IT’S NOT THE WINNING
So no Tony for Bennett. The Gods did not smile and the prize went not to Tracie but to Nina Arianda for her performance in Venus in Furs. Ms Arianda apparently squealed with delight several times during her acceptance speech, also telling Christopher Plummer who presented the award to her that he was her first crush, which is the sort of vital information we are so fortunate to have bestowed on us on such occasions. Ms Arianda’s coy screeches were met with universal groans of misery by fans of Rainbow and particularly by the fervent admirers of the simply luminous Ms Bennett, who although no shoe-in was considered by an awful lot of people to be the correct and logical choice for the prize. But then prizes such as these have no connection with logic, sense or rationality, the results being based on purely subjective judgement, whimsicality, parochialism, fancifulness and any other bias you care to mention, at least when the results are unfavourable. If on the other hand our choice sweeps past the post in first place, up in the air go our hats and we cheer fair-mindedness, parity, objectivity and any other virtue you care to name.
Personally as I have said before I can do without prize giving, although on occasion in the past like all humbugs I could be heard practising my BAFTA acceptance speech in the bath. But now in the prime of my great age of wisdom - a state into which you know you have arrived when you realise how foolish you once were – now I say socks to prizes, and medals, to honours and gilded tin statues. Yes, yes I know there is no point in coming second because no one ever remembers the also-rans, only the winner, but I say socks to that as well, because I’ll bet you my penny to your pound that unless you’re one of those really very odd people with a funny shaped head who do pub quizzes and the like you don’t know who won the Oscar for Best Actor in 1987, the Tony for Best Actress in 1996 or a BAFTA for anything whatsoever in any year whatsoever. But what you will remember and never ever forget is having seen something utterly remarkable, like Paul Scofield in King Lear, the Ellington Band playing Rockin’ in Rhythm, Meryl Streep in practically anything, a Turner seascape or Tracie Bennett as Judy Garland.
I was talking to a friend of mine about this yesterday, someone who has been more than a little unwell, is now a whole lot better but has in that meantime been there and back and seen how far it is. He wondered what I felt at Ms Bennett not being awarded a Tony for Best Actress in a Play and I confessed to feeling despair, despondency, dismay, dejection, depression and desolation. First he observed how odd it was that all these emotions expressing disappointment began with the letter D, including even disappointment itself, suggesting that instead of being the fourth letter of the alphabet it should be the last, in keeping with the final thing that befalls us all, the only experience according to Wittgenstein that we cannot actually go through, before reminding me of the Baron Coubertin’s famous adage, that the important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle, the essential thing being not to have conquered but to have fought well. Most of all, occasions such as Awards contests are not contests that we enter voluntarily other than incidentally – that is by being in a play, or a film, or a television series, or having written a book, painted a picture, learned to play a musical instrument or invented a cure for something we may perchance find ourselves in line for so-called glittering prizes. We cannot put our names down as entrants for such tournaments because it is other people who think us worthy of these honours and enter accordingly. So therefore when we find ourselves or those we love and admire to be in competition we should take the long view and say this is not about you or them or us – this is abstract, notional and purely speculative. No one can give you Swing and it don’t mean a thing if you ain’t got it. If we have a gift, whatever sort of talent it may be, then it is up to us all, each and every one of us to understand what we can do, what we wish to do and what we are doing it for, and then to try and do it to the very best of our ability. If those are our aspirations, what need therefore of the gilded trophies?
Everyone who succeeds in bringing joy, comfort, succour, exhilaration, excitement, bliss and rapture to the lives of others is a winner. Anyone who selflessly works themselves to a standstill to try and make total strangers forget their misery and woe, to feel better for a moment or even for ever – they have won the biggest prize life can award – and they have no need of any cups, awards, medals, plaques, plates, statuettes, gongs , shields, mementoes or titles to demonstrate their excellence.
And the same goes for winning. If you or someone you love to admire does get called up to a stage, a podium or summoned to a Palace then this time we must remember Kipling and treat this impostor in just the same way, realising the award is something estimated and hypothetical and not in the least bit real. What is real is the effect of the performance, contest, act, composition or invention, not the accolade it carries with it. Bask in the tributes and you will drown from esteem. Acknowledge the pretence and your achievement will ever grow the greater.
My friend quoted me several recent instances of awards going a little lateral, reminding me how recently we cavilled at the so called result of the Young Musician of the Year, a competition in which the prodigious talent of the participants, especially the finalists was never in doubt. Their excellence was undoubted, their gifts indisputable. And everyone thought there was only one winner – the very young man – little more than a boy really, who played the Liszt Piano Concerto faultlessly and quite brilliantly. So too did the ultimate winner perform William Walton’s little performed Cello Concerto and it was to her that the prize went - not we all thought because of her superior musician-ship flawless although it had been, but because the judges considered the Walton less of an old musical warhorse than the Liszt – so Walton won and Liszt lost, which is another fine illustration as to how impossible it is to judge talent. The great musician and philosopher Sir Yehudi Menuhin abhorred musical talent contests, not only because of this impossibility to evaluate endowment but because of the very real harm it often inflicted on the competitors.
I don’t think any such harm will befall those on Broadway who didn’t get a gilded trophy this week, but there may well be some sort of sense of having somehow failed and that would be a shame. Nor do I think – although this is probably presumptuous – that Ms Bennett will do a lot of furniture kicking, lip biting and/or fainting in coils because she seems to be a lady with her head on right. Of course she wanted to win – that is the nature of such events – when it comes down to the wire nobody wants to lose – but I suspect the real reason she wanted to win and why she might well have suffered an attack of the glums is that she wanted it for her wonderful and supportive family, Mum in the particular. We all of us ‘do it’ for someone, for someone we love, even if sometimes it’s the audience who becomes the parent or partner – but whatever Ms Bennett was feeling she must never ever even contemplate failure because the little gilded figure rests not on her fireplace but on that of another, since the one thing Ms Bennett cannot do is fail. And now the red carpet has been rolled back up and stuffed under stairs somewhere, and the hired tuxedos and borrowed frocks have been returned and the press gone to frenzy-feed elsewhere, the real memories will be of the excellence of achievement, of the so-called winners and so-called losers both – those lucky enough to have seen the work of artists such as Tracie Bennett and James Corden will remember the magic they weave and the spells they cast rather than the awards they won or did not win. Great battles are remembered for acts of heroism and sacrifice – they are not recalled by the medals. Great art remains in our minds. Trophies tarnish.
So all that remains to be said and finally concluded is that to beat Tracie Bennett to the trophy Ms Nina Arianda has to be one of the greatest performers Broadway has ever seen because as those of us who have seen The End of the Rainbow can attest, the star of that show, the person Ms Arianda overcame to win her Tony was and still is and always will be all of that and then an awful lot more.
May the road always rise up to meet you, Ms Bennett and may your shadow never grow less. And I certainly don’t see that happening.