Anthony Burgess, my Number One Language Guy, was on Dick Cavett’s talk show late one evening during my first year at music school. The host had brought up the oft-told story of how Burgess, when in his 40s, was diagnosed with a brain tumor and told he would be dead in a year; consequently he returned home to England (he’d been in the civil service in Brunei) and was seized by a mania of writing that resulted in his completing a half dozen intriguing novels, all of which are still in print. Oh, and he didn’t die in a year. Referring to his name at birth—he was christened John Wilson, Anthony being his Catholic confirmation name and Burgess being his mother’s maiden name—Burgess commented, “We John Wilsons, we can be busy little beavers when we need to be.”
Dick Cavett and Anthony Burgess on my old B&W portable, a US knockoff made by the same company that cornered the 70s East Coast market in prepackaged noodle soup, Pho King. Above the interlocutors: A full audio recording of Burgess’s ’71 appearance on Cavett (the first half-hour) wherein he does an Ovaltine commercial as Shakespeare would have truly sounded.
Which is a remark that came to mind when I fell in love with John—my John, John Wilson the Conductor—and read how he spent 15 years transcribing the “lost” scores of MGM musicals, toting his Sibelius-programmed laptop around, listening to tracks in off moments, plugging in those thirds and fourths and damned glissandos as he heard them, passing on pub crawling or watching the telly to keep working on this gorgeous music…
First fruit of my beloved’s efforts: The MGM Jubilee Overture, which was performed for its 50th anniversary by The John Wilson Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall in 2004. (More information on the Overture plus tune credits here.)
- “The Story So Far, with Conductor John Wilson”
- “The Story So Far; Or, Conductor John Wilson—His Limits”