Chunky in Heat Yearbook: Jason Cady

EiO’s upcoming opera Chunky in Heat follows the emotional life of a teenage protagonist, Cheryl (aka Chunky), as she navigates the perils of her changing world.  We asked some of the artists involved in the premiere to share how their own experiences in high school informed their work on the opera.

Jason Cady is one of the six composers who contributed music to Chunky in Heat.

“This record,” the cop said, “you don’t even need to play backwards.” The cop—a guest speaker in my 7th grade English class—was a self-proclaimed expert on how rock bands subvert the youth with subliminal messages about drugs and SATAN! He had already played a variety of jams for us, like Another One Bites The Dust, which when played backwards, said “schmoke marah wah-nah.” But, when he got to the Dead Kennedy’s he read the actual lyrics to us. The song was about a coroner who couldn’t afford to feed his family so he resorted to sneaking them human meat. In case the Swiftian satire was not obvious enough the term “Reagonomics” appeared toward the end. But, according to the cop, this was a satanic band advocating cannibalism.

By 7th grade I had learned that cops, teachers, and adults-in-general were The Enemy. I know rebellion is just another trope of adolescence but my anti-authoritarianism coincided with moving across the country, and I always attributed my bad attitude more to this change of my environment. I had been a boy who loved Mad Magazine, football, and Top-40 Pop, but after moving I started skating, playing drums, and listening to Punk Rock. I experienced all the normal self-loathing associated with puberty but what stands out in my memory are clashes with authority like the cops who arrested me for skating in an abandoned swimming pool or the teacher who put me in a headlock because my T-shirt violated the dress-code. (It was part of a local anti-skinhead campaign and it said “Fuck Racism.”) Feeling rejected by society, I sought out culture that the mainstream had also snubbed, which eventually led me to Ornette Coleman and John Cage. So, in a weird way, I’m kind of saying I wouldn’t have become a composer if the adults around me hadn’t been such assholes.

During difficult times I tell myself, “At least I’ll never go through adolescence again.” Although I’m glad I’m not the person I was then, I must admit that parts of my teen-self are still alive and well. When composing music for Chunky in Heat I couldn’t help but focus on making grooves for drums and bass. I didn’t want any Punk Rock influence in my settings but there was one moment that resonated with my teen music taste; there was a passage in the libretto about Eastern spirituality that I illustrated by trying to evoke the modal Free-Jazz of artists like Alice Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders. I think my teen self would have been down with that section, but he would have been baffled by the whole opera thing. I wonder what the cop who spoke to my English class in 7th grade would think of Chunky in Heat. I imagine him saying, “These guys must be on drugs.”