I Saw Danny Elfman Last Night

I Saw Danny Elfman Last Night

That poor woman.

I was at the Lied Center in Lincoln, Nebraska last night, seeing the Lincoln Symphony Orchestra perform the work of Danny Elfman. It was a whole thing. The city had declared it Danny Elfman week, he had performed a classical concert the night before and this full orchestra was plowing through his Tim Burton material complete with sketches and concept art from Burton himself. Danny had yet to show up (he was slated to perform after intermission) but if you weren’t a fan of the Burton/Elfman collaboration and the striking aesthetics, visual and otherwise, that come with it…well…

Like I said, that poor woman.

“I don’t know what’s going on,” I overheard her say said. “But this is already taking too long.”

Some people show up no matter what’s at the Lied, so I get it. This older lady is out of the house to get some culture and all of a sudden the LSO is playing circus music and she’s being shown concept art of Large Marge. She was not on the wavelength of the artist. Perfectly fine.

But, holy shit, those of us that were had an amazing time.

The woman next to me in a Nightmare Before Christmas shirt cried multiple times. There were at least three people dressed as Beetlejuice. Half way through the second act they brought on Sandy Cameron, a violin virtuoso dressed as a cenobite who atonally shredded for 5 minutes and disappeared as quickly as she came. Elfman, himself, blew the lid off the place JUST doing his Nightmare Before Christmas stuff, strutting around the stage in a Burton-esque suit and over performing so perfectly in line with his oeuvre that there was nothing left to say other than “that’s exactly what I was hoping for from Danny Elfman”. He knew his audience and whipped them into a frenzy.

It made me think that, while Elfman has 40 some years of performing experience, was he always like that? I know the difference between performance and real life but he seemed so attuned to what was expected of him it seemed natural.  My daughter, who had the chance to see Elfman speak earlier in the week as part of the extended festivities, gave me a bit of insight. Apparently, in a classroom setting, Elfman is low key, much quieter and does not think much of his process. To hear her tell it, his insight into his process comes down to “I like what I like and I do what I do”. Reductive? Sure. But I have no doubt it’s true.

It’s what I’ve found in my own creative process. Sometimes it just happens. I’m a big fan of the Jack London quote “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club” and I try to live by that, but when inspiration strikes, sometimes the best you can say is something reductive. Because it’s too much to say “yeah, I have spent my life consuming the thing I love, thinking about the thing I love, studying the thing I love, putting my identity and soul into the thing I love and inviting the thing I love to love me back”. “I like what I like and I do what I do”, while not technically wrong, is a phrase that sings to those who know what it means. It sings, to me, at least.

All of this is to say that Elfman blew the lid of the place. Of course, I’m a fan. I’m old enough and lucky enough to have seen Beetlejuice in the theater so his music was formative. We go way back. It was a great to see his fans out, in full force, screaming for more while that poor woman a couple of rows behind me blanched that the concert was more than 2 hours(!). It was a spooky party and I’m honestly lucky I got to see it. 

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