19. “The Selection”
The next scene takes place at the football field. John, Daniel and the rest of the team eagerly anticipate news of being selected for a real football club. The song in which they express themselves makes use of two melodies heard earlier in the show. One, the second, seems a perfectly natural choice as it is an excerpt from “The Final”, specifically John’s solo in that sequence. The reprise of that musical theme is also sung by John in a verse dealing with his wishes to play for Everton and achieve fame through football. The other melody used is a less appropriate choice: it is the musical theme used to introduce the wedding sequence. Like the wedding day, the selection day is filled with anticipation, but the link between the two events is arbitrary. John’s expressions in this moment should see the journey started with “Clean the Kit” come full circle and it would be more dramatically appropriate to make use of part of that song’s melody instead. Elton manages in these four lines, as well as in the rest of this short song sequence, to present a perfect set of pure rhymes, making it one of the most satisfying sets of lyrics in the entire show.
Unfortunately for John, the police are also present and they arrest him: someone tipped them off about how he helped Thomas on his wedding night. John is taken to prison, before Mary is able to tell him that she is expecting their baby.
20. “Dead Zone”
The next musical number deals with John’s experience in prison. He tries to resist being influenced by the other IRA prisoners, but he is drawn into their way of thinking bit by bit until even Mary has trouble getting through to him. The song that expresses this journey is divided into two parts: a solo for John and a chorus for the inmates, which cleverly echoes, in part, the melody of John’s establishing song (“Clean the Kit”) in a minor key.
Elton’s lyrics are remarkably on form at first, particularly in John’s section of the song (although the use of a great deal of internal rhyme almost overwhelms the lyric). However, later in the song, Elton’s lyrics once again deviate from the complicated rhyme scheme he tries to achieve in the lyrics. Early on in the song, the inmates sing:
Now you’re inside, boy,
There’s no way to hide, boy
You could hang yourself
We can find a rope
Inside the gate love will turn to hate
You will weep while you sleep
Then you’ll learn to cope
But without hope
The next corresponding section of the song dispenses with the triple rhyme indicated in orange and exchanges the pure rhymes in orange and blue for single assonance rhymes, which are not in line with the rhyme scheme Elton set up for the song above:
Happiness is ended
All hope is suspended
We are the damned,
We are all despised
But this prison has a key and it’s loyalty
You can trust all of us
When they beat you down
We’ll be around
Later in the song, the uneven pararhyme of ‘decision’ and ‘prison’ and the assonance rhyme ‘sight’ and ‘rights’ are substituted for moments where pure rhyme was used in the corresponding earlier instances.
What is of greater import than the lyrics in this instance is the structure of the song. that Elton and Lloyd Webber have missed out on the chance to create a brilliant song scene with this material and that the sequence is weaker as a result. For instance, it feels strange for John to be so completely defensive all at once and then never to sing again. The two parts of this song should occur in counterpoint and John’s shifting attitude should be seen to develop through the number as a whole. That would allow this sequence to become the dramatic pivot point it aims to be, similar to the way the everything in Little Shop of Horrors shifts after and as a result of “The Meek Shall Inherit”. It would be really effective to see how John is dehumanised by his experience in prison, to see the process as we do in Bertolt Brecht’s Man Equals Man, where an ordinary civilian is transformed into the perfect soldier. How thrilling that might be to see and hear! Mary’s interactions, whether spoken or sung, could also be integrated into the sequence. If it was reconceptualised in this manner, the scene has the potential to become a dramaturgical masterpiece rather than merely an admittedly effective piece of atmospheric song.
21. “If This Is What We’re Fighting For”
Meanwhile, Mary has her baby, a boy she names Sean. Daniel comes over to see them and , while he’s there, a group of IRA agents led by Thomas barge in and accuse Daniel of betraying John. They kneecap him in front of everyone who is present and run off. Mary is horrified, wondering whether any good will come from fighting the war so violently and inhumanely.
This song is a mostly a capella anti-war anthem, moving from a personal reaction to a specific event to a thesis statement against the war in Ireland. It’s a moving piece, with only one flaw in the rhyme scheme to compromise its power: the attempt to rhyme ‘grieving’ with ‘believe in’. Perhaps what is really compelling about this song is how well it recreates an Irish rebel song. It’s simple and clear, and it works.
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