Monday, December 10, 2007


I'm winding up a unit on Romeo and Juliet in my freshman English classes, and so I decided to bring in Somewhere from West Side Story and also the Dire Straits song Romeo and Juliet. We've spent a fair amount of time doing a variety things with the play. We've gotten on our feet and performed a fifteen minute version of it; we've tried rewriting some of the speeches in contemporary English; we've played around with generating Elizabethan-style insults; and we've done some vocabulary work. I've talked to them about Shakespeare's London and Elizabethan tastes in entertainment, tastes that Shakespeare both catered to and competed against as a theater producer.
I had no illusions about them loving the song "Somewhere" from the musical. I played the Barbara Streisand version, which even made me cringe a little and which drew rather embarrassed looks from a few of my students. But when I turned to the Dire Straits song I was a bit dismayed (shocked in truth) to learn that no one in my class had heard of them.
Believe me when I say that I'm over the fact that I'm old in their eyes...but today I realized that I might even be alien to them...ancient at the very least.
I went ahead fearlessly (actually I had no choice, it was all I had planned). I gave them the lyrics and asked them to tell me after hearing the song how the Dire Straits version of the story changed the ending of the Shakespeare version. (Juliet jilts Romeo and leaves his sorry lovestruck self to skulk about in the shadows of the streets.)
Anyway, I start the song and sit back. I watch my kids' faces. They seem absorbed in the lyrics, which pleases me. I too look at the lyrics just in time to hear the line "I forget the movie song". It occurs to me that as many times as I've listened to this song I've never come to terms with that phrase "movie song". What is that about, I wonder?
I shrug yet again and troll along the lyrics until towards the end of the song that line echoes again but this time, "there's a place for us, you know the movie song," and suddenly it hits me. "Somewhere...there's a place for us." Oh my god, I think, conjuring Streisand's voice in my mind.
Excited, I pause the song and I challenge my students, "What's he talking about, 'the movie song'?"
Nobody answers.
I hold up the lyric sheet of Somewhere, and then a girl across the room gets it. "He's talking about the song in West Side Story," she says. I nod wisely. The kids nod too at the connection and at me, silently giving me props for drawing the circle to a close. Trouble is, it's just dumb luck on my part. I can't maintain the pretense so I cop to it a few moments later.
One of the kids looks at me and says, "I thought you planned it that way."
"Next time I just might," I say.
Some day, somewhere.


Blogger Erin said...

I love it! Those "ah-hah!" moments are one of my favorite things in life. I feel like I can commiserate a little about the 'being old' thing. I am surrounded by people in my classes who think that I'm an old fart. It's a little depressing to realize that the music I liked in high school is now "retro". But to not know who the Dire Straits are?! Criminal! Granted, Mark Knoffler is no Britney Spears (!), but still...

7:56 AM  

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