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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Shut up! You are not qualified to criticize Stephen Sondheim!


An Amazon customer named Thomas Lokensgard -- and isn't that a cool name? -- commented on my review of "Into the Woods." 

Lokensgard wrote, 

"Stephen Sondheim is the one of the most acclaimed and celebrated composers/lyricists in the entirety of musical theatre. He's written music and lyrics for several highly acclaimed shows, including Sweeney Todd, Company, A Little Night Music, Assassins, and Follies. His music is highly intricate and his lyrics are simply the best in the medium (he's published two volumes of his collected lyrics, and his insights into the process of writing lyrics are quite educational). 

He's won an Oscar, eight Tony Awards, eight Grammy Awards, a Laurence Olivier Award, and a Pulitzer Prize. His influence can be heard in many other composers and lyricists in musical theatre, including Jonathan Larson, Jason Robert Brown, and Maury Yeston.
I think it's safe to say that Sondheim probably knows more about writing songs than you do."

I wrote back, 

Thomas Lokensgard, a couple of things. 

First, Thomas, just curious, do you realize how huffy you sound? 

In any case. Everyone knows that Sondheim has received many awards and lotsa bucks. You aren't breaking news. 

Do you really believe that nothing can be gained intellectually or culturally by tweaking or questioning, even in something so humble as an Amazon review, Sondheim's plaster statue status? 

Really?

Thomas you DON'T believe in questioning authority? You DON'T believe in saying, "Okay, this person / institution / medicine / ritual has been very very powerful for a very very long time. Maybe right now is a good time to think about how and why it doesn't work for the people for whom it does not work"?

Thomas, with your attitude -- he's rich and he's gotten a lot of awards and I am nobody -- with that attitude, Thomas, no one would ever question The Vatican, or doctors not washing their hands before treating patients or laissez faire capitalism or war or Stalin or sacrificing the village's most beautiful child in order to placate the gods. 

All those rituals and institutions and persons have a much bigger legacy and a much larger cache of accolades than Stephen Sondheim.

Did the moment really never come when a nobody like me could question them? 

C'mon, Thomas. It's really this simple -- you love Sondheim and to me and to some of the folks who voted for my review, his work is without enduring value or attraction. 

The follow up question is, why? And the answer is not, "He's richer and more powerful than you so you should shut up and your thoughts should not be addressed." 
Whatever the answer to that question is, it will be found by people like me voicing our divergence from powerful, received opinion, and engaging in respectful dialogue with our own inner thoughts, and with others, and that end is one that my review serves and that your comment attempts to squelch.

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