When songwriter and Seattle native Peter Galperin entered a songwriting contest sponsored by the city’s Parks Department, he said, he wound up with an eight-minute tune about Robert Moses. It was too long for the competition, but the song led him to create “BLDZR: The Gospel According to Moses,” a rock musical about the controversial builder. The show receives its first public reading at the Triad Theater on April 7.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
THE BEGINNINGOne of the reasons I moved to New York in the first place was I didn’t want to spend my life in a car, and I felt it was one of the few places you could use mass transit. So I came to New York and the subways were just kind of disgusting and scary, and I found out about “The Power Broker” by Robert Caro. It’s a huge, 1,300-page book but I read it and it was like an epiphany for me. I was like ‘Oh, this is why it’s such a mess here,’ because [Moses] spent 45 years building roads and bridges and not putting any money into mass transit from the 1920s to the late 1960s. And so I thought, this is a great story. I’m sure someone will make a movie out of it someday. I kept waiting for that movie to happen, and it never did.
THE PROCESSI was reading these books, and then I’d write a song. I had this one song to start with and then I’d go, ‘this episode, this scene, this could be a good song.’ I was feeding all these kind of anecdotal stories to [co-writer] Daniel [Scot Kadin], and he would write up a scene and we’d kind of store it, and then I’d feed him another story, another scene. There was an incident—Moses tore down a building because it belonged to a rival of Governor Smith—and I’d say to Daniel, I think that’s a scene. So we generated all these vignettes, and at the same time I was trying to figure out the timeline. I had to sketch out this long timeline from 1922 to 1968. Jones Beach opens 1929, Triborough Bridge completed 1936, things like that.
THE CHARACTERHe was a creature of his time and the automobile was the disruptive technology of its time, just like the Internet and the computer are today. If you’re a young person today, you can’t imagine doing anything without your phone or your computer, and so Moses as a young person in the 1920s saw the car as the future. I think there’s a parallel here for our world today in that we don’t know the downside of the technology that we’re embracing. That takes years. In the 1920s nobody imagined that the car would contribute to 50,000 highway deaths a year and pollution and suburban sprawl and the death of the inner cities. It was just looked at as this wonderful new technology that solved a lot of problems immediately. That’s how I kind of viewed this whole concept. The musical is about the disruptive technology of that era. I think it’s a pretty honest portrayal of who he is, as someone who is an idealist at the start, who rallied against the entrenched political and business interests of the time.