Sunday, July 27, 2008

A Simple Song About Clowns

I was still in high school when I first heard this song. I think it was about 8 years ago when our theater group's managing director, a really old but very wise man, told us about this song in one of our many sharing sessions and explained to us what it meant. From then on, it had become one of my favorites.
Before, whenever I listened to this song, I would pretend to understand exactly how the singer felt. Even though my younger self had never been hurt the way she had been, I would try to vicariously feel her pain and hear her words as she tried to soothe her hurting heart.
These days, I have no need to pretend.

This song was written by Stephen Sondheim for the 1973 musical A Little Night Music. It is sung in the second act by the character Desiree after being rejected by a man whose marriage proposal she had rejected 20 years earlier. Desiree, an aging actress, realizing that she now loves the man, and believing that the he is unhappy with his current marriage, and is in need of "rescuing," proposes to him that he leave his wife and be with her once and for all. Instead of a yes that, with all her heart, she expected, she was turned down.
"To flirt with rescue when one has no intention of being saved..."

As to the title, back when the circus was a mainstream form of entertainment, whenever something in a stunt goes wrong, like an acrobat falling hundreds of feet to his death due to a misstep, the ringmaster would shout, "Send in the clowns!" Legions of clowns would then enter the big top and start playing their little slapstick jokes and their little magic tricks to distract the audience from what had just occurred, in an attempt to make them forget about the tragedy.

I would always pull this song out whenever I felt sad. I'd listen to it and somehow, it would help make me feel better, or at the very least, help make me forget. I'm pulling it out tonight.

Send in the Clowns

Isn't it rich?
Are we a pair?
Me here at last on the ground,
You in mid-air.
Send in the clowns.

Isn't it bliss?
Don't you approve?
One who keeps tearing around,
One who can't move.
Where are the clowns?
Send in the clowns.

Just when I'd stopped opening doors,
Finally knowing the one that I wanted was yours,
Making my entrance again with my usual flair,
Sure of my lines,
No one is there.

Don't you love farce?
My fault I fear.
I thought that you'd want what I want.
Sorry, my dear.
But where are the clowns?
Quick, send in the clowns.
Don't bother, they're here.

Isn't it rich?
Isn't it queer,
Losing my timing this late
In my career?
And where are the clowns?
There ought to be clowns.
Well, maybe next year.

My favorite version of this song is the one sung by Glenn Close.
Here is a YouTube link if anyone wants to check it out:
Dame Judi Dench's version is also very good but she plays it with a bit more anger than I believe necessary. This song is more about about a mixed sense of self-pity and self-loathing to the point of it being almost funny. Here's her version. It gives a bit of context to the song by including some of the man's lines: