Monday, February 14, 2011

Send in the Clowns

My friends Nathan and Michelle got me a present for my birthday, and I took a photo of it to give you a clear idea of the humor of the gift.

And yes. It is a one-handed wind-up clown in a box that plays an eerie rendition of 'Send in the Clowns'. First of all, I want to say, if you are deathly afraid of clowns, and have just suffered a heart attack, I am most dreadfully sorry. And yes. This is by far the creepiest birthday present I have ever received. But on the other hand, there's something rather nostalgic about the way this doll is crafted, a harkening back to a time gone by.

And then the unthinkable happened: The song got stuck in my head. I couldn't stop thinking about it. I looked it up, and found that it is actually an extremely sad song.

Isn't it rich?
Are we a pair?
Me here at last on the ground,
You in mid-air.
Send in the clowns.

The song was written by Stephen Sondheim, for a musical called 'A Little Night Music'. It was adapted from an Ingmar Bergman film called 'Smiles of a Summer Night'. The song is about a woman, Desirée, who reflects on the ironies and disappointments in her life, primarily with regard to a man she had an affair with, which subsequently ruined his life. The woman he is with now is not good for him, yet he nobly presses on.

"The Clowns" are of course not actually referring to circus clowns. It is a reference to a practice in theater, where if things weren't going well, they would send in the 'clowns', or fools, to tell jokes and salvage the play. But there's a second meaning, in which Desirée knows that she's been foolish and is sorry for what she's done.

Don't you love farce?
My fault I fear.
I thought that you'd want what I want.
Sorry, my dear.
But where are the clowns?
Quick, send in the clowns.
Don't bother, they're here.

Sometimes we look back and see things that could have been better, had we only had the wisdom to do it the right way the first time. "Fools rush in" as they say. I think that's why our culture is enamored with the science fiction concept of time travel. We regret things in our past, and we wish we could change them. We're flawed, that's part of our human nature. We screw things up. That's what we do.

Send in the clowns.

No comments: