Finishing the Hat

Mandy Patinkin

It’s a remarkable song. Everyone should listen to it.

(For that matter it’s from a remarkable musical, one of the most unique ever written, and anyone who cares about art or the artistic process should see or hear it.)

“Finishing the Hat,” music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, is about what an artist goes through when he is single-mindedly engaged in creating something—and the normalcy he has to leave behind.

It’s about how you watch the rest of the world from a window while you finish the hat.

You have to not do a lot of normal things.

You have to live a weird life.

You have to let it roll off you when people treat you with mockery. (“Okay, what do you really do.”)

Sometimes you wonder why anyone does it. There are easier ways to be happy.

Easier ways to be happier than mapping out a sky.

What you feel when voices that come through the window go until they distance and die, until there’s nothing but sky.

And how you’re always turning back too late from the grass or the stick or the dog or the light…

Mr. Sondheim answered this question of why, though, later in the musical, with another stunning song, “Children and Art.”

I’d advise you to listen to that one too.


Over and over.

And to remember both songs the next time you’re experiencing any artistic work.

Mr. Sondheim won a Pulitzer for a good reason.

There’s a part of you always standing by
Mapping out the sky
Finishing a hat
Starting on a hat
Finishing a hat
Look, I made a hat—
Where there never was a hat!

Happy birthday, Steve.


One response

  1. I think this is a wonderful post, John. It is musical, poetic, real. I tip my ‘hat’ to you. :) Also, I am happy to report that I left normalcy behind a long time ago. It’s the only way to go.


    March 25, 2014 at 7:05 am

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