Monday, June 2, 2014


My favorite song from West Side Story depends on how I'm feeling at any given time.

When I lived in Japan I often found myself singing, "America." I would sing "I want to live in America," not only because I embraced the "land of dreams" symbolism, but also because I am aware of the "terrible time in America" cynicism as well. Still, it's a catchy tune with bitingly sarcastic lyrics. And it's such a fun, energetic song! I can listen to it at any time and enjoy it, for sure.

When I'm in the mood to really *listen* to lyrics, my favorite is probably "Officer Krupke."  The whole song is full of word-play and rhymes that are simply marvelous. Plus the "message" that juvenile delinquents are good/bad/misunderstood is still timely, more than fifty years after it was originally written. I don't know if that's good, or sad. Either way, there is a lot going on in this song with the lyrics that you won't catch unless you are really listening, and "hip" to the scene. For example, "my grandma pushes tea," confused me for years until I researched that this is actually a marijuana reference (a "pot" of tea). And of course, "no one wants a fella with a social disease" means more than it actually says.

When I'm in the mood to listen to complex music, I listen to "Quintet." I either try to recognize as many musical parts as I can, or I pick one part to try to follow throughout the song. This is the one that I can listen to over and over again and not get tired of it because there is just so much to it.

When I'm in a romantic mood I like "Tonight" or "Somewhere." "Tonight" is the happy "before" romantic ballad, and "Somewhere" is the sad "after" version. "Tonight" is where the lovers enjoy each others' company and look forward to their future rendezvous. "Somewhere" is the more mature lovers' recognition of the obstacles to their love. I like this song very much. As I got older and actually found myself in a bi-racial relationship, I embraced even more the hope and optimism inherent in the song. However, the song as it is sung on the sound-track is not a great version of the song. I would love to find a great cover of this song. I'm surprised that it was never recorded as a duet and released as a single. If you know of a good version, please let me know. Hook me up, daddio!

How can I leave out the other classic songs like "Cool" and "Maria" and "The Jet Song" and "I Have A Love" and "I Feel Pretty"?! These are all great songs, too! West Side Story sound-track on cassette tape was one of the first sound-tracks I ever bought and it is still one of my all-time favorite records. 

All songs by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim.

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