Posts Tagged ‘jazz’

I may not be able to see the musical for a good year or so, but my God if it was possible to marry a soundtrack, I’d be the first in line. Seriously, I haven’t been this obsessed with a musical since I was twelve watching the Les Misérables 10th Anniversary show on PBS. But if you told me ten, five, even one year ago that one of my favorite albums ever would be the cast recording of a hip-hop musical about Alexander Hamilton I probably would’ve laughed in your hamilton-musicalface. Really hard. Like, rolling on the floor, gut-busting laughs that leave you breathless.

Don’t get me wrong, I find the Revolutionary era of American history fascinating, but that’s because I studied and specialized in the subject. The further we move away from the United States’ beginnings the harder it becomes to make the Founding Fathers relatable as flesh and blood men of their time. Instead, we venerate and idolize them for their virtues and great accomplishments while not-so-subtly sweeping their flaws and mistakes under the rug. We forget that for all their eloquence and statesmanship these were men subject to the same trappings of ambition, pride, lust, greed, and paranoia as the rest of us.

Enter Lin-Manuel Miranda and Ron Chernow’s 800-page biography of Alexander Hamilton. Coming off of his success for the musical In the Heights, which he received the Tony for Best Original Score, Miranda picked up Chernow’s book while on vacation and became inspired to tell Hamilton’s story. But what’s so inspiring about a man who modern audiences only know was killed in a duel and appears on the ten dollar bill? In Miranda’s mind not only is Hamilton’s life the immigrant’s story but the man’s tenacity, zeal, and naked ambition makes him a kindred spirit of modern day hip-hop artists like Tupac and Kanye West. After reading Chernow’s book, Miranda spent the next seven years working on the musical that originally started as the Hamilton Mixtape. The first inklings of the emerging musical came from Miranda’s performance of what would be the opening number at the White House in 2009.

It’s easy to laugh at the idea. Hamilton and hip-hop don’t exactly overlap no matter how refined you make the Venn diagram. But when you move past the conceit of the musical and listen to the actual music, it all begins to make sense. Hip-hop and rap are, at their core, about self-aggrandizement, hyperbole, and passion and when one looks at the writings produced by the Founders those same core tenets materialize. They wrote for posterity’s sake, with history in mind, and men like Hamilton could rise or fall by the strength of their words. To win was to have the most convincing argument, which also meant destroying the argument of your opponent through cleverness and rhetoric. Tell me that doesn’t sound like a rap battle. In fact, there are two moments where the old school rap battle serves as the delivery method for cabinet debates between Hamilton and Jefferson. They are, by far, my favorite pieces for the Hamilton-Lafayette-Mulligan-Laurenssheer amount of history covered through amazing lyrical dexterity. I could listen to Lin-Manuel Miranda and Daveed Diggs battle all day as Hamilton and Jefferson. All. Day.

But the Hamilton soundtrack, produced by Questlove and Black Thought of The Roots, is more than just hip-hop. It’s the best fusions of R&B, jazz, rap, soul, pop, and traditional Broadway, but above all else it’s filled to the brim with energy. And therein lies the strength of the musical. The frenetic nature of hip-hop propels the story, making Hamilton and the rest of the Founders dynamic and active participants in the creation of the American experiment. These aren’t the stuffy white men of static images in history books, these are living, breathing revolutionaries looking for a fight, a cause, to improve their lives and prove themselves to the rest of the world. It’s also worth noting that the entire main cast is intentionally composed of people of color. As Miranda puts it Hamilton is “the story of America then told by America now.”

And at the center of it is Alexander Hamilton, played by Miranda, and the amazing cast bringing George Washington (Christopher Jackson), Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette (both played by Daveed Diggs), and Aaron Burr to life. Using Burr (Leslie Odom, Jr.) as the musical’s narrator, Hamilton follows the youngest Founding Father from his revolutionary beginnings to his untimely end. Miranda and company present a man who lived like every day might be his last, a man obsessed with glory and legacy as the only means of proving himself and rising above his lowly origins. But Hamilton isn’t just the immigrant story, it’s the story of American politics, which haven’t changed all that much, and the flawed men in power.washington

As someone who has studied the Revolution, I appreciate Hamilton‘s approach to the Founders. Framed within the context of “who lives, who dies, who tells your story,” the musical neither condemns nor condones the behavior of Hamilton, Burr, Jefferson, Madison, and Washington. They all get their moments to shine, but they’re also undercut by their own arrogance and insecurities. The exception might be Washington. Commander, president, and father figure, Washington still retains an air of heightened reverence but the song “Right Hand Man” does a brilliant job of articulating Washington’s frustration with Congress and his own soldiers while “History Has Its Eyes on You” brings out his gentle, compassionate side beautifully encapsulated in Chris Jackson’s voice. Hamilton, however, is as much at fault for his own ruin, “The Reynolds Pamphlet”, as the people out to destroy him politically. And while Hamilton and Burr’s duel is an inevitability the road towards that confrontation is paved by two lives that intersect and parallel at key moments. And yet, at every turn, we get a reminder of Hamilton’s looming death. Whether it’s in the subtle reverberations of gun shots at the end of specific songs or Hamilton’s personal mantra of “I am not throwin’ away my shot!” we know what’s coming.

Hamilton Richard Rodgers Theatre Cast Lin-Manuel Miranda Alexander Hamilton Javier Muñoz Alexander Hamilton Alternate Carleigh Bettiol Andrew Chappelle Ariana DeBose Alysha Deslorieux Daveed Diggs Marquis De Lafayette Thomas Jefferson Renee Elise Goldsberry Angelica Schuyler Jonathan Groff King George III Sydney James Harcourt Neil Haskell Sasha Hutchings Christopher Jackson George Washington Thayne Jasperson Jasmine Cephas Jones Peggy Schuyler Maria Reynolds Stephanie Klemons Emmy Raver-Lampman Morgan Marcell Leslie Odom, Jr. Aaron Burr Okieriete Onaodowan Hercules Mulligan James Madison Anthony Ramos John Laurens Phillip Hamilton Jon Rua Austin Smith Phillipa Soo Eliza Hamilton Seth Stewart Betsy Struxness Ephraim Sykes Voltaire Wade-Green Standby: Javier Muñoz (Alexander Hamilton) Production Credits: Thomas Kail (Director) Andy Blankenbuehler (Choreographer) David Korins (Scenic Design) Paul Tazewell (Costume Design) Howell Binkley (Lighting Design) Other Credits: Lyrics by: Lin-Manuel Miranda Music by: Lin-Manuel Miranda Book by Lin-Manuel Miranda

The women of Hamilton, though, are not to be ignored. Alexander Hamilton’s relationship with the Schuyler sisters may have been complicated but the musical uses that complexity to bring out the romance and tragedy in their history. Renée Elise Goldsberry is amazing as Angelica Schuyler-Church, the eldest and most intellectually profound of the sisters. In “The Schuyler Sisters” Goldsberry brings out the fun and youthful exuberance of Angelica’s search for a “mind at work” while “Satisfied” exposes her love for Hamilton and her dueling feelings of regret and happiness for his marriage to her sister Eliza. Phillipa Soo, though, is inspiring as Eliza Schuyler-Hamilton. Kind and supportive of her husband, her desire to “be part of the narrative” takes a tragic turn in the wake of the Reynolds Affair. The song “Burn” makes your heart break for her as she condemns her husband’s words and denies history access to her heart and mind. It’s a poignant commentary on the lack of documentation from Eliza concerning the affair and Soo brings such raw sadness and anger that it’s hard not to imagine the reality of Mrs. Hamilton’s circumstances.

This is all to say that I love, Love, LOVE this soundtrack and I wouldn’t be surprised if Hamilton wins all of the Tonys! Miranda has also mentioned that there are plans to film the musical, which I believe should be done as soon as possible. Not only does it put Hamilton into the homes of people who don’t have access to or can’t afford to see Broadway shows but it could be utilized by schools as a new way to teach kids about the American Revolution.

So raise a glass, people, and join me in my love for Hamilton!

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Sam talks with Kyle Higgins, co-writer of C.O.W.L. for Image Comics. The two talk cartoon nostalgia, history and superheroes, and the artistry of comics.

 

kyle higgins

 

 

Intro music “French Kiss” by Mrs. Howl

Outro music “Chicago” by Joe Clark feat. Raya Yarbrough

I’ve been mulling this one around in my head for some time now, mostly because I wasn’t sure if this was something I necessarily wanted to share with people, but fuck it, a website is nothing if not a platform for narcissism, so here I go!

For my and the preceding generation, The Simpsons was appointment television. At its best, the show lampooned the American Family with a combination of slapstick, satire, and sheer madness. As a kid, watching Homer fall down a canyon a couple times was hilarious. But as a teenager and an adult with a fair amount of education under my belt, references to movies, books(“Here’s the grapes. And here’s the wrath!”), music, history (“We had quitters during the Revolution, too. We called them…Kentuckians.”), and politics made me realize how smart the show was, which made me enjoy the show even more! Though, nowadays, the show makes me chuckle or smile every once and a while, there hasn’t been an episode since about 1998 that’s made me laugh from the gut and instilled in me the desire to quote it relentlessly.

And quote it I do! A lot! Fortunately, I’ve managed to find a group of friends with a similar inclination and nothing makes me happier than walking into a room, speaking the smallest piece of a Simpsons quote and knowing someone’s going to pick it up and finish the quote or laugh their ass off because I’ve reminded them of that particular episode. And thus begins either a discussion of how freakin’ awesome The Simpsons is or a sharing of quotes. Either way, fun to be had by all!

And while I could probably write a whole blog devoted to how great The Simpsons is, that’s not the point of this article. Instead, I’d like to talk about what happened after a viewing of an episode I hadn’t seen in years: Moaning Lisa.

 

The plot, for those who haven’t seen it or those who need a refresher, is split between the A Story and the B Story. In the A Story: Lisa is dealing with an existential crisis. She wakes up and just feels sad, unable to muster even the smallest bit of interest in anything. Unable to express herself and her feelings to her family, she finds an outlet through jazz with the help of Bleeding Gums Murphy. The B Story focuses on Homer’s obsessive competition with Bart over a boxing videogame. The B Story is there to balance out the A Story with a heavy dose of humor because the A Story is especially hard-hitting on an emotional level…at least it was for me this time around.

I don’t watch The Simpsons as religiously as I used to. Though I catch the occasional rerun, I usually have to wait a while until the station gets back to the earlier episodes since I have little interest in watching reruns of the newer seasons. And even then, I tend to avoid the first two seasons of The Simpsons mostly due to the rough animation, which is hard to watch sometimes. However, on this particular night, after a long day at work, I decided to just leave the show on in the background even if it was from the first season.

And I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. From the moment Lisa sighs her way through a day at school, uncaring, searching for an outlet through music only to be squashed creatively by her music teacher to the friendship she forms with Bleeding Gums Murphy, I could not focus on anything but the episode. Something clicked in my head and I felt the deepest and most sincere empathy for Lisa because, at one point in my life, I was just like her.

I’m not saying I was an eight-year-old genius with a talent for music. No, like Lisa, I too experienced undefined sadness. Coupled with some anger issues, my teenage years, let’s say…13 to 19, were not the happiest years of my life. I was fairly sensitive, hadn’t quite formed the thicker skin I sport now, had few if any friends, and some unresolved bullshit from my childhood decided to creep its way into my psyche at the most inopportune moment. Needless to say, there were several days that resulted in me bursting into tears for no apparent reason. And it freaked me out! I have some control issues (okay, a lot!), so a three-day crying jag that had, at the time, no discernable origin did nothing but exacerbate my sadness and anger. And thus, a vicious cycle was formed! And though I am a sensitive control freak, I am similarly, if not more so, stubborn as all hell! So, after a year of therapy and dealing with what was really bothering me head on, I stopped being sad all the time and the anger subsided…somewhat. I became a happier person for it, able to enjoy life more and roll with the punches.

So, with those experiences behind me and learned from, I was shocked at how easily I identified with Lisa and her struggle to find happiness. The episode aired on February 11, 1990, four days after I turned six-years-old, but only now, two decades later, do I truly understand. When Homer tries to tell Lisa to stop playing her saxophone and she bursts into tears simply because she’s sad, my heart ached because I was once Lisa in that moment.

Homer and Marge equally remind me of the struggles of not only my parents, but most parents with a child going through a similar ordeal. Homer attempts to help Lisa the only way he knows how: bouncing her on his knee and trying to wash over her sadness with advice only a father can give to a child experiencing something he doesn’t quite understand. In the same scene mentioned above, when Homer is about to tell Lisa to stop playing her saxophone, when Lisa bursts into unexplained tears the sheer devastation on Homer’s face is heartbreaking. It’s a father who doesn’t know how to help his daughter who’s obviously in pain. And the only thing Homer can do is tell Lisa to keep playing. Marge, though her intentions are good, tries to force Lisa into smiling for the day, hoping that the outside will eventually influence the inside…and take the heat off Marge for maybe being a bad mother according to some advice Mother Bouvier gave her when she too was a sad little girl. But when Marge witnesses how her daughter is mistreated just for being herself, she reneges her earlier advice and says to Lisa:

“Lisa, I apologize to you, I was wrong, I take it all back.  Always be yourself.  If you want to be sad, honey, be sad. We’ll ride it out with you.  And when you get finished feeling sad, we’ll still be there.  From now on, let me do the smiling for both of us.”

It’s the sagest advice any parent can give their child and it reminds me of many conversations I had with my own mother. Never did she tell me to knock it off or suck it up. My mother let me be sad, hopeful and confident that I would figure things out eventually. And I’m all the better for it because I had someone in my corner who understood.

What it boils down to is it’s less about the cartoon and more about the experiences that have shaped me into the person that I am today. Had I not gone through what I went through, I wouldn’t have felt as strongly as I do about the episode. And for a cartoon to create what is essentially the first Lisa-centered episode based around the character’s inherent sadness and struggle for acceptance is gutsy, to say the least.  But it’s satisfying to know that, before the zaniness of later episodes, the creators and writers of The Simpsons wanted Lisa’s perspective to always be slightly left-field of her family, yet still identifiable to the viewing audience. More so, I think, then Bart, Lisa Simpson is iconic for the struggles she faces and more clearly defines the feelings of a generation then her lovable scamp of a brother.

So, there you have it. It’s possible I’m over-thinking the matter or over-analyzing the episode, but it means something to me to share this with others. The fact that The Simpsons can still speak to me as a (mostly) mature adult gives me a greater appreciation for a show that is more than just a cartoon but a mainstay for anyone in need of laughs, wit, and heart.

 

But what about the rest of you out there? Ever come across something and identify with it more as an adult? Thoughts on the Simpsons? Always glad to get feedback!

Originally published at Noise Shark Media

Written by Paul McCartney in 1968, “Lady Madonna” was McCartney’s attempt to write a bluesy, Fats Domino style song, which Fats Domino later covered in the same year. A raucous, piano-led tune, “Lady Madonna” originally started off, lyrically, about the Virgin Mary, mostly inspired by the Catholic population of Liverpool, but later evolved into one about a working class woman facing a problem every day of the week. Every day except for Sunday.