a band called "Ambush" while in college,
but we went our separate ways before I started getting serious about
After composing a half dozen or so unrelated songs, I thought up
the phrase "Only Golden Fingers Could Play So Heavy" and
thought it would make a great basis for a song about a bass player.
From there, I conceived the general form of the rock opera that bears
its name, drawing from influences in the story of birth of Christ,
"Tommy," "Quadrophenia," the breakup of the
Beatles, and my desire to work my favorite artist, Todd Rundgren, into
a song. Bearing a very loose correspondence on my own life, from my
first three years living next to a chicken ranch, to playing clarinet,
to picking up the bass and my imagined life as a "rock star,"
the story is a tongue-in-cheek exploration into the life of an
egomaniac named "I Mall" (I'm all) and his alter
egos/compatriots Spike Jones (a bully), Isaac Daly (I'm sick
daily, into drugs) and Osgood (I'm goody-goody, possibly
gay, certainly sexually confused) Martin. It also features historical
personalities from politics (Dwight "Ike" Eisenhower),
science (Albert "Bert" Einstein) and music (Charles
"Chuck" Ives) chosen because they were more or less
prominent in 1953 and their names have an "I" sound. I
considered Sergei Eisenstein, the film director, because of the
combination of name of Eisenhower and Einstein led to it, but he died
in 1948, and I desired at least a partial sense of historical
accuracy. Besides, a musical influence was certainly more appropriate,
and Ives fit the bill. The appearance of Todd Rundgren in the second
act was influenced by fan publicity that Todd would run for president
in 1984, the year he was first eligible, and my own personal desire to
work with him. The fact that in 1994 I created the "Todd Rundgren
Connection" and met him several times over the next few years is
a testament to my own prescience.
Most of the songs were composed on guitar, but, in the same time
frame, I took some piano lessons and had access to practice pianos at
the university, so several of them were composed on piano. Never an
accomplished player on either instrument, all were merely chord
structures and lyrics that I wrote down (later typed), while carrying
the basic melody in my head. Over the next 25 years, I revisited the
music occasionally to keep it fresh in my mind, and eventually
documented it in MIDI form in 2001 by arranging it for multiple
instruments in FINALE. The music subsequently was used as the basis
for yet another work, "40 Days: Resurrection to Ascension,"
which saw a single production in 2001.
True to the rock opera form, the story was conceived strictly in
music and lyrics. However, when I took a play-writing class in 1974 to
fulfill a college general education requirement, I chose my completed
work as the basis to create a three act play as my semester project.
The decision to utilize the same actors for dual roles was both
psychological and convenient. The decision to use the same actress for
the mother and wife roles may seem slightly Oedipal, but was really
more for convenience sake and represents a non-sexual nurturing
relationship. Bill Graham's implied grandson seemed like an obvious
choice as a promoter for the reunion concert in 2015. "Rod
Manger" is an attempt to make "Road Manager" into a
name. The sophomoric dialogue is probably a result of the fact that I
had recently been a sophomore. Some additional songs were composed to
fill out the story.
Writing with the thought that my parents would someday read it, I
tried to be sensitive to their portrayal, and have always had a twinge
of guilt about portraying the father, Henry Mall, as somewhat
dim-witted. My own father is the antithesis of that character, and but
for the "chicken farmer" and "geetar player"
personas, couldn't be farther from the bumbling personality
Acts II (from scene six) delves into my vision of the
future, most of which (outside of the play's time frame) has already
come to pass in 2005. The final group reunion occurs sometime around
2015. I'm not a science fiction writer, nor do I play one on TV, so
"radio-telomerated relay" and "wardrobe machine"
are just phrases that sounded futuristic enough to qualify as devices
of the 21st century. $30-50 concert tickets seemed pretty outrageous
in 1974; now they're a bargain!
Yet, despite it all, Rock[y] will live on beyond the next
generation. (One would hope! I'm not so sure at the moment.)
Some insights on some of the songs:
The title of "When the Kid Gets Heavy" was
inspired by the phrase "The kid gets heavy" in the liner
notes of Todd Rundgren's "Something/Anything?"
"Music Will Be My Life" and "Clarinet
Player" are the most autobiographical pieces. The use of the word
"indefatigable" in "Clarinet Player" has always
been a source of personal pride.
It's pretty obvious that "Three Kings of the East"
was at least inspired in theme by "We Three
"Only Golden Fingers Could Play So Heavy" was
written around the bass line.
"Golden Fingers Theme" was conceived as a
bombastic wall of guitars, with a seemingly beautiful simple melody
"A Most Amazing Man" has four sets of distinct
lyrics, the original written prior to the rock opera, then adapted in
two versions for the rock opera (I's version and Spike's version) and
finally adapted for "40 Days."
"If It Wasn't For You," a grammatically
incorrect phrase as well as song title, also exists lyrically in two
versions, one for "Golden Fingers", one for "40
"World Reform" and "Soap Box Story"
were written independently from the rock opera, but incorporated as
the story progressed.
"The Dream" shares a part of the same chord
structure as "When The Kid Gets Heavy" and incorporates part
of the theme from that song as a foreshadowing
I apologized to my father shortly after writing the
"lowly chicken farmers" phrase in "I.B.C. News."
Incidentally, I Mall was born three days after me. Coincidence? And
who wouldn't want their own holiday as in "Presidential
Proclamation" even if only through a fictional
"Finale (The New King)," an instrumental,
is unfinished. And it's really more of a musical Overture, revisiting
themes from the other songs. It just fit better at the end. Maybe now
I'll be inspired to complete it.