Sunday, March 23, 2014

Isn't it rich?

Ah, yes. Detox day.

We all need them from time to time, don'tcha think? Just a day to relax, unwind, do whatever makes you happy, forget your troubles awhile.

Planned on getting outside on Saturday -- gotta work on that Dino tan -- but my back had other ideas. Yep. Having some pain down there. Just hoping it's not a kidney stone. Those are bad words in my house after giving birth to 13 of them.

But, all wasn't lost. I caught a complete "Dean Martin Show" and was able to listen to Jonathan Schwartz's birthday tribute to one of my favorite composers, Stephen Sondheim. (I cannot believe that man is 84.)

I'm not a huge fan of Broadway musicals, but I do like a few. Rodgers and Hart and Rodgers and Hammerstein are favorites, but Sondheim's songs touch my soul.

My favorite -- it's hard to pick just one -- is "A Little Night Music," an adaptation of Bergman's "Smiles of a Summer Night." Love that play.

And, although it's a cliche, my favorite Sondheim song is, you guessed it, "Send In The Clowns."

Everybody has their interpretation of the tune. Mine is that it's about a man and a woman looking back at a relationship that didn't make it. She -- in this case Desiree -- runs into the man -- in this case, the lawyer Fredrik -- who has wed but not consummated a marriage with a much younger woman. During the course of the play, Desiree looks back on the disappointments and missed opportunities of her life. It's a universal human theme.

In a 1973 interview at the Lincoln Center, Sondheim said:

"I get a lot of letters over the years asking what the title means and what the song's about; I never thought it would be in any way esoteric. I wanted to use theatrical imagery in the song, because she's an actress, but it's not supposed to be a circus [...] 

"It's a theater reference meaning 'if the show isn't going well, let's send in the clowns'; in other words, 'let's do the jokes.' I always want to know, when I'm writing a song, what the end is going to be, so 'Send in the Clowns' didn't settle in until I got the notion, 'Don't bother, they're here,' which means that 'We are the fools.'"

I've been in that situation once. Right romance. Wrong time. It happens. How you deal with it is what's important.

The song was written for Glynis Johns. I like the covers by Judy Collins, Mandy Patinkin and Barbra Streisand, but -- to me -- the definitive cover is by Francis Albert Sinatra.

Frank recorded it twice. The first attempt in 1973 is fine but flawed. It's a Gordon Jenkins arrangement, and as Schwartz said on his show, it's filled with too many fiddles.

Schwartz sent Sinatra a letter suggesting he record the song again just like he performed it in concert -- quietly, with only Bill Miller's piano as an accompaniment.

So, in May 1976, that's what Sinatra did. It's magic. Listen. See what I mean?

Useless trivia: This is also the only Sinatra song recorded in a studio that features a spoken word introduction.

Anyway. It was good to hear Jon Schwartz tonight. Due to my busy schedule (and frequent migraines), I haven't had a chance to listen to him of late. His was a fitting tribute to a true pioneer. Sondheim's music is magic, his lyrics are lovely, and his plays are (almost always) perfect.

Isn't it rich, indeed!

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