What Do I Even Say About Hamilton?

My friends know that for the last month or so I’ve been pretty heavily steeped in the Hamilton soundtrack.  I’m not precisely sure how many times I’ve listened to it all the way through, but my Google Play count is floating around twelve times (fit in at various points at work!), and I’ve not checked my iTunes to see how many times I’ve played it on my iPod (okay, I checked and I’ve played through the whole thing at least ten times), but it’s definitely a lot.  The other day while I was driving to see my family for my dad’s birthday, I listened to the whole soundtrack and found that I actually know most of the lyrics (because what are solo road trips for if not jamming out to music you like and singing badly where no one else can hear you?).  Frankly, it’s a little disquieting.

I’ve written in bits and pieces before about my appreciation of musical theater.  When I was in high school, my mom and I bonded over our mutual adoration of the Phantom of the Opera soundtrack, and that show (which we’ve been to see twice) served as a gateway musical.  I’ve had infatuations with Les Miserables, Beauty and the Beast, Wicked, Avenue Q, and now Hamilton (yes, I realize that’s not a very long list, but keep in mind that the period of time when I had an interest in musicals only spans about six years, and I’ve had the same six discs in my car’s CD changer for over two three years now; what I’m trying to say is that my musical interests shift slowly).  It was always kind of a weird thing when I was in high school (being in band, I had a lot of friends who were music nerds of various sorts, but none who were into stage musicals), and in college it wasn’t that much better (my core group of friends at least appreciated musicals, but undergrad was also the time when my taste in music started to branch out to match what my friends liked).  By the time I graduated it was pretty much all in the past, aside from that time Rachael and I took my mom to see Wicked for her birthday, and I ran into my boss at the theater after I’d called in sick to work that day (he graciously never said anything about it to me).  It’s not like I ever get a huge urge to listen to show tunes.

Then Hamilton came along, and Rachael and I listened to it together one weekend back in March, and I was hooked.  With my recent efforts to try to develop a better appreciation for hip-hop, the fusion of traditional Broadway with rap and R&B appealed to me in just the right way.  I’ve seen it pointed out in various places that while Hamilton does have a lot of roots in hip-hop, it’s important to remember that it’s a hybrid with just as many influences from traditionally white musical genres.  This is a show that’s very clearly designed to be accessible to white people who aren’t familiar with hip-hop while simultaneously employing tons of allusions for people who have been steeped in that musical tradition their whole lives to enjoy.  Essentially, Hamilton is a lot of fun for people who know what they know, but it’s not a place where someone interested in exploring hip-hop should stop (for my part, I’m thinking about spending some time this summer listening to the background works that Hamilton‘s built on).

Beyond all that, I’ve been mulling over Hamilton for a while now.  It’s an incredibly layered text (and this is just based on listening to the soundtrack; I’ve not had the opportunity to see the show in person, and I probably won’t until the touring company is assembled), and there’s so much to pick apart about it; at the same time there’s been a ton of really smart discussion going on all over the internet.  I’m particularly taken with a few pieces that I’ve read, like this one about Hamilton‘s similarities with fanfiction and NK Jemisin’s take on the musical as an expression of fantasy.  As Jemisin points out in her blog post, you can find all kinds of intelligent discussion of Hamilton online, and it feels silly to reiterate what others have said better elsewhere.

So instead, I’m just here expressing how much I enjoy Hamilton.  It’s irrepressibly fun, and moving, and inspiring, and heartbreaking.  My favorite line is from the song “Washington on Your Side” where Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, in a fit of xenophobic rage say “We’ll show these Federalists who they’re up against: / Southern motherfuckin’ Democratic Republicans!”  It’s the punchline to an ugly, anti-immigrant sentiment, but I continue to be taken with the poetry of the line; assonance is a delightful device.  I love that Angelica Schuyler gets some of the fastest, most complex lines in the entire show during her lamentation song “Satisfied.”  I find Aaron Burr a fascinating antagonist who reads to me as someone who’s not even sure what his ambitions are until later in his life (and “The Room Where It Happens” is a darkly cynical song about the amount of trust we have to place in our political leaders).  Every part of Hamilton has some fascinating facet that I can’t help really being into when it catches my notice.  Bits of songs pop into my head at random moments over the course of my day, and they’re never unwelcome (is it possible to have a two-hour-long ear worm?).

I don’t know if any of this is new or particularly insightful, but it’s what’s been occupying a lot of my mind lately.


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