No One Is Alone, Not Even the Other Guy

Irish Holiday 017
Ricketts Glen, Northeast Pennsylvania

A Music Monday Post

Late last night, or early this morning, I posted about the song “No More,” from Stephen Sondheim‘s Broadway version of Into the Woods, and how I wished it had been included in the movie. Now a friend tells me that he heard somewhere that the song had been recorded, and could be found on the DVD’s special features. I plan to check that out and get back to you.

I also mentioned, and linked to, the song “No One Is Alone.” And since it is Monday, or still Monday, depending on your time zone, let’s take a look at that one, my other favorite song from the musical. Below I’ll share a video clip, from the movie this time, with the lyrics on the screen, because that’s what I want to focus on today, the lyrics.

My friend Joel could tell you more about the music, the harmonies and how it affects the drama. He’s very observant like that, and I think he was talking about the Broadway soundtrack at the time. My partner, Brian could walk you through a piano tutorial for how to play it on your keyboard, but my choir-boy days were something like 20 years ago. So as a poet, lyrics are really the only thing I’m good at anymore when it comes to music.

We read a headline and think we know what the article is about.

Song and poem titles are a lot like headlines. A good title works well with a poem right up to the ending line, and sometimes provides a surprising or comic twist. Sometimes titles are just there to catalog the piece, as in “Symphony No.5, Op.67,” but generally if someone titles a piece, that title becomes part of the piece itself.

Now, why did I mention headlines? It’s because these days I keep seeing replies in comment sections all over the web, comments that are obviously made by people who did not read the article they are commenting on. They see the headline and think they know the message, so they leap in with their party’s pre-approved talking points, and to hell with the content of the article. It’s so often the case that the objections in the comments are actually discussed, maybe even agreed upon in the article itself. If only people would read before they spout off.

Maybe it’s not just the web, maybe we have always done this. How many times have you been in a discussion where you can tell that the other party is not really listening, but instead perched on the edge of her chair, waiting for your next pausing breath, when she can leap in with her opinion? Or his, of course (more often his). And worse, how often do they assume they know your opinion before you have even had the chance to articulate it?

Frank Sinatra vs. Robert Frost

And what do headlines have to do with song titles and poem titles? I was going to provide a handy link here to a blog post I wrote about the most misquoted poem in American poetry.  But then I realized that while I have written a lot about it, the post is still in my draft folder, waiting for me to make a good recording of Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.”

I will eventually write that post, but for now you can click here for an old YouTube video I recorded with my phone camera, trying to be experimental at Bloomsburg University. If you scroll down to the description and click “Show More,” you’ll get my whole little explanation.

My Way: The Best of Frank Sinatra
My Way: The Best of Frank Sinatra (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yes, “The Road Not Taken” is misread and taken out of context almost everywhere it is printed or spoken. I don’t mean that people misinterpret it. I mean they literally do not read what it says! Why? I don’t know, maybe it’s because Americans can be lazy and we were taught somewhere to speed read. We hear the beginning of the poem, breeze right through the middle and maybe pay attention to those cool final lines that sound like they could be in some self-actualized-I-Did-It-MY-Way poem by Frank Sinatra.

But if you read the lines in the middle, you realize that the narrator is not being honest, and he relays how he’ll bend the truth when he’s an old man, rewriting the story to make himself the hero of his own tale.  At first he claims the one road was “grassy and wanted wear. / But as for that, ” He corrects himself, “the passing there / had worn them really about the same.” And isn’t that what we do? Re-write our stories to fit our view of the world and ourselves, creating our own reality? And isn’t Frost’s poem so much more a brilliant commentary on humanity than that old concept that we are really powerful enough to bend fate to our will and do it “my way?”

So let’s get back to our song from Into the Woods.  People refer to Frost’s poem all the time as “The Less Traveled Road,” but the poem’s actual title is “The Road Not Taken.” And isn’t that different from the self-improvement-style piece it’s been turned into? Even the title shows us that the speaker is still thinking about where he did not go, not where he did. Now I have heard today’s song referred to as “You Are Not Alone,” and that is indeed a phrase in the song, but the actual title is a bit more startling when you think about it.

My friend Keith, a theater actor himself, once told me that this is an element of the song that audience members can miss if they are not really listening. Maybe we could call it speed listening, skimming, that same human fault that leads to assuming you know what someone else is saying because you heard them say a buzz word, or you think you know their political affiliation.

Just remember . . .
Someone is on your side . . .
Someone else is not.
While we’re seeing our side . . .
Maybe we forgot:
They are not alone.
No one is alone.

Here’s the thing: You are not alone, but neither is the Giant. That’s where this musical departs from Disney-style fairy tales; life is complicated. It’s not usually so easy as “good triumphs over evil.” Sometimes it’s just people doing their best, or making dumb mistakes.  I like that the song encourages us to “honor one another’s terrible mistakes.” Wow. That’s a perspective I didn’t learn in Sunday School, even though King David was actually (according to the story about him and Bathsheba) an adulterous murderer.

Our song goes on to say that witches can be right, and giants can be good. And the decision is not up to some moral code written on a stone tablet somewhere. The truth resides inside of us. It’s up to you:

You decide what’s right.
You decide what’s good.

Someone is on your side.

I’ll let the song speak for itself now. The lyrics are right on the screen. This time, here is the version from the 2014 movie. The Giant’s wife, coming for her revenge, cuts off the last word.

And that’s another Music Monday. Have a great week!

5 Comments Add yours

  1. yraduy says:

    Great post. Two quotes from David I would like to underline:

    “the decision is not up to some moral code written on a stone tablet somewhere. The truth resides inside of us”


    “And isn’t that what we do? Re-write our stories to fit our view of the world and ourselves, creating our own reality? ”

    These two quotes are philosophically very intriguing and ca lead to very substancious discussions. The first quote claims the inexistence of a moral code beyond the human being. That means: there is no methaphysical Sense we can reach beyond ourselves. The most radical consequence is that there is not a metaphysical being (God?) who can provide us with a moral code. Nietzsche would agree here.

    The second quote claims that we create our own reality. Nietzsche would agree here as well. There is no “reality” independent of the human look. The human condition, our senses, our feellings, create the so-called reality.

    Beautiful song, Northern. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I should have quoted Nietzsche there! I remember thinking hard on that when I read that in a senior level Lit Theory class, that bit about making our own meaning. But I think that’s what Frost is saying too. So many poets have.


  2. slpmartin says:

    Such amazing lyrics…but it’s been a history of such wonderful words.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Yes, these lyrics really get to me, and more because they are not what you expect to hear, but they feel true, and right. I’m really glad you enjoyed it, Charles.


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