Catch Me, Daddy, When I Fall, from Watch the Birdie (Day 57)

We’re approaching the “eleven o’clock number” of Watch The Birdie. That’s the term musical theater writers use to describe the big ballad that appears near the end of the show to give the star a chance to pour her (or his) heart out. It’s a robust tradition that includes songs like “If He Walked Into My Life,” from Mame, or “Being Alive” from Company.

I have two performances to post (though neither of them is by D’Arcy – that will come soon enough!) The first is from the Philly Music Theater Works performance in 2008, where the song was arranged for a trio of powerful women: Sheira Feuerstein, Alex Keiper and Claudia Carlsson. The second is from 1998, and features Roberta (Bobbi) Crownover, now Bobbi Bear. Listen to one or both, then check down below for more about the creation of this song.



The first steps are the scariest,
I found when I was one.
But soon enough I learned to walk
And soon enough, to run.
I learned to climb in little time –
No table seemed too high –
But when I fell, it hurt like hell,
And I’d rub my bruise and cry

Catch me, daddy, when I fall.
You’re so big and I’m so small
Let me go, but not too far
If I know you’re standing near
I won’t fear the ground below tomorrow.
Watch me, daddy, as I fly.
I can do it if I try!
If I wind up on my knees,
Help me, daddy, please
Don’t make me have to crawl.
Catch me when I fall.

At ten, I was a dancer
And I studied the ballet.
I vowed I’d make my daddy proud
And dance for him one day.
But gravity was mean to me
And ruined my display.
When I fell on my face in sheer disgrace,
This is what he heard me say:

Catch me, daddy, when I fall.
You’re so big and I’m so small
Let me go, but not too far
If I know you’re standing near
I won’t fear the ground below tomorrow.
Watch me, daddy, as I fly.
I can do it if I try!
If I wind up on my knees,
Help me, daddy, please
Don’t make me have to crawl.
Catch me when I fall.
Catch me when I fall.

When I was a girl of three,
Daddy took me to the sea
And I floated on a wave.
Oh, I was brave with him standing next to me.
I confess I was afraid
When the water knocked me down,
But with his hand behind my head
My daddy said he would never let me drown.

I’ve grown to be more down-to-earth
I take things more in stride.
But though I am a mother [grown-up] now,
I’m still a kid inside.
My daddy died a year ago
And, though he’s gone away,
When things get bad
I remember dad
And the times I used to say:

Catch me, daddy, when I fall.
You’re so big and I’m so small
Let me go, but not too far
If I know you’re standing near
I won’t fear the ground below tomorrow.
Watch me, daddy, as I fly.
I can do it if I try!
If I wind up on my knees,
Help me, daddy, please
Don’t make me have to crawl.
Catch me when I fall.
I’m falling…

It’s funny, but I have a vivid mental picture of working out this song in my head while driving on the Schuylkill Expressway, at the wheel of the white Toyota Celica that we owned then (1985). I can even picture the spot on the Expressway – the place where the highway goes underneath Market Street as it travels alongside 30th Street Station. I’m not sure why this image is so distinct and clear for me, but I seem to recall that, in that moment, I was thinking, “This feels like something important.”

At that point, it was a stand-alone song, but as the idea of a revue about family took shape, it was always the eleven o’clock song, the summing up. And it was always D’Arcy’s song. (Though I’m shocked to discover that I don’t have any recordings from the multiple times she’s sung this tune on my hard drive! That’s something I promise I’ll fix before we get to day 194, and something for you to look forward to.) Just like Weill heard Lenya’s voice in his head as he wrote Moon of Alabama and the Tango-Ballad from Threepenny, some of my songs seem to have come into existence just so they could be sung by D’Arcy, and this is Exhibit A.

The song is about being a grown-up who remembers, as we all do, being a kid. A song about climbing and falling, about the exhilaration of independence and the times we need others to support us. The bridge section, about when “Daddy took me to the sea,” was inspired by a poem that Bob Doss, the minister at the First Unitarian Church in Wilmington, was fond of reciting. It’s good enough to quote in its entirety:

FIRST LESSON
by Philip Booth

Lie back daughter, let your head
be tipped back in the cup of my hand.
Gently, and I will hold you. Spread
your arms wide, lie out on the stream
and look high at the gulls. A dead-
man’s float is face down. You will dive
and swim soon enough where this tidewater
ebbs to the sea. Daughter, believe
me, when you tire on the long thrash
to your island, lie up, and survive.
As you float now, where I held you
and let go, remember when fear
cramps your heart what I told you:
lie gently and wide to the light-year
stars, lie back, and the sea will hold you.

The song has a distinctive (a less charitable observer might say “odd”) ending, but it came out that way when I first wrote it and always seemed perfectly right to me: after the title is stated for the last time in the final refrain, “Catch me when I fall,” the singer adds, “I’m falling…,” after which the piano plays a long coda. This is the song of someone who is in distress, “tir[ing] on the long thrash to [her] island,” and the title phrase is not just something she recalls saying as a youngster, it’s what she needs right now: a daddy to catch her. The call goes unheard, the wish unfulfilled. We have to grow up and take care of ourselves.

If you missed them, these are the songs already posted on Project 194; the links on the right are songs chosen at random from previous posts. Want to contribute to my interactive composition, “Hear My Song?” Read more here. Want to receive daily songs delivered direct to your inbox? Sign up here!

One thought on “Catch Me, Daddy, When I Fall, from Watch the Birdie (Day 57)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *