Getting on with Gordon Getty

Gordon Getty pairs well with cab.
Gordon Getty pairs well with cab.

Plumpjack Winery, one of several enterprises on which composer and philanthropist Gordon Getty has partnered with San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom, was the setting of a recent press shindig that found your humble reporter sipping what Getty exuberantly described as “smash-mouth” cabernets. I had the pleasure of sitting next to Getty, who graciously obliged me with the chat below.

GG: Are you the guy that flew too close to the sun?

DH: No, that was Icarus. Daedalus made it.

GG: Thank you, thank you, thank you.

DH: But my parents got it from James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – Stephen Dedalus, not the myth.

GG: I have a piece of trivia for you. Where is Joyce buried?

DH: Switzerland.

GG: Ooh, he knows! Yes, Zurich. Here’s another piece of trivia. When John McCormack won the prize for the best Irish tenor in 1903 in Dublin, who came in second?

DH: I have no idea.

GG: James Joyce. A very great tenor. He wrote to his wife “I’m pretty damn good, but this guy McCormack is so much better than me.” Daedalus was the architect of the Labyrinth, right?

DH: Yes.

GG: Thank you. Mythical guy – or maybe real.

DH: He also created the apparatus with which the queen of Crete got knocked up with the Minotaur. When the Minotaur was born, the king assumed it was his kid, so instead of killing it, he had Daedalus build the labyrinth to contain it.

GG: I love it. It’s crazy but sweet.

DH: Are you working on an opera currently?

GG: I am. Just today I was re-orchestrating a part of my new opera, which is going to be recorded separately next year.

DH: What’s it about?

GG: Poe’s Fall of the House of Usher. I call it Usher House because I changed the story a little bit. Actually, Poe doesn’t give you a story, he gives you a few hints and then in the final scene he spells it out in great detail. I follow him on the final scene, but with the hints I’ve taken certain liberties.

DH: It seems like opera is making a comeback.

GG: I wouldn’t worry. Don’t worry about the future of classical music. Don’t worry. We all love classical music and don’t know it. How can I prove that?

DH: Film scores.

GG: Film scores. You got it! Daedalus Howell here!

DH: In terms of classical music, John Williams did more for my generation through his score for Star Wars than anyone preceding him.

GG: Not only Williams who kind of reconstructs classical music, but other big budget, A-movie scores might be fifty to a hundred percent classical music. And the people sitting in the chair don’t even know it.

DH: There’s this notion that a film score should be imperceptible, which I disagree with. I think a score should augment a film.

GG: Movies are operas. If you took the music out, they would be unreleasable.

DH: As an artist and a patron of the arts, you’re a weird hybrid – that doesn’t happen a lot. Winemaking – is it an art or a business?

GG: It is an art, but I don’t do it, I’m just a patron of it. Tony Biagi is an artist, Michel Rolland is an artist.

DH: Even if he just consulting?

GG: He is the artist. The others are the practitioners. He’s the one out there that tells the sheep from the goats.

DH: I’ve been looking for an analogy all night. In rock ‘n’ roll there’s the producer and the band. The producer can sometimes define the sound of the band to make a hit. Phil Spector, George Martin are producers and the Beatles are the band. Are winemakers producers or the band?

GG: But what’s a winemaker? Am I a winemaker? I don’t know. I don’t even know how the damn stuff is made. I’m just an enthusiast and backer and investor.

DH: But your taste, I’m sure, holds some sway.

GG: It does, because if I didn’t like this there would be long faces.