Eric Salzman: Composer, Author, Music Theater Innovator


a new review of Civilization & Its Discontents (Sahl/Salzman)

This review just appeared on blogcritics.rog <>

by Jack Goodstein

Civilization and Its Discontents, the 1977 genre-bending musical stage production written and composed by Michael Sahl and Eric Salzman, not to be confused with Sigmund Freud’s more famous tome of the same title which may bend some ideas but has no music, was originally recorded in 1978 and reissued earlier this year by Labor Records. Whether the appropriation of Freud’s title is meant to suggest that the collaborators have something more in mind that satirizing elements of modern civilization, I leave to more analytic minds. As far as I’m concerned farcical socio-cultural satire is enough for me.

What form a work of art takes is always an important consideration; you don’t want to criticize a novel as though it were a sonnet, or a string quartet as though it were a symphony. In the liner notes to the original Nonesuch release, the composers take a lot of time discussing operatic traditions, operetta, and musical theater by way of explaining what they see themselves as doing as far as form is concerned. They see their work in the context of those operatic traditions where comic elements often turn up as serious critiques. Musical comedy may do the same thing, but it caters to a more popular sensibility, or at least it often does. In essence, it would seem that as far as Sahl and Salzman are concerned their work looks to take what they need from both traditions.

The music itself is either all over the place or, as New York Times critic Peter Davis called it back then, “a brilliant amalgam of jazz, pop, blues and classical forms.” The trouble with amalgams is that not everyone who is happy with an evening of jazz is equally happy with pop intrusions; and blues lovers aren’t necessarily going to love what they might hear as operatic caterwauling. But when it comes right down to it, operatic forms and musical ideas dominate here. This is clear from the show’s very opening notes. It may not be the opera of Puccini or Verdi, but opera it is. That is not to say that there aren’t these other formal elements scattered through the show, it is simply to say that pop elements are not emphasized.

This is not a highlights album. It includes the whole of the show, which is divided into scenes following an ABA structure. The first scene opens in Club Bide-A-Wee where the heroine Jill Goodheart and her boyfriend Derek have an argument and he leaves. Jeremy Jive arrives and tries to pick her up with a line something like: “Can you explain what Patti Smith means to you.” There is a lot of internal monologue, against the background of the club’s mantra: “If it feels good, do it.” The scene ends with a show-stopping jazz number.

The second scene is a farcical description of Jeremy’s attempts to seduce Jill in her apartment in the face of constant interruptions including the return of Derek. Jeremy and Derek discover a business connection involving a singing chicken. The third scene takes the trio back to the club for an absurdist finale.

Jill is played by Candice Earley, Derek by William Parry, and Jeremy by Paul Binnotto. Karl Patrick Krause plays Carlos Arachnid who seems to be something of a combination of club owner and master of ceremonies as he invites the audience into the club. This, with the exception of Parry, was the original cast of the off-Broadway production, which won an award as the best off-Broadway show of the year. It was recorded for broadcast on National Public Radio in 1980, I would assume with some of the language cleaned up.

Civilization and its Discontents has some very engaging music and dynamic performances. The show’s album manages to capture much of that dynamic appeal. In the end, though, I suspect that this is a musical that needs to be seen for best effect. The album is fine; a new production would be better.

Date Posted // September 03, 2012
In Categories // Civilization and Its Discontents, Music Theater, Recordings, Reviews

another C&D review

There’s another ‘classical’ review of “Civilization & Its Discontents” at <>.


Date Posted // June 11, 2012
In Categories // Civilization and Its Discontents, Music Theater, Recordings, Reviews

FAME (Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange) review of “Civilization & Its Discontents”

Civilization and its Discontents

Michael Sahl / Eric Salzman

Labor Records – LAB7089
Available from CD Universe.
A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker
Eric Salzman may be the more well known of the pair here, having been among the klatsch of prodigal pioneers who arose during the glorious Nonesuch electronic experimental era—just after the Pleistocene, if memory serves—but Michael Sahl ain’t no slouch either, Jeeter, and distinguished himself not only through his own efforts but by the company he kept as well: Milton Babbitt, Aaron Copland, Lukas Foss, and etc. before going to work with Judy Collins, Chris Stein (Blondie), and others. The range alone of that set of associations indicates well what Civilization and its Discontents is all about.
Salzman issued his famed Nude Paper Sermon in 1969 (perhaps 1970—hard to tell from my old LP), a surreal blend of opera, incidentalism, noise, and neoclassicalism that stood as a gem among the too small stream of precious discs being issued by Erb, Wuorinen, Subotnick, and a host of others who yet stand unrivalled in the field. This collaboration, however, is far more lucid, reflecting the off-off-Broadway nature of its 1978 appearance (originally issued on Nonesuch in ’81, it’s been 31 years until this re-issue!), a satire on the time’s shifting youth culture as it progressed from hippies to disco days amid increasingly plastic interpersonal facades. At first stream of consciousness, the narrative resolves into coherent conflicts and alliances between several characters as it progresses, all the while exposing clichés and artificial cool for what both really were.
Thematically, the hybrid Civilization is somewhat a prefiguration of the Tubes’ rock and rolling Remote Control but also a blend of demented soap melodrama, morphing stage opera somewhat a la Erling Wold, and cabaret, all MCed by Carlos Archnid (Karl Patrick Krause) and anchored by a recurring “If it feels good, do it!” tagline sardonically japing the backscatter. The liner notes are likewise amusing, self-deprecating, wry, and pointed. After all, anyone who claims that “opera is an elaborate, high-cultural entertainment which is expensive, dead, and foreign” isn’t above an incisive honesty salt-rimmed with biting acerbity. If, like me, you have the original vinyl tucked away in a vault for safekeeping, you need this issuance for the new artwork, excellent 20-page liner, and cleaned up acoustics. But if you’re new to Salzman and this type of heady experimentalism, hoo boy!, are you ever in for a treat.

Date Posted // May 29, 2012
In Categories // Civilization and Its Discontents, Music Theater, Recordings, Reviews



Media Alert: Civilization And It’s Disconnections Labor Records

The last time I received a recording for review that referred to itself as an amalgam of anything was a poorly thought out solo piano work trying to be passed off as some sort of blue grass, jazz and classical influence so naturally as a critic if the description is longer than the title of the work in question then I get nervous. Deciding to avoid potential issues and to see if this was a release that would fit the more obvious direction this site is heading, I ran across a review stating “…a brilliant amalgam of jazz, pop, blues and classical forms.” The word hodgepodge immediately came to mind but with the Monty Python like disc cover my curiosity got the better of me.

To say Civilizations And It’s Discontents sidesteps strict categorization is the understatement of the year. Pop, swing and somehow the vibrant New York avant garde element take over and carry the listener on an open ended lyrical excursion to the destination of their choosing. Reviewing the music to what is essentially a theatrical presentation does lend itself to the traditional review. So what is there to say about Civilizations And It’s Discontents?

For an off-off Broadway production originally aired on N.P.R roughly 33 years ago the sound quality is excellent which should not come as a tremendous shock when it comes to anything released on the Naxos or affiliated labels. There is a delightful mix of jazz, pop and classical but what makes the release work is not so much the variety of genres made available but the virtually seamless transition made to each piece of this musical puzzle throughout the rather eclectic presentation but then again – this is musical theatre. The fans of musical theatre will be enthralled with the eclectic and incredibly original presentation that while originally aired in the fall of 1978 could easily be aired as a new work this week. This is Michael Sahl and Eric Salzman taken to the next level. The N.P.R. audience should eat this up with a spoon!

Tracks: Club Bide-A-Wee; Jill’s Apartment, Club Bide-A-Wee.

Personnel: ( Musicians ) Michael Sahl: keyboards ( piano & organ ); Cleve Pozar: drums, percussion.

For More Information:

Review By
Brent Black

There’s another review in Fanfare <> by a critic who seems to be very ambivalent about the work; he wants to say that  it’s dated but then he keeps getting drawn back to it! Hmmmmmm.


Now Available on CD—Civilization & Its Discontents

Civilization & Its Discontents—a lively and biting musical satire written and composed jointly by Eric Salzman and Michael Sahl—is now available on CD.

Date Posted // January 31, 2012
In Categories // Civilization and Its Discontents, Music Theater, News, Recordings