Music Monday: Ring of Keys

August 31, 2015

It’s a bank  holiday here in the UK and it’s Labor day weekend in the US next weekend. So I straddle two mismatched Mondays where half my life is on vacation and half off. I doubt I’ll get both off, but it’s worth a shot!

We saw Fun Home on Broadway a while back. If you’ve not read the book, you must. It is wonderful. I’ve followed Alison Bechtal’s work since the 1980s (oh Dykes to Watch Out For…how I miss you!), but Fun Home is a transcendence.

The musical is pretty damn good too. Well worth seeing. For me, the stand out song is “Ring of Keys.” (Partly because it’s a great song and partly because Sydney Lucas is awesome.)

The chorus is an amazing bit of writing:

Your swagger and your bearing
and the just right clothes you’re wearing
Your short hair and your dungarees
And your lace up boots.

And your keys oh
Your ring of keys.

If you consider the panel from which it’s derived, it’s clear that this passage isn’t quite a transliteration of the panel, but rather a transfiguration:

The panel shows everyone: Alison’s dad with his contemptuous concern; Alison at the cusp of recognition; the delivery women completely unknowing of how her very existence is a lifeline. The text says “surge of joy” but that’s a bit after the panel (as I read it).

The song focuses your attention on young Alison. We aren’t seeing through her eyes, we are seeing her and her epiphany. Like most Bechtal, the details drive the moment but the moment is, well, not beyond the details. The moment is entirely in the details but, again, transfigured. Each of the details (swagger, bearing, lace up boots) fill Alison completely and yet there’s more. The keys are the apotheosis (narratively and musically) and while the metaphor may be thought a bit obvious (I think there are a lot of layers to it), it fits.

(The article is interesting because it discusses the perceived challenges of making the lyrics work without falling flat with a straight audience: ““I was concerned with how to write about butchness for what would presumably be an audience that is not completely made up of lesbians,” Kron recalled. “I didn’t know how Alison could talk about that delivery woman without the audience laughing at her. This is is a stock target of ridicule. I didn’t believe we could do it.””; they did it.)

And of course, the bridge has the very nice bit:

Do you feel my heart saying hi?
In this whole luncheonette
Why am I the only one who see you’re beautiful?

[Spoken]
No, I mean

[Sung]
Handsome!

It got a laugh when we saw it and it was a good laugh. Alison has a double realisation: That the women is (unknown to most) beautiful and that she’s not beautiful but handsome. The second step is her claiming the butch signifiers that had been denied to her. She doesn’t just value them, she owns them.

It’s a great moment in the book too, but with a completely different valance. I love going back and forth between them.

(The book’s most magical moment is at the end.)

 

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