60 years ago – yes, 60 years ago – the musical ‘West Side Story’ was performed in the West End for the very first time. It is a work of pure genius. One of my most precious memories is seeing it live at the Liverpool Empire with my eldest son. Still now, ten years on, we still talk about it.
Our favourite number is ‘Gee, Officer Krupke’, a breathtaking mixture of acrobatic dancing, riotous rhythm and punchy lyrics. And what lyrics – so clever and so funny.
Hearing them again last week, it hit me just how many of these lyrics are entirely applicable to the themes that dominate much of the airwaves today – in discussion programmes, social media threads and opinion pieces.
So if you’re still reading this, please read the words to this incredible song again – they’re copied below.
But now imagine they were written last week. Because it’s all there. Mental health crisis, identity politics, exclusions and isolation, drug addiction and alcoholism, poverty. Youth gangs, immigration and knife crime aren’t explicitly mentioned in the song, but are core themes throughout the musical.
What conclusions to draw?
Well either Stephen Sondheim was a prophet, or he was commenting on societal problems in 1950s urban America.
And if he was, that means that our problems now are nothing new. Indeed, they may have been far worse (and far worse in 1900s, and far worse in 1850s etc etc).
So is society improving incrementally? Of course it is!
Why all the doom and gloom? Surely, we must be optimistic and not fetishise the past as many of the populist movements do, subsequently exploiting it for their own nefarious motives. Similarly, those in power must realise that our schools have never been so good, our teachers so skilled, our pupils treated more equally and fairly than ever before.
(OK, the last few years have ballsed things up a bit, and we are in a bit of a pickle, but…)
So let’s please be optimistic, despite the very real problems we have to deal with.
And before I bring Messrs Bernstein and Sondheim in, a suggestion. Why not update ‘Gee Officer Krupke’ for 2018 and cast Michael Gove in the titular role? That would bring a smile to everyone’s faces.
Dear kindly Sergeant Krupke
You gotta understand
It’s just our bringin’ up-ke
That gets us out of hand
Our mothers all are junkies
Our fathers all are drunks
Golly Moses, natcherly we’re punks!
Gee, Officer Krupke, we’re very upset;
We never had the love that every child oughta get
We ain’t no delinquents
Deep down inside us there is good!
There is good!
There is good, there is good
There is untapped good!
Like inside, the worst of us is good!
That’s a touchin’ good story
Lemme tell it to the world!
Just tell it to the judge
Dear kindly Judge, your Honor
My parents treat me rough
With all their marijuana
They won’t give me a puff
They didn’t wanna have me
But somehow I was had
Leapin’ lizards! That’s why I’m so bad!
Officer Krupke, you’re really a square;
This boy don’t need a judge, he needs an analyst’s care!
It’s just his neurosis that oughta be curbed
He’s psychologically disturbed!
We’re disturbed, we’re disturbed
We’re the most disturbed
Like we’re psychologically disturbed
Hear ye, hear ye! In the opinion on this court, this child is depraved on account he ain’t had a normal home
Hey, I’m depraved on account I’m deprived
So take him to a headshrinker
My father is a bastard
My ma’s an S.O.B
My grandpa’s always plastered
My grandma pushes tea
My sister wears a mustache
My brother wears a dress
Goodness gracious, that’s why I’m a mess!
Officer Krupke, you’re really a slob
This boy don’t need a doctor, just a good honest job
Society’s played him a terrible trick
And sociologically he’s sick!
I am sick!
We are sick, we are sick
We are sick, sick, sick
Like we’re sociologically sick!
In my opinion, this child don’t need to have his head shrunk at all. Juvenile delinquency is purely a social disease!
Hey, I got a social disease!
So take him to a social worker!
Dear kindly social worker
They say go earn some dough
Like be a soda jerker
Which means like be a schmo
It’s not I’m anti-social
I’m only anti-work
Gloryosky! That’s why I’m a jerk!
Officer Krupke, you’ve done it again
This boy don’t need a job, he needs a year in the pen
It ain’t just a question of misunderstood;
Deep down inside him, he’s no good!
I’m no good!
We’re no good, we’re no good!
We’re no earthly good
Like the best of us is no damn good!
The trouble is he’s lazy
The trouble is he drinks
The trouble is he’s crazy
The trouble is he stinks
The trouble is he’s growing
The trouble is he’s grown
Krupke, we got troubles of our own!
Gee, Officer Krupke
We’re down on our knees
‘Cause no one wants a fellow with a social disease
Gee, Officer Krupke
What are we to do?
Gee, Officer Krupke