So we’ve fallen down the Hamilton rabbit hole. The Ron Chernow biography was on my nightstand long before I heard the music of the now-juggernaut Broadway musical, but I didn’t actually start reading until after I heard the original cast recording.
History has always been a pet interest. I’m no historian. I admire historians; I admire good history, careful provenance, diligence to sources. I love biographical narratives and the modern documentary, which can bring distant historical events and people out of the haze of the past and make them deeply real and personal.
I’ve tried to get my family excited about history, but other than my similarly-geeky brother (who is in possession of an history degree), my lobbying for a Ken Burns’ film on the National Parks for movie night has been met with eye-rolls. Until Hamilton.
When I first played it, I was home alone, trying to check off chores and get things done- and I found myself leaning against the kitchen counter, staring off in the mid-distance while clutching a dish towel. Chores forgotten, I listened to the whole thing. And then I hit repeat. The kids picked it up, and we listened in the car. We’d pause between songs, discuss what was happening, and then listen again.
Suddenly, history wasn’t boring anymore, it wasn’t something mom liked and they tolerated. Suddenly, they were talking about the American Revolution, had opinions on King George, and consider the Marquis de Lafayette a hero. And there is no way I am giving up this shot to engender and feed this love of history-come-alive.
We’re watching the excellent series “John Adams” from HBO. Living in Virginia, we are soaking in history, and have a ton of places and chances to grab. We drove to Mount Vernon and toured the grounds, while we giggled “Here comes the General!” under our breath. We’re going to see the statue of Lafayette in Lafayette Square near the White House. Monticello is on our list for this spring. We’ve begun to talk about America’s history with slavery and how that complicates and changes the narrative of the founding fathers and our own beliefs about ourselves. We’ve started to talk about colonialism and our own roots, as a family and as a culture. I can barely contain my enthusiasm, but I don’t want the eye-rolls to return.
Even if you’re not a history-geek, Hamilton is a stellar addition to American culture. The composition, story telling, music, lyrics and gusto with which it’s all presented is near genius. The motifs, the refrains, the tiny little gems of commentary and nuance, the breaking wide-open of what it means to tell history, the shattering of normative roles and casting, and the use of language to cross barriers and tell our stories… it’s a work of art.
Just don’t try getting tickets.