There’s still a little time left for a Music Monday Feature, so for the four or five you out there who are not yet familiar with the Broadway hit Hamilton, this post is for you. I was talking to Jonathan, my middle son, last night, and he at least said he was “familiar with it.” Traditionally he’s had an aversion to anything that’s popular, but he’s learned as he’s aged that sometimes popularity happens because of a combination of excellence and timely cultural relevance. Okay, so he didn’t say that; I did, but I can see him nodding his head.
I’m not sure what I have to offer when it comes to informing you about the musical that won 11 Tony Awards this year. You’ve probably already seen the interviews and behind-the-scenes videos with creator and star, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and if you haven’t, you can easily look them up, or follow the suggested links from the video below on YouTube. What I can share with you is how this musical has affected me, even without seeing it.
I’ve watched only clips, but I’ve been listening to the soundtrack, a gift from a lovely friend and co-worker in the children’s department at the main branch of our library downtown. Now as I drive through town with the windows down I look and sound like I think I’m a real bad ass, when alas, I’m just the gay, white male stereotype, listening to Broadway musicals on my stereo.
Maybe it’s because I grew up in the woods of central Pennsylvania that hip hop was very slow to grow on me, and it was only after hearing some mixes that blended rap with R&B that I started to develop an appreciation for the art. You may remember Paula Abdul in the late 1980s with “Straight up” and “Opposites Attract.” Collaborations between hip hop and R&B continued with so many duets through the 90s, and right into the recent 2000s. Think of “Empire State Of Mind” with Jay-Z and Alicia Keys in 2009.
Somewhere along the line I began to hear, from time to time, seriously fast and crafty rapping of amazing lyrics, and I thought, damn, that takes skill! So I started listening more. My son is right bout the fact that often the best music is not the most popular stuff aired on your “local” Clear Chanel Radio, so don’t be too quick to dismiss a musical style based on what you hear on the top forty programs.
While reading more about Langston Hughes this year, I’ve started seeing more and more of the similarities of the American art forms of jazz and hip hop, and their relation to poetry and social consciousness. And besides all that good stuff, Hamilton is just plain fun and engaging, as the history comes flying at you.
In the above link USA mentions that actor Daveed Diggs (Jefferson AND Lafayette) holds the Broadway record for fastest rap with 19 words in just three seconds. The whole thing is just so dense, you find yourself wanting to listen again and again. And even though at the beginning you were convinced you’d never be able to learn those lyrics yourself, you soon find yourself, in perfect rhythm rapping:
The ten-dollar founding father without a father
Got a lot farther by working a lot harder
By being a lot smarter
By being a self-starter
By fourteen , . .
I’m also currently reading the book about Miranda’s creative experience, from the early concept ideas to a test run in front of the President and First Lady in 2009 (see below), and finally to the Broadway stage. The book is called Hamilton, the Revolution, and it’s available on audio book, so check your local library.
Like me, you might find some serious inspiration here for your own workouts, and for setting your mind toward the goals you’ve made for yourself. Alexander Hamilton was the ultimate example of rising up from the bottom. And the show itself, its bold vision of what the creator calls “America then being played by America now,” simply smashes all the limitations put on what actor can play what part.
If you need a little encouragement and inspiration from an enthusiastic work of art and history that speaks to issues today, dip into the world of Hamilton. You won’t be able to get tickets yet, but you can get a good taste of it. Watch the video below first, but then, because it won’t allow me to embed it below, click on this link to watch what the initial demonstration turned into.