Stephen Sondheim died yesterday, a mere nine years away from his centennial. I was never a "musical" guy growing up — I was the sort of young tiresome snob who claimed musicals were "unrealistic." I cringe to admit it. The first time I saw Company was on TV, maybe 2007 or 2008, in the early days of Netflix streaming; it was a recording of the 2006 revival with Raul Esparza. I watched it once (I was a little drunk at the time), and then found myself watching it again, and again, and again.
Perhaps it was the fact that I was around the same age as the Bobby character, and single, with no particular relationship prospects at the time, that I found the show emotionally overwhelming. To this day I can't listen to the soundtrack (which I adore) without tearing up multiple times throughout. Company accurately depicts the modern view of "marriage" (which at the time was not available to me, at least in a strictly legal sense) in all of its fragile limitations — its comforts and vexations, attractions and aversions.
By that point in my life I had decided that "singleness" would probably remain my lot, and felt comfortable with it, but it's clear to me now that I retained at the time an unrealistic view of what constituted "marriage," legal or otherwise. Now, fourteen or so years later, I find myself in a completely different place, living a (very married) life I don't think I could have even imagined back then.
This morning, in Sondheim's memory, I was listening to the Company soundtrack for the first time in a few years, and found myself both chuckling and tearing up (I told you, it's a thing) when "Sorry/Grateful" played. Even though I remember being moved by the song when I first heard it, there's no possible way I could have actually understood it the same way that I do now:
Why look for answers
When none occur?
You'll always be what you always were,
Which has nothing to do with, all to do with her.
Sondheim's lyric nails the ambivalent state of being human, being alive — a reality of existence that I didn't understand when I was younger, and which I honestly don't understand any better now, but at least I've come to accept it. It's not an easy black-and-white existence, this life of ours, and though it is described in Sondheim's song in the context of relationships, it is quite simply the context of human lives in their entirety. We are always sorry, always grateful — always judged, always forgiven — always at the same time.