05 May

Hamilton: “Explain to me why…”

My friend, Doug Hacker, of the incredible Billsville House Concerts series, asked me the following question on Facebook:

“Explain to me why I should pay attention to this Hamilton thing.”

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So I dashed off my answer in a comment. Since then, a number of fellow Hamilton-lovers asked me to repost it. So here’s what I wrote:

There are moments that the words won’t reach. But let me try.

Here is what you do: you listen to it a couple of times as you cook, or fold laundry, or whatever. You’ll be all, “okay, this is interesting, sure, but I still don’t get it.” Do that two or three times.

Then, after you have a passing familiarity with the story and the various melodic threads, take a 2-hour car ride with Caroline and the kids. Before each song, have someone read about that song on Wikipedia — who’s singing, what’s happening in the Revolution, or in the newly formed nation, at that time. Really listen.

Go home. Start Googling things. Be all, “but did they really –” and “but why did Lin decide to –.” Keep Googling. Keep listening.

Months will pass. You will not tire of it. You will listen to it during every workout, every car ride, every time you need a pump-up song, or an anger song, or a weepy song, or a check-me-out song. You will find yourself unable to listen to a couple of songs in public, because you cry like a baby when you hear them.

You will draw parallels between the story and the present day election. Categories like “then” and “now” will fade, then start to vanish. You will understand your own nation more. You will have newfound appreciation for its color and spirit and mess, even as its more painful parts seem more raw than they ever have.

Some of the music you once listened to with pleasure will begin to seem flat and colorless, dated like a yellowed 1970s Kodachrome.

After a while, you will be unable to distinguish where the musical leaves off and your own thoughts begin. You will look at your child and the words “when you smile I am undone” will crawl across your brain like a stock ticker. After running into someone you dislike, you will think, “you are the worst, Burr.” You may even record yourself saying these words into your phone, and play it back for yourself when people irritate you. Sometimes when you walk through the door of your house, you will sing, “Doug Hacker is coming hooome,” with a grandiose flourish.

You will watch Lin Manuel Miranda give interviews and cheer when he politely checks the interviewer for referring to people of color as “minorities,” because hello, apparently that interviewer is not exactly up to date on what America looks like now. You will engage in long, thoughtful conversations with your kids about who we are as a nation — conversations that they actually want to have. These kids, of course, will be listening as much as you are, and they will be more thoughtful and compassionate human beings because of it. They will beg you to buy the 731-page Ron Chernow biography. You will, with some amazement, and you will look things up with them. You will never, ever fight about what music you should listen to together.

You will learn hip hop references that until now you never knew you wanted to know. You will learn about rap battles and about cabinet battles at the exact same time.

And still. All of these things won’t be enough. You will still want more. You will never be satisfied. You will never be satisfied.

There’s a lot I didn’t include in this post. I didn’t include that:

  • There’s also the part where you explain certain words to your kids
  • And the part where find you have memorized nearly almost all 28,000 words, but know you’ll never be able to do the Lafayette parts.
  • And the part where you have to explain words like “whore” to your nine year-old, and explain that she probably shouldn’t say, “I heard your mother say ‘come again'” when she’s out in public, but it’s totally worth it.
  • And there’s the part where you learn that it wasn’t long ago that Daveed Diggs rode the subway all night so he would have a place to sleep. And then you wonder what other talent and brilliance might be sleeping on the subway.
  • And the part where debate getting another dog so you can name it Hammy, or Lexi.
  • And the part that you see someone staring at you at the gym, and you realize it’s because you’ve been silently mouthing words with accompanying hand motions on the treadmill.
  • And, naturally, the part where you get sad about never having seen the actual musical, but then you remember that tens of thousands of New York City school kids are getting to see the musical, and that this matters way more than your own having seen it, because they are the future, and maybe some of them never believed that America was fully their country before. And now they will, and that is beautiful.