Wednesday, October 13th, 2010
What would the parable of the lost son be without a frivolous spending spree? We knew right away that a song would have to be dedicated to the younger son’s choice to squander his great wealth. But how exactly?
Some non-negotiables for us: 1) there’s a lot to spend (“sound the cheer: extravagance is here!”), 2) the younger son meets people who make his world larger (“well, I’m groovin’ with my new friends, pushy dealers of delight”), 3) many months pass, (“from moon to moon hear life’s relentless cry”) 4) he has a blast (“sweet for our spendhappy fool, sweet to see him whoop and swoon”).
Brian began with a very catchy strumming pattern of bright, simple chords (which, for the recording, got layered with Brian Thiessen’s multiple stringed instrument talents). It’s a cheery tune, for sure, and superfun to sing. (Try it, if you haven’t already.)
By choosing to start and end the song with the title-bearing chorus, we fought against the inclination to moralize against the spending spree. It might have been tempting for us to overidentify with the elder brother and make this song into a surgeon general’s warning against wild living. While in the long run the audience is led to question the wisdom of the Younger Son’s actions, in the moment we wanted to celebrate his youthful freedom and his father’s great resource which grants him access to a world of sweet delights.
Such a bias is at the heart of this story – that the generosity of the father is more compelling than the “do the right thing” frugality of the elder brother, even when one doesn’t steward it well. We were helped by the reality that, in writing a musical, we needed as many fun dance tunes as possible. The plot would thicken and darken soon enough, so we were committed to keeping this moment upbeat.
This does not mean the song doesn’t have its undertow of irony and forboding. How could we dramatize a spendthrift lifestyle without addressing the very real risk of gluttony and addiction? (“Well, I admit I’ve got that bent”) Furthermore, how could we truthfully look at how wealth helps sweeten life without considering the harder truth that most people don’t have access to such wealth? (“What about the low born scum who pay the dues? Life too sweet can turn too bitter all too soon.”)
Still, the song doesn’t end with the bad news. It parties on as it should. The final chorus puts it all together (the good, the bad, and the bottom line): “Life is fun, life is fresh, filled with endless happiness, and we won’t slow down until we’ve tasted all. No, we won’t slow down until we’ve wasted all. Life is sweet.”