Is Anybody There?

[NOTE: This is an update of a post that originally appeared seven years ago].

In the winter of 1971, my parents took me and my sister and brothers to see 1776 at the St. James Theatre in New York. It was the first Broadway show I ever saw. (Those who know me well will not be surprised to learn that I still have the Playbill).

IMG_1786 (2)

The experience sparked my interest in the U.S. Presidents, prompting me to learn them all, in order, along with their Vice Presidents; for a number of Christmases and birthdays that followed, books about the presidents were always on my gift list. I also asked for the Original Broadway Cast Album (as you can see, I still have that, too). The song I listened to more than any other (i.e., over and over and over) was “Is Anybody There?”, sung by John Adams (played by William Daniels), at the end of the show. He is despairing that other members of the Continental Congress don’t share his vision of an independent nation.  The song is a call to the souls of his countrymen.

In my original post, back in the spring of 2013, I pointed out that the highlight, for me, was when Adams sang “I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory!  Is anybody there?  Does anybody care?”, and the salvos of percussion and brass that followed there and care.  It was one of the first times I realized that music could convey urgency as effectively as words can, and it was thrilling. (I know at some point I asked my parents, “What is the Rubicon and why is it important that Adams has crossed it?”, so the song was instructive in other ways as well.)

Yesterday, when I listened to the song on our nation’s 244th birthday, I was again drawn to “I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory!“, but also by the line that precedes it.  This has truly been a year of gloom: the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, economic woes, racial unrest, and a dismal lack of inspiring leadership–any leadership!–in the White House.  (Is anybody there indeed!) But despite all of the gloom, I’ll choose to believe that we’ll again see rays of ravishing light and glory. The intent of this blog has been to celebrate beauty, primarily in various forms of art, but also in science, nature and sport.  On the weekend in which we celebrate our independence, let’s celebrate the beauty of an idea, of an experiment: that of a more perfect union.

Is anybody there?
Does anybody care?
Does anybody see what I see?

They want to me to quit; they say
John, give up the fight
Still to England I say
Good night, forever, good night!
For I have crossed the Rubicon
Let the bridge be burned behind me
Come what may, come what may

Commitment!

The croakers all say we’ll rue the day
There’ll be hell to pay in fiery purgatory
Through all the gloom, through all the gloom
I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory!

Is anybody there? Does anybody care?
Does anybody see what I see?

I see fireworks! I see the pageant and
Pomp and parade
I hear the bells ringing out
I hear the cannons roar
I see Americans – all Americans
Free forever more

How quiet, how quiet the chamber is
How silent, how silent the chamber is

Is anybody there? Does anybody care?
Does anybody see what I see?

 


Trivia tidbit: William Daniels, who played John Adams both on Broadway and in the 1972 film version of 1776, played Dustin Hoffman’s father in The Graduate. Elizabeth Wilson’s shout of joy, “half baked/completely baked” and the timely entrance of four pieces of toast all make this one of my favorite scenes.

3 comments

  • What a great way to start the day and continue to celebrate the 4th and all that is going on in the country at this point…

    Liked by 1 person

  • 1968. We married and were just starting medical school at Cornell on the east side of NYC.
    1968. First King, then Kennedy and then the Democratic convention in Chicago. Hopeless.
    But we were thankfully close to Broadway too. Somehow we scored inexpensive student tickets for “Hair”. Three times. Could not keep away from those lyrics and music, live at the theater.
    Hair ends somewhat hesitantly, then forcefully imploring us to “Let The Sun Shine In.”
    We did. And ultimately, after we fell into the long sleep of complacency, it backfired in our faces 50 years later.
    America? Now?
    We are Germany. 1932
    “Hello Darkness My Old Friend.”
    Now what?
    The worst is yet to come.
    Frank

    Liked by 1 person

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