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Pete Townshend = Sondheim's Songwriter X? 
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Post Pete Townshend = Sondheim's Songwriter X?
In Sondheim's new book, Finishing the Hat, there is a chapter dealing with “Rhyme and Its Reasons”. Sondheim tackles the issue of near rhymes and the apparent perspective of some that true/perfect/pure rhymes are 'the enemy of substance', denying the expression of true emotion. Of course, he (rightly) dismisses this as nonsense, using the words of a songwriter who is only identified as "X" - a pop music lyricist who has created one hit Broadway musical - to present the opposite point of view:

X wrote:
I hate all true rhymes. I think they only allow you a certain limited range.... I'm not a great believer in perfect rhymes. I'm just a believer in feelings that come across. If the craft gets in the way of the feelings, then I'll take the feelings any day. I don't sit with a rhyming dictionary. And I don't look for big words to be clever. To me, they take away from the medium I'm most comfortable with, which is Today...

There are many pop lyricists whose work has been represented on the Great White Way; which of them has only had one show? After typing in a few names at the Internet Broadway Database, the most likely candidate seems to be Pete Townshend whose Tommy appeared on Broadway in 1993. Townshend's songs and music have also been heard on Broadway in Rock 'n Roll! The First 5000 Years and a special Anthony Newley / Henry Mancini event, but I do not think revues and concerts count here, as it seems that Townshend was not involved in creating those shows - they were not a venture into theatre-making on his part - whereas he most certainly was involved in the development of Tommy.

So has anyone ever seen a TV interview with Townshend saying something like the quotation reproduced above? Or does anyone have any other ideas as to who "X" might be?

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Post Re: Pete Townshend = Sondheim's Songwriter X?
Hmmm...could be Jim Steinman, who was noted for having to be talked by Andrew Lloyd Webber into writing some perfect rhymes for Whistle Down the Wind, is noted as a Sondheim aficionado who frequently points out that he saw Hal Prince's original productions of Follies and Sweeney Todd when they opened, wrote only one rock musical on Broadway (Dance of the Vampires*). He fits everything so far. Never heard him say that the medium he's most comfortable with is today, but the rest fits.

* Footloose Live only had "Holding Out for a Hero," and doesn't really count.

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Post Re: Pete Townshend = Sondheim's Songwriter X?
Oh wait...hit Broadway musical? Both DOTV and Footloose were flops, so that rules Jim out unless Sondheim is either referring to Tanz der Vampire's success overseas or just really really forgetful.

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Post Re: Pete Townshend = Sondheim's Songwriter X?
Sondheim specifically says that "X" had one hit musical on Broadway, so I do not think it could be Jim Steinman. I doubt Sondheim would forget that Dance of the Vampires was a major flop when it appeared on the Great White Way and it might be a bit of a leap to assume he was talking about the show's success in a completely different version overseas.

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Post Re: Pete Townshend = Sondheim's Songwriter X?
It only refers to him as a lyricist, so it may be referring to Whistle Down the Wind, but I don't think it was particularly successful either.

Didn't Elton John write the music to Billy Elliot? Did his usual pop lyricist write the lyrics? Might be him if so.


Mon Nov 15, 2010 1:03 am
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Post Pete Townshend = Sondheim's Songwriter X?
Mungojerrie_rt wrote:
It only refers to him as a lyricist, so it may be referring to Whistle Down the Wind, but I don't think it was particularly successful either. Didn't Elton John write the music to Billy Elliot? Did his usual pop lyricist write the lyrics? Might be him if so.

Whistle Down the Wind has never appeared on Broadway and the lyricist of Billy Elloit was Lee Hall, who is a playwright and screenwriter and not a pop lyricist by trade. So it is most definitely neither of them.

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Post Re: Pete Townshend = Sondheim's Songwriter X?
RainbowJude wrote:
... it might be a bit of a leap to assume he was talking about the show's success in a completely different version overseas.


Not really. Most people, including the creators, tend not to acknowledge the existence of the Broadway version, and when they do, it's usually something along the lines of dismissing it as an "unauthorized adaptation," which isn't the closest one could possibly get to the truth, to put it mildly.

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Post Pete Townshend = Sondheim's Songwriter X?
RainbowJude wrote:
... it might be a bit of a leap to assume he was talking about the show's success in a completely different version overseas.

Brother Marvin Hinten, S. wrote:
Not really. Most people, including the creators, tend not to acknowledge the existence of the Broadway version, and when they do, it's usually something along the lines of dismissing it as an "unauthorized adaptation," which isn't the closest one could possibly get to the truth, to put it mildly.

Except we're not talking about most people here. We're talking about a specific quotation in a specific context. Jim Steinman simply does not fit the profile.

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Post Re: Pete Townshend = Sondheim's Songwriter X?
My ass! He fits it in every way except that his musical wasn't a hit, and I've even got a quote from him along the same lines.

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Post Re: Pete Townshend = Sondheim's Songwriter X?
Brother Marvin Hinten, S. wrote:
My ass! He fits it in every way except that his musical wasn't a hit, and I've even got a quote from him along the same lines.

Jim Steinman's experience in musical theatre involves more than one show, two of them having very high profiles but neither an out-an-out hit. Since the musical involved is described as a hit, it follows that Steinman can't be the person in question. So unless you actually have a clip of Steinman in a TV interview dealing with the opening of Dance of the Vampires saying the precise quotation that appears in Sondheim's book, then I remain unconvinced. The pieces of this particular puzzle do not all fit.

Pete Townshend still seems like a better candidate. Although Townshend created both Tommy and Quadrophenia, the latter has really only developed any legitimate claim as a bona fide theatrical musical in the past few years and, while it has been done with Townshend's blessing, it seems that he has not been involved in the development on his album into a piece of musical theatre to the extent that he was with Tommy.

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Post Re: Pete Townshend = Sondheim's Songwriter X?
The quote reads like Townshend- inconsistent, rebellious and confrontational, dependent on one's own genius above anything else. And Townshend IS a genius, I won't dispute, but his method of argument has always been "---- you, I'm right," as has been seen recently in his protesting of Apple Itunes.

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Mon Dec 26, 2011 1:11 pm
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Post Re: Pete Townshend = Sondheim's Songwriter X?
I forgot about Rupert Holmes, who in addition to having several theater credits (The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Curtains, The First Wives' Club: The Musical, and Robin and the 7 Hoods being his musicals) has also had success as a pop songwriter and recording artist with such hits as "Escape (The Piña Colada Song)." One would have to look it up to assess his attitude toward Broadway, but he does fit Sondheim's criteria.

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