Thursday, November 20, 2014

"Enjoy these precious days," whisper their leaves.

There's a massive gingko tree in Isham Park, and I pass it every day on my way to and from the subway. It's gorgeous and really huge. I don't know if I'd say that I consider it a friend, but I do sort of say hello to it, or something like that. I acknowledge it. The way the stairs wind down the hill out of the park, heading straight toward it from above, puts the tree suddenly in front of you in a way that makes it impossible not to sort of bow.

The leaves turned bright yellow this week like they do in the fall. I wanted to take a picture on Monday -- I have a friend in Austin who is an amateur botanist obsessed with gingkos and from time to time I'll send him a photo of it -- but I was running late for work so I didn't, thinking I would do it later. The next morning, all the leaves had fallen. Every single one of them, and the sidewalk was paved solid yellow with them. Later that day I read that all the Gingkos all lose their leaves overnight, every tree, all on the same night.

There are thousands of gingkos in New York, in most cities, but the only other one I remember that was so large was in front of the DePauw University library in Greencastle, Indiana, where my mother worked when I was in high school. That tree -- and I don't know if this is exactly how it works but for some reason it's stuck in my head -- was close to another tree of the opposite sex, and when that happens they develop yellow-orange fruit that drop in the fall and stink like fresh vomit and diarrhea and sex. It's a noxious, unsettlingly human smell that seems to drift for miles.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

My Musical Education, cont.

Because I came at musical theater writing sort of sideways -- I loved the golden age stuff, Cole Porter, Lerner and Lowe, Rogers and whoever, etc., from before I even have any memory of it, probably for no more interesting reason than that I'm gay, but in college I was more interested in serious theater and then I went to art school and then played in bands, because that's what you do after art school, and that led me back to experimental theater which 30 years later has me writing musicals -- there's a whole raft of material from the 70s through the present that I missed.

I used to say sort of glibly that I didn't like Sondheim. (I used to say, even more glibly, that I blamed his influence for most of the contemporary musical theater that I hate, which was not technically a criticism of Sondheim, but it was definitely obnoxious.)

But just a couple nights ago I was telling C a story I had forgotten, that when I was 14 I heard Judy Collins sing "Send in the Clowns" on the radio and I felt like I'd been struck by lightning I was so moved in a way I couldn't have describe then and still probably can't. I had no way of finding out what the song was (I guess I could have called the station but that didn't occur to me) pre-Google, so I sat by the radio for hours listening to that station, my finger poised on the record button of my tape recorder held up to the speaker, waiting for the song to come on again, for days and days. I was haunted by it. It never came on, and it was years before I found out what that song was.

And I love Sweeney Todd, but I always attributed that anomaly to the fact that the original Broadway production with Angela Lansbury and Len Cariou was the first Broadway show I saw. I would have been dazzled for life no matter what the show was, was my thinking.

In my defense, there is still a lot of Sondheim I don't really get. I'm looking forward to the movie of Into the Woods coming out soon because I'm hoping Meryl Streep will show me a way into that score that I've never found on my own.

All that to say: a few days ago I was having a conversation with someone about the new piece I'm working on and the music I'm listening to for reference (lots of Americana, with a particular ear to Puritan church singing, Salvation Army bands, Stephen Foster, Appalachian ballads, Sacred Harp, and folky blues), this person mentioned Assassins. The only thing I knew about Assassins was that Neil Patrick Harris was in it on Broadway and that it's about ... assassins.

Intrigued, I downloaded the cast album and listened to it this morning. Wow. I love this so much. I stand happily corrected. I will never again say I don't like Sondheim.

(And now we know what all the reviews will say we cribbed.)