A New York kind of day. The weather warmed up for a Groundhog Day thaw, and people had a more relaxed demeanor–the gracious offering of a seat on the subway, easier smiles on the street.
Still, there’s the opposite, too, in the New York experience, evident when I had to resolve an argument. Two street vendors were vying to get me to buy their $4 pashmina/silk scarves.
“He doesn’t care about color. Just buy, buy, buy! That’s all.”
“She’s mine. Over here!”
“My quality is better…look!”
The scarves were exactly the same, probably off the back of the same truck. The happy and quieting solution was to buy from both, after some dickering.
New York also means the micro local neighborhood spot. I met my friend for brunch at Calliope, with its warm host at the door and its bubbly, tattooed waitress. The East Village restaurant attracts the pre- and post-show crowd by donating 5 per cent to charity from the bill of the New York Theatre Workshop-goers.
Opposite from the street vendors, our meal started with a quiet catch-up, before steadily increasing in volume. Soon we were having a multi-table, anticipatory conversation about the show we were all going to see.
“What’s It All About” is a theatrical concert of Burt Bacharach songs, inspired by a young guitarist Kyle Riabko’s meeting the genius songwriter. I love those songs, made popular through the first three decades of my life by Tom Jones, The Fifth Dimension, Dionne Warwick, The Carpenters, B. J. Thomas, and multitudes of pop singers doing their own versions.
Here, the songs get a fresh treatment, in some cases more hip, others hard rock, like a rousing 70s throwback version of “Do You Know the Way to San Jose.” Here, its cheery blandness morphs into an existential query by a lost and angry youth.
But most renditions crossed between folk and a torchy soulfulness. Although familiar words were always attached to familiar melodies, the pacing might be slowed down, the harmonies lengthened. A version of “Walk On By” with that treatment brought out the true sadness in the lyrics.
For a taste, check this out:
A male duet of “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again” elicited snorts of bemused recognition. Without the relentless pop beat, Bacharach’s lyrics took on new importance, humor, poignancy, wisdom, resignation.
Performed by a talented and very young cast led me to remember where I was when those songs were first popular. “That’s What Friends Are For”–my friends and I sang that song to each other very loudly at a slumber party. “Close To You,” performed wistfully here, was probably my first slow dance with a boy. I don’t remember the boy, but I know every word of that song.
Playing with the over-familiarity of the numbers brought out their poetry for re-feeling: “one less bell to answer, one less egg to fry” and even an excerpt from the prosaic “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head”:
“But there’s one thing I know,
The blues they send to meet me won’t defeat me.”
Its familiar words and tune were inserted into other songs, making more meaning in each.
Most of the numbers were mash-ups, showing how Bacharach returned over and over again to similar lyrics and the same theme: love–its struggles, its resilience, its desirability, its obsessiveness, and sometimes, its satisfactions. Having the theme teased out by a generation so far removed from my own was wonderfully heartening, creating a sweeter connection than I have felt previously. I also realized that the songs hold meaning for a certain time of life, one that I have in my rearview mirror.
Now I think more about the complexities of place and ideas of home–part of what today’s New York kind of day brought to mind. A sense of belonging that is the New Yorker in me.