Singing the blues about fa­ther and son re­la­tion­ships

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE -


St James Stu­dio, Lon­don SW1

BY T H E t i me we l l dressed New Yorker Ben­jamin Scheuer h a s f i n i s h e d h i s 70-minute song cy­cle he has shed jacket, tie, braces, shoes and socks. And al­though he is never quite as naked as the six gui­tars that share the stage with him, his re­la­tion­ship with his late fa­ther that de­fines, frus­trates, angers and in­spires him is laid com­pletely bare.

Any­one with six gui­tars had bet­ter play them well. Scheuer is vir­tu­osic — a stan­dard reached, his open­ing num­ber tells us, af­ter his math­e­ma­ti­cian fa­ther Rick built him a “cook­i­etin banjo” when he was 10 years old. It had strings made of rub­ber bands and a strap that used to be a red tie. Scheuer’s am­bi­tion was then to play gui­tar like his dad, a math­e­ma­ti­cian who might have pre­ferred to be a mu­si­cian. But his fa­ther’s am­bi­tion is for his son to be bet­ter at maths at the ex­pense of mu­sic. And so a rift forms between fa­ther and son that never closes.

This is a show to which any­one with a dead dad can par­tic­u­larly re­late. Scheuer sings about ab­sence with ten­der in­sight. His fa­ther died sud­denly just af­ter a row and he spent the next cou­ple of decades at­tempt­ing to rec­on­cile the eu­lo­gies ex­tolling his fa­ther’s kind­ness and hu­man­ity with the chilly, dis­tant fig­ure who made his son feel small.

It’s a nar­ra­tive told between songs in a sonorous speak­ing voice that is al­most as plea­sur­able to lis­ten to as when Scheuer sings. There is some­thing of a Paul Si­mon acous­tic here, but also of Si­mon’s gift for at­tach­ing com­plex thoughts to melody. And much of the lyric-writ­ing is drawn from equally com­plex di­a­logue — between Scheuer and his wid­owed mother Sylvia, or with his girl­friend Ju­lia, at whose be­hest the singer-song­writer once vis­ited his fa­ther’s grave to at­tempt some kind of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.

But where the sto­ry­telling and singing be­come re­ally in­ter­est­ing is when Scheuer sets the sub­ject of his be­ing di­ag­nosed with can­cer to his mu­sic. With­out that re­newed ur­gency, the show, di­rected by Sean Daniels, was head­ing to­wards wal­low­ing in the kind of rites-of-pas­sage lessons learned that Amer­i­cans never find em­bar­rass­ing. Yet the sheer brav­ery of set­ting the theme of chemo­ther­apy to mu­sic de­serves all the recog­ni­tion Scheuer gets. And for do­ing so with such clev­er­ness and melodic in­ven­tion.


Strum-der­ful: Ben­jamin Scheuer

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