Toci - a rock opera about humanity, love, and chocolate

by Peter Markush/Mark Rock

toci logo

What is this web site?

This web site was created by me, Peter Markush (and my alter ego Mark Rock) as a place to post writings and recordings on my way to completion of a rock opera about money, power, love, and chocolate. It is a work in progress.

Executive Summary

An evil industrial chocolate mogul, Jack, who uses slave labor and child labor in his business is introduced by a mutual friend, Michael, to a female craft chocolate maker, Millicent, who is considering selling her business because her mother is sick. Millicent is enlightened and highly ethical businesswoman who treats her workers as partners. Despite themselves, Jack and Millicent fall in love. Jack, Millicent, and Michael begin to meet on a regular basis to help process their feelings. Jack is transformed in the process, buys Millicent's business, and uses chocolate to spread love and justice throughout the world.

The music we've created so far

Life is Full of Challenges/I Love Chocolate

I Get the Feeling

I Love Mean People

Why Do Something Different?

My Mind Says No But My Heart is Hard of Hearing

I Don't Want to Be an Asshole Anymore

Unwind

It's Never Enough

Why a rock opera?

As an emotionally damaged classically-trained cellist kid, I wholeheartedly adopted rock music as a teenager and took refuge in it. Perhaps because of my classical background, I especially resonated with the grandiosity of The Who's rock operas, Tommy and Quadrophenia. I started playing bass guitar, writing songs, and playing in bands. A fairly detailed rock opera concept came to me in a dream when I was 18 or so, although I never wrote much music for it. Two more unfinished rock operas (not counting this one) are in my files somewhere.

The idea for Toci came to me because I wanted to make a difference in the world. The first, step, I knew, was to work on making myself a better person. This I did through years of therapy and spiritual work, which is ongoing. Once I started looking outside of myself, I became interested in the idea of, instead of helping the underserved, helping rich and powerful people become agents of positive change. These are the people who can truly make a difference on a global scale.

I looked for explanations for why powerful people usually seem to do a lot of damage, reading Ghandi and Martin Luther King -- and Ray Dalio -- to gain insight into the exceptions. I did some reading on human behavior and psychopathy, and, although I've really just scratched the surface, I've looked at the ideas of people like Christopher Boehm (the evolution of the conscience), Amanda Ridley (altruism in animals), Kevin Dutton (The Wisdom of Psychopaths), and Robert Sapolsky (Behave, about the scientific reasons behind why humans behave in the great and terrible ways we do).

Somewhere along the line, I discovered craft chocolate, thanks in no small part to Jennifer Mowad at Cocoa and Spice, who turned me on to The Slow Melt podcast. There are small companies all over the world who are improving the conditions of cacao farmers and at the same time creating incredibly delicious (and, consequently, expensive) chocolate. I became obsessed with chocolate and discovered that slave labor and child labor are often used in the production of industrial chocolate. (The situation has improved and is complicated. I think Kristy Leissle does a great job of discussing all the nuances in her 2018 book Cocoa.) It became clear to me that cacao and chocolate were the perfect subject matter for a rock opera that explores good and bad human behavior, love, power, and money.

(Unless you've paid at least $8 for a regular-sized bar of chocolate, you've probably never tasted craft chocolate. Buy some here if you're curious.)

Toci is the name of a goddess from Aztec mythology. She is known as the mother goddess and as the "heart of the earth". I figured it was a good name for a rock opera about cacao since cacao also figures large in Aztec mythology.

Currently, I'm still just writing and recording songs and jotting down ideas. I don't know what form the final product will take. Theater production? Movie? Long form animated music video? All of the above? Don't know. I've created this site as a way of recording my ideas and communicating them to any and all interested parties -- audience, collaborators, investors, and anybody curious. If you have suggestions or want to get involved, me.

Welcome!

Plot synopsis

[Note: Words and music for all songs by Peter Markush, Copyright 2019-2020 by Peter Markush. Musicians on recordings are Stuart Holme: bass; John Allietta: drums; Peter Markush: everything else.]

Act 1

[song: Life is Full of Challenges/I Love Chocolate] Opening shows terrible worker conditions at a cacao plantation in Ivory Coast. Slave labor, child labor. Different scenes follow the chain of command all the way up to the boss, the CEO (and chairman) of Ares, the #2 chocolate manufacturer in the world: Jack Ares – angry, mean, unhappy, feared, hated, addicted, rich, ugly, unhappily married, white.

Next we see a series of scenes contrasting with the first series: workers engaged in a spiritually and culturally rich cacao cultivation experience having a close relationship with buyers (chocolate makers) full of mutual respect, chocolate maker Toci employees also happy and fulfilled, all the way up to CEO of craft chocolate maker, Millicent Malliard (based on an actual Trinidadian chocolate maker) – happy, loved, engaged, poor, beautiful, happily single, enlightened, woman of color.

A New York Times reporter/writer, Michael Churchill, caught between the many worlds of what he likes to write about: people like Jack and people like Millicent, and all the people in between. Bustling scenes from newsroom and travel. From the same neighborhood as Jack, friends as kids (different song?), his life is stressful but fulfilling, moments of anguish but also joy, happily married, looking for answers to how to make his life better and how to have a positive impact. Married to Millicent's sister, Rachel. Striving for happiness and fulfillment, middle class, marital strife at times, man of color.

[song: I Get the Feeling] Michael at work. First verse: Something terrible has happened (at an Ares-affilliated cacao farm?) and he's on the scene to gather information. Second verse: He's writing, wondering if his report will get published. Third verse: Something wonderful is happening (at a Toci-affilliated cacao farm?) and he's on the scene to gather information.

[song: ?] Michael's desk phone rings. It's his wife, Rachel. She passes on the bad news that her mother has pancreatic cancer and may not live much longer. Rachel is going to visit her mother, Julia, in Trinidad. Michael comes later. Millicent is there, of course. Millicent knows about walking qigong, which has helped cancer patients survive who were otherwise thought to be hopeless. She wants to spend time with her mother, doing walking qigong but also ministering to her and just being with her during what may be a very short time left on Earth, but is too busy with the chocolate company. Eventually, after Rachel and Michael have returned to New York, she begins to consider selling the company – a very difficult decision considering how much she loves it.

Having been given the green light by Millicent and the conditions of sale, Michael has lunch with his old buddy, Jack, and lets him know that the CEO of Toci is looking for a buyer. Jack, interested in cashing in on the craft chocolate trend, flies to Trinidad to check it out.

[song: I Love Mean People - sung partly by Michael at lunch with Jack, partly by Millicent in her meeting with Jack below.]

Jack has every intention of ripping Millicent off and zero intention of maintaining her company's sustainability and social responsibility principles and practices. Millicent sizes Jack up pretty quickly but is compassionate and empathetic.

[song: My Mind Says No But My Heart is Hard of Hearing] Jack is unexpectedly moved by Millicent's honesty, empathy, and compassion. Millicent is unexpectedly moved by the tiny window of vulnerability that Jack has opened. Although Jack and Millicent are about as far from each other's type, romantic/sexual chemistry arises between them.

[song: Why Do Something Different?] Millicent encourages Jack to try and run his business more like she runs hers.

[song: I Don't Want to Be an Asshole Anymore] Jack is inspired to start working on being a better person.

 

Act 2

Michael, Millicent, and Jack have begun to meet via remote video on a regular basis to talk about their lives. Millicent and Jack have so far managed to just stay friends and potential business associates.

Jack begins to see a therapist.

[song: Unwind] The stress of his job and life gets to Michael sometimes.

Through therapy, regular talks with Millicent and Michael, and meditation, Jack gradually undergoes a transformation. He agrees to Millicent's terms of sale and the values espoused by Toci are spread worldwide.

Millicent spends time with her mom bonding and doing walking qigong. Julia gets better.

Thanks in part to his talks with Millicent and Jack, Michael takes a lighter view of life: Bad things happen. We're evolved from animals. Just do the best you can, don't judge, and don't let the darkness take hold of you.

Jack and Millicent finally get together.

[song: Why Do Something Different? reprise]  Finale

To Do (partial list)

Write song for Millicent about spirituality

Write mother/daughter song

Finish writing "Something Different" reprise

Connector songs

Work on improving recordings of "Something Different" and "Asshole"

Re-record 2nd verse vocals for "I Get the Feeling"

Promotional video