A Purple Summer: Notes on the Lyrics of Spring Awakening
Everything you know, didn’t know, or thought you knew on the words of Spring Awakening
It’s no secret that Spring Awakening, like so many others of its kind, has developed a sort of cult following and has been added to the invisible list of shows that even non-theatrical people are obsessed with (you know what I’m talking about). If you’re looking for another book filled with backstage secrets, cast photos, biographies, and costume sketches, this is not the book for you. Stephen Sater’s A Purple Summer, a quick read of 87 pages, breaks down the lyrics of the show, song by song, in chronological order. After listing the lyrics, Sater goes on to give notes on the lyrics: explain in detail the inspiration of these songs, what the characters are going through, and how their personal journeys evolve. In many cases, Sater says what the song means to him personally. Sater states “that such notes would be invaluable for maintaining the quality of future productions of our show, when those of us who created it would no longer be near.”
This has actually been a concern of mine and of many other fans, I’m sure, since its Broadway closing on January 18, 2009 and especially since the closing of the non-Equity tour on May 15, 2011. What is to become of this beautiful story only complete with this beautiful music and lyrics once high school students venture to butcher the difficult vocals and take out the sex and violence? This is not the kind of Broadway music that one can simply scratch at the surface and apply to the story. This stuff is deep. Therefore, this book is the Godsend for anyone pursuing any of these roles as well as anyone buying tickets to the first local productions everywhere. You’re welcome.
If you’re like me and you find absolute enjoyment in deeply analyzing every one of Sater’s words along with the cast recording on long car rides, then this is also the perfect read for you. Because what the hell is he talking about anyway? If you know anything about Spring Awakening it’s that these lyrics do not merely tell the story, but rather provide insight to the characters. Why does Melchior keep talking about the stars? What do the stars mean to him? What is the whole “my junk” thing all about? What’s with all the references to ghosts and angels in practically every single song? The book may not answer all of your questions but it will certainly answer some, and help you make more sense of the show as a piece of art.
Almost every single song makes some kind of reference to the Bible, ancient Greek mythology, philosophy, and/or Shakespeare, and Sater goes into detail on this incredibly fascinating stuff. It helped me see the show in a wider context and in a new light. Many of Sater’s words confirmed my beliefs, but I also learned a lot. For example, did you know that the lyrics of “My Junk” are almost entirely based on a drug rush? You may have, actually, but I certainly did not.
Spring Awakening is not only among my top favorite musicals ever; it is very near and dear to my heart for many reasons, to the point where there are even lyrics tattooed on my back (and I’m sure those of you who know me well knew that I would not miss the opportunity to throw that in there). Why aren’t there more books like this? It would be nice to have a breakdown of every popular Broadway lyric, but the exclusivity is what makes the show that much more special. I can rest a bit easier knowing that Sater has left us this little guide as the show is passed into fresh hands and inevitably eventually somewhat forgotten. So I recommend this book to anyone even remotely interested in the show and/or anyone looking to play these challenging roles. It will help! If you like to play with words, music and poetry in your free time then you can plow through this book in no more than an hour. Sater has given us a peek into his vision, “and all shall know the wonder.”