The Persistence of Memory: Streisand’s The Way We Were/All In Love Is Fair album and the television program “Live in Concert”

By Daniel Garrett

Barbra Streisand
The Way We Were/All In Love Is Fair
Columbia Records, 1974

Streisand, “Live in Concert”
Directed by Gary Smith and Streisand
CBS Television Broadcast, April 25, 2009

In late April 2009, a television program presented Barbra Streisand in concert, and it was surprise as she has not been featured in her own music special on mainstream network television in quite a while, although she was known for doing imaginative programs in the early part of her career: “My Name is Barbra” (1965), “Color Me Barbra (1966), “The Belle of 14th Street” (1967), “A Happening in Central Park (1968), and “Barbra Streisand…And Other Musical Instruments” (1973). I was pleased to see her, as I had returned to listening to her early 1970s self-titled album, known for years as The Way We Were/All In Love Is Fair album, a great album.

On The Way We Were/All In Love Is Fair album are songs by writers such as Carole King, Paul Simon and Stevie Wonder as well as by Michel Legrand, Alan and Marilyn Bergman, and Irving Berlin. Barbra Streisand’s voice sounds, well, perfect. Streisand’s singing is warm, smoky, yet pointed, in the jazzy “Being at War with Each Other,” with an enunciation that carries an attitude of awareness and objection regarding destructive human relations. Streisand’s approach to “Something So Right” is soft, but it is a softness rooted in strength and deepened by sadness, as she explores a lyric that is both indirect and confessional. Streisand is bitterly ironic (sad, frightening, funny) in “The Best Thing You’ve Ever Done,” in which she uses an actress’s sense of drama, and offers the most ageless singing imaginable. “The Way We Were,” a song of contemplation and remembrance, may contain too many strings, and drumming that lacks conviction, but Streisand’s voice saves what might otherwise be nothing more than deplorable nostalgia, and she emphasizes a fact: we often remember and wonder if our lives might have been different. There is a mastery of narrative movement, of detail, expression, and transition, in “All in Love is Fair” and the listener believes in the singer’s passion, which may be her most compelling quality.

The song “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?” on The Way We Were/All In Love Is Fair is elegantly poetic, as is the sensuous and tender “Summer Me, Winter Me,” with its moments of piercing intensity. “Pieces of Dreams” is like a vivid riddle. It is hard to believe that Streisand could have created such a rare piece of music as this album during a time when the larger culture lacked so many of the qualities present here (or that the album could have been, as rumored, pulled together from different recording sessions). I have never cared much for the song “I’ve Never Been A Woman Before” and I still don’t like it but I cannot deny how the piano creates reverie, or deny that the spaces between the sung lines suggest reflection; and it is the quality of reflection and feeling in Streisand’s work that raises it above that of most of her supposed peers. She delivers the medley “My Buddy/How About Me” with a near reverence as she weaves her spell through the lyrics.

Streisand’s “Live in Concert” is focused on music; and it begins with an orchestra overture and a few brief scenes of concert preparation, with personal testimonies from some of her admirers (and we see that attendees include Oprah Winfrey, Tony Bennett, Tom Hanks, Stephen Sondheim, Robert DeNiro, David Dinkins, and the Clintons). Streisand, wearing a black jacket, top, and long skirt, begins her participation in the concert with the song “Starting Here, Starting Now” and she is in good voice; and she speaks about using her tour to raise money for causes she cares about. Streisand sings “The Way We Were” and we hear that her voice is deeper than it was when she was younger but that she has maintained an impressive and touching range. “Evergreen” is warmly sung, and the music group Il Divo joins her (her high notes are beautiful). She sings a song from the Broadway musical that brought her significant fame, “Funny Girl,” a ballad about not being a romantic fit but, rather, being considered amusing (I didn’t think it was a great song but she sounded wonderful). Streisand sings the song that ended the film Funny Girl, “My Man,” and while I have sometimes enjoyed performance of the song by singers I like, including Streisand, I have been repelled sometimes by its words (which include a woman’s acceptance of mistreatment), and on the night I viewed Streisand’s concert not even her performance could distract me from the song’s self-abnegation.

After intermission, Streisand changes her dress (to a black gown with gold trim), and she embraces a jazzier sound, singing “When the Sun Comes Out,” giving the song her all. She mentions her son, and speaks of how children imitate parents before singing “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” and “Children Will Listen.” A song about a rare friendship, “Unusual Way,” didn’t quite have the melody I expected or wanted, but was followed by remarks about Desmond Tutu on appreciating human differences and the satisfying though wistful song “Somewhere.” Streisand prowled the stage and danced during “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” a song that remains a declaration of pride.

Streisand’s “Live In Concert” was an engaging hour, one featuring a woman of intelligence, mature passion, and personality, a woman whose voice contains a spirit that both expresses and transforms, an artist of great singularity. However, I recognized Streisand’s repertoire and comments from one of her recent concert albums (Live in Concert 2006): Streisand has been canny in her ability to blend content with commerce and I was not surprised that some of the ads that occurred during the televised concert were for a new digital video disk set of her concert performances, Barbra Streisand – The Concerts.

Daniel Garrett is a writer whose work has appeared in The African, AllAboutJazz.com, American Book Review, Art & Antiques, The Audubon Activist, Cinetext.Philo, Film International, Hyphen, IdentityTheory.com, Muse-Apprentice-Guild.com, Offscreen.com, Option, PopMatters.com, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, WaxPoetics.com, and World Literature Today. He has written fiction, poetry, drama, journalism, and criticism. Daniel Garrett’s web log at Blogger.com, focused on culture and society, is called “City and Country, Boy and Man.” His e-mail address is D.Garrett.Writer@gmail.com

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