Tribute to a Master
RIP music legend Stephen Sondheim, 91. Born in NYC, he won nine Tony Awards, an Oscar, eight Grammys and a Pulitzer Prize. That’s all nice but what really matters is his work. I am not an expert on his canon, but I can cite large chunks of his lyrics from West Side Story. I played the soundtrack countless times and sang along, all parts, blown away by the power and beauty of the lyrics. From it I learned there’s more to music than the Top 40 and rock n roll. It is not an exaggeration to say it is one of the things that sustained me. I look forward to the great Steven Spielberg’s adaptation, which is coming soon — please don’t let it be PC. In tribute, I’ll pluck parts from each song from what is my favorite work of art, which did the impossible — outdoing Shakespeare. The Jets Song: “…You’re never alone/ You’re never disconnected/ You’re home with your own/ When company’s expected/ You’re well protected.” Something’s Coming: “…I got a feelin’ there’s a miracle due/ Gonna come true, comin’ to me…” Gee, Officer Krupke, a song that brilliantly lampoons every theory of delinquency: “…Officer Krupke, you’ve done it again./ This boy don’t need a job, he needs a year in the pen./ It ain’t just a question of misunderstood/ Deep down inside him, he’s no good!… Maria, as beautiful a melody as ever composed: “…Say it loud and there’s music playing/ Say it soft and it’s almost like praying…” Tonight, which perfectly captures the hyperbole of young love: “…The world is full of light/ With suns and moons all over the place/ Tonight Tonight/ The world is wild and bright/ going mad shooting sparks into space…” America, biting social commentary highlighted by wonderful humor: “…Free to be anything you choose./ Free to wait tables and shine shoes…” Cool: “…Don’t get hot,/ ’Cause man, you got/ Some high times ahead./ Take it slow,/ And Daddy-o,/ You can live it up and die in bed…” One Hand, One Heart, which dear friends included at their wedding: “…Make of our lives one life,/ Day after day, one life./ Now it begins, now we start:/ One hand, one heart…” Tonight (Quintet), a rousing piece that cannot be topped, only equaled by a rare few: “…The Jets are comin’ out on top Tonight./ We’re gonna watch Bernardo drop Tonight!/ That Puerto Rican punk’ll/ Go down/ And when he’s hollered Uncle/ We’ll tear up the town!…” I Feel Pretty: “…Modest and pure,/ Polite and refined,/ Well-bred and mature/ And out of her mind!…” Somewhere: “Some day, Somewhere,/ We’ll find a new way of living,/ We’ll find a way of forgiving…” A Boy Like That/ I Have a Love, which I quoted in a short story just yesterday: “…I hear your words,/ And in my head/ I know they’re smart,/ But my heart, Anita, But my heart…” And what came up in my guitar rotation this morning but Maria and Somewhere, which I taught myself to tap out years ago and rarely complete without error. I’ll close with lyrics from a show with which I’m completely unfamiliar, Merrily We Roll Along, which I first heard of on Michael Bourne’s Sunday morning Singers Unlimited show on WBGO, 88.3, recorded by Carly Simon. Not a Day Goes By: “…And cursing and crying/ And turning and reaching/ And waking and dying/ And no, not a day goes by/ Not a blessed day/ But you’re still somehow part of my life/ And you won’t go away/ So there’s hell to pay…” Who hasn’t been there at some point in the fantastic journey that is life? Thank you, sir.
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