November 27, 2021

Sondheim surrounded by his creations

Dateline – Seattle, Washington

It’s been a very Seattle day, grey and wet which has matched my mood. Some of that is, of course, coming from yesterday’s news of the death of Stephen Sondheim. Anyone who knows me knows I’ve been a Sondheim fanatic for nearly fifty years and that his music and lyrics have provided the soundtrack to my adult life. As a geriatrician who knows all too well just what the last acts of life can entail, the fact that he had a good Thanksgiving with friends on Thursday and then died suddenly on Friday morning in full possession of his faculties is about as good a way to go as there is and certainly what I hope happens to me when it’s my time to board my train for the next destination. I’m sad thinking that the world no longer has him in it. I’m happy that we had him and his prodigious output and his accessibility to the music theater artists of the world. As I scroll through social media, everyone with any connection to the performing arts as a story of some small kindness or encouragement, some sense of self discovery from a song or a show, or some life altering experience from working with him or on one of his pieces. Well done and rest well and give Oscar a big hug when you see him.

There has been no doubt in anyone’s mind for decades that Sondheim was the gold standard for music theater creativity and craft. With him gone, who takes the mantle? Lin-Manuel Miranda? Robert Lopez? Flaherty and Ahrens? Marc Shaiman? Can anyone? Sondheim always spoke of theater as a living, vital thing that constantly evolves and reflects new audiences and expectations so whomever it is will need to understand this and give us more to see. In the meanwhile, I’ll read the tributes, listen to the songs and, when I get home, get out my personal bundle of typewritten notes from over the years and reread them. I wish I was a better singer so that I could actually be cast in some of the better roles he wrote, but I just don’t have the vocal chops and know it

.I’m still trying to find decent information on the new Omicron variant so I could get a better sense of whether it is worth the Chicken Little reporting that’s appeared over the last forty-eight hours. What I have been able to discern is that there have been fewer than 150 confirmed cases world wide, the majority in South Africa. The robust testing and sequencing done there identified the variant very quickly before it had spread too far. There are cases in other countries without links to South Africa suggesting that it has seeded elsewhere thanks to international air travel. It’s likely here in the USA but it just hasn’t been identified yet. The mutations likely make it more transmissible, but not more virulent and it has yet to be seen if it will start to displace Delta as the major circulating variant. There is no evidence to suggest that banning flights from certain countries will have any effect at all on the virus or its circulation. That is a piece of political theater to make nervous populations feel like someone somewhere is doing something.

And that’s likely the biggest problem. After nearly two years of continuous pandemic news and privation, the world’s population is shell shocked and all of our lizard brains go on high alert the minute that we are given any hint that danger is returning. We’re going to continue to react in this way for the foreseeable future as our brains have been significantly rewired by our pandemic experiences. This goes for our leaders as well as for us common folk in the trenches. We’re losing our abilities to think rationally and objectively about the problems Covid poses because it’s become so significantly intertwined with our primitive emotional reactions to an uncontrollable danger. Britain is going back to mask mandates over two cases. The CDC has been completely silent so far on US plans. The current administration, well aware of the politicization of the virus, is doing its best not to make waves but I don[t think radio silence is their best option.

The siblings and I got together yesterday evening for bowling. It was my sister’s partner’s birthday. I was not thrilled. The last time I went bowling, my high score was 37. Imagine my shock when I emerged with a 136, the high score for the night. As I have definitely not improved in athleticism in recent years, the gods were taking pity on me and letting fewer of my balls escape into the left gutter, where they usually end up. All is well in sibling land, and with my father and the extended family. It’s nice to see them face to face rather than over zoom which is how most of our connections have been this past year. It’s late… to bed, to bed…LikeCommentShare

2 thoughts on “November 27, 2021

  1. I’m looking forward to hearing (and finally seeing IRL) your talk today about how we can live healthy productive lives ala Sondheim, albeit without a whisper of musical talent.


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