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High Master

In 2008, I met my friend Chris who is an incredibly curious, motivated, and energetic being and whose thirst for fun and making art for art’s sake was a perfect match for me and my penchant for the same.
It was one of those friendships that is more like a partnership. Not in the romantic sense, but that the relationship has an electricity to it that makes you think anything is possible and that the two of you may well be able to take over the world. He was my creative soul mate. Ideas just flowed between us, and neither of us let our egos get in the way of anything we were working on. It was a beautiful collaboration…and we did lots of projects together.
One day, Chris came to me with an idea for a rock opera called High Master that was about a time travelling viking (Chris) who was frozen in a glacier by the Dark Lord (Me!) while he made off to his mountain lair with High Master’s wife. Centuries later, High Master is discovered by a scientist (our drummer, Ken) who is unsuccessfully developing a time machine. The scientist thaws the glacier and High Master is reanimated. As it turns out, High Master holds the key to making the scientist’s time machine work, and that key is…HIGH OCTANE ROCK! Now with an operational time machine, High Master and the scientist head back across the centuries to find the Dark Lord and defeat him.
When Chris finished explaining the plot, I didn’t even have to think about it. I just said: “It’s totally ridiculous. When do we start?”
So, we spent the next four months writing songs and rehearsing in a stupidly cold and small studio space that we were subletting from a grumpy potter for $100 a month. It was cramped, smelly, and the breakers would flip if we tried to plug too many things in…but it was honestly one of the most fun things that I had ever done.
When we weren’t working on the music, we were working on props, scenery, and costumes. You can’t have a rock opera, even a low budget one, without some production values, right? So, we made tunics and swords and a goofy looking panel with lights on it that was supposed to represent the time machine. The whole thing began to look like a punked out, maker faire musical…which was just fine with us.
In addition to our own props, we decided we wanted to involve the audience as much as possible, so we went out and bought seventy-five foam swords at Dollar General and planned to hand them out to the crowd (what could go wrong?), so they could participate in the final battle between good and evil that ended the show. We also fabricated two giant twenty-sided dice (The Dice of Fate!) that the audience would roll at the very end to determine what would become of the Dark Lord.
At about 120 days into the project, we were ready for our opening night.
As luck would have it, we knew someone who regularly threw house parties and hosted punk bands from out of town. You know the drill: Kegs, obscenely loud music, angry neighbors, etc. Anyway, he said we could play on a double bill with one of our favorite, local girl punk bands called Pink Flag (Shout out, ladies!), and we were stoked.
When the night came and we showed up in our costumes to load in our gear, we were super nervous. I mean, we had developed this thing in a creative vacuum and hadn’t showed it to anyone. Plus, we were getting a lot of side eye from the hipsters and punks who were milling about on the lawn outside. This was either going to be the best night of our creative lives, or the most epic musical failure ever. Only time would tell.
While Chris got the sound sorted out, I skulked around with the foam swords and asked if people wanted to be in High Master’s Army of Light, or in The Dark Lord’s Hoarde. Luckily, the crowd more or less split itself evenly between good and evil and I gave them the instruction to begin the battle when they heard the song “Fight!”. Now the crowd seemed to be getting into the spirit of this thrift store performance art piece we were pedalling and people began to ask each other what army they had chosen and who they thought would win the final battle. This boded well for us.
And sure enough, by the time we hit the stage and played the first few chords of our title song, “High Master”, the crowd was totally with us. People were dancing, mini sword skirmishes were breaking out all over the room, and people immediately began screaming along with the chorus. Chris and I had the biggest shit eating grins on our faces that we could manage. We had made something good. We were rock stars.
The rest of the set went just as well. We ripped into the “Dark Lord’s Lament”, slapped and popped our way through our funky reggae martial arts jam, “Kung Future”, and polished off the rest of the set list with very few hitches. Then it was time for the final battle. As High Master raised his mighty sword and called his army of light together, we slammed into “Fight” and the audience went nuts. In retrospect, although no one was hurt, handing out swords to drunk twenty-somethings at a rock show was probably not our finest idea…but man, was it fun to watch. People were fake dying left and right, dramatic slow motion broadsword battles were everywhere, and most of the crowd ended up “dead” on the floor, victims of the final battle.
As the song ended, the smoke cleared, and the Dark Lord had been imprisoned, Chris led the crowd in a chant. “Roll the dice of fate! Roll the dice of fate!” As this was going on, I handed the massive (too big for a house party) dice to the crowd. They began to throw them like beachballs at an outdoor venue and ended up breaking a ceiling fan and a lamp, but nobody stopped. The crowd was like a cult now. Everyone was chanting “Roll the dice of fate! Roll the dice of fate!” at increasingly higher volumes until, finally, they were rolled and the fate of the Dark Lord was determined to be eternity inside the glacier in which he had imprisoned High Master. The crowd cheered (even the Dark Hoarde) as I was taken into “custody”and we launched into a reprise of “High Master”, which we never got to finish because the crowd hoisted Chris on their shoulders and carried him, victorious, to the front lawn.
We spent the rest of the night reveling in back slapping congratulations from the crowd and a sense that we had made something that was just pure fun. What started out as an idiotic plot and some ridiculous songs ended up actually working and making people happy in the process. It probably wasn’t art. It certainly wasn’t polished theatre. But for the kids in that house, it was damned sure entertainment.
And, for us…it was downright magical.
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