Romeo and Juliet is one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, and as such one of his most misunderstood. It’s widely recognized as one of history’s greatest and most tragic romances, and the titular couple have become a byword for star-crossed lovers. However, others read it not as a romance but as a cautionary tale. To them, Romeo and Juliet aren’t a picturesque romance doomed by fate, but two love-struck idiot teenagers who make a series of impulsive decisions that end poorly for them and just about everyone else.
The truth is that it’s a bit of both. Romeo and Juliet are love-struck idiot teenagers, yes, but that’s what makes their romance so poignant (and their deaths so tragic). They love with such passion and abandon that they’re bound to make mistakes; due to the circumstances surrounding them, those mistakes result in the deaths of themselves and others. Other Shakespearean tragedies have a sense of inevitability, but the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet is that it didn’t have to end in tears. Maybe they could have been happy in another place, or another time.
“Balcony Scene”, the intriguing new song by Nervous City Nervous Self (the stage name of a Swedish singer-songwriter named David Josephson), names itself after the most famous scene from Romeo and Juliet, where our star-crossed lovers declare their devotion to each other. It’s one of the most iconic romantic displays in history, a moment of pure, open-hearted passion between two people who love each other beyond all reason.
“Balcony Scene”, on the other hand, takes a different approach. There’s none of the swooning romanticism you would expect from a song based on Romeo and Juliet; there are no choirs or Tchaikovsky-esque string swells. Instead, the music is quiet and minimal, verging on ambient pop. For the first verse, there’s only the pulse of an electric piano as Josephson’s warm, distant voice sings about years passing by like a breeze and echoing summer laughs. There’s still plenty of beauty in the presentation, but it’s muted and impressionistic. Even when the song swells in the chorus, there’s still an uncanny feeling hanging in the air; you’ve pinched yourself, but you can’t shake the feeling that this is all a dream.
In fact, Josephson has described “Balcony Scene” as a “Shakespearean dream”, a peculiar mood that he manages to pull off with an unusual subject. There are countless adaptations of Shakespeare that focus on the strange and the uncanny, but they’re usually based on his more fantastical plays: The Tempest, or Macbeth, or A Midsummer Night’s Dream. While Romeo and Juliet lacks any supernatural elements, this dreamy, surreal take on the play isolates its beauty as well as its tragedy. “Balcony Scene” evokes the quiet warmth of a summer night, the gentle care of a tentative embrace, the inner peace that comes with true love. But you know that this peace won’t last, that it will all end with happy daggers and sweet sorrow. And so you take a deep breath, and you savor the dream while it lasts.
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