Buckle in, because this one’s quite a trip! “The Book of Magic” was the opening track to The Bard’s Tale and holds the distinction of being the most progressively-influenced and dual-natured song in my early catalog.
Year Composed: 1987
About the Song
“The Book of Magic” is without question the most complex, multi-faceted song of my early days. It draws very heavily on my progressive rock influences, particularly in its opening section, and completely changes character midway through. I really think this song was designed to do two things: kick off my second collection of songs in a way that was thoroughly different and distinguishable from the first, and test the limits of what I was capable of at that point, both technologically as well as performance-wise.
The opening sampled synth line provides a nice foundation for the free-formy bass and polyrhythmic bell lines that follow. Much like the title track from Unearthed Arcana, there is no formal song structure per se until very late, after the organ takes over and more traditional rhythmic and melodic elements arrive to pull it back into familiar pop territory. I always thought of this song as having a rather “Jekyll and Hyde” character to it. The first half conveys uncertainty, anxious anticipation, and a kind of percolating energy that builds a bit, but never reaches the point of being full-out incendiary. The second half is all about resolution and transformation. As much as I love bringing progressive elements into my music, I never really ventured quite as far down this path again. I suppose that’s one of the risks that comes along with pattern-based writing and arranging: you can develop a sort of tunnel vision, where you only think in terms of patterns. I couldn’t even tell you how many bars the first section of this song occupies before the bell line comes in. The idea of making it an 8-bar section, or 16 bars or whatever never even crossed my mind. I simply went wherever the music seemed to want to lead me.