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World Magazine

Here are a few quotes from the July 26, 2008 article in the, "Culture Beat," section of the news magazine, "World."

Giant task
Rock opera puts to song an Oscar Wilde tale | Arsenio Orteza

Years before his deathbed acceptance into the Catholic Church, Oscar Wilde published "The Selfish Giant," a tale in which a giant learns the meaning of "suffer the little children" from a child … 

… how do you transform a 1,650-word story that reads light as air into a 29-song musical drama that plays out over 69 minutes? Credited to the Patton family band Bongo and the Point, The Selfish Giant solves part of the problem by keeping the songs short and by telling the story through the voices of a varied cast of characters (the Giant, Spring, Mr. Frost, Mrs. Snow, Hail, and others).

It also employs a mixture of pop-music styles—sometimes within the same song. "Oh, How Happy We Are Here," for instance, begins with Beach Boys-style vocal harmonies then morphs into a folk waltz. Meanwhile, fans of operatic rock will appreciate the guitar solo of the Alan Parsons Project's Ian Bairnson on "Tearing Down the Wall" and the musical nod to The Who's "Happy Jack" in "Music Is in the Air."

… because the story is Wilde's, his many admirers can amuse themselves debating what Wilde himself would've made of the Pattons' imaginative interpretation.

Tyler Morning Telegraph

'The Selfish Giant' A Gem

Review By Patrick Butler

Every so often one stumbles across a musical recording so original, it's not easy to sufficiently describe its significance. "The Selfish Giant," composed and arranged by Smith County's Jim and Dee Patton, is one of those recordings.

"The Selfish Giant" deserves immediate classical status, not because it's an ambitious and carefully crafted 69-minute rock opera - based on an Oscar Wilde fairy tale - that has never been done. It hasn't. But it's so musically intricate, beautifully fragile and yet "rocks on," that its complexities cannot be absorbed by the average listener in one sitting. It is a CD to live with for a while, produced by real artists with a great idea.

"The Selfish Giant" is a "concept album" for people who remember pop music with melodies and harmonies, "back when records had a point," said Patton. Listening to the soaring harmonies and master-like melodies of accompanying instruments makes one think, "The Beatles meet the Beach Boys and the Mamas and the Papas during the British Invasion." Throw in some Eric Burdon for good measure and you begin to appreciate a few of the wells "Giant" producer Patton draws from.

But this is no rip-off concoction cooked in a hurry. Stir in delightfully thoughtful lyrics from Dee Patton, then add delicious harmonies from the Pattons' two grown daughters, Elfin and Bree, for that vocal flavor only a family can seem to form. Simmer and stir in creative originality for three years. Labor in musical love to painstakingly pack each track with sounds few recording companies would take time to underwrite, and you have "The Selfish Giant."

The project was undertaken in that manner purposely, Patton said, to eliminate interfering "money people." The Pattons are originally from Southern California and know something about "the business," having a platinum and three gold records from their 30 years of dealing with the music industry. They relocated to East Texas 13 years ago.

"We wanted to do exactly what was in our hearts to do (with Giant) and not let some investors get in there and make the project fail because they thought they needed this or that thing included to make it sell," said Jim Patton. "We've been in those kinds of projects before."

The product the Pattons have given us is a homegrown gem, an astonishingly rich, yet subtle and satisfying treasure. I suspect "The Selfish Giant" will be one of those happy, footnoted anomalies in American musical history that will make music lovers grin and nod their heads. Because of the CD's distribution on the Internet, it hopefully could inspire similar efforts by well-versed artisans throughout the world, drained by the marketing rat race.

THE STORY

The opera's libretto, available free online at www.theselfishgiant.com, is about a giant who returns from a seven-year journey and finds children playing in his long-empty garden.

Angry and not willing to share, the giant chases the kids away. Winter sets in on the giant's selfish garden - but never leaves. The giant is about to crack from his continuous ice-cold existence when spring mysteriously breaks a hole in the garden wall and he hears the sound of children playing once again.

This time the giant's reaction to the children is relief as he sees the contrast between the winter of his soul and its springtime. He is sorry he was so harsh.

He reaches out to the children, especially to a little boy who can't seem to climb the trees like the other kids. But when the children see their old nemesis coming, they panic and flee. All except the boy whom the giant befriends, saying, "Don't be afraid. My garden is your garden."

The children return to play when they see all is safe, but at day's end the little boy is nowhere to be found. "We never saw him before," the children tell the giant. "We don't know who he is."

WARNING: A spoiler comes next. Skip the next short paragraph if a surprise at the ending of the opera is desired.

The giant spends years playing with children every day, wondering whatever became of the little boy. On the final day of the giant's life, the boy returns, still a child. The giant cannot believe his eyes, saying, "are you real or is this a dream?"

The child says, "I played here once. Don't be afraid. Now my garden is your garden."

The giant says, "I think I know now who you really are, I've seen your face in every morning star..." and dies.

BIT OF BRILLIANCE

This simple, touching tale is told in 29 short songs, complete with a bona fide overture. The span of the lyrics includes wide, emotional ranges from laments to celebrations. A plus of the short-song style is that if one song doesn't strike your fancy, it's over quickly. Musically interpreting children's characters always seems risky at best when adults are listening, but almost all of the opera's sketches in that regard are matched well.

Brilliantly so in some cases, like when the panicked children take off in "Everybody Run." Another bit of brilliance reveals itself in "Tell Him to Come," and therein lies the beauty of the opera; there are brilliant moments all over it as you dig deeper into songs like "Everyday in the Afternoon" and "Where is the Boy?" The latter two songs could be classified as "stage-genre" hits. The cumulative effect is to pull the listener into the giant's world, embracing the "reality" of it. Everyone can find their own favorite tunes.

Four songs I thought could easily be released as "Side A" singles include the moody, evocative "Dear Mrs. Snow," the joyous "Tear Down the Walls," the bit of pure genius that's in the soaring "Reach" and signature song "Silver Fruit and Golden Branches" that lyrically tells us, "Come to the garden and see," a possible theme for the entire opera.

The Pattons know how to put together a song and Jim Patton hates, it seems, to let a second go by when another subtle touch can be added, even in a fade-out. I love that in a visionary.

And when the cold, miserable giant sings the blues, it sounds like the blues, not a watered-down, weak version. In that regard, there no offensively false notes in "The Selfish Giant."

"There are a lot of musical things buried in these songs I hope someone gets," Patton said. "I don't expect everyone to get them, but I hope some do."

When the lyrics "Am I asleep or is this really real?" are sung, the melody from Larry Norman's classic, "I Wish We'd All Been Ready," burns tastefully in the background. Patton arranged and played all the instruments, except for the lead in "Walls" that Ian Bairnson of Alan Parsons project added.

Now that the opera is done and released via Internet, it's difficult to imagine Wilde's "The Selfish Giant" being rendered in a more, complete and professional way, except with full orchestra and skip-loader full of money. The sheer size of the effort boggles the imagination. "The Selfish Giant" is not "Oklahoma" or "The Phantom," but there are those jaw-dropping moments to leave you wondering how they managed to pull off the sounds, tempos, instrumentation and harmonies. "Bravos" are surely in order.

What the Pattons have managed to do is create the effect most producers and arrangers in the country chase after - an original and honest sound, based on the knowledge of musical genres they've come to love and appreciate. The question is, will anybody find this "Giant" treasure?

One can only hope. The Pattons have made the opera available for whatever a buyer thinks it's worth. You can get "The Selfish Giant" for a dollar, sure, but the effort and result is clearly worth much more. My advice is to go get it now before someone comes to their senses and buys the rights to it.

© 2008 Jim 'n' Dee Patton - Questions? deepatton@theselfishgiant.com