the 'Zine on the
"Like so many young men in more powerful positions than his, he's interested in dating attractive women. Beyond Ephron's predilection for the carcass caress and the massage as manipulation, is the resounding truth that people need to touch each other, using magic hands, so to speak, and women respond to that." - from Mark of the Librarian by Peter Dizozza
Peter Dizozza has been a mystery to me ever since I walked into the Sidewalk Cafe unexpectedly catching the last 5 minutes of a performance of Prepare to Meet Your Maker, his epic musical about the various exploits of Cemetaria, a voluptuous woman brought back to life by Quasimodo. It wasn't till much later that I actually met him and got to talk with him. When I did, I discovered that, although he is the
sweetest guy you're likely to meet, talking with him can be a fairly disconcerting experience. For instance, at his Romantic Enlightenment Variety Show I asked him what he meant by "Romantic Enlightenment." In response, he mumbled something about Rousseau, which kind of trailed off, as he returned his attention to arranging the wine and cheese platter for the guests.
DW: So your family comes from Italy?
Mad: Well, my father is from Naples but my mother was born in the United States.
Nic: My mother was born in Brooklyn, but my father was born on the Adriatic in a city called Bari.
DW: But you were both born here.
Mad and Nic: Yes.
Mon: So I guess that makes me and Peter 2nd generation.
Peter's music has never struck me as particularly Italian in nature. At best, you could probably connect him thematically with Dante, if only with part one of the divine comedy. I left off questioning about family history and started with Peter. (I should mention at this point that due to laziness and holiday frenetics, I finally transcribed this interview about four months after it actually occurred. Unfortunately, the tape wasn't so clear and I had only a vague memory of what people had said by that time. Nicolas especially suffered since he was the farthest away from the microphone. And they all tended to talk at the same time, making it impossible to decipher what any one of them was saying. Anyway, I think they said all this stuff. Please ignore anything that turns out not to be true.)
DW: So when did Peter start playing piano?
Mon: Well, you bought him a piano then.
Mad: Well, you know, we're at Macy's and we're looking at the toys and they had one of those little toy pianos and he played Jingle Bells. Well when I saw that happening I thought, "Oh this is great. He can do it. He can sound it out right on this dopey little piano." So the next thing you do... you go out and buy him a piano. And a grand piano at that. And a teacher.
The name of Peter's teacher was George Sahagan. And by the Dizozzas account he was a great teacher for Peter but was very unstructured. Thus, the first brick in the entertainer that Peter Dizozza would turn out to be was laid.
Nic: He could never be a concert pianist. He could only be an entertaining type of pianist. He does things his own way. He bounces around.
Mad: Well, he didn't have the kind of training that you'd want your son to have in the early formal stages of learning to play the piano. This guy was very relaxed with him and made piano playing fun for him. The early stages of learning to play the piano can be awful and he made him happy playing. However, it has a disadvantage because then you need the structure.
Mon: Well, I don't think we know that. He got a kick out of it so much. I also took piano lessons and he treated me very differently. He indulged Peter.
Nic: He let Peter do his thing. Jumping around and stuff.
DW: So when did Peter start composing?
Mon: He was writing songs on guitar when he was ten.
Nic: What was it? "Shake, shake, shake" or something?
Mon: No, he wrote a song about you, about being a lawyer.
(Sings) Running down to Wolfie's got papers to sign
You better hurry up before the clock strikes nine
It's five after nine and you're late again
You sneak into your office that you share with Ben
It looks like it's gonna be another lousy day again"
And then it goes on- (recites) "You got a new case and you're in a mess.
It looks as if it's going to be a tough one, yes."
DW: So he was already distrustful of working in an office by the time he was ten? He was a quick kid.
(It is interesting to note that Peter is now a lawyer.)
Mad: Oh of course, of course.
Mon: And he wrote a lot of heavy rock and roll stuff too. That's my favorite stuff he's written. Very heavy.
DW: So, what else was Peter involved in?
Mad: One thing you may not be familiar with is that Peter made movies. We were up in New Hampshire and we had this 8mm camera and he got involved in making this movie about a frog.
[At this point I asked them what the plot of the frog movie was. Unfortunately, I cannot for the life of me decipher their reply on the tape. You may ask, "Well, why don't you just call them up and ask again?" The answer: Embarrassment.
I told them when I was interviewing them that the article would be out in the next two weeks. Four months have now past and for some reason it just seems a little late to call up and say, 'Now about that interview. I need to clarify most of it...". Anyway, sorry. If you really want to know about the frog movie you should conduct your own interview.]
Mon: He also had a fascination with the dead railroad tracks around here. He'd make movies on the dead tracks; like a horror movie, about people killed by vampires and then they'd run over onto the tracks.
(Now this was sounding more like the Peter Dizozza of today.)
Nic: And he was very talented with photography. (pause) He wrote a Christmas carol. (pause) He wrote books too.
Mad: But nobody can understand them... I can't understand them.
DW: I read one of them. Mark of the Librarian.... Why are you rolling your eyes?
Nic: Well, he doesn't like simple sentences. He's not appealing to the masses. (pause) His sister often sings with him. You have to mention Monica too; she's part of the team.
Mon: Well when he writes new songs, he tries them out on me.
Mad: He has so many interests. For instance, we have a house in Connecticut and he put together a newspaper with a little printing press that you have to stamp each letter in. And he put together these activity papers and would distribute the paper. He's really done an awful lot, but with his music and stuff he's never been able to market it.
Mon: Well, I think it's hard to market himself because it's very very personal. He's writing what he knows about.
DW: Well, have you heard the Hermitage song?
Mad: Yeah, yeah I did. He sang it at the community center. It's very good... I don't know why he sings it. I always ask why.
DW: So there's no hermitage in his past?
Mad: No, he had lots of friends. I think sometimes he thinks he's a loner. But he's always had lots of friends.
Mon: He was very cool. He used to wear this blue velvet jacket all the time.
DW: When was this?
Mon: Early teens. 13, 14.
DW: Did he have a rebellious stage?
Mad: Sure. He went to Arch Bishop Malloy high school. And they had a dress code there. He was supposed to wear shirt and tie but somehow he invented the turtleneck with a tie. He did his thing. He had a band there.
Mon: Steak and Potatoes. SAP.
DW: That was his rock band that you mentioned earlier?
From there we moved onto his post high school life. He went to Queens College and majored in music and English with a minor in philosophy. Then he went to work for the city.
Nic: While he was there he took pictures of landmarks of the city which were so good that they exhibited them in the Federal Courthouse.
Mad: He developed all his own pictures.
Nic: There's chemicals in our bathtub still.
Mad: Then, while working in the comptroller's office, he went to law school at night. And while he was doing that he was putting on these musical productions that they called The Law Review. Those shows were outstanding. He's done a lot of performing, but definitely not with popular success.
Nic: Not yet.
Mon: Well, it's nice to hear you say that.
Mad: It's nice to hear him say that because Nicholas would rather he be a top-notch lawyer.
Nic: Well, law's tough. If he put his great brains to lawwork... but his heart's in music, not law.
DW: What about Cinema VII? (His production company)
Mon: Well, some guy at United Artists took a liking to him and would give him movies to watch.
Mad: We showed them in Connecticut, in the basement.
Mon: And he would charge admission. He put up a sign, "Cinema VII presents". And he was showing movies that were showing in theatres at the time.
Mad: When he was very young he'd run away from cowboy movies with the shooting and killing.
Nic: He didn't like all the violence.
Mon: And now if you see what he's writing.
Mad: He made a major about face. It was the same with horror movies. He couldn't watch them. And now... What he's thinking... I don't know. I think maybe it's misguided or misdirected somewhere. I mean there are many writers in the world that I'm sure I wouldn't understand. I'm sure Shakespeare is hard to understand.
Mon: Well, it's like piece of art. You look at a piece of art and it's your interpretation.
DW: Well, in his material I almost always know what's going on. It's just a little hard to tell why anything is happening. His material is very episodic and it's hard to connect all the vignettes sometimes. And as for what he's trying to get across... Have you seen Prepare to Meet Your Maker?
Mad: I've seen it and I don't understand it.
Nic: It's complicated.
Mon: Well, he took this spanish comic book and wrote a play and music around that. It's a little religious, with a fascination of death and sex and all that.
Mad: Well it's a mythical thing. My main interest when I watched it is in the music. That's what my ear was tuned to. But I don't understand what he's getting at. Why can't it be simple? He seems to spend a lot of time and effort in repeating it. And I know he has a lot of performers who seem to want to perform it... Well, even if I don't understand it, I love him.
Mon: Peter doesn't know how to lie. I don't think he's ever lied.
Mad: He's very open about things. Sometimes you want to reserve some things. That's why I find his subject matter which he seems to dwell upon is so...
Mon: Not uplifting?
Mad: Yes, not uplifting, but he seems to be cynical about it. It's a joke, he says.
DW: Well, maybe his writing is a kind of exorcism. A way to get all this stuff out.
And here, dear reader, is where I had my opportunity. Now was the time to ask, "Why do you suppose much of your son's work has a running central motif of necrophilia?" But I was having such a pleasant time and they were so nice to me and the pie was so good that I felt bad about bringing up this rather unsavory topic. And so, the moment was lost.
But you know, some things are better left unexplained. And after all this talk about Peter, I was beginning to understand his work. Since I interviewed his parents and sister I've seen other work of Peter's. At the end of September, I saw a reading of the first draft of Witchfinders, Dizozza's play about a group of beings who hunt down witches while living their lives backward in time (odd time movement is also a motif of Peter's), And all around the room there were confused and bewildered looks, but I was able to follow along, laugh merrily as Edmund (the central character, read by Mr. Peter Dizozza) described in detail how the best orgasms he's ever had were brought about by killing witches, and I left not confused and bewildered, but profoundly entertained by the production. The fact is, witches and orgasms are cracking good entertainment. Dead women brought back to life making love with hunchbacks... Get me a chair, I want to watch! It's like watching a staging of an old Victorian penny dreadful that built on an abstract intellectual platform. There is no more highbrow and no more lowbrow performances being done than those of Peter Dizozza. In fact, I highly recommend it as first date material. Nothing says "I want you," quite like Dizozza's quasi-religious erudite hedonistic love songs.
Mad: Peter didn't start talking until very late. He was already two when he said his first word.
DW: What was it?
Mad: Duck. One day he just came out and said it "duck, duck, duck." His next word was "phonograph."
© David Wechsler for the February, 1998 Antimatters
July 13, 1997 Prepare to Meet Your Maker photos by Bob Strain.
Others pictured: Erika Bell, Lisa Dery, Andy Uhlenhopp and Debra Wakefield.
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