Monday, July 30, 2012

Manhunt/ Can I Forgive Him?

[Note to readers: Someone asked if a more complete soundtrack than Songs From had ever been released. Here is the full answer, from a 2006 piece for by Andrew Gans: "The original Broadway cast recording of Paul Simon's The Capeman — the short-lived musical that featured Ruben Blades, Marc Anthony, Ednita Nazario and Sara Ramirez — never made it to record stores, but interested listeners can now download tracks from the recording on iTunes... All 39 songs from the Simon musical are available for download... The Dreamworks SKG original cast album of Paul Simon's Broadway musical The Capeman was originally scheduled for release in spring 1998. The recording, which was never released, featured the entire Broadway cast singing the full score, which was nominated for a Tony Award as Best Original Score. A CD of Simon, Blades, Anthony and Nazario singing selections from the show was released in fall 1997. The cast album includes much material not on the Songs From The Capeman CD."]

There is no song about the crime in progress, just the aftermath. The song "Manhunt" begins with adult Salvador recalling the events' conclusion: "I see two bodies lifted high/ As angels in their shroud."

A cabdriver recalls picking up "them Puerto Ricans," and where, and also where he dropped them off, a neighborhood called San Juan Hill, which we assume is named for Puerto Rico's capital. "The little guy with the stingy brim/ Looked mean enough to kill," the cabbie adds. We recall a "stingy brim" hat being discussed in "Shopliftin' Clothes." (This just means the brim is smaller than standard.)

The Chorus takes part in this song. At first, they cry, "Run, Spic, run!" This slur comes from the way native Spanish speakers tend to pronounce the word "speak," especially in explaining that they "don't speak English." Those who could would mock their accent.

Then the mayor arrives for a press conference. He blames the lack of "parental guidance," and "the courts," with their "leniency for animals that lead a life of crime." He concludes by saying the police force will add 1,400 officers.

Carlos, young Sal's positive role model, was "at the scene," and it seems he fingered Sal; we are also reminded that Sal was 16 at the time. Now Sal himself takes over the narration, explaining that he and Umbrella Man "vanished in the Bronx/ Taking food from garbage cans" until Sal is caught by a cop... and admits that, yes, "I'm the one who used the knife."

Now the Chorus, who has first told him to "run," chant "Kill the spics!" Sal reacts with outward toughness: "I don't care if they fry me/ My mother could watch me burn."

"Can I Forgive Him?" (Track 7) has got to be one of the saddest songs Simon ever wrote.

Esmerelda, Sal's mother, comes to see Mrs. Young and Mrs. Krzesinski, the mothers of the murdered teens. She asks them to see past the "savage boy... with the sneer," to the child she "nursed and bathed." In a weird way, she tries to paint herself as somewhat of a victim, too. After all, her "fated" son too is "gone... the state will see to that."

Mrs. Young replies first, with racist overtones-- as if people born in America didn't also kill!-- "You Spanish people... nothing here changes [you]... Ungrateful immigrants." Then she lashes out at the courts, media and society in general that "makes a cartoon of crime... a glorification of slime."

Mrs. Krzesinski speaks more to the point. "My religion asks me to pray for the murderer's soul/ But I think you'd have to be Jesus on the cross/ To open your heart after such a loss./ Can I forgive him?/ No, I cannot."

Esmerelda grudgingly accepts this logic: "Only God can say, "Forgive"/ His son, too, received a knife/ But we... have to live/ With this cross we call our life." Again, while she is suffering, she does not acknowledge that her suffering is not the same as theirs, with her use of "we."

Mrs. Krzesinski says that one of the hardest parts is the sympathy of others, which is not entirely selfless: "The trembling flowers they bring/ Fear in the roots and the stem/ What happened to me... could happen to them."

And both speak of the unending nature of the pain. Mrs. Young uses the metaphor of a "bomb" with "wave after wave [of] aftershocks.] Mrs. Krzesinski calls it a "nightmare/ From which you can't wake."

The victims' mothers repeat "Can I forgive him/ No, I cannot"... while Esmerelda still insists that their pain and hers, being two sides of the same coin, entitle her to sympathy from them, too.

It is very presumptuous of Esmerelda to approach these women at all. And then, instead of apologizing, she straightaway tries to excuse Sal's murderous behavior-- "He's really a good boy!" She tries to shift away blame from herself-- "I nursed and bathed and mothered him as best I could!" Lastly, she sighs, "Yes, isn't it terrible what we all are all going through-- together and equally-- what with our sons' deaths and all."

It is not hard to wonder if this lack of empathy-- "Hey, I have to live with the fact that my son is a murderer! Where's my compassion?"-- isn't a touch, well, out-of-touch on Esmerelda's part. If so, did she impart this insensitivity to Sal somehow?

I do fault The Capeman this far-- although this issue may have been addressed on the stage and just not in the lyrics-- it ignores the role of fathers. Sal's birth father is never seen, and his adoptive father seems distant and unrealistic. Boys look for male role models, and Sal found two-- Carlos and Hernandez. But Carlos was busy with Yolanda, and Hernandez took an interest. So naturally, Sal wanted to please and impress Hernandez.

Everyone is pointing fingers at the mothers, at the courts, the media, and society. But not one word about the lack of positive, involved male role models. Here, the positive one was not involved... and vice versa, the involved one was so in a less-than-positive way.

And where is Sal's righteous, holy stepfather in the middle of all this? Does he want to distance himself from Sal's crime so as to save his church's reputation? Why is he not pleading with the mothers of the victims, or the judge or the mayor or the press? As clumsy and self-serving as she is about it, at least Esmerelda is trying to do something for her boy.

One thing Sal did know-- how to, eventually, own up to what he did. When confronted, he admits his guilt. This trait is one he did not, it seems, learn from his mother.

Next song: Adios Hermanos/ Jesus Es Mi Senor


  1. Really interesting commentary!

    Will you be writing at least one article on the changes in the ITBL songs?

  2. Emily-- Thanks for the compliment! My comments on the ItBL changes for each song have been made, and you can find them at the post about each song (there were changes to every song except 'Ceiling'). I thought that was the best way.