If you missed it, click on the Hamilton tag for the first part of this review.

“Wait For It “— Usher. I was excited to see this on the album, because it instantly struck me as an excellent match of song and singer, but was underwhelmed on actual listen. It’s fine but he doesn’t make it his; as a cover, it’s nice but nothing special. Sorry Usher, it clearly wasn’t just you because I had that exact issue with a lot of the covers.

“An Open Letter” (feat. Shockwave) [Interlude] — Watsky. A cut song, Hamilton’s outraged letter to John Adams. It’s fun (and a good performance) but you can see why it was cut; Hamilton screaming, “Sit down, John, you fat mother—” and being drowned out by a chorus of shrieks and sirens goes beyond fun and into Crowning Moment of Hilarious.

“Satisfied” (feat. Miguel & Queen Latifah) — Sia. A cover, with slight lyrical changes. The part that’s very prettily and expressively sung by Sia is one of the better of the cover songs, but it also contains one of the two best covers on the album, which is the verse rapped by Queen Latifah. Without any lyrical changes at all, she takes that verse and owns it and makes it hers. It’s terrific. I would love to hear Queen Latifah do more Hamilton - actually, I’d like to see her perform in an all-women version. I think she’d be an amazing Jefferson.

“Dear Theodosia” (feat. Ben Folds) — Regina Spektor. Another cover, minor lyrical changes. Very pretty, not all that memorable.

“Valley Forge” (Demo) — Lin-Manuel Miranda. A cut song, or more accurately a cannibalized song; the majority of it was used in the show with a different melody and in different contexts. Like the other demos, it’s mostly interesting to fans as a "making of" Easter egg rather than something you’d want to listen to on repeat. I really wish all the cut songs had been given full productions rather than demos, because if they had been, you probably would want to listen on repeat.

“It’s Quiet Uptown” — Kelly Clarkson. A cover with minor-ish rewrites that feel more substantial than they actually are, because the performance sounds so different and the reason for them – removing the play’s specifics to make it a more universal song about grief and forgiveness— makes a big difference. I liked this a lot. It and Queen Latifah’s “Satisfied” verse are my favorite of the covers. (I’m counting Dessa’s as a cut song, not a cover; if you count it as a cover, it’s also a favorite.) It’s beautifully sung and emotional. And, bonus for me, I can listen to it because it’s not specifically about Philip Hamilton. I can’t listen to “It’s Quiet Uptown” on the cast album because it’s just so damn sad. This is also sad, but for me a lot less of gut-punch, and in this case that’s a good thing.

“That Would Be Enough” — Alicia Keys. Cover. Nice, not that memorable.

”Immigrants (We Get the Job Done”
— K’naan, Snow Tha Product, Riz MC, Residente. FUCKING BRILLIANT. Go listen if you haven’t already.

A stunner of a song in every way: lyrics, music, performance. I was not previously familiar with the performers on this, and they’re so good. (And also very musically appealing to me personally, which as you’ll see is not always the case just because someone is objectively good.) Snow Tha Product gets more feeling and rhythm out of a single “Uh!” than a lot of singers get on an entire album.

This song samples two key bits from Hamilton: Hamilton and Lafayette’s bring-down-the-house line, “Immigrants: we get the job done!” and (referring to slavery in context, but also to racism in general) “Does this mean freedom?” “Not yet.”

The lyrics tackle various aspects of immigration, from sharply observed personal details (“I got one job, two jobs, three when I need them/I got five roommates in this one studio but I never really see them” (because the roommates are always out working their three jobs)) to equally sharply observed politics (“We’re America’s ghostwriters”) to the inner experience (“You can be an immigrant without risking your lives […] All you got to do is see the world with new eyes”), in multiple languages and from multiple perspectives, different journeys and backgrounds contrasting and finding unexpected correspondences, all of which is, of course, the essence of the immigrant experience: all those people with all their different stories from all their different places, converging on a single destination.

The hypnotic refrain of “Look how far I come” has multiple meanings— literal travel from afar, success against the odds, “look at where we are/look at where we started,” give me some fucking credit for what I’ve accomplished instead of blaming me for existing, let me tell you about my struggle to get here and then survive here, look at me instead of pretending I don’t exist— and sounds like an incantation, a blessing, a prayer, the spoken expression of the act of faith and hope required to leave everything behind for a leap into the unknown.

Like the best protest songs (which it is, though it’s also more than that) I think people will be listening to this one fifty years from now, when the topical references are incomprehensible without research and all the details that are now current have changed. It won’t matter. The heart of the issue will be the same. And it’s just that good.

“You’ll Be Back” — Jimmy Fallon & The Roots. Cover. The best thing I can say about this is that it’s not as terrible as its own intro led me to expect. It’s still not good. Worst song on the album, hands down.

“Helpless” (feat. Ja Rule) — Ashanti. Cover with fairly substantial rewrites placing the song in the present day. This is pretty adorable. Ashanti’s singing is really nice, and Ja Rule’s brief but memorable section amusingly takes the exact opposite tack from LMM’s. LMM’s delivery admits to his humble origins, but emphasizes that he’s risen above them now. Ja Rule’s says he doesn’t need to rise above anything: he is what he is, what he is is fine, come on baby you know you want me just as I am.

“Take A Break (Interlude)” — !llmind. Little musical snippet.

“Say Yes To This” — Jill Scott. Cover, moderately rewritten. Scott definitely makes this hers, as an old-school sexy torch song. It’s very well done, but musically not really my thing. However, that’s a “it’s not the song, it’s me.”

“Congratulations” — Dessa. Cut song. “You have invented a new kind of stupid.” Angelica tells Hamilton how she really feels about the Reynolds Pamphlets. I can see why it was cut— Angelica’s verse that this song was transformed into says basically the same thing in a much shorter space— but it’s a really good song in its own right. Dessa’s take is excellent: sarcastic, funny, bitter, heartfelt, angry, sad. Great delivery, great range of feeling and singing, just really well-done all round.

“Burn” — Andra Day. Cover, no or very minor rewrites. It’s fine but not memorable.

“Stay Alive (Interlude)” — J.PERIOD & Stro Elliot. Another snippet. I vaguely recall liking this one – I think it’s the one with a techno sound. The interludes are all literally 30 seconds long and I don’t think any of them add much to the overall experience whether I liked them or not.

“Slavery Battle” (Demo) — Lin-Manuel Miranda. MAN I wish this had been done as a full production rather than a demo. As is, it’s mostly of fannish/writerly interest. As a full production, it would be much more re-listenable. The Cabinet Battles on the show are fantastic.

It's a good song but probably would have been better with more drafts, which I assume it would have gotten if it had stayed in. It’s about slavery, and I agree that keeping the song wouldn’t have added that much to the points on the subject that did get made during the show. You’re always making choices when you have a limited length of time, and I can see why this song ended up being less central to the story LMM chose to tell than it would have been if the play took slavery as a central focus.

"Washingtons By Your Side" — Wiz Khalifa. Really interesting original song, very good performance. This re-interprets “Washington” to mean money (his face on the bill), and a lot of stuff that comes along with money (or the lack of it), good and bad. It’s a complex song and I’m not sure I understand all of it, but I like it a lot. It definitely made me want to hear more from him. It’s also noticeably original, with a much more non-obvious take on its inspiration song than the other new songs.

"History Has Its Eyes On You" — John Legend. Gospel version. Similarly to "Say Yes to This," he makes it his own and it’s very well-done but it’s not really my thing, musically speaking; again, it’s not the song, it’s my personal taste.

"Who Tells Your Story" (feat. Common & Ingrid Michaelson) — The Roots. Original song inspired by and quoting that line from the show. Really fantastic song, great performance, my fourth-favorite song on the album, just a hair behind my three faves.

This takes the theme of “who tells your story” to talk about the lethal racism of America that makes a black man’s sense of his own mortality far more present than it should be, how immediate that makes the desire for a legacy, and how “who tells your story,” is both the racism that endangers black men and their urgency to tell their own story before they’re cut down. And beyond politics and the death of the body, the spiritual implications of death and life after death.

I really like how it begins with very concrete matters and then shifts to more intangible ones, its structure mirroring the way we we start with a body and, if you believe, end as a soul. Lyrically complex, very well-structured, beautiful production, just all-around excellent.

"Dear Theodosia (Reprise)" — Chance The Rapper & Francis and The Lights. Cover. The song selection was a good album closer in concept (passing the torch to the next generation) but once again, it’s a solid cover that doesn’t rise above that. “Who Tells Your Story” would have been better to end on, IMO.
The Hamilton Mixtape isn’t a good introduction to Hamilton; if you want that, listen to the show on Spotify. The Mixtape is an odd mix of three completely different types of songs: completely original songs which are inspired by Hamilton and sample or quote a specific song from it (all of these are good to phenomenal), cut tracks or demos that didn’t appear on the show or appeared in substantially different form (interesting to excellent, but definitely for people who are already fans of the show), and covers of Hamilton songs, some slightly to moderately rewritten (a few excellent, some meh, one outright bad. (Jimmy Fallon.)

So, those original songs? AMAZING. Worth the cost of the entire album. Here are my three favorites, My Shot, Wrote My Way Out and Immigrants (We Get the Job Done on YouTube. Go listen! Those are the ones where you don’t need prior exposure to Hamilton.

They’re very lyrically dense, so hard to take in completely on one listen, but also musically excellent, so I have listened to all three of my favorites a minimum of 20 times and have not even begun to get tired of them. “Immigrants” might be the most accessible/striking on first listen, “Wrote My Way Out” will speak a lot to writers, and “My Shot” is just a great political/personal song. They’re all very American and about specifically American political issues in addition to personal/universal ones, but I don’t think you have to be American to enjoy them. Probably half the references went over my head anyway and I still loved them.

I am not very musically knowledgeable, so please feel free to chime in on genre, influences I missed, etc. Also, I want to listen to more music by some of these artists, so would love recs that are for songs or albums by them that sound musically similar to their work here. I talk a lot about lyrics because 1) they’re great, 2) I can talk sensibly about words. But I only listen to music if I like it as music, so that’s way more important to me in reccing than lyrics. If I like the sound, I’ll enjoy it even if I don’t know the language it’s in; if I don’t like the sound, I won’t enjoy it no matter how great the lyrics are.

I would especially like recs for K’naan, Snow Tha Product, Wiz Kalifa, and the Roots, all of whom, er, I never even heard of before. Also Common – yes, I know who he is, I’ve head songs of his that were clearly good but they didn’t jump out at me as “Oh I have to buy his albums.” What the hell, Nas too, same reason.

“No John Trumbull (Intro)” — The Roots. Very short but very good intro, sets up the themes, concept, and style of the entire album in about 30 seconds.

My Shot
(feat. Busta Rhymes, Joell Ortiz & Nate Ruess) [Rise Up Remix] — The Roots. Brilliant, lyrically dense political/personal song about racism, the lack of opportunities and the determination to grab them anyway, some dazzling wordplay, and a whole lot more. I know it’s not exactly a surprise to say that Busta Rhymes’ verse has jaw-droppingly good rapping, but the bit where he storms from “Hamilton Hercules Mulligan” to “We in the guts again” is just SO GREAT. Again, I wish I could talk about music better, because though the lyrics are great this particular part is really striking because of the delivery. Also meta-cool because Hercules Mulligan’s style was inspired by Busta Rhymes.

Wrote My Way Out
— Nas, Dave East, Lin-Manuel Miranda & Aloe Blacc. Of my three favorites, I actually don’t think this one is objectively the best song (I give the edge to “Immigrants”) but it’s unsurprisingly the one that I love most. It’s based on and samples “Hurricane.” It’s got a quite complex structure, interweaving four distinct parts on a single theme: writing your way out. Nas, Dave East, and Miranda rap their stories of writing their ways into a better life and what writing means to them; Aloe Blacc sings a refrain on the same theme.

They're personal stories, but not told in isolation. All their inner struggles occur in a complex social context of racism, immigration, poverty, family, people who help them and people who stand in their way. They're not just struck from above by inspiration and hope and ways out, they reach out to snatch them. And then turn around to reach back. The very last line isn’t rapped, but spoken with power and sincerity: “I thought that I would represent for my neighborhood and tell their story, be their voice, in a way that nobody has done it.
 Tell the real story.”

Here's Aloe Blacc’s refrain that spoke the most to me:

I was born in the eye of the storm
No loving arms to keep me warm
This hurricane in my brain is the burden I bear
I can do without, I’m here. I’m here.
Cause I wrote my way out

Set against some of the aggressively clever lyrics of other parts of the song, it’s almost cliched, but sung and written with a lovely simplicity that points out that the flip side of cliché is traditional, classic: some themes get repeated a lot because they’re powerful and true and resonant.

You probably know Aloe Blacc as the vocalist on the Avicii remix of “Wake Me Up,” a really catchy song that got tons of radio play. When I first heard it, in a cab in New Orleans, I was so struck by his voice that I grabbed a pen and wrote down some lyrics so I could figure out who he was. The Avicii video is the one with the people with the triangle tattoos. I’ve linked to Blacc’s original Wake Me Up here. It’s more stripped-down, and the video is a beautifully done and heartbreaking protest about the crappy way America treats immigrants; the people in it are acting out their real stories.

Lin-Manuel Miranda's verse, again unsurprisingly, especially spoke to me. It’s about his high school years, when he got beaten up for reading and being too smart (me too!) and was told to defend himself and scolded for not being able to (I got scolded for defending myself, which sums up how boys and girls are socialized). You can hear that he isn’t as technically skilled a rapper as, to be honest, pretty much all the other rappers on this album, but his raw delivery really works in his context – when he screams “fucking yes I’m relentless,” it points up how the relentlessness is what matters. He doesn’t have to be Busta Rhymes – he “draws blood with this pen, hits an artery.”

A line that gets repeated several times in the song, always spoken like a proverb that's existed for a thousand years, is “I picked up the pen like Hamilton.” This obviously makes sense to listeners because it’s on the Hamilton Mixtape, but it's spoken like a metaphor that of course everyone will understand, something grown into the roots of the language. How much do I love that maybe from now on, if I say “I picked up the pen like Hamilton,” people might actually know what that means? The most crucial and singular and defining act of my life suddenly has a huge cultural context that it never did before. Of course the general idea of “I wrote my way out” has a very long history, but now it also has a catch-phrase that it never had before, attached to something extremely well-known. (“Look, I made a hat/Where there never was a hat.”)

Look. Lin-Manuel Miranda and Nas made me a hat.
I dreamed that LA mounted a regional production of Hamilton, with easily available tickets at $5.00 each. Of course, I immediately dragged basically everyone I knew, including a group of visiting sf fans from other countries. Most of the people I brought (about 20 of them) were unfamiliar with the play, but I was certain that they would be instant converts.

When it began, I realized that the director had inexplicably decided to combine the play with Three Penny Opera, which he also didn't understand - for instance, "Pirate Jenny" was done as a strip-tease. Also, all the actors were white.

This went on for 15 minutes while I vainly attempted to communicate in whispers to my friends that this was not the play. "This is like going to see Hamlet and finding that they've actually produced Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead!" I whispered indignantly.

Then I was relieved that apparently they were actually going to do at least some Hamilton, as a black actor appeared and shouted "I'm Aaron Burr!"

Then the opening chords of "Alexander Hamilton" began.

I then found that the director had completely rewritten the lyrics to simplify them, and also to use an all-purpose, gender neutral pronoun of his own invention, "zoo."

All I remember was "Zoo are waiting around for zoo," when I woke up, greatly relieved that this travesty - and I don't mean Stoppard's-- does not actually exist.

Yet. (Thanks to Tool of Satan for the link.)
If it wasn't for Hamilton, I would never have read Aaron Burr's journal. It continues to charm and delight; I will post more excerpts later. Like the entire last week and, for that matter, last eight months, today has been almost entirely taken up with medical stuff. I just got back from seeing one doctor and have to go do a test right now, which will take up most of the rest of the day. But at least I have The Secret Diary of Aaron Burr, Legendary Fuck-Up, to read in waiting rooms.

So far he has repeatedly lost his luggage, had his laundry held hostage, been chased from his bed by insects in the middle of the night and then lose a pitched battle with them, set himself on fire, and spent ten days obsessing over a blemish on his nose. Since all of this has also happened to me, this is making me feel slightly better about my own life. Like, at least I didn't kill the creator of the Coast Guard, New York Post, and America's financial system in a duel and then get tried for treason for trying to secede from the US and make myself Emperor of Mexico?
This edition was edited and footnoted by William Bixby in 1903. Bixby’s introduction fills in the events preceding Burr's journal (the duel), taking great pains to explain that this was a different time and dueling was acceptable, and also Burr was pretty awesome and everyone with taste thought so:

Bixby: After a short tour through the South, where he [Burr] was received by the best society, Colonel Burr returned to Washington to resume his duties as Vice President of the United States. He presided over the Senate during the trial of Judge Chase of Maryland " with the dignity and impartiality of an angel and the rigor of a demon," and the day after the trial closed, his term being about to expire, delivered a farewell address to the Senate, which was so full of eloquence and pathos that most of the Senators were in tears when he concluded.

Rachel: I would you to keep this and everything you think you know about Aaron Burr, fictional versions included, as you read the excerpts from his actual diaries. Also, that he was considered to be extremely handsome.

One of my absolute favorite things about this edition is watching Bixby slowly lose his mind in footnotes as his admiration from Burr is swamped by his annoyance at Burr’s illegible handwriting and tendency to use words in languages which he doesn’t speak and can’t spell:

Bixby’s Introduction: Burr used French when referring to his discreditable adventures, ("accidents," he called them), but he used it very frequently for other purposes. He shows, indeed, throughout the entire Journal a singular fondness for using words from languages other than his own. This is childish at times. In Sweden he learned the words brod and mjolk, and then used them almost exclusively for three years thereafter, instead of the English words, bread and milk. He seemed immensely pleased when he could draw upon several languages to form a single sentence. For example, he wrote: "Bro. and cas. for din." Here we have four languages represented in a sentence of five words! Bro. is an abbreviation of the Swedish word brod, bread ; cas. is probably Burr's attempt to write the German word Kdse, cheese, and din. is his abbreviation of the French word diner, dinner.

Rachel: These excerpts are in chronological order, and start very soon after the beginning. He’s staying with or near Jeremy Bentham. This sets a deceptively elevated tone which will rarely be seen again.

The Journal of Aaron Burr

October 1, 1808. Bootmaker — a great liar; boots not done.

4. Rose at 6. Sent porter for trunk and boots. Neither done. Clothes not come from wash. Stage for Gaddesden to start at 12, and nothing ready; bought two shirts. Clothes and trunk came at 11. Packed up tout suite and drove comme diable [Bixby: like the Devil] to stage-house, Oxford street. Discovered that the hour of departure was one and not twelve o'clock.

[Rachel: Burr is living my life.]

9. Breakfast at M'Carthy's at 10, having agreed to ride with him to see the place of the Earl of Bute, said to have the best collection of pictures in England. Nobody was there.

12. Rose at 5. Got in stage at 6, intending to take post-chaise from Hamel Hemstead to St. Albans to visit Lord Grimstone; but no chaise was to be had, so came into town, where arrived at 10 o'clock. To Faleur; not content with his work. Impertinence of his goldsmith, whom I ordered out of the room for obtruding his opinions. F. is to mend his work, and I am to call to-morrow — thence to S. Swartwout. It was fortunate that I came to town, for yesterday he received orders to go on to Liverpool forthwith.

Received letter from D. M. Randolph; very melancholy. Speaks of the death of a most valued friend in America, which must be particularly afflicting to me. Who can he mean? I have heard of no death of the least consequence to anybody.

[Rachel: And here comes the Tale of the Nose. I have cut some stuff that’s incomprehensible, not that interesting, or just for length. But don't worry, I did not miss a single word of nose.]

23. On returning home, called at Turnevelli's, the statuary, and engaged to give him a sitting to-morrow at 11.

24. Rose at 9. Wrote to Sir Mark not to call till 1. Went to Turnevelli's. He would have a mask. I consented, because Bentham, et al had. A very unpleasant ceremony. To Sir Mark's; he was sitting down to breakfast. Walked together. Called at Herries and Farquar's, St. James's street, agents of the late Colonel Charles Williamson, to see for letters from T. [Rachel: Theodosia?] None! none!!

Found a note from Baron Norton, requesting an interview. No doubt some law business. Wrote him to call at 12 tomorrow. Sir Mark had engaged me to call on Signora B. Just as we were going out, casting my eyes in the mirror I observed a great purple mark on my nose. Went up and washed it and rubbed it — all to no purpose. It was indelible. That cursed mask business has occasioned it. I believe the fellow used quicklime instead of plaster of Paris, for I felt a very unpleasant degree of heat during the operation. I sent Sir Mark off, resolved to see no Signora till the proboscis be in order.

[Rachel: I think this might be my favorite line of the entire nose story.]

Wrote Ons. [Bixby: Madame Onslow], with whom I had engaged to pass the evening, apologizing. […] I have been applying a dozen different applications to the nose, which have only inflamed it. How many curses have I heaped on that Italian! Read to B. review of Leckie's work, which took till 9. K. came in, and we finished Thierry. I shall go early to bed (say 12), in hopes to sleep off my nasology.

25. Did not get to bed till 1. Rose at 9. Nose the same.

[Rachel: Is this reminding anyone else of The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Age 13 ¾? Also, I so understand the "shall go early to bed/oops, stayed up reading LJ till 3:00 AM issue."]

At 11, went to Turnevelli's to sit. Relieved myself by cursing him for the nose disaster. He bore it like one conscious, and endeavored to console me by stating that the same thing happened to Lord Melville and to several others, and that the appearance passed off in a few days.

[Rachel: I can’t imagine that statement was in the least consoling!]

Took a hack, not liking to walk and exhibit my nose. Stayed two hours with Turnevelli. He will make a most hideous, frightful thing, but much like the original. After leaving Tur., being unfit for any reasonable thing, rode to Madame O.'s to apprise her that if she were disengaged I would call after dinner and play chess. It was agreed. Rode to F's to give him a written mem. pointing out the defects and containing precise directions. […] Chez moi [Bixby: my home] where I do nothing but muse for two hours.

[Rachel: I assume on his proboscis.]

26. Rose at 9. Went to Turnevelli's at 11; nose a little improved. Sat one hour. The thing grows more hideous at every touch. […] Roved about two or three hours hunting a chess table, or stand with chess board inlaid; did not find one to please me. Home at 3 to dress for dinner, being engaged to General Picton at the Tower Coffee-house. Went there, the nose notwithstanding, at 2.

26. I am out of all patience at being detained in town, and am in danger of wearying out my great and good friend Bentham. From Reeves's walked on to visit the Donna; but,
recollecting my nose, walked home.

[Rachel: That is the closest he comes to referring to the duel – the reason he’s detained is that he’s wanted for murder. But what’s he actually worried about? Well...]

28. Rose at 9. Nose a little improved.

Sent Tom to Graves for the laws of New York, and to Miller, bootmaker. It is now five weeks since I put into Miller's hands some of Bellamy's leather for a pair of boots. One pair which I could not get on, were sent and were returned. Since that I have had daily promises, but no boots. The shoes, which cost 17 shillings, I could not wear, and have given them away. Thus it is with every mechanic I have employed in London except my tailor, Beck, who lies a little, but far less than any other.

Waited till 1 for Tom's return, and then went to Turnevelli's. Sat one hour. Worse and worse! This was meant to please you; but if I had suspected that I had become so infernally ugly, I would sooner have.

[Rachel: I think the "you" is his daughter Theodosia, to whom he meant to send his journals. Bixby was so horrified by the thought of a lady reading about her father's sexual exploits and general TMI that he had a highly unconvincing note in the introduction saying that Burr undoubtedly meant to censor the hell out of them first. I doubt that very much.]

Roved about for two hours, ruminating on this sort of non-existence and on you. E.A., too, often accompanies me. Got home safe at 4. Mr. Elkton Hammond, merchant, to dine with us. A very intelligent young man; admiring the works of B. Has two sisters; one studies legislation, the other chymistry. The chymist said to be pretty. I am to dine there with B. on Thursday, when you shall hear more of them.

29. Rose at 9. I don't recollect to have told you that on my return from Weybridge, I had determined to set off immediately for Scotland. Six weeks have elapsed, and I am apparently (what hellish scrawls [1]; I must try to do better, or this precious mem. will be lost to you and to the world), apparently no nearer departure than on the day of my return.

[1. Bixby: The description is perfect!]

30. Wrote Madame Prevost and am now going to bed. The nose improves apace; hope it will be exhibitable to-morrow, and be fit for inspection of the legislatrix and the chymistress. Bon soir!

London, December 1, 1808. To Turnevelli's ; abroad. Glad of it, for I would give 5 guineas that the thing were demolished!

24. Sent trunks to get better locks. So much plague as I had to get trunks, and the locks are naught. To Turnevelli's, who had been to hunt me. Sat only twenty minutes. He is determined to go through with it ; tries to encourage me; finds it wonderfully like Voltaire; but all won't do. It is a horrid piece of deformity.

To Falieri; not ready. To Miss Mallet. The most rational being I have seen. Staid a whole hour, and greatly pleased with her. Good breeding and social talents in a degree very rare. Why don't I go there oftener? Because I do nothing that I wish or intend.

[Rachel: Oh, Burr.]

30. To Turnevelli's ; not at home; shall never be done with that fellow, and yet he tries his best; but the strange irregularities and deformities of the face defy all art.

10 To Turnevelli's at 2. I wish I had never begun with him.
I began reading Aaron's Burr's diary while I was in a plane stuck on a runway, repeatedly delayed due to "rain in San Francisco" (not exactly a rare phenomenon), when I was attempting to get to SF for a potentially life-changingly crucial appointment that day. I had allowed myself three hours leeway in addition to the actual time needed to get to the appointment; those hours were rapidly ticking down as the plane was delayed and delayed and delayed. I later learned that there had been no rain in San Francisco at that time. (The plane was 2 1/2 hours late, but I did make the appointment.)

This proved to be the absolute ideal time to read the journal of Aaron Burr. It was written post-duel, pre-treason trial, while he is traveling around Europe to avoid being brought up on a murder charge. Theodosia Jr. is alive. The duel has not yet been mentioned (but I am skimming for the good stuff, and only halfway through, so I could have missed something.)

Burr's diary bears virtually no resemblance not only to any fictional Burrs, but also to ANYTHING you'd expect just from reading the events of his life. It is primarily about his hilarious travel misadventures, and in fact reads remarkably like a travel journal of mine just in terms of events - "it could only happen to Aaron." If you have read the excerpts floating online in which he sets himself on fire and obsesses about a zit on his nose, let me tell you, you have only begun to scratch the surface of the hilarity.

The version I have was put together in 1901 by William K. Bixtbt (typo for Bixby?), with a foreword extolling Burr and saying he was unfairly maligned, and noting that an earlier version was heavily rewritten and censored. So beware that one, I guess. He notes that Burr's handwriting is terrible, and that he uses many foreign words and also some private code, and that while he was more-or-less fluent in French, he also uses lots of words from languages he did not actually speak. The footnotes get more and more annoyed and snippy as the book goes on as the poor editor struggles to make sense of sentences which are 1) illegible, 2) written in three different languages, 3) in which every single word is misspelled, ungrammatical, or both.

I started emailing a friend from the runway. Here are a few of my emails.

10:03 AM. Transcription horrible. You must read anyway. It is hilarious. I am like five pages in and have already encountered the zit saga, which is even funnier in full, plus multiple complaints about bootmakers and much snark.

10:12 AM: He has now been going on about his nose for something like 10 pages.

10:27 AM: One of the very first entries:

Bootmaker a great liar; boots not done.

I feel that this [my plane getting stuck] is the sort of thing that would also happen to Aaron Burr. The nose thing is not actually a zit and the reason for it is HILARIOUS. He sounds like Cyrano de Bergerac.

10:32 AM: Burr is also having bad luck traveling:

After being two hours on the way, missed my handkerchiefs and, upon quiet examination, discovered that I had taken the wrong coat. What a curse to have two coats at a time!

It is like the time I arrived in NYC with no coat and two bottles of red nail polish.

10:51 AM: I am still on the runway. Meanwhile, Burr has somehow lost all his luggage and his carriage fare.

10:54 AM: Burr made it a few entries with no incident, but has now been hungover for two entries in a row.

11:00 AM: Burr is now hungover again. He drinks cream of tartar punch as a remedy. (Yecch.)

Also interesting, he really likes women. Not just to sex up. As people. He keeps noting whether they are smart, pretty, or both.

Resemblance to Miranda's Burr: nil.

Resemblance to Vidal's Burr: only in very limited areas.

11:03 AM: Burr just lost his umbrella and has taken (stolen? unclear) the umbrella of a friend. Fully expect him to lose that too.

Burr's Journal Online. Not sure if this includes the footnotes. I got my copy off Amazon for $1.99.
rachelmanija: (Princess Bride: Let me sum up)
( Mar. 4th, 2016 03:30 pm)
I will give some sort of prize to anyone who can guess the canon (author, etc) from whence I just read this line of dialogue: "I don't know what else they do in that lab except fertilize other people's elephants from a deep-frozen mammoth…"

Hint: The speaker and person being addressed are hang-gliding into Russia.
Alexander Hamilton gets a huge amount of imagery of upward motion-- flying, climbing, rising, and so forth. He's a social climber clawing his way to the top; he has high ideals; a penniless immigrant rising up from the bottom; a scrapper fighting his way to the top of the heap; taking part in an uprising, one of the people rising up to rebel; a soldier and politician rising up through the ranks; an upstart rising above his proper place; he soars too high and falls; his final shot is fired into the sky.

Hamilton is the embodiment of ambition, ideals, greatness, drive, and hubris, all of which are symbolically expressed in reaching or rising upward: not just forward momentum (“see him now as he stands on/The bow of a ship headed for a new land,”) but upward momentum.

Aaron Burr, Hamilton’s opposite, antagonist, and mirror image, gets appropriately opposite imagery. He’s associated with stillness and waiting; being, not doing.

But Hamilton and Burr— opposites who have more in common than they realize, learn from each other, and sometimes adopt each other’s methods— share two images. One is “stand,” which reverses their usual imagery patterns: Hamilton is the one who takes a stand (literally stands still, but metaphorically speaks his mind) while getting more and more frustrated at Burr not taking one. However, whenever possible, even that phrasing is expressed in terms of Burr being the one to not move: “For once in your life take a stand with pride/I don’t understand why you stand to the side.” The second line re-purposes “stand” to once again mean “stay where you are; don't take part.” Similarly, when Hamilton stands ("See him now as he stands on the bow of a ship/Heading to a new land"), he may be still but the ship is carrying him forward.

The other image both men share is “fall.” Both men get a fair amount of falling imagery, and this time it means the same thing for them both: they fall in love, they fell from grace, they fell on hard times, they reached too high and it proved to be their downfall.

The shared imagery suggests that in addition to being each other’s opposites, they also have similarities and complement each other. Imagine how wide the world could have been if they’d joined forces instead of destroying each other…

Cut for extreme length: Read more... )
Burr is a historical novel with two interwoven timelines and two first-person narrators. In 1833, Charles Schuyler (not related to the Schuyler sisters), a journalist and aspiring lawyer, befriends the elderly Burr and coaxes him to tell his side of the story. It’s election time, and Schuyler has secretly been hired to get proof that Presidential candidate Martin van Buren is Aaron Burr’s illegitimate son, in the hopes of discrediting his candidacy. But as Burr tells his life story, Schuyler gets seriously mixed feelings.

I was given this book in high school by one of my uncles (I forget which; it would have been in character for either) because he thought it was well-written and I’d appreciate the prose. Despite a near total lack of knowledge and interest in the time period, I not only enjoyed it a lot (the prose is indeed excellent), but got curious about the duel and spent about a month reading primary sources in the library (this was pre-internet) to figure out exactly what was up with it and who shot first. Once I had satisfactory theories for that, I reverted to my previous lack of interest in the period for the next 25 years.

Then came Hamilton. So I re-read Burr. Vidal’s afterword says that apart from inventing Charlie Schuyler and much of the 1833 - 1840 storyline, and moving characters around in a few minor ways, it’s as historically accurate as he could make it in terms of facts and even dialogue as recorded at the time. The opinions, of course, are the characters’.

This is probably true (it’s definitely more historically accurate than Hamilton in terms of what happened to whom when), and yet even apart from opinions, when one writes fiction rather than biography— actually, even in all but the most exhaustive and objective biographies— you still choose which facts to include and which to leave out. (And even those biographies must choose how to phrase their statements of fact, and thus leave different impressions on readers. Simply writing an exhaustive biography makes the statement, “This person was important. Their life deserves to be recorded in excruciating detail.) No story of a real person, whether fictionalized or true, will recreate that person as they really were. Gather them all together, and you get a sort of pointillist painting, a thousand different stories making up a portrait of a man. Look closer, and they fragment again.

Miranda’s Burr and Vidal’s Burr are clearly derived from aspects of the real man, but are very different people. Vidal’s Burr is both more cynical and more playful, charismatic but misanthropic; he flat-out hates Hamilton and is only sorry he killed him, if he is sorry, because it ruined Burr too. Miranda’s Burr is a potentially great man with a fatal flaw, who the misfortune to be inspired by, provoked by, and finally destroy and be destroyed by his opposite and mirror image, a great man with his own fatal flaw. Miranda’s Burr regrets; Vidal’s Burr blames.

Neither of those guys sounds remotely like the deeply weird person who comes across if you read a summary of Burr’s life that includes the stuff that can’t be proven or remains mysterious (supposedly fondled a marble bust of Hamilton post-duel and said, “There was the poetry;” allegedly attempted to secede from the US and make himself Emperor) or excerpts from his diary (in which he accidentally sets himself on fire and attacks someone with an umbrella that has a knife in the handle.)

Vidal’s book has two somewhat unreliable narrators, but the third somewhat unreliable narrator is Vidal himself. Like anyone writing historical fiction and, to some inevitable extent, history, he chooses the events that support a cohesive character of his own imagining, and leaves out or downplays the ones that don’t. And that’s completely apart from the made-up episodes, like his theory on what Hamilton said (or Burr was told that he said) that provoked the duel. (I can see where Vidal got the idea, but there doesn’t seem to be any historical basis for it ever having been said at all, let alone that Hamilton said it.)

Not one of the Founding Fathers comes across well from Burr’s perspective: Washington is lumbering and incompetent in battle, Jefferson is canny but a snake in the grass and nowhere near the genius he’s portrayed, Madison well-meaning but pathetic, and Hamilton brilliant but vicious and hypocritical. The more Burr insists that Hamilton keeps projecting his own worst qualities on to him, and the more he blames everyone else for all the bad things he supposedly did, the more the reader gets the impression that there’s projecting going on, all right, but at least fifty percent of it is coming from Burr.

In an early scene, an actor pulls a friend away from a fight and misquotes Iago, saying, “You know what you know.” (I think at that period actors sometimes modernized Shakespeare’s dialogue, so that may be a nod to that rather than an error. Iago’s actual lines are “Demand me nothing. What you know, you know. From this time forth I never will speak word.”) This scene does not initially seem to have much to do with anything (it does set up some later stuff) and but mostly seems to be there to get readers thinking about Othello. (Vidal explicitly identifies the quote.)

Miranda’s Burr sings in the closing lines of the song “We know,” “We both know what we know.”

Those are both common phrases, so Miranda’s use may not be meant to echo either Vidal or Iago… but on the other hand, the Iago line is extremely famous and Miranda certainly would know it from Othello even if he wasn’t also inspired by Burr. (I would guess that he has read Burr; it’s pretty famous.) It’s the moment when you realize that Iago’s stated motives (way too many stated motives) were probably all lies or rationalizations, leaving the audience with a mystery never to be solved. What we know, we know… and we still have no idea why Iago destroyed Othello and, in doing so, destroyed himself. Remind you of anyone?

More subtly, it reminds us of a major theme of Vidal’s book, which is the unreliable narrator and the impossibility of ever knowing for sure what really happened in the past. We know what we know… but is it true? Who told us what we know? Should we believe it? Did they have a hidden motive, like Schuyler coaxing Burr to tell his stories, Burr hoping to vindicate himself, Schuyler hoping for the dirt on Martin van Buren, and both lonely men unwilling to admit that they want a friend? Who wrote our history books, and what did they think we should believe? Vidal and Miranda’s Burrs both know that they’ve been painted as villains, and try to tell their side of the story. And both Vidal and Miranda consciously re-tell history to hold a mirror to the politics of their own times.

Back to Othello letters are very important in the play. They also are in the real-life story of Burr and Hamilton, and furthermore play more of a role in both Burr and Hamilton than is required to just tell the story. The duel letters are obvious, but letters to Theodosia are important in both works (in very different contexts) and there’s also the letter-burning in “Burn.” (Which also involves infidelity, which of course is a huge plot point in Othello, though there the accusations are false.) The Othello motif is for sure intentional in Burr; not sure about Hamilton, but it’s interesting to consider.

There’s much more of Iago in Vidal’s Burr than in Miranda’s, but Miranda’s Burr is certainly acting in a Machiavellian manner in “We know.” Finally, though obviously concepts of race were different then, Iago is white and Othello is black, and that is important in the play. While Vidal’s Hamilton is white, “Creole bastard” comes up, just as it does in Miranda’s play; Hamilton wasn’t a racial minority as we think of it now, but people did have issues with where he came from. In Hamilton, of course, the most significant use of race is actors of color playing white people; Othello was often played by a white actor in blackface up until relatively recent times.

The characters in Hamilton are, by and large, infinitely nicer, better, more idealistic, and more likable people than in Burr… but then again, Vidal’s Burr has a vested interest in making everyone else look bad to make himself look good in comparison. Miranda’s Burr states his own case, but also narrates Hamilton’s story with honest admiration when that’s what he feels, even if he hates feeling it.

Othello aside, it’s fun to see where Vidal and Miranda were drawing inspiration or even lines from the same historical source, but did completely different things with it. For instance, you can see that they both thought the historic Jefferson was a giant racist and decided to take him down a peg or hundred.

Vidal’s Burr is charming even in decay— you can tell that you’d like him if you met him— but beneath that still-sparkling surface, human feeling is reserved for only a precious few. Everyone else is held in witty contempt. However, there is real feeling between Burr and Schuyler (much to Schuyler’s angst, given what he’s supposed to be doing), which keeps the book from feeling too grim or depressing. It’s cynical and sometimes quite dark (and contains period-accurate racism, sexism, homophobia, etc) but also well-plotted, gripping, and witty.

Five Times Burr Shot Hamilton (And One Time…)

Burr knew, suddenly and inexplicably but with absolute certainty, that he had done this before. He’d killed Alexander Hamilton, but he’d paid for it. Burr watched his bullet fly through the future and shatter his political career, blast him into a trial for treason, leave him penniless and paralyzed, and finally lodge him in a future where he was forever forgotten as anything but the man who had killed the great Hamilton.
The opening song of Hamilton, "Alexander Hamilton," retells the early life of Hamilton very quickly. He really did have an incredible amount of both trauma and impressive deeds at a very young age and in a very short span of time, and the way the song rushes through it, tossing off in a single line moments that could be worthy of an entire song, does a great job of making that point.

For instance, after it's established in less than two minutes of singing (1:50 on the cast album) that his father ran off, his mother died, and a hurricane destroyed his town, we get:

Moved in with a cousin, the cousin committed suicide
Left him with nothing but ruined pride, something new inside

THE COUSIN COMMITTED SUICIDE. If your last living relative committing suicide and leaving you destitute is only worth half a line, you've endured a lot. (IIRC, historically, he had a brother. But the brother's not in the play.)

But apart from recounting a tale of incredible hardship and amazing deeds ("at age fourteen, he was placed in charge of a trading charter," the opening number sets up the level of lyrical complexity of the play. That line seems like a simple, if impressive, statement of fact that one might read in a history book, but it's also got triple vowel repetition (age/placed/trading) and internal rhymes and alliteration (charge/charter).

Here's my favorite verse:

Then a hurricane came, and devastation reigned
Our man saw his future drip, drippin’ down the drain
Put a pencil to his temple, connected it to his brain
And he wrote his first refrain, a testament to his pain

Hip-hop tends toward density and referentiality. A single line often packs in a lot of wordplay, references, and allusions. And like a lot of great hip-hop, Hamilton was written to be experienced repeatedly, not just once. Miranda knows you won't catch everything the first time. The songs are meant to reward you if you listen to them over and over, and then think about them. As people do. Look at all of us listening to Hamilton on endless repeat.

The verse above has an amazing amount of associations and lyrical complexity packed into four lines. To start with, "hurricane/came" is a slant rhyme with internal alliteration. (The entire song is full of stuff like that-- just grab any line and look at it closely, and you'll see all sorts of clever things.) Then there's the pun on reign/rain. The rhythm and intensity of the "drip, dripping down the drain" line is fantastic. It's one of my favorite lines in the whole show.

But there's layers beyond that. A hurricane is destruction by water (additionally evoked by the reign/rain pun). So we have water destroying on a mass scale (an entire town) and on a smaller scale (one man's future.) Hamilton's future becomes water dripping down the drain, sliding out of his grasp. Is anything more futile than trying to grab at water? And if you look at water being sucked down a drain, it swirls in a whirlpool: a miniature hurricane.

The third line is also very dense. The thing you normally hear about getting put to someone's temple is a gun. "Pistol to the temple" is a really common phrase, and pencil sounds a lot like pistol, especially when sung fast. (I actually misheard it as "pistol" the first time I heard the song, and thought he'd considered suicide.) And the song has just established that Hamilton is at rock-bottom, so suicide seems plausible. Maybe some people (like his cousin) would have gotten desperate enough to kill themselves.

But instead, it's an equally desperate grab at life. Hamilton sees his future drip-dripping down the drain, but he's not going to just stand there and wait for it to slip away. He's going to slam his hand down over the drain.

That's a great reversal, but I'm sure you all noticed it before and don't need me to point it out. But what I didn't catch until multiple listens are the associations of the next part of the line:

connected it to his brain

People have been writing with pencils and shooting themselves with pistols for a long time. They were doing both in Hamilton's time. But "connected it to" isn't something you do with either a pencil or a pistol. You connect a plug to a socket. You connect electrical wires together. Hamilton's time was when people were just starting to experiment with electricity. So there's a word-association suggestion that he's cutting-edge for his time, if your mind jumps to Benjamin Franklin or Michael Faraday or some such when you hear "connected it to" in a 1700s setting.

But there's a more direct association that's way more futuristic. The idea of literally connecting something to your brain is mainstream in science fiction. People plug wires and such into their brain to get into virtual reality. So Hamilton isn't just cutting-edge, he's so far ahead of everyone that he's from our future-- our future-yet-to-come. We still can't jack into our brains a la Neuromancer or Mindplayers. But Hamilton's doing it in the 1700s with a pencil.

In an interview with Miranda, he said that Hamilton comes into the 80s rap of the revolutionaries with a modern hip-hop style, so he sounds like he's from the future. I think this line is similar. Metaphorically, of course all writers connect their pencils to their brains. But this is a very thematically coherent musical, and if those associations weren't written in deliberately, they probably were subconsciously. There's not a single line of this play that was just thrown together for the rhythm or the rhyme. (Which is impressive considering that even Bob Dylan once needed to rhyme "You always responded when I needed your help," and couldn't come up with anything better than, "Now the beach is deserted except for some kelp.")

Like many great opening songs, "Alexander Hamilton" sets up the main themes of the play: Hamilton writes his way out, he's way ahead of his time, he works non-stop, he makes a big impression on people for better or worse, he's an immigrant, he overcame adversity, and history has its eyes on him:

Alexander Hamilton,
When America sings for you,
Will they know what you overcame?

They sure will, because now they've heard this song. And not only is the play a hit, but Miranda wrote such a catchy tune that he literally got America, or at least quite a few Americans, singing for Alexander Hamilton.

The opening number also introduces many of the repeated lyrical motifs of the play-- "What's your name?" "How does a…?" and several variations on "Wait," among others. Here's another:

My name is Alexander Hamilton
And there’s a million things I haven’t done
But just you wait, just you wait

If you don't already know, Burr tells you toward the end of the song that he's "the damn fool that shot him." So Hamilton is going to die prematurely, still with a million things he hasn't done. But he'll do more in the time he has than most people could do in ten lifetimes. In the next song, he says he didn't expect to see twenty. Much later, Burr (and the ensemble) sing:

Why do you write like you're running out of time?

Why do write like tomorrow won't arrive?
Why do you write like you need it to survive?
Why do you write every second you're alive?

Burr sees death as a universal leveler. It will come for him, as it came for everyone who loved him, as it comes for everyone. All you can do it wait for it. Hamilton also knows death can come at any time (his mother, his cousin, the hurricane), but to him, that means that he can't just wait for it. If you wait, you could die before you accomplish anything. If you want something to happen, you have to make it happen, right now, because you might not get a tomorrow.

He's never not heard his clock ticking. But in his time, as now, the written word survived. Parents die. Children die. Entire towns die. Politics change. Empires fall. But words outlast their writers. Every second not spent writing is a second wasted, when he could be making that little bit more sure that after he dies, something of him will survive.

Burr's "What's your name?" question is a musical reference-- it turns up fairly often in hip-hop. (Also in folk songs, though phrased a little differently depending on how old they are. But in those it's usually a real question, not a rhetorical one.) But it also connects to the theme of immortality through works. Even if we hadn't just heard it a million times in the song, if we went to high school in America, of course we remember the name.

What's your name, man?

Alexander Hamilton!
Due to medical reasons, I have been living under a rock for the last seven months. So you may all already be aware of the pornographic novel about Aaron Burr, The Amorous Intrigues and Adventures of Aaron Burr, published in 1861 and attributed to aaronburrsmyastralhusband, I mean Anonymous. In other words, at least one person was writing Aaron Burr RPF smut 150 years before it first appeared on AO3. However, I had not heard of the book until Naomi Kritzer tipped me off yesterday. And in case the same is true for any of you, behold!

Reaching forth his hand, Burr seized that of Adelaide King, and drawing the beautiful girl to him, he pressed her plump bosom forcibly to his own, and inflicted a dozen kisses on her dainty red lips.

The biggest cliche of old-school trashy romance, the forcible yet welcome kissing, has rather deep roots. I have read similar lines in porn from Burr's own era. I expect that descriptions of brutal and forbidden yet strangely delicious kisses were once inscribed on lost tablets in a language of which not a single word now survives. And I bet some of those were RPF, too.

Smart Bitches, Trashy Books reviewed it, called it out for rapeyness, and gave it an F+. Talk less, fuck more, Burr.

A comment to that review says, "Is this the time to mention that a gothic Aaron Burr romance novel exists?

It’s a trilogy called “The Torment of Aaron Burr” and apparently in it, Burr creeps on Alexander Hamilton’s teenage daughter."

A TRILOGY. Martha Washington should have named her feral tomcat after him. Here's a picture of the cover. You know it's a Gothic because it has a woman fleeing a house.

This does not appear to be online, but luckily several people on Tumblr read and liveblogged.

The Amorous Intrigues and Adventures of Aaron Burr is available free online.

Miranda's Burr would probably have been appalled by the book - talk about giving ammunition to your enemies. But I think the historic Burr would have secretly read and gotten a kick out of it. Burr may now be remembered as a villain, but apparently he was remembered for quite some time as seriously hot stuff. And now an entire generation is going to picture him as Leslie Odom Jr. Hamilton got the protagonist's role and the ten dollar bill, but porn writers may never stop telling Burr's story.

Cut for Aaron Burr and a nun; not worksafe. Read more... )

I think I've found the inspiration for Harlequin Presents, circa 1970. Seriously, prose styles have changed somewhat, but I have spotted lava metaphors in a minimum of three modern romance novels. Not to mention modern fanfic. The more things change, the more they stay the same. "Anonymous" would be raking in money self-publishing on Amazon if he or she was writing today.

Also, you may enjoy this ad for more trashy novels at the end of the book. I can't decide if my favorite title is Kate Montrose; or, The Maniac's Daughter or Madeline, the Avenger; or, Seduction and its Consequences.

Attention is called to the following Catalogue of cheap Publications, just issued. These books are got up different from anything of the kind ever offered to the public. They are all handsomely illustrated with Colored Plates, which have only to be seen to be appreciated.

Cut for long list of dirty books Read more... )
Burr’s very first line in real time (as opposed to narrating the story after the fact) constitutes one of the best and also most retrospectively hilarious examples I’ve ever seen of a person’s entire character summed up in one line:

Pardon me, are you Aaron Burr, sir?

That depends, who's asking?

The man won’t even commit to his own name without testing first to see how it will be received: the ultimate weathervane.

That scene and the introduction of the revolutionaries which follows is a great example of introducing people in a brief lyric that sums up the essentials of their character, which is often a good thing to do in a story with a large cast. You can give them more complexity later. Right now, the audience just needs to remember who they are and get a general sense of what they’re about.

Other than Hamilton himself, who got a lengthy introductory song, every else’s intros in the first number went by very quickly and without identifying them by name; they only become meaningful in retrospect, when you find out that the man who said, “I trusted him” was George Washington.

The doubling of Act I/Act II characters, which I didn’t even notice on my first listen until Jefferson started rapping and I suddenly realized that it was the same guy as Lafayette, makes their one-line intro work for both characters. Mulligan/Madison and Lafayette/Jefferson’s “We fought with him” is a play on double meanings: they fought beside Hamilton in Act I and against him in Act II. That must be so heartbreaking onstage to actually see the band of brothers become enemies. Not to mention Laurens/Philip’s “I died for him.” (If I was LMM, I would have made more of Laurens’ death. Maybe he does more with it onstage?)

The revolutionaries announce themselves 80s rap style, which was an era with a lot of songs that summed up as “I’m So-And-So, and I’m super awesome!” (Also lots of political songs, but Miranda seems to be specifically parodying the “Yo, I’m badass and get all the chicks” subgenre.) What’s funnier in retrospect is that Laurens and Lafayette evolve their own styles after that, but Mulligan stays in that style all the way through. When he makes his surprise re-entrance later, it’s with this:

Hercules Mulligan, I need no introduction!
You knock me down, I get the fuck back up again!

His lyrics are way simpler and more straightforward than those of other characters at that point in the play. There’s no alliteration, minimal internal rhyming, and the rhyming isn’t particularly clever: Mulligan/introduction/again is an unimpressive rhyme compared to, say, destitute/restitution or any of the endlessly inventive and funny “Burr, sir” rhymes (of which my personal favorite is “You punched the bursar?”) The vocabulary is very simple. The only exception is “covenant,” but most characters in the play use a lot of very sophisticated vocabulary, not just one medium-difficult word. Compare to a completely typical Hamilton line a few songs back, in this case from Washington: We rendezvous with Rochambeau/Consolidate their gifts. Rhythmically, Mulligan’s delivery lacks the jaw-dropping speed of Lafayette (which indicates both Lafayette’s quicksilver intelligence and his fighting style that leaves the enemy reeling.)

In short, Mulligan’s musical and lyrical style is basic, but in the literal rather than insulting sense— so basic that it wraps around and becomes totally awesome. In case it’s not clear, I love him. He’s one of my favorite characters in the entire play. Also a great example of making a huge impression in a smallish role. (Though it does match oddly with his actual role in the Revolution, which is being the undercover man. Mulligan’s entire character is about “what you see is what you get,” which is the opposite of what you want in a spy. Since we never actually see or get any musical/lyrical indication that Mulligan can be anything but HERCULES MULLIGAN, it gives the impression that the Redcoats were really not paying attention.)

Mulligan’s style strikes me as both in-character and a musical joke about his type of rap and the era it came from. (Not all ‘80s rap was like that, of course, but the joke is about the part that was.) So many “I’m cool! You’re a fool!” songs. SO MANY. Blasting from boom-boxes. Blaring from car radios with the windows rolled down. Teenagers performing absolutely terrible songs they wrote themselves, complete with hand gestures that are now only used in parodies. If you were there, you remember. And also, you probably had horrific hair.

Back to the character intros! All the revolutionaries are in “Yo, I’m So-and-So and here’s why I’m cool” mode, but they also say specific things which imply a lot about themselves in a very few words:

Those redcoats don’t want it with me!
‘Cuz I will pop-chick-a-pop those cops till I’m free.

Laurens, the abolitionist, talks about freedom. He also mentions fighting cops, which suggests political radicalism. (Uh. I assume that means “fighting.”) It’s also a very dangerous thing to do, especially for a black man. So it foreshadows his death, most likely by gunfire. (So does “Fools who shoot their mouths off wind up dead.”)

Ah oui, oui, mon ami, je m'appelle Lafayette.

Key facts about Lafayette: 1) He’s French. (There may be a nod to Les Miserables’ Les Amis in the “mon ami”):

The Lancelot of the revolutionary set.

2) He’s effortlessly and genuinely the coolest person in the room, even when he hasn’t quite got the hang of English, and also a great warrior: Lancelot, the larger-than-life hero:

And then we have Hercules Mulligan:

Braaaah! Braaaah! I am Hercules Mulligan!
Up in it, lovin’ it!

Yep. That’s HERCULES MULLIGAN! Say no more.

And then a reiteration of Burr and Hamilton’s philosophies:

If you stand for nothing, Burr,
what’ll you fall for?

One of the things that makes this musical endlessly re-listenable is how packed almost every line is.

First, the line is a play on a proverb, “Those who stand for nothing fall for anything.” When I looked it up, I found that it’s of uncertain lineage… but has been attributed to the historic Hamilton. (If there is one way that Alexander Hamilton is like Yogi Berra, it’s that if some phrase of an unknown origin sounds like something he might have said, it’s liable to be attributed to him.)

Burr may stand for nothing, but Hamilton falls in the duel. But Burr falls too: standing for nothing is the basis for his clash with Hamilton, which destroys Burr too.

There’s also two interesting plays on phrases. “Stand for nothing” is reminiscent of “stop at nothing:” ruthless, especially in pursuit of a goal. That certainly applies to both men, and is exactly what leads to their mutual destruction.

“Fall for” can mean “be fooled,” as in the proverb. The direct cause of the duel was Burr’s belief that Hamilton was saying unspecified bad things about him. It’s possible that someone either lied to Burr about that, or it was true but someone deliberately informed him in the hope of engineering some sort of fight that would damage or destroy one or both men, either out of personal enmity or hope of political gain. I don’t recall this being implied in the play, but historically, I think it was a possibility. Those guys both had plenty of rivals and personal enemies apart from each other, so it’s possible.

If someone did lie to or manipulate him, Burr fell for it. The historic Hamilton certainly seemed baffled about what the hell Burr thought Hamilton was saying about him, and he normally didn’t hold back on his opinions. If he was saying insulting stuff, it would have been more in-character for him to admit it and pile on. I could imagine him saying something along the lines of, “I said a dead horse would make a better vice-President, because it’s true. That was in comparison to our current VP, who is a live jackass.” Instead, he basically said, “I don’t know what the fuck you think I’m saying about you, so I can’t repeat the details of your own fevered imagination. You’ve really lost it this time, Burr. Pistols at dawn.”

More commonly, “fall for” means “to love.” So who or what does Burr truly love? His mistress, Theodosia? His daughter, not yet conceived, who will motivate him to go ahead and take that final shot? Power, which drives the rivalry that takes both men down?

All that, in just ten words.
I wrote part of this in a comment to another entry, but thought it might of general interest to Hamilton and/or Sondheim fans, of whom I luckily have many on my f-list, so I pulled it out and expanded it. Er. A lot.

Hamilton makes fantastic use of repetition, especially of the repeated phrase whose meaning changes with context. The most striking uses of this are “I am not throwing away my shot” (sometimes just “my shot” or “shot”) and “Wait for it.”

The historic Hamilton occupies a specific spot in American common knowledge. In my experience, before the musical came out, if you asked the average American who Alexander Hamilton was, you’d get something like this: “He lived during the American Revolution. He was… Uh…. Secretary of the Treasury, I think? Something like that, anyway. He was shot and killed in a duel with another politician, Aaron Burr. [That is probably the only thing the average American knows or recalls about Aaron Burr.] Oh, yeah, and he's the dude on the ten-dollar bill.”

What both cracks me up and gladdens my history nerd heart about the sheer unlikeliness of the entire existence of this musical is that previous to it, Hamilton was not one of America’s iconic political figures, like George Washington or Thomas Jefferson (or, in terms of people who weren’t president, Harriet Tubman or Martin Luther King.) Nor was he obscure enough to be cool. He was in the exact "One of those dead white guys" zone where people interested in his period know a lot about him, because he really was important, but the average American knew exactly what was in my paragraph above, and no more. (If they’re a leftist, they may have the impression that he sowed the seeds of making America a plutocracy but probably didn’t intend that. Or that may just be me. If I recall correctly, my grandfather hated him for exactly that reason.)

But in popular consciousness, he was just above the level of someone like Paul Revere, where everyone can spit out “The midnight ride of!” upon mention of his name, and then, “Uh… He warned everyone that ‘The British are Coming!’” (Wikipedia has this note in his entry: "The British are coming" redirects here.) And that’s it. In general, no one who isn’t otherwise interested in that period (or economics/the Coast Guard/etc) has thought of Alexander Hamilton since high school. Whereas Americans who are otherwise not knowledgeable of history often have actual opinions on, say, Thomas Jefferson. (If you’re younger than me, you probably heard a lot about his slaves. If you’re my age, he had a sort of demigod status in high school history classes, which makes his takedown in the play especially hilarious.)

You notice that the duel figures prominently in common knowledge. People who know who Hamilton was at all always remember the duel. This is probably because 1) duels are cool, 2) Hamilton was the only important person in American history who was killed in one. (I guess unless you count Button Gwinnett. But I’m pretty sure nobody counts Button Gwinnett except autograph-collectors and people who enjoy unusual names. For the former, his signature is the rarest of any of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. For the latter, just FYI, a dude named Peru Italian Blackerby Ping served in the Kansas state senate in the mid-1800s.) Anyway, just in case you don’t know or forgot about the duel, Hamilton tells you about it right in the opening number. Miranda does not want that to be a surprise.

Burr shot and killed Hamilton, and every time you hear the word “shot,” that goes through your mind. And like any good tragedy, you know what’s coming but you want to scream, “No! Don’t do it!” So “wait,” in the sense of “stop,” also brings the duel to mind.

OMG, this got long )
rachelmanija: (I wrote my own deliverance)
( Feb. 6th, 2016 03:20 pm)
I really think this song works best if you hear it the first time not knowing it's coming. So I'm spoiler-cutting the entire entry. Once again, "Hamilton" refers to the character in the play, not the historical person, unless I say otherwise.

Read more... )
Due to being sick, by the time I even heard of Hamilton, the Broadway hiphop musical about Alexander Hamilton, it was the hottest thing ever and its fans were pushing it with so much zeal that I was actually put off. I figured it could not possibly live up to the hype.

Also, except for Sondheim, I'm not a huge musical theatre fan, and though I am a history nerd, I'm not much into American history in general, except for the Vietnam war and to a lesser extent the 1930s and 1940s. I find Hamilton's period particularly uninteresting. Hamilton would have to be a staggering work of heartbreaking genius to get me to like it at all. Previously, Gore Vidal's novel Burr, which is indeed pretty great, was the only work set in that period which I liked or even did not find excruciatingly boring.

So I am a little hesitant to put up a post which is inevitably going to make non-converts feel the exact same way I did, and make them even more reluctant to try it. However…

I consider Sondheim to be the genius of American musical theatre. In my opinion, no one has ever even come close to matching him, so far as my personal taste is concerned. Sweeney Todd is my favorite of his plays, and I also think it's objectively his best, insofar as that can be objective. I say this not to say that Hamilton is like Sondheim (though it does have noticeable Sondheim influences) but to explain my own personal standards when I say that Hamilton is the only musical I have ever heard that I think is as good as, and I already love as much as, Sweeney Todd.

I now see why Hamilton is so popular in fandom circles, and why its fans are so enthusiastic. For one thing, no one is going to listen to the whole thing if they don't like it early on, and it seems to be something that either people love or are totally indifferent to. So you only hear from the fanatical fans - everyone else didn't even finish it.

That aside, Lin-Manuel Miranda pretty clearly identifies with his own character of Alexander Hamilton. (When I mention Hamilton, I mean LMM's character, not the actual historical guy.) He wrote him as an immigrant and a writer, a man who came from nothing and fought his way up, a man who ran off at the mouth and was told off for thinking he was the smartest in the room (because he often was). He wrote Hamilton as writer, and as a misfit whose intelligence annoyed others even as it made him notable. No wonder so many fans identify!

I have never identified with a fictional character as much as I identified with Hamilton in certain songs and lines. One song in particular is not only a beautiful song, but is about the defining act of my life - the one moment, if I had to pick just one, that sums up the core of my self. It's a song about what makes me who I am.

I've written about that too, but Miranda wrote it in music, which I could never do. He wrote lines that I could never write, not because he's a better artist than me (though he probably is, and I say probably because, like his Hamilton, I do generally think I'm the smartest in the room so I'm not sure) but because only he could write them, just as only I could write what I write. Lin-Manuel Miranda's surely never even heard of me, but he wrote my soul into a song and put it on Broadway.

I assume that's because it's his soul too. I think it's the soul of a lot of writers and artists. Though the particulars are directly applicable to me in a way that's really unusual, and I would not be surprised if some of you have been biting your tongues not to say, "Rachel, you HAVE TO listen to Hamilon because you will identify SO MUCH, let me link you to this one song that is SO YOU."

I heard that song and I was glad that I lived long enough to hear it. I felt as if, had I died the day before, what I would regret most was that I never got to hear that song. I felt that way when I saw Sondheim's Assassins and Sweeney Todd, when I saw The Kentucky Cycle on Broadway, when I saw the first X-Men and Lord of the Rings movies, when I went to Japan for the first time and saw monks practicing kyudo in Kita-Kamakura and autumn leaves falling at Eikan-do temple.

Again, this isn't about my taste and whether it matches yours - it's about that shock of joy at something you experience for the first time, and fall in love with at first sight. It's as if you exist solely so you could experience that moment.

I'm not going to name the song because I managed to be unspoiled for the show, and so it came as the most amazing, poignant surprise. Maybe it will be for you, too.

(I'll talk about it later, in a spoilery post, along with other spoilery things. Obviously the historical events are known; I'm talking about artistic moments, and there are many delicious surprises there which I don't want to ruin.)

If you are unfamiliar with Hamilton, I think watching these two videos will tell you if you'll like it or not. I think if you don't like these, you probably won't like the rest either. I suggest that you watch the videos in this order. They both should actually be watched, as one is a performance and one includes lyrics.

Lin-Manuel Miranda performs an early version of the opening number at the White House

My Shot

The entire thing is streaming for free at Spotify.
Lin Manuel Miranda performing the opening number of Hamilton - his history geekiness is so endearing.

The whole thing on Spotify for free.

I am slowly listening to this. It's very dense, especially since I'm not familiar with that period of history other than reading Gore Vidal's Burr and getting briefly obsessed with the duel and the question of who shot first (Burr. Also, Hamilton's shot went wild because he'd been hit, not because he deliberately fired into the air, give me a break) and I just have the album - there doesn't seem to be a video available. It's pretty great though. If you like Sondheim, you would like this. I'd say listen to the first three tracks (through "My Shot") and see if you like it. I love the way it combines hiphop with Broadway, both lyrically and musically. It's really clever and catchy.


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