Derry, Northern Ireland

Derry, Northern Ireland
A book I'm working on is set in this town.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Fall of the gods I'm reading "Finishing the Hat" by Stephen Sondheim. He's discussing his shows and lyrics up to 1981 in the book, which includes "West Side Story". I think that musical has some of the loveliest, most meaningful lyrics ever written in it...and he takes issue with parts of them. Seems he hates fake poetry or poetry in lyrics for their own sake.

Well...he thinks what he wrote for Tony to sing during the "Tonight" medley --

"Tonight, tonight,
Won't be just any night.
Tonight there will be no morning star."

-- that it makes no sense for a kid who's probably never finished high school. It's being sung as he's on his way to stop the rumble that gets Riff killed and makes him the murderer of Bernardo. It so perfectly foreshadows everything -- tonight there will be no morning star because he'll be dead before the sun rises, along with his buddy and his enemy -- that to me, the lyrics make perfect sense...dramatically, character-wise, plot-wise, everything. But Sondheim doesn't like it because Tony's not educated enough to speak like that, or something. How'd he put it? "You can't even see the stars in NYC, unless you go to the planetarium."

Listen, I'm not the world's greatest writer. Hell, I can barely keep any sort of consistency in my grammar and character's voices throughout a book. But the first time I heard this...the first time I saw "West Side Story"...I knew that line was perfect, just as it is. And I think it even more-so, today.

It works for the character -- Tony being a dreamer who has ambition and hope.
It works for the romance -- Tony is off to stop the rumble because he's in love, and once everything's settled he and Maria will be together for the rest of the night and it will be like forever.
It works for the drama -- anyone who knows the story of "Romeo and Juliet" knows how this will end (and if they don't know it, they should go back to school) so it's not only a lyric of hope and love and longing, it's poignant and dread-inducing.
As for foreshadowing, see the note immediately above.

And Sondheim doesn't like it. I'm amazed. He has a Pulitzer, Oscar, Tonys out the wazoo, Drama Desk Awards, Grammies, a few Oliviers and even an OBIE. And I think he's wrong as regards his attitude towards his own work.

Wow...maybe I've been working on my ego a bit too much.

But the thing is -- dammit, he is wrong. It doesn't matter about the reality behind the lyric or the character or the setting; what matters is if it works for the truth of the story. And in this case, it worked perfectly. So that trumps everything.

So there, Stephen Sondheim! JamTheCat hath spoke.

I've also been reading "The Catholics of Ulster" and am getting a surprising insight as to why the Protestants in that province are so intransigent as regards Catholics. What was considered Catholicism in Ireland in the 17th Century, when the Protestants were beginning to take over, was really more of a pan-theism very loosely aligned with the Pope. And they saw it as undisciplined and a danger to the natural order of things because their version of Christianity was the one chosen by God. Of course. And events have only reinforced that idea to where it's not just an attitude, it's part of their DNA. Small wonder they're so lost; the truth conflicts completely with their iron-clad beliefs, and belief will triumph over truth any day. Just look at today's Tea Party.

Hm...also just had insight as to why Stephen Sondheim snarked about "Tonight."

Well, comparison to that, my ego's not all THAT big. Just big enough for me with a little room left over for chocolate pudding.

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