As for the album Songs from The Capeman, since I will be discussing all of the songs in the musical altogether, I will of course cover those in the process. However, the songs on that album do not follow the order of their presentation in the musical itself. As the musical tells a story in a particular order, including flashbacks, I will preserve the song order of the musical. If you have listened to the album, perhaps listening to the songs in the "right" order will help you appreciate the musical in another way. In 11 of the 16 weeks, I will be writing about a song from the album; as there are so many more songs in the play than on the album, there cannot be an album song covered each week. However, as Simon highlighted these songs by including them on the album, I will only cover one album song in any given entry, to give it its proper due.]
The first song in the musical is an innocent one called "El Coquito." The Lyrics book explains that it is a Puerto Rican folksong by one Olcutt Sanders. It is about a "Little Tree Toad," named for its cry, and in the song the children imitate it. My limited Spanish indicates that the toad sings at night, and the children imagine it sings them a lovely lullaby. The notes also indicate that the song is sung by children who are offstage.
Then Salvador, our protagonist, sings a brief verse about being free-- we soon learn, from jail. But then he adds, ominously: "But there's the truth that still needs to be spoken."
The first full-length song, "Born in Puerto Rico," is the second track on the soundtrack album. The first verse is pure biography. Sal relates where he was born, that he moved to New York City as child, and that "before I reached the age of sixteen/ I was running with a gang, and we were wild."
The book and the soundtrack differ on the next line, which changes the meaning of the lines that follow. The book has Salvador remembering his own youth and the sights and smells of the barrio evening. The album has the more eyebrow-raising: "He keeps looking but he don't recognize me," as if "he" should.
Then the chorus, which addresses "you," a party we are yet to meet, unless he or she is onstage; I only have the lyrics, not the "book" of the musical with stage directions. "No one knows you like I do/ No one knows your heart the way I do/ No one will testify to all you've been through, but I will." Again, it would help if we knew whom was being addressed.
The refrain is sung by Salvador and his gang, The Vampires. They repeat the title, then add "And my blood is Taino" (say: tah-EE-no) which the liner notes correctly capitalize (the book does not). This is a proper noun; the Taino people are the natives of Puerto Rico.
Salvador then picks up the biographical thread, noting how unprepared they were as immigrants (yes, Puerto Rico is part of the US politically, but culturally, significantly distinct)-- "We came here wearing summer clothes in winter"-- and yet, equipped with "hearts of sunshine in the cold." The thrust of the musical, we will see, is how the "cold" won and conquered Sal's spirit, and how he tries mightily to get his "sunshine" back.
The "you" is now revealed to live on the upper floors of a certain apartment building, and to be the stepchild of a Pentacostal preacher. And then again the chorus of "No one..." this time ending "...but this will."
Salvador ruminates: "Small change and sunlight, then I left these streets for good." So he was poor, yet hopeful, and then left. For where? And why?
First, the other Vampires introduce themselves. Salvador says all that is left of them is "blurred... grainy photos" in the newspaper. Then we get a partial answer. Salvador lists the places he was incarcerated; in the book, we get the length of each stay in each place, but in the soundtrack just a list of places, starting with a "school for criminal children" and including infamous prisons like Sing Sing and Attica.
"Twenty years inside, today we're free." The "you" is his partner in crime, then? Salvador says that there was so much written about the case that he did not have a chance to read it all before lights-out in jail... "The night you took The Capeman for your name."
Well, Salvador is The Capeman. So who is he speaking to? To "Sal"... his younger self. In the musical, two different actors play this character at different ages. They are differentiated on the page as 'Sal,' the young punk, and 'Salvador,' the middle-aged ex-con he matures into.
The older self promises his younger self he will remember him, testify for him. The book's version hinted at this structure with the line "I see myself, those summer evenings..." And so he alternately sings in the first person, and to his younger self as "you." So his own stepfather was a preacher, and so forth.
The newspaper stories "pile up in shame," but there is a note of hope: "...the words release you." But which words? Are these the words of the judge commuting his sentence? Some words Salvador writes? We shall see.
The song ends, in the liner notes with a coda, sung in Spanish: "I was born in Puerto Rico/ My heart... My dear is Puerto Rico." This is attributed to a character named Lazarus, and this is the first time we meet him.
Simon artfully introduces us to his main character(s), Salvador/Sal. In Salvador promising Sal he will "testify" on his behalf, we begin the musical with curiosity and some compassion.
Note: While the CD of Simon's versions of some songs was distributed as the CD Songs from The Capeman, a full original-cast soundtrack, I am told, is available on iTunes.
IMPACT: This is one of Simon's most ambitious projects, and sadly, possibly his biggest professional disappointment; the movie One Trick Pony at least spawned the hit "Late in the Evening." Despite a tremendous cast and production team, whom I will introduce in subsequent posts, the musical was met with protests (which usually fuel ticket sales!) and poor reviews, and closed shortly after it opened.
My understanding is that it was a major financial loss, more than $10 million. Afterward, Simon did many things I would never have expected. He reunited and toured with Garfunkel, releasing a CD and DVD of that tour. He re-released all of his solo material, with bonus tracks. And more.
While this material is welcome to all his fans and probably won him many new ones, I cannot wonder if these maneuvers were meant to cover some of his losses. It is simply unlike Simon to look backward like this for so long. It makes me think of Willie Nelson's efforts to pay back the IRS, including the album Who Will Buy My Memories? While Simon never used such an obvious title, these efforts feel to this writer like his asking that question. I say this only as an observation, not a criticism; if Simon did do these things for this reason, thank goodness he had tremendous quantity of outstanding material to do it with!
Next songs: In Mayaguez/ Carmen/ Santero/ Chimes/ Christmas in the Mountains