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.
Raising my two boys was fairly drama-free, I have to say, but even so, there were moments when I worried. You don’t get any training before being tossed into the fray as a dad, and so you make up some stuff based on what you saw your dad do, and maybe what you wish he had done, and there’s plenty of times I’m pretty sure I made a mess of the job. Even so, it’s been a rich and remarkable experience. Raising my sons, I discovered a capacity for tenderness and selfless behavior that I never knew existed. I think about all that when I hear Jason Michael singing the song How Do You Know, from Watch the Birdie.
Happy Ruckusmaker Day! I find Seth Godin’s posts inspiring nearly every day, but today, I was particularly stirred by Seth’s words as he commemorated 60th birthday of Steve Jobs.
Steve’s contribution wasn’t invention. Technology breakthroughs didn’t come out of his basement the way they did from Land or Tesla. Instead, his contribution was to have a point of view. To see something and say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. To not only have a point of view, but to change it when the times demanded.
Most of all, to express that point of view, to act on it, to live with it.
This explains the essence of what makes a ruckusmaker, and the world needs them. My new boss, Joanna Settle, is definitely a ruckusmaker, and deserves mad props for it. But when it comes to making ruckuses, the record will show that I’ve also made my share, and as I approach my sixtieth birthday, I feel like I’ve still got game.
Let’s roll the video for today’s song, Don’t Look At Me, compellingly performed by Claudia Carlsson.
Late at night. An adolescent boy sits slumped in front of the television. His mother, evidently poor and under considerable strain, is finishing the dishes. She looks at him, then turns to the audience.
Look and see
Look at Lee
As he looks at TV
With a glare in his eye
And I really try to reach him
Yes I try.
How I’ve tried
It’s as if there’s a wall
And I can’t get inside,
I can’t talk to him at all.
Look at me
See, there only is so much that I can do.
And I try to keep in touch.
Yeah, I know you don’t believe me
But it’s true
And I do
Have my pride
As you see
Look at Lee
Is it right
That he sits day and night
By the television’s light?
Like a zombie on the sofa or the floor.
Is he bored?
Yeah, he sure has it tough
He should get off his duff
‘Cause I’ve had about enough.
When the only thing that’s in you is despair,
You are told that it’s a sin, you
Can never not continue to care.
Well, I swear that I’ve tried
Can’t you see?
He’s a brat, he’s a bother,
And I seem a little bitter, I bet
Well, I’m a hell of a father
And it doesn’t matter what you say.
Yeah, I know he’d be better
With a sitter than a TV set.
Although I know that it’s shitty,
I don’t want your pity
‘Cause we live this way.
So if I take a lover
And he gives me a hard time
And if I take a drink
And I give him a beating,
Well, give me a break!
It’s just give and take,
For heaven’s sake,
And if he gets hurt,
It’s an honest mistake.
I don’t want to hear your goody-goody bellyache,
So don’t look at me!
Don’t look at me!
Don’t look at me!
Don’t Look At Me was originally written for my 1979 musical Assassins, as the principal character recalls his mother (modeled on what I had read about Marguerite Oswald and her relationship with her son, Lee). Please don’t think for an instant that this grotesque character has anything to do with my own mother, a sweet and lovely woman whose steadfast love and support has been a constant presence in my life! If you can detect her presence anywhere in this medley, it’s in the previous song, where she’s trying to whistle a happy tune even though shit and fan are in the midst of colliding.
At this point in my development as a songwriter, I’d written camp, fluff and pastiche, but hadn’t really tackled this kind of dramatic songwriting before, and I’m surprised how well the result holds up to scrutiny years later. I think the couplet “shitty/pity” feels too obvious, but the herky-jerky rock vamp that starts up around the beginning of the second verse is quite splendid, and the music of the refrain (“he’s a brat, he’s a bother… I’m a hell of a father…”) seems very effective. Both this song and the next one, also from Assassins, deserved another chance to be heard, and they bring a strong whiff of angst into the final third of Watch the Birdie.
Still, if this was my mom, she’d scare the crap out of me – even dolled up in a peachy cocktail dress like Claudia is – and undoubtedly I’d have to go shoot a President or something. Right?
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!