TUPPER SAUSSY became a big success in advertising so he could retire at 32 to write music full-time, His first year's output includes works for the Nashville and Chattanooga symphonies and a new record that makes Saussy more exciting at the moment than Beatles.
The Moth Confesses is a record because Saussy wanted to write an opera more complex than an audience could understand in a single live performance. This "phonograph opera" becomes more resonant and eloquent with each replay. The style eludes easy description, except by comparison to MacArthur Park by Saussy's friend Jim Webb (whose influence is evident in The Moth's "Midsummer Night"and "Morning Girl," available out of context as a single). Both composers create serious and elaborate structures by joining an array of classical forms with borrowings from the sentimental popular music written for Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Hollywood romances. This approach wrenches hackneyed themes and metaphors into an instantly understandable genre-a musical pop art, but with the same dignity achieved by Charles Ives when he elevated cliches from Sousa and national anthems into symphonies.
The result is an open and flexible style, allowing The Moth Confesses to range from lyric tone poems through lavish transitions to mild rock. The Neon Philharmonic-an ad hoc "chambersized orchestra"composed of members of the Nashville symphony, local jazz groups, and talent used by Bob Dylan (drummer Kenny Buttrey)-is terrific, brightly expressing the Saussy intelligence and exuberance.
The music is necessarily dramatic, to compensate for the absence of visual cues and staging of live opera. The instrumental music also has to describe narrative movement and background, since the vocal part is simply a single voice which defines a stage in the maturing of its sensibility in each of eight arias. "The Moth Confesses is a condensed opera, "say the jacket notes, "with variations on a single literary theme: desperation."
DON GANT sings the desperate voice. He establishes a convincing by the honest, open tone of his voice and by conveying the subtleties of the character's progress to painful selfawareness. The voice is in a different psychological state in each aria, thanks to Gant's emotional inflections, but it always belongs to a consistent individual.
The protagonist is "mothlike"-attracted through life by his memory of the brilliant colors of his first love. His story is a quest to recapture the exhiliaration of the original experience. But sudden setbacks perplex him: "Last night the little girl walked in and handed me my notice. They voted me out of her league and I'm sorry. I'm embarrassed."His boyishly defiant recovery retains a quality of quiet longing: "So I'm a gonna join the cowboys and shoot me some outlaws (it's something to do since I'm out here anyway) but quit it all, give it all up, if the little girl could use me."
Still he can get no closer to his ideal, and his despair becomes briefly ridiculous and self-parodying: "Although I have the key she gave me, I forgot to ask her where she sleeps at night." Then he becomes tragically resigned, remembering with detachment his love for "the thirty-year-old debutante, whispering to ghosts in the room ...Jacqueline with the past in her eyes."He faces his failure sorrowfully: "It tears a boy's heart away, loving girls who don't care about love. " And he sees others in his own jaded condition; as he tells "morning girl," "Your lips have got some color now, a little too much color now."
The Moth Confesses is a sensitive characterization by Gant, a beautiful performance by the Neon Philharmonic and a brilliant production by Saussy. The album has a spendid cover and a salutation-"Borges forever"-to one of Saussy's literary heroes.