The title here may be a bit misleading. I’m not going to write about ladies who lunch. Specifically, that refers to a song written by Stephen Sondheim for the musical Company. It is sung by a woman who growls her way through it, with a kind of bitterness and knowledge that comes with years of hard-knocks and it’s a very interesting, many-layered piece of work. If you want to watch some amazing performances of it just look up Elaine Strich or Patti LuPone. Rise! (You’ll know what I mean if you do.)
I picked it as one of my song-choices when at drama school when I was 21.
What a ridiculous choice for me.
As a rather baby-faced 21-year-old there was no way in a million years – or, maybe, another 40 – that I had the experience to embody a relevant point of view of the world in order to carry off that sort of song. I would only ever be performing a dreadful pastiche of what I imagined it should be, not growling but employing irritating mezzo-soprano vocal-fry.
On some level I remember why it was practical for me to choose it – it’s a sort of tragi-comedy you can mostly speak the words over the top, doing a lot of ‘act-singing’. So it’s great from that point of view as I’m not a confident musical singer (I’m not actually any kind of singer). But I couldn’t have even begun to inhabit the role at 21 and I’m still too young for it, probably by around another 20 years.
I am talking about this because I have been thinking of the problematic of looking at something you are interested in but do not inhabit yourself, and trying to tell that story. You can apply that to many topics. I don’t think we should necessarily always turn away from this – if that was the case there would be a lot of stories we wouldn’t know, perhaps, and we tell stories for reasons stretching back to the beginnings of time. But sometimes, there are stories, like songs, that really don’t belong to you until you get there. And sometimes, they never belong to you at all.