Salt Doll

Salt Doll visualization with lyrics

“Salt Doll” is the second bonus track on Bachelors Anonymous’ unreleased second album, In the Land of Nod, remastered and released digitally. Bachelors Rob Berg and David Hughes tell the story behind the song.



In February 1987 Bachelors Rob Berg and I (David Hughes) contributed the score to Zack’s directing-thesis production of Home or Future Soap by Megan Terry at UCLA Theater Arts.

The Play

The original teleplay of Home was broadcast in New York on Channel 13’s NET Playhouse, for which it had been commissioned, on January 19, 1968.

Home is well synopsized (spoiler alert) by publisher Samuel French via Concord:

Commissioned for television and revised for the stage, this play introduces us to the future of our race. Everyone lives in cubicles in complete regimentation. The day is broken up into eating (food pills), praying (a kind of pantheistic paean), showing appreciation to those who run the state, working, dreaming, and sleeping. One young couple finally get permission to marry, but are forbidden to have children until two members of their cubicle die. A man whom the system tried to be rid of appears in their death chute. He overloads their oxygen supply, and so he is killed. The wedding takes place, and by means of further pills the couple bed down and go off on a “trip,” as do the guests.

New York Times critic George Gent gave a thoughtful review of the teleplay’s intellectual threads, but stumbled over one of Terry’s obvious plot elements, outlined above:

To awaken the sparks of instinct still residing in these nearly dead souls, she resorts to two improbabilities—two murders in the same day. Improbable, because there had been none in the memory of any living member of the group.

Memory, like oxygen, obviously was in short supply. Gent looked down his presumably masculine nose at Terry’s coy, confounding content (earlier she’d connected with Living Theatre alum Joseph Chaikin, with whom she and others founded The Open Theater):

Megan Terry, whose antiwar musical, “Viet Rock,” was a success scandal of the 1966 theatrical season,1 continues to present her audience with a critical dilemma. Miss Terry is obviously capable of writing draamtically [sic], even compellingly at times, but whether the drama is really her proper métier is still open to question. […]

Thus far, “Home” might be a vehicle for the TV hacks of science fiction. But Miss Terry is a serious writer—indeed, no trace of humor mars her impassioned progression—and she is after bigger game. To almost no one’s surprise, the playwright is a moralist with an obvious bent toward the drama of ideas. But, in her peculiarly feminine fashion, she doesn’t really explore ideas for the content they will disclose, nor is she primarily a didacticist.2

A reader argued otherwise:

With regard to George Gent’s review […] I can only say he has tried to put “Home” into the category of conventional drama. In doing so, Mr. Gent missed the whole concept and communication Miss Terry is obviously conveying. Her futuristic world is total abstraction, quite contrary in terms of values and truths to anything we could imagine today. […]

The best part about “Home” is that it can be interpreted as an anti-Communist drama, a plea for universal birth control now and a warning to mankind to wake up and reexamine its values and ideals.3

From our vantage point, we can note that six years later George Gent, “reporter and critic of New York,” is listed as serving on the U.S. Coalition for Life Advisory Board. Such is mentioned in the post-Roe congressional testimony of Randy Engel, the organization’s director. Engel provides an interesting anti-abortion argument that cites birth control advocate Margaret Sanger as holding “basically vicious, racist opinions” behind a public image that was overhauled between the 1920s and 1960s. Joining George Gent on that advisory board was Jesse Helms who held, well, “basically vicious, racist opinions.” These are issues with which we grapple even as I write this, following the convictions of the Charlottesville and Ahmaud Arbery killers and the looming overthrow of Roe.

Megan Terry was concerned with such things—and at age 89, presumably still is. In her 1968 pre-broadcast essay, she wrote:

“Home” was written in reaction to a world where Cain stalks everywhere, grabbing, raping, burning, bellowing, lying, strutting, absorbing his neighbor, growing fatter and fatter, watched but not checked. […]

When I began to think about the idea for the play, I was on the side of controlling our population. I was reading everything on the subject. I kept posing questions to myself […]

The more I worked on the play, the more another thought began to prod me. What if the population pressure is nature’s way of booting us out into the universe? […] What if it is nature’s intention that we be the seed to populate all the possible solar systems in space? […]

[This] conviction […] became the justification for confining and controlling thought, attitudes and behavior, for exploiting man’s spiritual and imaginative powers. It became the justification for demanding personal sacrifice to a large degree—just as we are now being asked to sacrifice national and personal moral and spiritual values to maintain American supremacy in the face of the world. […]

Our generation the world over must revolt. Existing institutions cannot cope. They’ve not only sold us out but they are blind and uncaring for the generations that will hopefully come after us. Gradualism in every area is out. Cool is out! Up-tight is out! Turned-off is out! We must call up a patriotic passion for the essence of life itself or man faces extinction.4

A perpetual, perennial call. What strikes me is the visual yet dialectical parallel between Terry’s vision of nature “booting us out into the universe” and the parable below that resonated with Rob as he listened to the sequence we created for Zack thirty-five years ago.

The Parable

As David has described the origin of this track above, I can’t remember how it evolved to the present version. However when I discovered it on one of our reel-to-reel tapes, I knew it needed to be released.

Listening to what was formerly “Honeymoon” from the Home soundtrack, I envisioned it in an entirely new way. It reminded me of the Hindu parable about the salt doll that I had read about in The Gospel of Ramakrishna:

A Salt Doll Went to Fathom the Ocean

ONCE, a salt doll went to measure the depth of the ocean. It wanted to tell others how deep the water was. But this it could never do, for no sooner did it get into the water than it melted. Now, who was there to report the ocean’s depth?

What Brahman is cannot be described. In samadhi one attains the knowledge of Brahman—one realises Brahman. In that state reasoning stops altogether, and man becomes mute. He has no power to describe the nature of Brahman.

Philip Glass writes in reference to his 2006 The Passion of Ramakrishna oratorio:

Sri Ramakrishna was born on February 18, 1836 in Kamarpukur, a village in rural Bengal. As a young man he took up service in the temple dedicated to Kali, The Divine Mother, at Dakshineswar, a village about ten miles north of Calcutta in those years. There he remained for the rest of his life, dying in the early hours of Monday, August 16, 1886. The Kali temple at Dakshineswar is still there today, but is now surrounded by an ever-expanding and bustling Calcutta. By coincidence, it stands not far from the place established for the work and residence of the late Mother Teresa. Ramakrishna’s home remains there, still embodying his spirit and worth a visit by anyone interested in knowing about his life and work.

As a young man, he was largely self-taught, having absorbed knowledge of the ancient tradition of India through reading and hearing the religious stories in the Puranas as well as his association with the holy men, pilgrims and wandering monks who would stop at Kamarpukur on their way to Puri and other holy places. In time he became famous throughout India for his ability to expound and elucidate the most subtle aspects of that profound and vast tradition. It was not uncommon in the years of his maturity for pundits from all over India to come and “testï” his knowledge. Invariably, they were astonished by the ease and eloquence with which he addressed their questions. It appeared that his first-hand spiritual experiences were more than adequate when it came to explaining the scriptures of ancient India. In this way he was able to remove all doubt about their meaning and, indeed, his own authority.5

The Recording

In retrospect it makes a lot of sense for Bachelors Anonymous to have created the score for Zack’s production of Megan Terry’s Home. The play calls into question the nature of reality—just as the salt doll was called to quantify the ocean’s depth. Through our electronic instruments we portrayed a verisimilitude in sound. One sequence from our score, “Appreciation,” is filled with birdsong and insect rasps, ersatz every one—except, of course, to Home‘s occupants.

As Rob alludes above, the source music for “Salt Doll” consisted of two versions. Both employ synthetic sonic seascapes; the shorter version: blasts from a faux foghorn.

Rob’s ostinato is hypnotic, building towards the entrance of tenor brass. Sneaking in is a sequenced flute that is so rich in hide-and-seek variation I wish we could isolate it, but our source track for “Salt Doll” was mono.

Rob thought Del Mar Richardson must have played drums on this, and I might have thought so myself if Del Mar hadn’t told me, “‘Salt Doll,’ I don’t think I was on.”6 When Del Mar mentioned Ringo Starr in another context, I replied, “The Ringo ref is nice, as Rob once played me one of his riffs as a tutorial.” Now I believe that was during the recording of the intro to “Salt Doll.” Last Sunday when I told Rob that Del Mar didn’t join us until 1988, and we’d have given Zack the score by the end of ’86, Rob texted me, “You are such a good drummer!” But, Rob, we owe that to you and Ringo.

Credits

See album credits

Notes
  1. Viet Rock is credited as both “the first rock musical to be written and performed in the United States, and the first play to address America’s involvement in Vietnam,” according to Wikipedia via theater academic Stephen J. Bottoms.
  2. George Gent, “TV: The Sterilized Nightmare of Megan Terry,” New York Times, 20 Jan 1968, 59.
  3. Richard Hornak, “TV Mailbag: Welcome ‘Home‘,” New York Times, 04 Feb 1968, D29.
  4. Megan Terry, “Cool Is Out! Up-Tight Is Out!,” New York Times, 14 Jan 1968, D17.
  5. The dating of Glass’s oratorio as 2002 on his own website, from which these paragraphs are taken, is incorrect. It received its world premiere on 16 Sep 2006 at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in California; see “Early Highlights,” Los Angeles Times, 10 Sep 2006, E62.
  6. Email, 14 Jul 2021.

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