If we lay a strong enough foundation
Just over a year ago, the Hamilton cast recording was released on NPR. Since then, it's been in heavy rotation as a soundtrack to my life, leaving me with a Certain Reputation among family members and friends. I know I'm not alone in this.
When it released, I was tempted to write about it, but at the time everybody was writing about it and instead of this newsletter, I had a blog (which felt more Important, and as if I had to be more Professionally Analytical than I generally am here). I couldn't come up with a way to write about what was happening, so I just...didn't. It became a thing that was both intensely personal and widely shared, and that made it so, so complicated.
When I started listening to Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, it introduced me to the idea of experiencing secular media as personally and publicly sacred, and I think that's something I've been doing for a long time without really identifying it as such. My thoughts on media have generally been in that category of thinking: how is this a metaphor for life in general, how does it apply to mine, and what is it calling me to do?
Hamilton answers those questions differently in different songs, of course. The characters call us to action in many ways: do not throw away your shot, which got me through the first weeks of a new job, and look around, how lucky we are to be alive right now which continues to remind me to take a moment and think about the place I live and the people who share it with me; there's I know who I married, reminding me that I'm safe in this home G and I have made together, and the happy reward of our mutual cares, labors, and dangers to remind me that all this is for something. If we lay a strong enough foundation...
But the overarching theme of Hamilton is revolution, the conflict between dreams of the world we leave to our children and the children of our world, and the things we fail, time and again, to accomplish for them. It takes the tone of revolution, the hope and fear, violence and rebuilding, and reminds us through the text itself and through the way it's presented that while the reality of the founders' wishes might have been met, the ideal image they crafted of America has not yet been realized. The brokenness might have been built into the walls of this place, but people wanted better, and we're not done. Winning was easy; governing's harder.
I think often on the performance of The Battle of Yorktown from the 2016 Tony Awards; about the depth of the lead-in from History Has Its Eyes on You but mostly about the fact that, because of the nightclub shooting in Orlando, they performed that night without their prop guns, presenting a weaponless view of that key point in the revolution. Take the bullets out yo' gun felt like it meant something else that night, and I wept. I live in a country now that gained its independence without violence, and we are not alone in having done so. War, while the most common and clear way of declaring yourself Separate, is not the only way, and that's worth remembering.
There's so much more I could say: the beauty of Burn; the prescient madness of King George and the version where he's the little voice in my head taunting me with "and what's next?"; the way One Last Time is offered up as a balm to the show's narrative celebration of Hamilton's non-stop braggadocio; the complicated value of Burr's caution and the way they're set against each other as variations on a theme; Chris Jackson's whole Thing with Washington. All of those things have, at various times, meant something important in my life, and it's sometimes mind-boggling that it's only been a year since the idea of a Broadway musical with a hiphop version of the first treasury secretary seemed like a ridiculous idea that could never possibly work.
What comes with me every time I play through the tracks is a sense of balance, of finding a middle road between hope and fear, one that not only allows but enables greater action. It's also a reminder that the action of revolution takes many faces, and that alongside the non-stop spitfire movers and shakers are the people who quietly build the world: parents and teachers, mediators and ministers, laborers and paper-pushers. Fighting to be able to start the work is just the start; the work of rebuilding something better is continuous, everyday, and the face of "non-stop" varies as widely as humanity. The second act of the musical is a reminder that it's not enough just to declare yourself independent, you have to determine what you're going to be now that you're free. That's something we all have to do, as we come into ourselves as individuals, as communities, and as societies. We have to decide what we want to be, but after deciding, we must also then do the work to become it. Living, you see, is harder.
On a related note, I love everyone in the cast and want them to be my family.
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