Hamilton

Oct. 12th, 2015 08:29 pm
purplefringe: Amelie (Default)
[personal profile] purplefringe
I keep trying to write something down about the Hamilton musical, and how and why it has consumed my soul.


But every time I try, I get distracted listening to it again, and I can't write and listen to it at the same time, because I can barely think and listen to it at the same time. Which has become a problem, as I've been listening to it almost constantly since I first downloaded it, ten days ago. (I don't have it on at work, due to the aforementioned thinking problem, but it plays in my head SO LOUDLY and so continuously that I can almost believe that the rest of the office can hear it). My whole being has been sucked into a hurricane of Hamilton. Normally Doctor Who is literally the only thing that gives me feelings on such a visceral level, but last Saturday - for the first time, probably since 2005, definitely since 2010 - watching Doctor Who was a calming, relaxing experience that actually quietened my brain down. It was...weird. Nice, but weird.

Of course, I then thought about Hamilton again and my brain fired back up. I would really like to be able to think about something else soon, because it's getting very tiring, and - irony of ironies - I haven't achieved anything remotely useful in my life since I started listening. I can't listen to other music, which means I can't vid. I can't even watch vids. I have no room in my head for Doctor Who meta. I have no energy to read either the books I HAVE to read for work, or the books I supposedly WANT to be reading. (Ancillary Mercy came to work with me today, very optimistically. I waited a year for it, but right now I just don't really want to open it because it's not Hamilton.) I haven't even done a lot of the life admin tasks that I would normally just get on with. HELP.

For the first few days, I fell asleep listening to it. But that was a mistake, because clearly my brain was still processing it whilst I was asleep, and for four nights in a row I woke up very suddenly at around 1am and then was unable to get back to sleep for hours, even after it had stopped playing. I've stopped doing that now, and so am actually sleeping again, but have noticed that there doesn't seem to be an intervening period between 'being asleep' and 'thinking about Hamilton'. I'm asleep, and then I have a Hamilton song playing in my head. There is no brief period of peace and quiet when I first wake up, before I remember its existence. It's just there. All. The. Time.

I've never been to New York before, but I'm currently planning a trip there next year, which will cost an obscene amount of money I probably shouldn't be spending, just so I can see this on stage.

So: I'm trying to figure out what it is that has me by the throat. I'm going to write my way out! Be proud, Alexander. I don't have your elegance and eloquence, so this will not be deep and insightful, I just need to make a list somewhere that isn't inside my head.

I think first and foremost it's the lyrics. I would quote my favourites here, but it would be pointless, I might as well copy and paste the entire thing. But they are so dazzlingly brilliant they give me goosebumps all over. I've always had that, with good rhymes. I've always loved that line in Cole Porter's 'You're The Top' that goes 'I can feel after every line / a thrill divine / down my spine'. Because I get that. Brilliant, clever, unexpected rhymes and puns and wordplay get me EVERY time, and this musical is full of them. More than in Cole Porter, or G&S, more than in the Disney songs I love, more than in any other musical I've heard. And I've heard a lot of musicals. (I fell in love with Phantom when I was 11, and was lucky enough to have parents who could afford to take me to the theatre every birthday and Chanukah.) But this just...I notice new rhymes every time and I can't deal with it. How does someone come up with something like 'I'm the oldest / and the wittiest / and the gossip in New York City is / insidious' ? 'Every American experiment sets a precedent' ? Who looks at 'I am the very model of a modern major general' and then does it better?? And the way they're SUNG. Daveed Diggs is unbelievable. (How does he rap that fast in that terrible French accent?!) Renee Elise Goldsberry singing 'Satisfied' is dazzling. And it's not just the rhymes - it's the references. Little, innocuous-seeming lines, the internet has informed me, are actually chock-full of references to other musicals, to hip hop songs, and most importantly (to me), to ACTUAL lines from history. 'I wish there was a war', 'The world was wide enough', 'I will never be satisfied', even 'If you really loved me you would share him' - all references to actual letters that have survived from the period. And it's all so coherent - this isn't clever verbal flimflammery just for show. It accurately and clearly tells a gripping story. It has such depth. Nothing is wasted, there are no filler songs - even the ridiculous comic beats ('do whatever you want, I'm super dead') add to the narrative and to our understanding of the characters. I love the way certain words and concepts wend their way through the story, evolving as they go - 'wait', 'shot', 'tomorrow', 'quiet', 'imagine' even just 'sir' - the lyrics have layers and layers and layers I'm only starting to unravel. Things like 'teach me how to say goodbye' get more poignant every time. And every line - every line is just so beautiful and sincere. And every line has meaning for someone. I know a lot of people - writers, especially - have seen reflections of themselves in 'How do you write like you're running out of time?'. Or lose it completely over the depth of anguish in 'Wait For It' or 'It's Quiet Uptown'. Or break down in tears of joy at the virtuoso rapping in 'Guns and Ships' and 'Satisfied'. I could go on.

Beyond the lyrics...it's the ethos behind it. Lin-Manuel Miranda has, in his own words, created a musical about America then that looks like America now. And much smarter people than me have had wonderful things to say about this, including the actual cast, who are all so thrilled to be playing actual historical figures that they would never before have had the opportunity to play. Their joy and passion for the whole enterprise is so important. Daveed Diggs has said that he never really felt like an American until he took on this role. Leslie Odom Jr is looking forward to the day he sees an Asian American play his role (Burr) and you know what that's totally going to happen one day probably not too far away. The way this all ties in to the Black Lives Matter movement and everything that's happened since Ferguson ('this is not a moment / it's the movement'), though Lin was writing it long before then. I can't even imagine what it must mean to all the school kids seeing it, watching history finally enacted by people who look like them. The casting calls for this show were a fucking delight. As Lin said in an interview I read recently, 'That’ll be the note that goes with the school productions: If this show ends up looking like the actual founding fathers, you messed up'. It's all tied up together, and wouldn't work any other way. I think there is no way I would love this even half as much, even given the electrifying lyrics, if this was a show that looked like the actual founding fathers. Or if someone other than the writer was playing Hamilton.

Because then there's Lin himself. He is a MASSIVE DORK with A LOT OF FEELINGS and I have fallen slightly in love with him. He picked up an 800 page historical biography as 'beach reading' and by the second chapter had realised it had to be a hip hop musical. Because obviously. He gets emotional reading bits out in public, and gets excited over 'comma sexting' in 200-year-old letters. He has successfully recruited tens of thousands of people into his Alexander Hamilton fandom. What a nerd. He considers the student matinees performances to be 'the most important' thing he does, describes them as 'the highlight' of his life, and apparently burst into tears in the middle of 'My Shot', the first time they performed for a theatre full of high school kids. <3333 His performance at the White House is just spellbinding, and though I've not yet seen him on stage, even his intonation as he sings makes me want to hit things. He organised the free #Ham4Ham lottery shows, so even people who can't get tickets get to enjoy a bit of the magic. He's given away a lot of his recent grant money to Eliza's orphanage. He geeks out over Les Mis and freaks out over random historical Hamilton facts and has made #YayHamlet into a hastag and I just. No. No, Lin. I cannot deal with you, and your passion and your talent. Is there NOTHING your mind can't do?? The extent to which Lin clearly identifies with Hamilton is adorable (he insists he's not a genius - this took him seven years, which he says makes him just a hard worker, not a genius. I'm still pretty sure he's a genius) and just adds to the resonance and meta of the whole thing. This is a show about a man who wrote himself into history, written and then performed by a man who I'm pretty sure has just written himself into history by doing just that. I hope this show runs for another fifty years all over the world, and Hamilton is played by hundreds of different people, but it will always be something special that Lin embodied him first.

What else? There's the music, obviously. I am horrifyingly unmusical (the great tragedy of my life. In another life I am a musical theatre actor instead of a publishing admin monkey and everything is wonderful), and despite having listened to this a billionty times already, I can't tell say much about the music other than that it's beautiful and perfect and I'm really angry that someone can write it AND write the lyrics AND sing AND act and NO. I know there are lots of references in the music as well as the lyrics, but all I've caught independently are a few bits that sound like Les Mis and a few bits that sound like JCS, both of which I know were big influences. I know it's replete with little subtle musical jokes too, such as the way King George's song rises on the word 'fall' and falls on the word 'rise', just to convey how wrongheaded he is. Or the way 'let's have another round tonight' is sun as a round. Heee! The performances are all astounding - the rapping, the musicality, the emotions conveyed in just a few words ('let me see him- please'), the comic timing ('uh, France?') and the glorious voices of everyone involved. I can't wait to see it onstage, and add physicality into all that.

I love that it's historically accurate, and that every deviation from historical fact is something that has been carefully considered by LMM, and changed in service to the musical - nothing is random, or simply mistaken. But it's also wonderfully contemporary - the political debates in particular are masterpieces. Rap battles - why not? It's perfect, and feels so very relevant. But it's also hilarious. I laugh to myself every time I hear 'I'm a General - wheeeeee!' or every time I hear 'Never gon' be President now' and picture Jefferson merrily flinging paper everywhere as he and King George frolic across the stage. It's so full of energy, which of course all musicals are, even the tragic ones, but there seems to be a particular kind of vibrancy to Hamilton, which may come at least in part from the cast and fans all being aware that they are part of something very special here. (And also in part from Lin because did I mention he's a genius)

And, of course, I love the story. And the characters. Hamilton, I realised the other day, falls very clearly into one of my favourite categories of characters - the super-driven-to-the-point-of-near-hysteria character, whose own forward momentum powers them out of (and, frequently, into) impossible situations. I was thinking a lot the other day about how much he reminds me of Miles Vorkosigan, or Locke Lamora. Lin himself has linked him (on twitter) with Leslie Knope and since I've recently rewatched The Hour he reminds me of Freddy. It's ironic that I love these kinds of characters, really, as I am the least driven person ever. Ambition is not really a word in my vocabulary, much to my parents' confusion. Most days I want to curl up and not exist, not change the world through force of will alone. So why I'm drawn to these characters, I'm not really sure. I know I would find them utterly exhausting if I were to meet them in real life. But I love them on the page, on the screen, in fiction, in history. I love Hamilton, and the journey he goes on. I don't have the words to sum it up here (sorry, Hamilton, I'm letting you down). I love young, idealistic, passionate Hamilton, who breaks my heart (see Lin's intonation. 'I'm not-') and I love slightly older, still passionate Hamilton who fucking fucks everything up. His journey from impoverished bastard orphan immigrant to General Washington's right hand man to Secretary of the Treasury is mindblowing and empowering, and watching it all crumble away at the end is just...well, I know everybody else in the world cries listening to this musical. I don't cry listening to this musical. I never have, and I don't have to skip over certain songs (in fact I can't - have to listen to it all the way through) - but that is because I'm probably some sort of inhuman thing who is incapable of processing proper emotions, not because it is not utterly destroying to listen to.

I love Angelica and Eliza, who also break my heart. Everyone breaks my heart. Burr breaks my heart. Oh, Burr. You should have stuck to law. I love that they're all so human in their actions and their relationships. (Though ALEX GET A GRIP DEAR GOD YOU WERE LITERALLY OFFERED A THREESOME IN THE PREVIOUS SONG JUST SAY NO TO THIS- Ahem) The duels, the sense of a spring coil tightening (or a finger pressing slowly down on a trigger, WAIT-) and history repeating is unbearable (unBurrable. Sorry) - the way you can see the moments when it all could have gone differently. They way Burr holds back all his life, except when it matters, and the way Hamilton refuses to throw away his shot, except when it matters, and then everything is terrible. But I love the focus on Eliza's kindness and endurance, and on Angelica supporting her sister, I love the repeated mentions of Laurens' fight for abolition of slavery, Washington's awareness of his place in history and Burr as a nuanced man, not the villain he has been seen as ever since. So many people - myself included - can thoroughly empathise with Burr, even as we admire and support Hamilton.

I love the way its educated me, and everyone else. Everyone I know, everyone I have seen online, has gone through the exact same trajectory from ignorance through listening to the musical once to suddenly having a million million wikipedia tabs open, drinking in all the information on the web about Hamilton and Eliza and the Founding Fathers. Buying the biography. Reading the letters. Discovering Hamilton's probable bisexuality and relationship with Laurens. Discovering the tragedy of Burr's daughter. Learning more about Angelica. Learning everything Eliza did. Reading Hamilton's writings. (THE OTHER FIFTY ONE) Discovering what Jefferson and Madison really thought of Hamilton. Shrieking in delight over the Marquis de Lafayette, and Hercules Mulligan, just-a-simple-tailor (really want to know if Julian has given Garak a bio of Mulligan). Getting invested in the future of the $10 bill (pun not really intended but I'm happy it's there). Before Hamilton, pretty much everything I knew about the American Revolution, I got from Sleepy Hollow. Ha.

Speaking of Sleepy Hollow, that's the only fic I'm personally interested in - I really want Ichabod's take on all this. He would cry. And then point out random bits of trivia the show missed. And then cry some more. Other than that, I've enjoyed discussing a couple of hilarious possible AUs, and thinking about Garak reading about Mulligan, but I'm not looking for fic for this, because for me, this is a perfect work of art. (I know Michelle Obama certainly thinks so). But I love that other people are now desperate for thousands of words of Hamilton/Laurens or Hamilton/Eliza or revolutionary adventures or Schuyler Sister shenanigans or exploring Hamilton's relationship with Burr. I love that a musical has inspired such an outpouring of fannish love. I love that everyone has found something that has captivated them in this - whether it's the historical nerdery, or the musical theatre nerdery, or the genius of the lyrics, or the hip hop references, or the tragic story that needs to be explored with fic, or the inspiring legacy of Alexander and Eliza that needs to be studied (THE ORPHANAGE) or the complexity of Hamilton and Burr's relationship or the complexity of Hamilton and Angelica's relationship or the sheer fucking perfection of Lin Manuel Miranda's existence. I love that you could probably piece most of the text together just from people just quoting random lines on twitter. Yay, Hamlet.

I have too many feels for this. But actually writing this helped. I feel slightly more like I can breathe again. Maybe tomorrow I'll have a bit more of my brain back.

Date: 2015-10-13 09:36 am (UTC)
silverhare: drawing of a grey hare (misc - stardust)
From: [personal profile] silverhare
This was such a joy to read.

Date: 2015-10-13 11:32 am (UTC)
shinyjenni: Black sihouette of a man wearing a frock coat pointing in the air, standing on top of a star shape, on a gold background (like you're running out of time)
From: [personal profile] shinyjenni
*draws hearts round this post*

Sometimes I wonder what the writing process must have been like, to pull so much in and make it work and resonate, and then I just think... HOW. HOW CAN A PERSON BE THAT BRILLIANT.

it will always be something special that Lin embodied him first
Oh, yes. Now I want to somehow get to see this version of it too. I really hope they do manage to get it filmed.

Date: 2015-10-13 12:05 pm (UTC)
grammarwoman: (Default)
From: [personal profile] grammarwoman
Your squee is delightful! :)

In case you haven't seen it, there's a new comm, [community profile] hamiltunes, for all things "Hamilton". I've also spent many hours so far paging through all the lyrics and notes in the Genius entry for Hamilton.

Date: 2015-10-13 07:38 pm (UTC)
soupytwist: Miranda Otto dancing (dancing crazy)
From: [personal profile] soupytwist
THIS POST IS BEAUTIFUL.

I am enjoying making fun of Burr but honestly you are so right and one of the AMAZING things is how he's completely understandable: even when you love Alexander and are just filled with NOOOOOOOOO, it never ever lets Burr be anything other than a similarly flawed human being.

And I CANNOT BELIEVE THIS IS THE FIRST TIME I MADE THE SIMPLE-TAILOR CONNECTION OMG. Julian has ABSOLUTELY found a bio of Mulligan (hell, he would probably have secretly WRITTEN a bio of Mulligan) to give to Garak. OMG.

Date: 2015-10-13 10:02 pm (UTC)
such_heights: eliza and alexander gazing at each other (h: eliza/alexander)
From: [personal profile] such_heights
This is good and perfect and beautiful. :D

Date: 2015-10-16 10:25 pm (UTC)
raven: Karen Gillan as Amy Pond, wearing green and red and looking up (Default)
From: [personal profile] raven
This was so nice to read. <3333 you.

Date: 2015-10-17 02:28 pm (UTC)
raven: Karen Gillan as Amy Pond, wearing green and red and looking up (Default)
From: [personal profile] raven
Yes! I have a lot of time for people writing their way through it. And this is such a loving piece of writing, my goodness, I'm so happy to have read it.

On that note, I'm really thinking now that "Why do you write like you're running out of time?" really is the most powerful thing in it. it makes me shiver. Same with "When my time is up, have I done enough?" cos, I mean, way to sum up the human project in 9 words, Lin-Manuel. I MEAN.

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