Here today... On Thursday, Stephen Sondheim was celebrating Thanksgiving in the country with friends. Early Black Friday, he was gone. After a week of shock, reminiscence, and celebration, I'm still in the dark as to what happened.
I added my two cents in the form of an all-Sondheim retrospective on my radio show "Catch of the Day" last Sunday, and today, a personal essay for Classical Voice North America. Though the broadcast was supposed to have been captured for on-demand streaming, it wasn't (technology, don't ask). Here's a link to the playlist on Spotify. For anyone who missed the show or wants more, we're airing a second earful of Sondheim songs and stories on Boxing Day, Sunday, December 26 at noon, Hawaiian-Aleutian time. Barring another electrical failure, it should be available on demand at www.manaoradio.com through January 8, 2022.
Beyond that, I've updated my Sondheimiana here on this website. My essay "Everything's Coming Up Sondheim" (Town & Country, May 2002) is now available online, to my knowledge for the first time. What strikes me about the story now is that it caught Steve on a threshold, when (unbeknownst to himself and to the world) the canon of his major works was complete, while his canonization was just beginning. In addition, I've all-too-belatedly incorporated Steve's notes on my essay "Sondheim's World" (Parnassus, August 2009), in which I tried to unlock his poetics. Suffice it to say he had an eagle eye.
Of telling many stories about Steve, there is no end. Of the many I've never committed to prose, in closing I'd like to add just one. In late 2018, I dropped him a line to ask if he had read the George Saunders novel Lincoln In the Bardo, that astonishing, deeply American mashup of intimate presidential biography and Tibetan-Buddhist eschatology. My note read in part,
As I read it, I thought: this cries out for music. And the music it cries out for would have to be yours.
How often do people tell you what to write next? How exasperating and intrusive that must be. Please forgive me if I shouldn't have. But I do think you'd like the book, even if that's where the chapter ends.
No, people don't shower me with ideas – just a few a year, and all terrible. Yours sounds interesting – I've read enough reviews to make me curious. Thanks. As you know, I don't much like reading, but stay tuned. Or not. And Happy New Year, for God's sake!
I wrote back that I'm not the reader I wish I were, because I read slowly. And Steve wrote back:
Slowness is the main reason I don't read. How can people with quick minds, like you and me, be so slow in reading? I truly don't understand. I wish it was because we like savoring the language, but I fear that's not the reason.
Anyway, Happy New Year!