Secret Pop

Feb 25, 2005

"Everything is flat and dreary. I couldn't care what's in the news."

I came home late to musicals on television. First My Fair Lady. Then on another channel West Side Story. And Maria began to sing in those pretty arpeggios, like delicate little glass bells, her voice. I know it wasn't Natalie Wood singing. But curiously, the same voice double sang for Natalie Wood as did for Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady in the sopranoest of the songs. Marnie Someone, if I recall correctly.

Anyway, Maria sings to Tony out there on the fire escape. (The prologue to Tony singing Maria, his big solo.) And I admire the precision of her voice. And I remember admiring it when I first saw this movie on the television as a high school student living in Japan. We lived off-base in a neighborhood called Uraga. And there was no American television. Just this converter box you could buy that would sit atop your television set and play the English voice track to certain movies once a week or so. In mono. And we would watch whatever movie played just for the novelty of being able to understand what the actors were saying. Much like one might look through those colored cellophane cards at whatever poorly-narrated story was being presented in a given children's book in the promise of stunning 3-D.

Sometimes we watched movies that weren't that great. Or movies that were scary and that I wouldn't have ordinarily wanted to watch, as I do not usually care for scary movies mostly because they scare me and I feel nervous and fearful when I'm alone or trying to sleep after having watched one. But when I watched West Side Story, there was none of that inadvertency. I watched because I wanted to, and I never wanted it to end. It was so gloriously colorful and lovely to listen to and perfect and melodramatic. My only regret was that I couldn't hear it in full stereo surround sound. I had a chance to play in an orchestra for a production of the show back in 1998 or so, but I was playing in another show at the time. The Mystery of Edwin Drood, I think. And that was wonderful, too. A fun experience and a spate of happy memories. I was charged up with creative fire. I was performing in a sketch and improv comedy show at the time, and I spent all of my downtime in the orchestra pit writing ideas in my little notebook. Ideas for sketches. Ideas for characters. Ideas for names for the comedy group. Ideas for names for the show. Some of the things I wrote in this notebook (it had a Matisse painting on the cover and was library bound, with blank pages inside) still amuse me. Some of those days in the late summer were grey and surprisingly cold. The light in my bedroom when the blinds were closed seemed like nighttime, even when it was barely dusk. And when I used to open the windows -- because I was cleaning or because I wanted to remember the feeling of a breeze -- it used to smell lovely and odd in a way that I wonder if any other place in the world ever smells. Warm. A bit damp. Full of those various essences of chlorophyll and sweat and asphalt and soda pop. I lived on the third floor. But I never felt very far above anything.

I performed for several years in a musical comedy theater group at Mesa College in San Diego, and one year I sang the part of Maria in a few numbers from West Side Story. I was one of the reliable sopranos in the group, and eventually I began to be cast in even the ingenue roles when they called for a high voice. I felt very proud and fortunate. And confidently disappointed in my certainty that I would never be cast to play the entire role in a real production of the show. I've never auditioned for such a show, but that's how I've managed to keep my record of clairvoyance intact. I never get cast as the ingenue. I can think of any number of reasons why, but no one enjoys hearing that list.

I never finished reading the biography of Leonard Bernstein I started reading either that year or the next. If I stumble onto it while I'm poking through boxes at some point, maybe I will. He is the recipient of a great lot of my admiration. And the score to West Side Story is at least as difficult to play instrumentally as it is to sing. I am a fan of difficult. I don't know why that is. But I really appreciate being made to try.

I have been avoiding nostalgia. I have been keeping my feet out of the reminiscence pool. I have been giving it a go. But harping on my history is one of those things I do. It's the grind that turns out some form of usable pulp. It's necessary or something. I like to tell stories about things. And I like it when the telling of those stories leads me to places I had not planned to go. Most of the time. But I don't necessarily love the sinking feeling that accompanies certain of my memories. That apartment. The way the light looked at that time of year. The choices I made in furniture placement. Everything is so temporary. And yet you live with it for such a goddamned long time.

I was living through the seconds. My composure was a mess. I was miles from tenderness. It was dark outside the day it was broken in pieces.

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