WASHINGTON – It was a very good death, the day after Thanksgiving dinner with friends. The musical composer and lyricist was 91 years old, born in 1930. Ironically, Stephen Sondheim belongs to America’s little-known generation.
Lin-Manuel Miranda, author of “Hamilton”, joined the outdoor crowd of mourning Broadway singers. It was a unique moment in New York, a brilliant shared heartbreak. Sing and cry to warm the cold of November, to make heard the work of a beloved man.
Who doesn’t know a Sondheim song by heart, even if you don’t know it’s theirs? “Send the Clowns” is a bittersweet ballad. “Sunday in the park with George” is an inventive piece about artist George Seurat. “A funny thing happened on the way to the forum” is being staged on college campuses everywhere.
“West Side Story” was a daring match between the words of Sondheim and the music of Leonard Bernstein. They worked together when Sondheim was 25.
Sondheim’s songs are engraved in our octaves of emotions. His sensitivity was that of a courteous New Yorker, supervised by masters Bernstein and Oscar Hammerstein. He has surpassed them all in the American musical pantheon.
A complex understanding of character was Sondheim’s greatest gift. It wasn’t always the sound of music. His tunes played dark notes with joy, wit, irony and perhaps above all, dream.
Now let me sing the praises of “quiet” generation, born during the Depression and World War II. Named by William Strauss and Neil Howe, the authors argue that each generation is unique, shaped by turning points.
Yet the couple wronged this generation, forgotten because they were few in number – hard times hurt the birth rate – stuck between the so-called tallest and the tallest. “Baby boomers.”
What cultural clichés these generations are now. The baby boomers have given us (two) too many presidents. They cling to their inordinate power and influence, reports the Boston Globe. And the “the greatest” the template is in place, Tom Brokaw. Let others be the judge. Still, his white men got the greatest opportunity ever.
The “underestimated” the silences are the most brilliant ever recorded.
Rich with poor immigrant children from the Old World, it was the era of excellent public schools. Social and mobility mixers. The separate schools in Baltimore and Washington were also excellent. Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton, DD.C., descendant of runaway slaves, graduated from a.
Martin Luther King Jr. was born in 1929. Jacqueline Bouvier, also future first lady. Two brilliant friends from academia and journalism were born in 1930. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was born in 1933, lucky to be one of the first generation of women with even a chance for professional success.
Does the name Anthony Fauci ring a bell? Yeah, the Brooklyn delivery guy for his dad’s drugstore. Vintage 1930s novelists Philip Roth and John Updike captured their WASP and Jewish worlds. Singers Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and Judy Collins are counted in the “quiet” Category. As strange as it sounds.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and the late Representative John Lewis, D-Ga., Were born in 1940. Pelosi, born to the mayor of Baltimore, is the greatest orator of all time, with a finesse that amazes me. Just watch it pass President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bills when jaded pundits said it couldn’t be done.
Here is the urban joke. Biden is in the “quiet” generation, so named in part because they did not have a president. Then he was elected president at the end of his life.
Hearing about the 1930s from my parents – a teacher and a doctor – I know another reason to cherish children. They grew up with President Franklin Roosevelt.
With his cheerful voice, they soaked up American fairness, decency and optimism, reassuring in the worst of times. My father, the son of a widowed nurse, remembers the women crying along his paper route the day the beloved leader died.
Sondheim’s first duo from “West Side Story” – “One hand, one heart” – is the dream of a marriage that can never be, for Maria and Tony. As the lovers fulfill their vows in a modest bridal shop, holding hands alone, it becomes real, if only for this moment.
“Tonight” sparkles with promise. I sang it the day my new love Michael Lewis was on a plane to see me in California.
Sondheim made dreams like this one that last forever.
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Jamie Stiehm can be contacted at JamieStiehm.com. To read his weekly column and learn more about the Creators Syndicate columnists and artists, visit Creators.com.