Music postsSunday September 08, 2013
Empty Chairs at Empty Tables
Last “Les Miserables” post of the day.
I first saw the cinematic “Les Miserables” before I was familiar with the music, and the music I became familiar with after seeing the movie was the original Broadway cast album, which has great singing performances from, among others, Robert Billig and Michael Maguire.
The movie has great performances, too, but the voices don't soar quite so much. Director Tom Hooper went for verisimilitude. He had his performers singing live, rather than to a studio-recorded playback. I still like that choice, that chance. This is what I wrote last December:
There’s power in these songs, and from these actors, that you don’t normally get from lip-synching to playback. You definitely feel it in Hathaway’s signature song. You feel it in Hugh Jackman’s early numbers, too, with his red eyes burning into you (“What Have I Done?), and in Redmayne’s great song of survivor’s guilt, “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables,” which is my second-favorite number in the movie.
This week I saw the movie again on HBO, and the standout this time was Eddie Redmayne as Marius. Particularly “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables”:
Apparently “Les Miserables,” as a musical, began as a concept album in the 1970s, then became a French musical in 1980 that closed after three months. It was revived in its English-language form in London in 1985, where it became a hit, and then on Broadway in 1987.
So it was written long before the AIDS crisis. Even so, I can't hear this song without thinking of AIDS and the havoc it wreaked:
Oh my friends, my friends, forgive me
That I live and you are gone
There's a grief that can't be spoken
There's a pain goes on and on
Watching this video several times today, I also thought of the Onion Cellar from Gunter Grass' “The Tin Drum”: that place where stoic people go to cut open onions and cry and feel. That's movies, too. The better ones?
After the Revolution: An Interview with Michael Maguire, the original Enjolras in 'Les Miserables'
It's less a lazy Sunday than a Les Miz Sunday.
To go along with my sister's chance encounter with Hugh Jackman at the Toronto airport, here is part of my Q&A with Michael Maguire, who played the original Enjolras on Broadway, and is now a family law attorney in Beverly Hills:
Q: You won a Tony for playing Enjolras in the original Broadway production of Les Miserables. You perform with symphonies all over the country. So I have to ask: Why law?
A: I wanted to go to law school for years. I just wanted the intellectual challenge. I mean, I do recognize that I have a physical gift. It’s almost like being a fast runner or something. I have a talent that I needed and still need to share.
But while I was singing with symphonies, I was also buying and restoring old houses in Hancock Park in Los Angeles. I love historic restoration. I made good money doing that. But the market started looking soft to me in 2005 and I thought, “If I’m ever going to go to law school I should do it right now before I’m just too old and lazy to do it.”
Q: And why family law?
A: I had a nasty divorce. During the course of that divorce, I started recognizing that my attorneys were billing me a tremendous amount of money for basically regurgitating what I told them. Or they were checking boxes that I could have checked. And they didn’t understand numbers like I did because I’d been a broker on Wall Street prior to going into the theater. I just had a mission in my life, and it continues to this day, to try to keep other people from going through that. ...
Q: Does it ever get in the way of your family law practice—the fact that you played Enjolras?
A: I don’t tell anybody about it.
Q: Right, but …
A: So if somebody knows, it may, and only for a minute, get in the way. Actually, if anything, it gets in the way of the opposing counsel. Because they think, “Oh, this guy’s just a singer.”
Q: So they’ll underestimate you.
A: They underestimate me big time. And that’s their big mistake.
Maguire dominated the “Les Mis” cover of Newsweek magazine in 1987. In a bit of coincidence, that cover was designed by Patricia.
Maguire's voice still gives me chills, by the way, particularly the way he sings the following:
With all the anger in the land
How long before the Judgement Day?
Before we cut the fat ones down to size
Before the barricades arise?
It's my favorite part of the musical, give or take an “oo and ah.” Or an empty table or empty chair.
You can hear the person sing here. He shows up at 1:54:
Song of the Day
-- David Bowie, “Young Americans,” 1975
See also: “American Car,” “American Idiot,” “American Tune,” “American without Tears.”
Song of the Day: 'Tired of Being Alone' by Al Green
Patricia's brother Jack posted this on Facebook the other day. Two words: Holy shit.
I've been paying so little attention to the news this week that I didn't know why the five living presidents got together, why George H.W. Bush was wearing pink socks (which I liked), and why George W., his ne'er-do-well son (and a truer compound adjective was never used), was the center of attention. Then I read past the headlines: The George W. Bush Presidential Library. Cue “The Pet Goat” jokes.
Seeing W. with H.W., and surrounded by Dems, and hearing echoes of the usual bullshit from the far right, who seem to know nothing but the smell of their own bullshit these days (I'm talking the FOX-News/Rush Limbaugh/Glenn Beck triumverate), I flashed back to a good early 1990s R.E.M. song called “Drive.” Great opening lyrics. Back then, it really fit H.W. and the War on Drugs. Now it fits W. and his War on Terror. Astonishly so.
Smack, crack, bushwhacked
Tie another one to the racks, baby
Hey kids, rock and roll
Nobody tells you where to go, baby
The smack/crack is for the first Bush, tying another one to the racks for the second.
There are about two dozen videos of the song on YouTube, none particularly good, but the song's genius. Love the dead way Michael Stipe sings, “Nobody tells you where to go. Baby.”
Ollie Ollie in come free.
Hey kids, shake a leg/ Maybe you're crazy in the head, baby