let's get the seven lines. (bookshop) wrote,
let's get the seven lines.
bookshop

  • Music:

There are those who keep forgetting that the country's built on dreams.

A comment made by notapipe on my LJ, back before he had a livejournal.  It seems so much more relevant even today than it was 18 months ago.

Why did you do it Georgie?
Nobody agrees.
You who had everything,
what made you bring
a nation to its knees?
...
Some say you killed a country George,
because of bad reviews.
...
Georgie Bush was a headstrong fellow,
Even he believed the things he said.
Some called him noble, some said yellow.
What he was was off his head.
...
Listen to the stories.
Hear it in the songs.
Angry men
Don't write the rules
And guns don't right the wrongs.

I made this initially as a comment to wordplay who asked for war protest songs.  And inevitably, there was Assassins.


It's so hard for me to effectively talk about Assassins. 

I think that the most profound statement about Assassins that does not come from the musical directly is in the fact that it opened off Broadway in winter 1990, and was scheduled to open on Broadway in early 1991.  It never opened, however--the only Sondheim show that never made it to Broadway--because of the Gulf War.  The producers felt the show would be too controversial.

It was due to open on Broadway again, as a massively overdue and eagerly awaited full-scale revival production. 

It was scheduled to open in the fall of 2001.

Assassins finally made it to Broadway last year, a safe distance enough away from 9/11 so that what it had to say could be heard without (too much) horror--and in a political climate where maybe, just maybe, the country is ready to really listen to what says.

God, how to talk about Assassins? 

My mother once told me Assassins is her favorite Sondheim show.  My mother, the conservative Republican, who once drove  2 hours with me to see a community theatre performance of Assassins.  And let me tell you.  Driving 2 hours to see community theatre?  That's love.

Assassins is a musical about Americans who kill presidents.  It's also a brilliant history lesson.

It is a musical that does not protest its subject matter, the assassins themselves.  It would be more effective to say that Assassins, which is among other things a truly post-modern musical, protests everything about the audience watching and everything about itself. 

And by "protests," I mean, "stabs in the eye."

Assassins is about capitalism breeding misplaced idealism, violence breeding violence, conformity breeding outcasts, war breeding war, industrialization breeding alienation, and each iconic act of assassination breeding the one that comes after it.  It is a protest against American society, American culture, American values, and comes just short of protesting against America itself. 

I know the assassins score like the back of my hand and I still, just now, experienced a slight shock when thinking about it to realise that there is no war protest song in the show, there is no actual *protest song* per se at all in the show.  Instead there are lines like this:

Tell them:
How the country is not what it was,
Where there's blood in the clover,
How the nation can never again
Be the hope that it was.

How the bruises may never be healed,
How the wounds are forever,
How we gave up the field
But we still wouldn't yield,

How the Union can never recover
From that vulgar,
High and mighty
Niggerlover,
Never--!

Never. Never. Never.
No, the country is not what it was...


and this:

When I am a boy,
No school.
I work in a ditch.
No chance.
The smart and the rich
Ride by,
Don't give no glance.

Ever since then, because of them,
I have the sickness in the stomach,
Which is the way I make my idea
To go out and kill Roosevelt.

...

No laugh!
No funny!
Men with the money,
They control everything.

Roosevelt, Hoover --
No make no difference.
You think I care who I kill?
I no care who I kill,
Long as it's king!

You think I am left?
No left, no right,
No anything!
Only American!
American nothing!


and this:

I don't know how to say it --
But there's something about a war.
Mere words cannot convey it --
But there's something about a war.
It's noisy
And it's crowded
And you have
To stand in line --
But there's something about a war
That's divine!


and this:

There's another national anthem playing,
Not the one you cheer
At the ball park.

It's the other national anthem, saying,
If you want to hear --
It says, "Bullshit!"
It says, "Never!" --
It says, "Sorry!" loud and clear.

We're the other national anthem, folks,
The ones that can't get in-
To the ball park.

You forgot about the country,
So it's now forgotten you.


and this:

BOOTH
Lee, when you kill a president, it isn't murder. Murder is a tawdry little crime; it's born of greed, or lust, or liquor. Adulterers
and shopkeepers get murdered. But when a president gets killed, when Julius Caesar got killed -- he was assassinated. And the
man who did it...

OSWALD
Brutus.

BOOTH
Ah! You know his name. Brutus assassinated Caesar -- what? -- two thousand years ago, and here's a high school drop-out
with a dollar twenty-five an hour job in Dallas, Texas, who knows who he was. And they say fame is fleeting...

...

OSWALD
I don't get this --

MOORE
It's simple, Lee.

CZOLGOSZ
(indicating pre-Oswald Assassins)
You're going to bring us back.

HINCKLEY
(indicating post-Owald Assassins)
And make us possible.

GUITEAU
We're in you're debt, old boy.

BYCK
This Bud's for you, babe.



How to talk about Assassins.

I think that to understand Assassins you have to experience it.  But I think it should be required listening for every single American--and every Brit too, as it's the musical I recommended titanic_days listen to when he wanted an introduction to Sondheim.  He fell in love on the spot, which might underscore the fact that after Assassins closed off-broadway in 1991 it went on to enjoy a huge 6-month sold-out run in London, where it was hailed, understood, and immediately appreciated.

I would argue that Assassins is the most brilliant and effective protest work ever written, if not the most brilliant musical ever written.  Really, nothing I could ever say about it is sufficient.  and I have tried.   

I'll leave you with this, which is one of my favorite LJ posts, ever: Why do these rednecks always have three names.

And now I'm going to end this post, because I start crying every time I read Aggie's post, and I am about to start crying again.
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