Tom Jones, who wrote “The Fantasticks” book and lyrics, died this week. This news means something to me: In 1966 after graduating from college, I’d lived in Greenwich Village and a block from the Sullivan Street Theater where “The Fantasticks,” the world’s longest-running musical, played for forty years. So I saw it of course. And throughout my twenties I’d probably listened to its 1960, Jerry Orbach-as-El Gallo (the “Our Town”esque Stage Manager) soundtrack at least once a week. “Try to remember“*? Vividly.
Or so I’ve always thought. But this week, learning of Jones’ death, I listened to that original-cast album for the first time in years. And was gifted with a sixty-year old “Wait! What?” memory, aka a cognitive dissonance moment. (Are more of us thinking about this phenomenon after seeing “Barbie”? I know I am.)
My brain-scrambling, illogical moment happened when El Gallo sings “It Depends On What You Pay.” Which is a song about rape. (El Gallo argues that while “attempted abduction” is a more fitting description to what is about to happen, rape is “short and business-like.”) Wait! What? Up to that moment I’d loved everything about this charming, cardboard-moon-hung-on-a-tattered-curtain production. So why was I suddenly so disgusted?! And confused? Yet still in love?
At twenty-two, twenty-three, I had no language to explain my swirled, internal processing to myself. Any more than at that age I could have explained why I, whose grandmother had died of lung cancer, still smoked! Nor did I know enough to ask that all-important and all-clarifying question: Would a woman have written such a paean to sexual assault? Sixty years ago I had little to no understanding of another polysyllabic word: patriarchy. Nor know that I would continue to feel vaguely uneasy each subsequent time I listened to the LP. And that my uneasiness would eventually feel normal.
“Deep in December,” I know a little more about myself and my species. I now have two fancy words to explain my all-too-human self to myself—no, three. Because the patriarchy hasn’t exactly disappeared, has it.
Could I extend that same generous spirit to, say, someone who, despite all the compelling evidence/multiple indictments, still plans to vote for TFG?