Permission

Curious happenings surround the publication of the stage version of my short story “Scale”. Commissioned by the redoubtable young impresario Ian Osborne, the play — adverted on its title page as “a musical regression in five acts” — features snippets of some of the most ephemeral pop hits of 1992, sung onstage by what the directions describe as “a highly mannered soprano”. Brad Morrow, who publishes a literary journal called Conjunctions, out of Bard College in the States, expressed an interest in running the first act of “Scale”, but after the proofs arrived I realised that we had not sought permission for the use of such lyrical gems as “Rhythm is a Dancer” by that once-popular beat combo Snap.

You will, of course, recall the ditty, which has such lines as “Rhythm is a dancer / It’s a source companion / You can feel it everywhere”, as well as the marvellous simile “It’s as serious as cancer”. Approaches were duly made to the song’s publishers, but, while acknowledging that requests for the cancer riff had been made in the past, the permission for further use was rebuffed. I was somewhat gobsmacked: the entire lyric is freely available in this medium and Conjunctions, while not entirely recondite, has a circulation of a few thousand at best. Concerned for the forthcoming West End production of “Scale” (what would we do without “Rhythm is a Dancer”? It’s as if Shakespeare was refused permissions by Plutarch), I wrote to the music publishers again; and now, here’s the sting: a very kind person called Mikki Francis (male, female, Buffy fan?), did secure the Snap permission — however, irony of ironies, her email to me was “tucked” behind her previous one in what I later learned is called a “conversation thread”.

Somehow I’d managed to hit the button that activates this “facility” in my email programme. When I deactivated it, hundreds of unanswered emails came back to view: the fag-ends of exchanges, at the time misapprehended, that had led to injurious consequences. Indeed, the conversational-thread bollocks had been going for months, and had I not fallen victim to it, I wouldn’t be here, in a web shack in Spitzbergen, eating cloudberry jam, while a narwhal treats my fungus with his horn. I may never make it back for the play’s opening night, still, rhythm is a dancer…