We proceed our tribute come Sondheim by listening earlier to a 2010 interview in which he mutual the stories behind several of his most renowned songs and gave his take it on other good lyricists.

You are watching: When you see my face i hope it gives you hell lyrics

terrycloth GROSS, HOST:

This is new AIR. I"m terrycloth Gross. Stephen Sondheim was such a brilliant and groundbreaking composer and also lyricist that us couldn"t confine ours tribute to simply one day. This day is job 2 of ours three-day tribute. Sondheim died last Friday at age 91. He started his career creating the lyrics for "West side Story" and "Gypsy" and also went on to compose music and also lyrics because that such shows as "A Funny Thing taken place On The means To The Forum," "Company," "Follies," "A small Night Music," "Sweeney Todd," "Merrily We role Along," "Sunday In The Park through George," "Into The Woods" and "Passion." The interview this particular day was videotaped in October 2010, just a few months ~ the interview us featured yesterday. The chance for this one was the publication of his book "Finishing The Hat," which collected his lyrics from 1954 to "81 and told the stories behind them. It was the an initial of 2 volumes the his lyrics.

We"ll start with a song from the present that introduced his Broadway career, "West next Story," the musical the Steven Spielberg has adapted into a film that opens this month. Sondheim composed the lyrics. Leonard Bernstein wrote the music. This is the "Jet Song."


UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) once you"re a Jet, you"re a Jet every the method from your first cigarette to her last dice day. As soon as you"re a Jet, if the spit access time the fan, you"ve gained brothers around. You"re a family members man. You never alone. You"re never disconnected. You"re house with her own. When company"s expected, you"re fine protected. Then you are set with a capital J, i beg your pardon you"ll never ever forget it rotates they cart you away. Once you"re a Jet, you remain a Jet.

GROSS: i asked Stephen Sondheim just how he went around writing lyrics for a display with street gangs, singing and dancing to show tunes.


STEPHEN SONDHEIM: ns was simply imitating Arthur Lawrence"s style. Arthur composed the book, and he collection - he made up a style, a type of street speak that never ever existed because he knew that if he used actual street argot, the would day so quickly that by the time the present got top top a year or 2 later, it would certainly be old-fashioned. So, girlfriend know, one of the very couple of pieces of yes, really street argot we provided was words cool, i beg your pardon still supposed the very same thing back in 1957 that had actually meant come jazz musician earlier. And that"s a word that has stayed pretty much in the language, an interpretation approximately the very same thing, back it changed a tiny bit. Now, of course, the just way OK. Yet cool meant better than yes sir before. Yet virtually everything else, the method the personalities talk, Arthur consisted of - very romanticized and an extremely simply flowery because that the young lovers, and also for the gangs, a kind of made-up slang.

GROSS: So one of the points I love around your publication is that, you know, friend not just tell the stories about the songs, girlfriend reprint the lyrics for alternative songs, because that songs that you wrote prior to the final song was written or chosen, and also you perform that v the "Jet Song." There to be a pair of songs the you"d written lyrics for the weren"t used.

SONDHEIM: Here, because that example, here are a pair of lines native "Mix" (ph), which was the surname of a tune that us wrote, which to be our - the 2nd attempt at an opened song. The first attempt was a long, rambling combination of dialogue and also lyrics that took location in a clubhouse that the jet had. And they were analysis comic books and also doing pushups and also clowning around. And they imagined a expedition to the moon. And also the totality thing was a kind of fantasy. And also it was just too kid-like for the opening. For this reason we decided on something more menacing and gang-like. And this is practically like a rumble song. And the lines walk - mix, do a mess of them, pay the Puerto Ricans back, do a mess of them. If you let us take a crack, there"ll be much less of them. There"ll be less of them.

GROSS: and then there"s another song the you created lyrics for dubbed "This Turf Is Ours."

SONDHEIM: That"s the one we created in Washington. And also that was since people felt that "Mix" was also violent. So we created the "Jet Song," which is very mildly threatening and also menacing. And we got to Washington, and then everybody type of feeling that possibly it was a tiny too gentle, for this reason we created something dubbed "This Turf Is Ours." This turf is ours, attracted a large white line through a keep-out sign, and also they crossed it. This turf is ours, gained to organize our ground, or we"ll turn around, and we"ve lost it. And so us eventually determined the "Jet Song" was the ideal of the bunch, and also that"s what we kept.

GROSS: Now, the song ends with, girlfriend know, we"re going come beat every totality - every whole bugging gang on the whole bugging street ~ above the bugging totality ever-loving street. Walk you desire to usage the F-word there?

SONDHEIM: Oh, sure. I wanted this to be the an initial musical to use . In fact, I very first used the in "Krupke". I wanted the last line of "Krupke" to it is in - gee, Oficcer Krupke, you. And we play the song for the head the the document company, Columbia Records, Goddard Lieberson, that was walking to do the album, and additionally for a lady that was raising money because that the producer at the time. And she blanched visibly and clearly was uncomfortable by it. She didn"t complain. She just was type of shocked and also unhappy. But then Goddard told us that if we use that word, we couldn"t delivery the record throughout state lines due to the fact that it would be in violation that the obscenity laws. For this reason we changed it to Krup you. Of course, I had wanted in the "Jet Song" to be as soon as the access time the fan, not once the spit access time the fan and on the whole, mother-loving - mother- street. And also - but the audience interpreted exactly what us were saying. That did sort of make it a small kid-like.

And then once we walk the rebirth this critical year, and also Arthur chose to utilize Spanish because that the Sharks periodically to speak - the they would speak come each other in Spanish, he want to do it more, quote, "realistic," and also that"s what brought about that. And also along those lines, ns thought, well, if it"s going come be much more realistic, then let"s use and . And the problem is the the remainder of the manuscript doesn"t - is not in that style. Once the dialogue is going on, they never ever use four-letter words. Therefore, because that the text to have actually used four-letter words would have actually been fully out the style and a sort of mirroring off for its very own sake. If I had my choice, we would have actually used it just once in the original, simply on you rather of Krup you, and also everything rather would have remained the same. I want it to be sort of simply the one shock moment. But as i say, us couldn"t have actually shipped the record across state currently in those days.

GROSS: Right. Therefore after "West next Story," you composed the text for "Gypsy" come music by Jule Styne. A track from "Gypsy" I"d favor you to talk around is "Some People," i beg your pardon Ethel Merman sang in the initial production. Girlfriend know, i love the opening line - some people can acquire a thrill web sweaters and also sitting still. Have the right to you - perform you remember how that image pertained to you?

SONDHEIM: No. But I collection up a rhyme system there of within rhymes because I wanted among the track to rate along, and also inner rhymes assist speed lines. For this reason the knitting and also sitting becomes a pattern for the song. So, no. But the image itself? Sure. You shot to imagine, what does an angry lady who desires to acquire out that a little town feel about the little town life approximately her? and what would her picture of inert conventional people be?

GROSS: to be there features you were writing for because that Ethel Merman voice? Now, you weren"t composing the music because that this, friend were writing the lyrics. Yet still, ns mean, she has actually such a distinctive delivery.

SONDHEIM: No. Ns mean, we knew us were creating for that kind of outsized personality that she"s got. We assumed that she couldn"t act due to the fact that she had actually played all her life just low comedy and brassy songs. And this would call for to act, and an especially the finish of the very first act, wherein she discovers the her daughter has left her, and also she"s going to shot to do the other daughter fill the younger daughter"s shoes and make her into a star.

And so i thought, if she can"t act that moment due to the fact that it"s, friend know, it"s a huge moment. Friend know, a woman dealing with a horrifying crisis and also bulling her method through the - it"s a big emotional moment. And also I believed the method to perform it is to give Ethel the type of song that she"s sung every her life, a big, brassy number prefer "Blow, Gabriel, Blow," and then permit Herbie, she lover, and Louise, she daughter, who she"s focusing on, react, like, together if they were in front of a - ns don"t know, a cobra - ns mean, just totally terrified and also motionless and also cowering.

And climate the result would be made because Ethel wouldn"t need to act, but you would gain the idea the the moment, i beg your pardon is this express-train mrs is currently going to run over her various other daughter. And to ours surprise and delight, Ethel might act. But the song we wrote, "Everything"s coming Up Roses," is an absolute imitation "Blow, Gabriel, Blow" Cole Porter kind of - or Irving Berlin or any type of of those brassy songs the they created for Ethel to sing. It"s a real Ethel Merman song. It needs no acting.

GROSS: therefore I"m going come play "Some People." just tell me one more thing here. You talk around in your book how writing into a song, you know, native the dialogue - that transition into the song is the most difficult part. Just how did you fix the difficulty with "Some People"?

SONDHEIM: I composed a verse - well, actually, ns didn"t settle it, and the speech the leads right into it get a high pitch, and then she starts the on a short note. And so I composed - in Philadelphia, as soon as we were trying the show out, I composed a verse because that Ethel to song that would take her from a high key to a low pitch so the she can start the track properly. And she wouldn"t song it because in the verse - in the verse, ns - she, definition Rose, tells she father to go to hell due to the fact that she"s make the efforts to acquire $88 native him and also he won"t offer it come her. And so she tells him to go to hell, and Ethel said her public would certainly not forgive her informing her dad to go to hell. So what happens currently is she get a high pitch, and then she starts on a short note. And I think it"s a real clunky connection, a real clunky transition.

GROSS: So girlfriend were never ever happy through it?

SONDHEIM: No, still not.

GROSS: OK. Well, let"s simply hear the track (laughter).


GROSS: for this reason this is Ethel Merman from the original actors recording that "Gypsy," through lyrics...

SONDHEIM: Yeah. The heat - i paraphrase slightly. The line that she"s informing her father turn off in, she"s angrier and angrier, and she end it by saying, I"m getting my kids and I"m acquiring out. And then she starts. Sorry around that. I"ve simply - i think I go out the ears off the engineer.

GROSS: (Laughter)

SONDHEIM: I"m terribly sorry. He"s being taken to the hospital.

GROSS: (Laughter).

SONDHEIM: He"s bleeding native both ears. No, yet anyway, she reaches that type of pitch, and then she starts to sing.

GROSS: OK, so right here it is.


ETHEL MERMAN: (Singing) Some civilization can get a thrill knitting sweaters and sitting still. That"s OK for some people who don"t know they"re alive. Some world can thrive and bloom life life in a life room. That"s perfect because that some people of 105. Yet I at least got to try. As soon as I think of all the sights the I acquired to see and also all the places I obtained to play, every the things that I gained to be at - come on, Papa, what do you say? Some civilization can it is in content playing bingo and paying rent. That"s peachy for some people, for some humdrum people to be. Yet some people ain"t me.

GROSS: We"re listening to the interview I videotaped with Stephen Sondheim in October 2010, ~ the publishing of his book "Finishing The Hat." We"ll hear much more of the interview after a break. This is fresh AIR.


GROSS: This is new AIR. Let"s get ago to the interview I recorded with Stephen Sondheim in October 2010 ~ the publishing of his book "Finishing The Hat," the first of 2 volumes collecting his lyrics and also the story behind them.


GROSS: You have some fascinating comment in her book around lyricists whose job-related you yes, really admire and also lyricists - ns think our listeners will certainly be surprised come hear you have actually a lot of criticisms of their work. And also what surprised me the many was to read your objections of her mentor Oscar Hammerstein. And also had you shared those objections in windy before, or is this sort of, like, the an initial time?

SONDHEIM: No, no. No, I never - no, I never ever in public - and no, not at all. But due to the fact that I was creating a book that is crucial of my own work, I wanted to present the standards through which I, friend know, compose my very own lyrics. And also it appeared to me - curious enough, I had thought when I an initial began the book - ns thought, I will certainly not criticize anybody else. I will certainly only criticize my very own stuff. Well, that is in its own way the mirror picture of self-aggrandizement in - self-depreciation is just the various other side the the coin. It"s all about me, me, me, me, me. And also I thought, if ns don"t put it right into context of various other people"s work and show what i admire and what i don"t admire around my predecessors" work - I never talk around anybody life in the book, only about people who room dead "cause the doesn"t hurt your feelings. And additionally they can"t fight you back, but...

GROSS: (Laughter).

SONDHEIM: but mostly it - friend know, i really refuse of world who criticize - particularly practitioners who criticize other practitioners while they"re alive. Ns think that"s yes, really bad type "cause it constantly hurts. But I thought, you know, I"ve obtained to - i can"t just criticize myself. So ns looked really carefully, together I constantly have, at, friend know, the dozen ideal lyric writers in the American musical theatre who came before me and look in ~ their work-related carefully and also talk about it a tiny bit.

GROSS: Well, permit me choose a pair of Hammerstein instances that you point out in the book. Oh, what a beautiful morning. Oh, what a beautiful day. You like that?

SONDHEIM: Well, it"s no that. I allude - that"s not a inquiry of whether you favor or not. That"s an example of exactly how you underwrite a lyric. He knows that that doesn"t read an extremely excitingly top top paper. Yet he likewise knows that when Rodgers place it come music, it soars. That"s a perfect example since lyrics room not poetry. They have to have air. They have actually to offer music room to provide them life. Castle can"t simply be self-contained. That"s why they"re lyrics and also not poetry. And also they"re no light verse, either. Lyrics are not expected to it is in read. They"re supposed to be sung.

GROSS: Now, you contrast that - oh, I have to preface this by speak the critical time you to be on our show, you talked about the, girlfriend know, really interesting harmonic transforms in the Jerome Kern song "All The points You Are," because that which Hammerstein composed the lyrics. And - but you room very critical of Hammerstein"s text to the song, such together the line you are the promised kiss the springtime that makes the lonely winter seem long.

SONDHEIM: take the following line. Go ahead. Review it again. Review the 2nd line because that"s the one that clinches it.

GROSS: Oh, OK. You carry out it.

SONDHEIM: You room the promised kiss that springtime that renders the lonely winter it seems to be ~ long. You room the breathless hush that evening that trembles ~ above the brink that a beloved song.

Those are all really pretty words, but what carry out they mean? take a look in ~ that photo - those images. Ns don"t recognize what castle mean. And also I likewise don"t know exactly how they use personally to anybody. Oscar did a many poetic lyric writing, which i would call poecy (ph), using pictures that ns think are not germane to what"s walking on. Ns think it"s just a writer make the efforts to it is in poetic. And that"s one example.

GROSS: Let"s get to your display "Follies," i m sorry is around a reunion that middle-aged men and women who performed in the "Follies," or the civilization who were the girlfriends, boyfriends, couple of those world who performed in the "Follies." and also so they"re now center aged, and also it"s component set in the existing and part set in the past in the "Follies" era. And some of the songs you wrote for the present are memory of the mirrors that come the end of those revues, revues that the "30s and "40s, most likely the "20s, too. Was it funny in a way to compose in a format that wasn"t yours?

SONDHEIM: Oh, always, always. It"s an excellent fun come imitate people you admire.

GROSS: And, like, the opening line - what will certainly tomorrow bring, the pundits ask - ns can"t imagine you composing that (laughter).

SONDHEIM: No, no, but - no, but that"s exactly the style. You"ve hit specifically the best style. That"s specifically the kind of thing that Ira Gershwin wrote. If you look through his lyrics, you"ll discover that - because it was the layout in those days to be to use sort of fancy-ass words and play v them. The playfulness of lyrics is other that"s type of gone the end of - not out that fashion. There aren"t very many world who can do it, and that was largely the pleasure of the song that people went to watch in the musical theatre in the 1920s and also "30s and also even into the "40s, also after "Oklahoma." human being did no go to be relocated by songs, although sometimes they might be, however to be happy by the combination of playfulness in the language and invention and lightheartedness of the music.

There are world today who think that that"s what musicals still must be. There are movie critics today who deplore whatever that has actually happened from Hammerstein on. And also they"re always taking potshots in ~ him since they desire the musicals to it is in mindless and playful. Well, I choose mindless and also playful, yet there are other kinds the musicals come write. And also the people that attention me in writing room not the mindless, playful - playful, yes, mindless, no.

GROSS: OK. For this reason let"s hear "You"re Gonna Love Tomorrow" native "Follies." This is indigenous the original actors recording.


KURT PETERSON: (As Young Ben, singing) What will tomorrow bring, the pundits query.

VIRGINIA SANDIFUR: (As Young Phyllis, singing) will certainly it it is in cheery?

PETERSON: (As Young Ben, singing) will it be sad?

SANDIFUR: (As Young Phyllis, singing) will it be birds in feather or hara-kiri?

PETERSON: (As Young Ben, singing) Don"t worry, dearie.

SANDIFUR: (As Young Phyllis, singing) Don"t worry, lad.

PETERSON: (As Young Ben, singing) I"ll have actually our future suit her whim - blue chip preferred.

SANDIFUR: (As Young Phyllis, singing) putting it in a synonym - perfect"s the word.

VIRGINIA SANDIFUR and also KURT PETERSON: (As Young Phyllis and also Young Ben, singing) We"re in this point together. Aren"t you glad? each day from currently will it is in the best day you ever before had.

PETERSON: (As Young Ben, singing) You"re going to love tomorrow. You"re going to be v me. You"re going to love tomorrow. I"m offering you my an individual guarantee.

SANDIFUR: (As Young Phyllis, singing) to speak toodle-oo (ph) to sorrow. And fare thee well, ennui.

PETERSON: (As Young Ben, singing) Bye-bye.

SANDIFUR: (As Young Phyllis, singing) You"re going come love morning as lengthy as her tomorrow is invested with me.

SANDIFUR and PETERSON: (As Young Phyllis and also Young Ben, singing) this particular day was perfect perfect, girlfriend say. Well, don"t walk away "cause if you think you favored today, you"re going to love tomorrow. You stick around, you"ll see. And also if you love tomorrow, then think how it"s going to be. Tomorrow"s what you"re going to have actually a lifetime of through me.

GROSS: We"re listening to the interview I videotaped with Stephen Sondheim in October 2010, after the publication of "Finishing The Hat," his very first volume of collected lyrics. We"ll hear much more of that interview as we proceed day two of ours three-day tribute to Stephen Sondheim. I"m terrycloth Gross, and also this is fresh AIR.


GROSS: This is new AIR. I"m terry Gross. Today, we"re continuing our tribute come Stephen Sondheim, the groundbreaking Broadway composer and lyricist. He passed away Friday at age 91. Prior to we return to the interview, let"s hear an ext Sondheim music. This is a torch song I love referred to as "Losing my Mind." We"ll listen Dorothy Collins from the original actors recording of his 1971 music "Follies."


DOROTHY COLLINS: (As Sally) The sun comes up. I think about you. The coffee cup - i think around you. I desire you so. It"s favor I"m shedding my mind. The morning end - i think about you. I talk to friends. Ns think about you. And do they recognize it"s like I"m shedding my mind? all afternoon, law every small chore, the thought of you stays bright. Sometimes I stand in the center of the floor, no going left, no going right. Ns dim the lights and also think around you, spend sleepless nights come think around you. You stated you love me. Or to be you just being kind? Or am I losing my mind?

GROSS: Let"s get earlier to the interview I recorded with Stephen Sondheim in October 2010, ~ the publication of his book "Finishing The Hat," collecting his text from 1954 to "81 and the story behind them. It additionally has sidebars in i m sorry he common his opinions of various other lyricists.


GROSS: currently in your sidebar about Ira Gershwin in her book, you describe him as rhyming poison (laughter). So...

SONDHEIM: No, ns don"t describe him as rhyming poison. I describe - the is an facet of his writing.

GROSS: OK. And also you say he makes you feel the sweat. He"s often undone by his enthusiasm for rhyming, because that which that sacrifices both ease and also syntax. And you offer, as an example, an excerpt that the song "How Long has actually This been Going On."

(Reading) "Neath the stars, in ~ bazaars, frequently I"ve had to caress men. Five or $10 then, I"d collect for all those yes-men. Don"t it is in sad, I have to add, the they supposed no more than chess-men.

Comments on that?

SONDHEIM: Well, i don"t require to talk about it. It"s complete nonsense. It makes the ear worn down to hear to it"s therefore jammed v inner rhymes. And also it is therefore oblique a way of saying something apparently simple, despite I"m not even quite sure what he method by it. But it is every - you just feel the lyric writer sweating over every line with his rhyming dictionary. You deserve to - crossing out - i mean, the is such effortful writing. And also then, once it"s sung, it"s - it renders the listener job-related as hard as the lyric writer did. Yes, I discover that, girlfriend know, every too usual in his lyrics.

GROSS: You love Dorothy Fields and knew her, didn"t even realize she was a songwriter until you to be in her teens. And also your father introduced her come the man who came to be her husband.

SONDHEIM: Yes, it was his ideal friend.

GROSS: and also you love text of hers that are an extremely colloquial, favor "Sunny next Of The Street" (ph).

SONDHEIM: Yeah. Again, simple - it seems so simple. You hear lyrics like that and also you think, oh, I could write one of those. Well, friend couldn"t. And it"s every the effort that goes right into making miscellaneous sound effortless, i beg your pardon is a type of arts that ns like. Not all art needs to seem effortless. You know, you check out "Guernica." It"s no effortless. Yet - you read "War and Peace." It"s not effortless. Yet I think with lyrics - popular lyrics for well-known songs - through popular, ns mean present songs, girlfriend should always not be aware of the writer. I think you should be aware of the character and not think of the songs together written. Dorothy had a wonderful heat in what I would certainly call simple lyrics. Ns mean, her lyrics space so clean and also so uncluttered and also so look at effortless. And as we all know, the takes a substantial amount of occupational to make something seem like there to be no job-related in it at all.

GROSS: Let"s gain to her musical "A tiny Night Music." and I desire to beat "Send In The Clowns." and also I"ll confess to you, this is a track - ns love your songs. This is a song I never ever really felt much warmth for. I simply never connected with it. And also then see it in paper definition in the show, I fell in love with it and then simply kind that went ago to the cast recording - original cast recording and started listening to it over and also over again through Glynis Johns singing it. And also you call a very interesting story around how you wrote this track for her, playing to her strengths and also weaknesses. Deserve to you talk around that?

SONDHEIM: The top lady in the display is an alleged to it is in charming and also beautiful, beautiful enough, even though she"s entering middle age, to be a competitor to a beautiful young 18-year-old girl. That"s the idea the the triangle that the show. And we knew that in stimulate to gain somebody like that who would have charm and also beauty and be able come play irradiate comedy due to the fact that it"s an extremely elegant, the creating of the libretto - Hugh Wheeler"s writing requires somebody that really knows how to play irradiate comedy, and also there aren"t a lot of of civilization who deserve to do that - or couldn"t in those days and none now "cause the entirety fashion had actually gone out.

So us - ns assumed, anyway, the whomever we would hire would not be able to sing very well because to obtain all those qualities and also a singer, definitely nobody sprang come mind. And the possibilities of recognize somebody prefer that were slight. For this reason I put all the vocal weight on Fredrik, the hero, and on Anne, the young wife, the 18-year-old. And Desiree, the middle-aged lady, I had actually her take part in two numbers in the an initial act, both of i m sorry are basically comic and also do not require any type of heavy singing. I knew the Glynis had this lovely smoky, silvery voice, however she couldn"t sustain notes. She"s no really a singer. She"s one actress who deserve to sing really nicely, but not v a capital S Singing.

And therefore I made decision to create a series of quick musical lines so she wouldn"t have to sustain notes. And that argued questions, tiny phrases. And also then i wanted no to have any open collection sounds at the sound at the end of the opened line so that it wouldn"t seem prefer she couldn"t sing. But you take it a word favor rich, it cuts itself off and has a short vowel sound. So if someone sings, isn"t the rich, you don"t expect them to sing, isn"t that rich? conversely, if it"s an open vowel sound, friend know, isn"t that love? - if she went, isn"t it love, you could accept it, however you likewise know the it can be sustained. Affluent can"t be sustained without damaging the word. So it sounds favor it fits the brief phrase and it fits her voice. For this reason it to be tailoring it that way.

GROSS: therefore this is Glynis Johns from the original cast recording the "A tiny Night Music" to sing "Send In The Clowns."


GLYNIS JOHNS: (As Desiree Armfeldt, singing) Isn"t that rich? room we a pair? Me below at critical on the ground, you in mid-air. Send in the clowns. Isn"t that bliss? Don"t girlfriend approve? One who keeps tearing around, one that can"t move. Where are the clowns? Send in the clowns. Simply when I"d quit opening doors, finally knowing the one the I want was yours. Do my entrance again v my normal flair. Certain of mine lines, no one is there. Don"t friend love a farce? my fault, ns fear. I believed that you"d want what ns want. Sorry, my dear. But where are the clowns? Quick, send in the clowns. Don"t bother. They"re here.

GROSS: We"re listening to the interview I recorded with Stephen Sondheim in October 2010. We"ll hear more of the interview ~ a break. This is new AIR.


GROSS: This is new AIR. Let"s get earlier to the interview I taped with Stephen Sondheim in October 2010, after the publishing of his book "Finishing The Hat," the first of two volumes collecting his lyrics and also the stories behind them.


GROSS: I desire to move on come "Sweeney Todd," and also I want to ask you about the writing for the chorus. There"s a chorus that opens up the show and also they sort of - it"s practically like a Greek chorus, in a way, "cause lock tell you what the story is walking to be about. Castle narrate some of the action. And, you know, you compose in the book about how thrilling that is come hear the sound that a full chorus, but how at the exact same time, it"s so frequently unconvincing that everybody in a chorus would be having the exact same feeling in ~ the exact same time. Like, friend ask, did everyone in the Navy and South Pacific think over there is nothing prefer a dame? girlfriend say, what about the misogynists in the group? Or if there to be no misogynists, room there no homosexuals? So exactly how did you create for a chorus in "Sweeney Todd?"

SONDHEIM: well - however they"re telling a story. They"re not having actually an emotionally thought. They"re telling a story. It"s quite a various thing.

GROSS: so this was the time as soon as you assumed you can write for a chorus effectively.

SONDHEIM: Oh, sure, absolutely, absolutely. Yet when they"re all eating meat pies in ~ the beginning of the 2nd act in the number referred to as "God, That"s Good!" or once they"re buying Pirelli"s miracle Elixir, they"re singing different things. As soon as they sing all at once, they all do have the same thought. Anyone at the table think the meat is good, for this reason they come together on the phrase, God, that"s good. But the various other phrases of the tune are sung by different civilization because, girlfriend know, one of them is trying come sneak the end without paying. Another one is drunk, et cetera, et cetera. They"re all characterized; exact same thing is true that "Pirelli"s miracle Elixir." when they sing all in ~ once, they"re to sing a believed that every one of them perform have. So it"s legitimate.

GROSS: for this reason the an initial line in the lyric is attend the tale of Sweeney Todd. And also you say that that"s an example of exactly how God is in the details, which is just one of your prime rules of lyric writing. What"s contained in the phrase?

SONDHEIM: Well, an initial of all, to visit is an old-fashioned word. So appropriate away, you recognize you"re not in the 20th century and also that the happenstance - the happy happenstance the the T sound - attend the story of Sweeney Todd - provides it an old ballad feeling because of the semi-alliteration there. And tale speak you appropriate away this is no going to it is in a realistic story. This is not - you"re not supposed to take it this at face value since if friend do, you"d scream v laughter. Ns mean, you know, that"s an outrageous story if you shot to treat it seriously. It needs to be treated as a melodrama. It needs to - you need to tell the audience we are not - this is not claimed to it is in real, folks.

Now, the course, it"s a musical, so it"s never ever real in a musical. Yet you can acquire - girlfriend know, "West side Story" does not say the at the beginning. It"s attempting to tell the audience, yes, it"s a musical, but we desire you to take this as if it were a severe story that can actually be happening ~ above the streets of new York right now. Two gangs are at war, and also murders and also deaths take place as a an outcome and - conversely, "Sweeney Todd" is strictly about, in a sense, cartoon figures. Ns - at the end of the chapter, what ns say is what "Sweeney Todd" yes, really is is a movie. And also so it"s - to visit the story tells you every one of those things or means them. Obviously, the doesn"t spell it out, however it suggests them.

The formality of the language - girlfriend know, attend the tale of Sweeney Todd, his skin was pale and also his eyes were odd, he shaved the encounters of gentlemen who never ever thereafter to be heard the again. Well, right away, it"s a layout that"s been set for an audience. It"s tells them not to take the display seriously, and also it indicates that it"s every going to be narrated, which in reality it is.

GROSS: therefore here"s the opening chorus indigenous "Sweeney Todd."


UNIDENTIFIED actor #1: (As character, singing) to visit the story of Sweeny Todd. His skin was pale, and also his eye to be odd. He shave the faces of gentlemen who never ever thereafter were heard the again. The trod a course that couple of have trod, did Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

UNIDENTIFIED actor #2: (As character, singing) He maintained a shop in London town of an elaborate clients and good renown. And also what if no one of your souls to be saved? They saw their an equipment impeccably shave by Sweeney, by Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber the Fleet Street.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) Swing your razor wide, Sweeney, host it come the skies. Easily flows the blood of those that moralize.

GROSS: That"s the opening chorus indigenous "Sweeney Todd." mine guest, Stephen Sondheim, created the words and also music. Now, you allude out the none of your musicals elicited as extreme reaction, both extravagant accolades and contemptuous rage, as "Sweeney" did. Perform you have actually a feeling of why that was so?

SONDHEIM: No, i really don"t. End a period of time, that course, that"s come to be less true. Over there is much less contention around it now since it"s been - it type of has cleared up into the canon of musicals and it"s been done a number of times. And also then a movie has actually been make of it, therefore it has been type of accepted. However when it come out - well, I"ve had actually that v a number of - I had that same reaction native "Assassins." girlfriend know, there are definitely musicals the audiences gain put off by on an initial seeing, usually due to the fact that of the subject matter.

But i think what put world off top top "Sweeney" was the it had actually a semi-operatic emotion to it. I think that - i don"t think castle were put off by the story. Although, girlfriend know, over there are civilization who don"t desire to check out blood top top the stage, yet I don"t think that"s what it was about. I think it to be the semi-operatic feeling of it. And also when human being went come - and it"s tho true - walk to a musical, they want songs. Castle don"t desire semi-opera.

GROSS: We"re listening to the interview I recorded with Stephen Sondheim in October 2010. We"ll hear much more of the interview after ~ a break. This is fresh AIR.


GROSS: This is fresh AIR. Let"s get ago to the interview I videotaped with Stephen Sondheim in October 2010 after ~ the publication of his book "Finishing The Hat," the first of 2 volumes collecting his lyrics and also the story behind them. The publication covers the years 1954 to "81.

Let me move on come "Merrily We role Along." There"s a beautiful track in "Merrily" that"s sung twice, and I"m reasoning of "Not A day Goes By." and also both versions - every version has actually a different an interpretation because one"s at the beginning of a love affair and also the other"s throughout a divorce.


GROSS: deserve to you talk about writing that track with 2 different meanings in mind?

SONDHEIM: Well, I composed the whole score knowing that it was going to walk backwards in time. And I thought, what does the imply? Well, it means that something that you and I song today, 20 years from now, will have actually a different meaning to both the us. The doesn"t need to be the we acquire divorced. Possibly it"ll it is in memories the something. Yet everything that happens at a given time in your life has actually echoes and also resonances afterwards, what ns would contact like reprises, really, of thoughts, of moment in her life that happen in different context or - so ns thought, if I"m walking to create the present that goes backwards in time, we"ll begin with the reprises. That is come say, begin with the variation on the theme and then go back to the theme. And that"s what wake up here.

It happens with a lot of other song in the show, too. However this one an extremely specifically v the lyric because it uses to two an extremely distinct and also distinctly defined situations, one a divorce and one when they obtained married. For this reason you"re taking two high point out of their lives, their marriage and their divorce. I did the throughout the show. Ns still began, together I always do, creating the score from the very first song on, yet knowing - constantly making notes regarding how i would usage it later on in the show. Therefore I never wrote blind, so come speak. I composed knowing, OK, this will certainly be advantageous when this - due to the fact that we had plotted the end the show, and also we knew what was going to take place in the second act. In other words, we knew what had actually happened in the past. And, so yeah, so ns was creating to that kind of plot.

GROSS: so we"ll hear both execution of "Not A day Goes By" indigenous the 1994 York Theatre Revival.

SONDHEIM: yet that"s the means to highlight it.

GROSS: Yeah.


ANNE BOBBY: (As Beth, singing) not a day goes by. Not a solitary day. But you"re what a part of mine life, and also it looks favor you"ll stay. Together the days go by, I store thinking, when does it end? Where"s the work I"ll have started? yet I simply go ~ above thinking and sweating and also cursing and crying and transforming and reaching and waking and also dying. And no, not a job goes by, no a blessed day. But you"re tho somehow part of mine life, and you won"t walk away. Therefore there"s hell to pay. And until i die, I"ll dice day after day, ~ day, after day, after ~ day, after day, after ~ day, it rotates the days go by, it spins the days go by, it rotates the days walk by. No a job goes by, not a single day, but you"re what a component of my life, and it looks favor you"ll stay.

MALCOLM GETS: (As Frank, singing) together the days walk by, I store thinking, once does the end?

BOBBY: (As Beth, singing) the it can"t obtain much better, lot longer, yet it just gets far better and stronger and also deeper and also nearer...

ANNE BOBBY and also MALCOLM GETS: (As Beth and Frank, singing) and simpler and also freer and richer and clearer and no, not a job goes by.

BOBBY: (As Beth, singing) not a blessed day, yet you what come into my life and you don"t go away.

BOBBY and GETS: (As Beth and also Frank, singing) and also I need to say, if friend do, I"ll die. I want day after day, after day, after ~ day, after ~ day, after day, ~ day, ~ day, after ~ day, it spins the days walk by, it spins the days go by.

BOBBY: (As Beth, singing) it rotates the days walk by.

GROSS: That"s 2 versions that "Not A job Goes By" from Stephen Sondheim"s music "Merrily We role Along." and also my guest is Stephen Sondheim. He has a new book the his gathered lyrics and the story behind those lyrics dubbed "Finishing The Hat." when writing around working with Jule Styne ~ above "Gypsy," friend say just superhuman trust keeps you writing fearlessly into old age. Jule Styne was among the few who had it in spades. Execute you feel like you have that superhuman confidence to keep writing?

SONDHEIM: No, not really, no really. I mean, I"m - I want to get back to the piano as soon as I end up the second volume. Yet no, ns don"t have actually that - ns don"t have actually that drive, and I don"t have that eagerness that Jule had actually every job of his life. I would certainly love a tiny of that.

GROSS: however you do arrangement on save writing - on maintaining writing.

SONDHEIM: Oh, sure. Oh, sure. Oh, sure.

GROSS: Well, I want to thank you so much for coming earlier to fresh AIR and also for talking through us again.

SONDHEIM: thank you, Terry.

GROSS: Congratulations ~ above the new book.

SONDHEIM: Oh, OK, thank you because that that, too.

GROSS: The interview we heard v Stephen Sondheim was recorded in October 2010 ~ the publishing of his publication "Finishing The Hat." He passed away last Friday in ~ the age of 91. Tomorrow, top top the 3rd and last day of our Sondheim tribute, from our archive, we"ll hear indigenous James Lapine, that wrote the books for 3 Sondheim musicals - "Sunday In The Park v George," "Into The Woods" and also "Passion" - and Stephen Colbert and Lin-Manuel Miranda, who each talked around performing in Sondheim musicals. I hope you"ll sign up with us. Fresh AIR"s executive producer is Danny Miller. Thea Chaloner command today"s show. I"m terry Gross.

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