Wisdom: when words convey a truth that’s irrefutable. The right ones echo, to the point where you realize you’ve memorized it because it’s something you never want to forget. Ever.
Stephen Sondheim’s words and music have had that effect on me even before I knew his name. In “Something’s Comin’” from West Side Story, I recognized its sentiment as feelings I thought were only mine until I heard them sung out loud. Later would come other loud rings of truth from such shows as Company, Follies, Sweeney Todd,and that much-maligned, but to me tabula rasa paean to youthful aspiration, Merrily We Roll Along.
Isn’t it funny how artists can capture us? He was our Shakespeare, a master of that most American art form known as musical theater; like the Bard, his work continues to reward with repeated listening. Like a Diane Arbus photograph or a moody Hooper landscape he captured us perfectly in all our darkness and light. His death presents an opportunity for retrospect, but please, don’t stop with the many laudatory obits that will come soon. Treat yourself to a viewing of Sunday in the Park, Into the Woods or Passion (libraries exist not just for books). Savor him. For God’s sake, study him. But most important, listen and hear human experience reflected back with a beauty that only the truth can yield. He was the mirror for us all.