When the moon was young

(posted by asta)

My childhood had a soundtrack, which isn’t unusual in itself, except mine wasn’t made up of Fred Penner, or Raffi, or even (heaven forbid) Barney. Mine was Broadway musicals interspersed with bits of Rimsky Korsakov, Rachmaninoff and a little bit of Mozart and Strauss for levity. I was a prima ballerina for the classical bits- you should have seen my Sheherazade- but my heart belonged to the musicals.

My father was the audiophile. An engineer by profession, he spent his free time building record players, then stereo systems, tape machines and finally he wired the whole house for sound. His work demanded that he travel away from home for long periods of time, but the neighbours didn’t need to see the car in the yard to know when he returned, they could hear the music from our house. And the laughter. His return meant a relaxation of rules and softening of voices. Tall and ruggedly handsome, he carried a gentleness and spirit of bonhomie with him wherever he went. I adored him.

Almost anything seemed to make its way into his ever-expanding collection of LPs- jazz, opera, folk, classical, spoken-word- he loved it all.
The best day of the week was Sunday, after church, when he’d rush through the door ahead of us and put on a Broadway soundtrack. Then the two of us would dance around the living room, while my mother prepared lunch for whoever would be dropping by later. There were always guests, but for at least half an hour we had the music to ourselves, twirling and dipping, lost in the melodies. On the very best Sundays he’d play The Fantasticks- the original cast recording, because no other existed then. The one with Jerry Orbach as El Gallo. I wish I could play all of it for you, but if you go here, at least you can listen to the Overture, and a snippet of the September Song, sung by Jerry. His interpretation is definitive. All others reduce the song to a piece of rank cheese.

I thought life was as perfect as it could get until the summer the R___ Playhouse opened; the brainchild of my parents and some theatre friends from New York. I don’t know how it all came together, but our little town was suddenly a venue for summerstock for several years- aspiring young hopefuls from New York would spend the months of July and August performing established hits in the back of beyond. Since Daddy was doing all the sound and lighting, and Mom was doing all the administration, the theatre became my babysitter. Bliss. I never moved from the back row. I was riveted to rehearsals on the stage. I knew every line of dialogue and every song by heart. Oklahoma!, South Pacific, Carnival, My Fair Lady , …and of course The Fantasticks.
My mother tells me the director would sometimes shame forgetful actors by telling them, ” if a four -year-old can learn this, you should be able to”. It’s a wonder I wasn’t strangled before opening night, but at that age, precocious is cute. This cuteness has a short shelf life, but I worshipped the actors and they liked being worshipped.
. I wanted to be them.

But first I had to go to school. My first grade teacher, Miss C, was one of those rare breed that inspired every student she taught. She told us we were brilliant and all destined for great things. She spent extra time with those who took a little longer at mastering putting the letter A within the lines. She always had extra coins for those who ” forgot” their milk money. We all wanted to impress her-so when she asked the class one day if anyone knew any songs, my hand shot into the air. This was my moment to shine. But first Debbie had to sing ” Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and then Jean did a passable version of ” Ba Ba Black Sheep” before she called on me. Showtime!
I don’t know what I started with, but she kept asking for more. The rest of the class ceased to exist. I was on fire. When the bell rang for recess, she asked me to stay behind and sing for some of the other teachers. An adult audience! I may get to the stage before the Second Grade! But it was a little odd. She kept asking me to sing “that other song”, the one I sang before. I’d launch into the chorus of ” Plant a Radish” and she’d stop me, and I’d try again with something else. Why couldn’t she just tell me which song she wanted? Finally recess ended and I returned to my seat.

That night, at the dinner table, one of the rare times Dad was home during the week, my mother turned to me and said
” I understand you were singing today”
” Oh yes, I sang My Fair Lady, and Kiss Me Kate, and the Fantasticks and….” She cut me off and turned to my father.
” Dear, she sang the Rape Song from the Fantasticks.”
They thought it was hysterical. I didn’t get the joke.
” It’s my favourite song. Why is it funny?”
” Nevermind, asta, I’m sure you were wonderful.”

Today, I’ve little doubt social services would have been alerted, an inquiry launched and a team of psychologists deployed. My teacher and parents were wise enough to realise that it was just a bunch of words to me. And it was a different age.
Not familiar with the song? Its official title is It Depends on What you Pay. Sample lyric:

You can get the rape emphatic.
You can get the rape polite.
You can get the rape with Indians:
A very charming sight.
You can get the rape on horseback;
They all say it’s new and gay.
So you see the sort of rape
Depends on what you pay.
It depends on what you
Pay.

I still have the recording. It’s been years since I’ve listened to it. I put it away when I was 10, after Dad died in a plane crash and everything changed.

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