I've exchanged a few emails with a NY friend about Company, the Tony nominated revival musical that apparently is all the rage on Broadway right now. It's Sondheim, heralded as a key artistic voice of the Baby Boom Generation, (kudos to researcher, Kit) a revisiting of the original 1970's version. I haven't seen the play (I was six when it had it's first largely unsuccessful run), but I've read with interest the lyrics of all its songs, mainly because I always like to see what all the buzz is about, whenever there is cultural buzz about something.
Company is all about modern people being very busy and surrounded by people, and yet being profoundly lonely. Here, for example, are the lyrics to the song that comes at the end of the play, that is supposed to be a breakthrough for the main character, Robert.
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Somebody, hold me too close,
Somebody, hurt me too deep,
Somebody, sit in my chair
And ruin my sleep
And make me aware
Of being alive,
Somebody, need me too much,
Somebody, know me too well,
Somebody, pull me up short
And put me through hell
And give me support
For being alive,
Make me alive.
Make me confused,
Mock me with praise,
Let me be used,
Vary my days.
But alone is alone, not alive.
Somebody, crowd me with love,
Somebody, force me to care,
Somebody, make me come through,
I'll always be there,
As frightened as you,
To help us survive
Sigh. A lovely use of language, and yet there is still that echo behind the words of the narcissistic refrain that defines the Boomers, the sad whimper of which might end up going nowhere except with them to the grave. The subtext here seems to be, "It's not fair no one loves me. Somebody make me happy!" Or, the subtext of that subtext, "God, you have screwed up again!"
First of all, the obvious thing that seems to be missing to the person singing this song is, "There's a reason nobody loves you. It's because you haven't really loved anybody." Is it really that difficult to figure out what the twilight year legacy would be of a lifetime of "looking out for number one"? Did nobody stop to figure that Botox and tennis weekends weren't going to be able to love them back someday? I always figured it was a trade-off that they were making. But now, the generation that raised its kids according to the creed 'real love means you never have to say your sorry,' wants to have the security of love and caring as they approach death. I am not angry here, really. Just amazed.
On the plus side, it is a good thing that the successful revival of this piece right now seems to indicate that the Boomer Generation is ready to accept that all of the revolutions of the last half a century have basically resulted in such a profound alienation that it feels like death to live. And another huge step forward for the Boomers singing this song is the recognition that love and discomfort kind of go together. So, not having fun all the time is actually a key to finding a life-giving love. Huge! Huge.
If directed to human beings, this song is a frightening and destructive kind of idolatry. No human being can completely free you from your ultimate alienation, because we were designed to be filled only by our relationship with God. If the Somebody in this song is God, then this becomes a stirring and evocative prayer, in line with the psalms that mankind has been singing to I AM WHO AM for thousands of years.
The only thing is there needs to be another verse in this song, and I don't know if Sondheim's generation has enough time left to start singing it. If they do, inspite of all their meanderings and flailings around, they will make it. The last verse needs to be something like this:
Somebody soften my heart,
Somebody forgive me my sins,
Somebody shatter my pride,
And teach me to pray,
And help me to die,
So I can really discover what it means
To be alive.
What you really want to say to the poor soul who is singing for "Somebody" to give their life meaning is, "Dearest, you need to worship God."
For now, I take Sondheim's cry and raise him one Litany of Humility by Cardinal Merry del Val:
Litanty of Humility
Music by the Wisdom of the Ages; Lyrics by Cardinal Merry del Val
O Jesus, meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being loved. Deliver me Jesus
From the desire of being extolled. Deliver me Jesus
From the desire of being honored ...
From the desire of being praised ...
From the desire of being preferred to others...
From the desire of being consulted ...
From the desire of being approved ...
From the fear of being humiliated ...
From the fear of being despised...
From the fear of suffering rebukes ...
From the fear of being calumniated ...
From the fear of being forgotten ...
From the fear of being ridiculed ...
From the fear of being wronged ...
From the fear of being suspected ...
That others may be loved more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I ...
That, in the opinion of the world,
others may increase and I may decrease ...
That others may be chosen and I set aside ...
That others may be praised and I unnoticed ...
That others may be preferred to me in everything...
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should…