Finnegans Wake in Performance

ShemSong with Mike Watt


Starting in November of 2015 and culminating with its release in May of 2017, my collaboration with rock bassist Mike Watt on a music/spoken-word adaptation of Finnegans Wake chapter 7 – commonly referred to as “Shem the Penman” is now available at Derek Pyle’s “Waywords and Meansigns” website. I am presently working on a film using the audio piece as soundtrack, and links to both audio- and film-clips can be found on my latest blogpage. Enjoy.


Don’t Panic: it’s only Finnegans WakeDon't Panic It's Only Finnegans Wake banner

During the 1990s and early noughts, I went to the trouble of memorizing for performance a little over 100 pages of some of the more well known passages in Finnegans Wake. Having performed entire chapters at various Joyce conferences around the world – Berkeley, Trieste, Miami, Ithaca, etc. – I eventually started working on bringing the Wake to a wider audience, mounting productions for various fringe festivals as well as local productions in my hometown of Santa Fe.

The core of the the show remained my off-book performances, but it seemed cruel in a way not to provide lay-audiences with at least a little bit of background and context as to what they were listening to. More importantly, I also came to understand that as much as I would have liked my own performance to be the show’s centerpiece, the real star of the evening was, of course, Joyce’s stupendously acrobatic writing.

DON’T PANIC: it’s only Finnegans Wake, as I came to call it, eventually evolved into a multimedia presentation involving commentary, music, even audience participation. These were facilitated by a large 12-foot-high projection of the text from the book, which in turn afforded me the opportunity to include illustrations, bouncing-ball singalongs, and occasional annotations. Working with the text in this fashion eventually brought about the inception of my thunderword tutorials, my animation projects, and the format for the annual Bloomsday in Santa Fe celebrations I’ve had the honor to organize since 2015.