“Allan, I can’t sleep –tell me the story of West Side Story,” I can remember saying to my poor beleaguered brother in the days when we shared a bedroom.
If the early sixties was the age of the single (45 rpm) record, the late sixties was the age of the album, the 33 rpm LP, especially as Allan left school, got a job and started earning. The first LP he bought was Gerry and the Pacemakers ‘How Do You Like It?’ (cleverly combining the titles of two of their hits –geddit?) but then his purchases broadened, and one of those purchases was the soundtrack of ‘West Side Story’ because he had seen the film and enjoyed it.
At that age both Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim were just names to me, of course –and would not ‘flesh out’ into reputation for another decade – both of them; but the LP was magical. There wasn’t a bum track on it, and I was fascinated about how it all fitted together. So, imagine my poor sleep deprived brother as I’m asking “so who sings ‘Somewhere’? What point does that come into the story’? And who is Officer Krupke? Why does the girl who’s feeling pretty feel so pretty? Who’s telling her ‘a boy like that/could kill your brother’? Why do they like to be in America? Where were they before?
I probably memorised all the lyrics, as you do. But I can remember a particular fondness for ‘Something’s Coming’ – any teenager should be able to buy into that – hey, something special just around the corner – the world full of possibilities. I can remember (embarrassing) solitary walks on the hill behind our street, and singing this out like a little X factor wannabe diva – five decades too early?
It’s a masterful little construction –changing pace between the staccato, breathy ‘Could be… Who knows…’ until you come to the breathless, swift run of ‘I got a feeling there’s a miracle due gonna come true coming to meeeeeee…..’ Those sentiments tap into a genuine youthful excitement. And those youthful excitements, I can’t stop believing, are genuine God-given signposts to the pregnant potency of life itself. And OK, only when the majority of your presumed threescore-and-ten stretches out before you can you really indulge in that heady optimism…but I see no reason why us ol timers shouldn’t also be able to know the occasional shivers of attentiveness and expectancy ‘only just out of reach…down a block…on a beach….maybe tonight…’
I did eventually see the film! It’s got its flaws, it’s got its charms, it’s got some stunning choreography set pieces (‘America!’). I’m glad I knew the music first, though – Bernstein and Sondheim, my hat is tipped to your combined brilliance.