Hamilton

Earlier this year my husband told me the most brilliant marketing decision in the past hundred years was not including the word rap in publicity for Hamilton. Because the kind of people who buy broadway tickets would eschew anything rap.

“What’s Hamilton?”

“A rap musical about Alexander Hamilton.”

“Rap musical? The Alexander Hamilton?”

“Yes– it’s hugely successful.”

“It sounds ridiculous.”

I didn’t give it another thought until I kept seeing references to the musical and articles about it. Brilliant! A work of genius! Shattering all barriers! Okay, I decided, let me listen.

Before I proceed further let me explain I’m a classical music snob. If it’s not classical, I don’t really consider it music. I can enjoy popular songs and find them interesting, emotionally moving, but music… not really. I guess it’s the difference between the Costco food court and a Michelin rated restaurant. It might taste good, but is it really food in the foodie sense? Plus, I have a distaste for musicals in general. I find them stupid and maudlin, with a handful of exceptions: I love most songs from Jesus Christ Superstar and “I’ll Cover You” from Rent is cute.

As it happens the entire soundtrack for Hamilton is available in spades on youtube. I listened to the show in full and have to admit I was surprised. If you’re going to create a rap musical this is as good as it’s going to get. Composer Lin-Manuel Miranda creates an extremely clever, catchy blend of rap, melodic, and traditional musical fodder. But that’s about as far as it went for me: clever. In fact when all was said and done I felt I’d just spent two hours listening to advertisement jingles (beware, like commercial jingles these songs get stuck in your head!). My favorites being “Right Hand Man,” “Guns and Ships,” and “Hurricane.”

So I fail to see what all the hoopla is about. $1000 a ticket? Seriously? I mean it’s a cute show but not the second coming. Though if I recall correctly, there was hysteria over Rent, which I also found lame. I think Steven Sondheim is kind of lame too (although my girls love, LOVE Into the Woods).

I would like to see this one day, as I’m curious how exactly it’s staged. There are paltry live clips anywhere that I can find, but instead of taking the ferry I’ll wait until it’s on PBS. And if Mr. Miranda is out there taking requests, I’d love to see a rap musical version of Vikings. Now that I might pay good money to see.

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Famous Blue Raincoat

Don’t worry, it’s not Leonard Cohen’s leathery voice. He wrote some beautiful songs, but oh… his voice is god awful.

Years ago I stumbled across this gorgeous cover of “Famous Blue Raincoat.” I bookmarked it on my old laptop and listened to it many a time over. Then the laptop died… and I tried to find the version again, but couldn’t, for the life of me, remember her name though I remembered she was Norwegian.

Then it popped into my head this evening. Kari Something! And she’d done another song called “Birds.” “music kari song birds” brought me to her, thank you google; we are reunited.

1970s Music

I get to drive my husband’s car on Thursdays and Fridays. This means I get to listen to XM radio on those days. Which means I get to listen to THE SEVENTIES STATION (#7 if you’re interested.)

There is so much good music I’ve never heard before. Even if we’d been allowed to listen to mainstream music, I’m not sure I would remember anything from the 70s. I can identify a few songs from the 80s, which I heard in stores or other public establishments; we were forbidden from “that kind” of music even then.

I grew up with classical, and south american folklore. We lived and breathed it. But somewhere in my 30s I cracked. I don’t think there is any recorded classical music I haven’t heard multiple times. I got sick of it. So I ventured to the dark side.

Supertramp! The Eagles! Led Zeppelin! Where was this stuff all my life? Furthermore I discovered lesser known music, particularly from the 1970s- that was extraordinary- like the “hippie” christian music of Keith Green or All Saved Freaks Band.

Which is all to say, I keep finding excuses to jump in my husband’s car to “buy something.” A gallon of milk, chicken thighs, baby diapers. And I tune to the XM 70s station, and 75% of the time I love what is played.

Having been absent from the musicality of the first three decades of my life, I can say this: there is something special about 70s music. 1980s music sucks. 1990s is tolerable.

So what exactly is so striking about 70s music?

Here’s my classically trained answer: they were actually talented. They had real voices, real instrumentality, true pitch. By the time you get to the 80s it’s all about marketing and “packaging.” Take Madonna for instance: her voice is average at best, yet she managed to market herself to a phenomena, though a talentless one. Yeah, she was slutty. Yeah, she was pretty. So what?

Here you have a recent find from my peregrinations. Sonny and Cher- you have to love the 70s set and hair. I adore Cher’s dress! If I could still sew, which I could once do as well as a Bangladeshi kid, I’d create an exact replica. I’d peg her at BMI 17 in this video, but still beautiful.

Bach on Harp

On the ancient contraption known as radio I heard some interesting harp music recently, which led me to investigate harp music- especially harp “covers-” in general. I eventually found this lovely rendition of J.S. Bach’s famous Toccata and Fugue in d minor, rendered by the beautiful Amy Turk (for some reason most harp players are beautiful women. Maybe they are immortal sylphs.)

Amy

Oh, this is a sad one. Amy is a 2015 documentary by Asif Kapadia detailing the preternaturally talented Amy Winehouse’s rise to stardom and tragic plight with addiction. It’s currently streaming on Amazon.

This was a good but not great documentary, but as with so many less than perfect documentaries the subject matter is sufficiently fascinating to hold your interest. In this case it’s Amy’s wildly intense personality that shines through- by the end of the film it’s clear that when she felt something, she felt it purely, and felt it hard. Unfortunately for her this was coupled with profound alcohol and drug addiction, which the film sets forth in painful detail.

Stylistically it’s a patchwork of home videos (including one of a teenage Amy singing happy birthday) and interviews with her loved ones and associates, including her father and ex-husband Blake Fielder, with whom she shared an amour fou. Their passionate, tormented relationship was fodder for the famous Back to Black album and in many ways would be her undoing.

Another interesting point of the film is that Amy was, inherently, a “jazz snob.” This is perhaps why her music is difficult to categorize. It’s not quite jazz, not quite pop, and before her untimely death she was inclined to branch out to more experimental music forms. It’s quite tragic to imagine the unborn music that died with her.

Her eating disorders- certainly bulimia and perhaps anorexia- are also examined. Her weight fluctuated wildly but by the time she appeared in the United States she presents as all of BMI 16, and I believe she was even thinner when she died of alcohol poisoning. I had to wonder how the constant vomiting, alcohol, and smoking never seemed to impact her voice which was nothing short of a force of nature.

I realized after watching this film that I rarely hear Amy’s music on the radio. This surprises me as her music, while perhaps not for everyone, is timeless. If anyone has a theory for why this is, please share.

So all in all the film is highly recommended. Even if you’re not particularly interested in her life story, you will be once you’ve seen the film. The batterings of her life- family, love, loss, compulsion- are something we can all relate to even on a lesser scale, and illustrate her as quintessentially human beneath an extraordinary musical gift.

The Man Who Sold the World

I heard this cover of David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World” on the radio. I was never a fan of Nirvana, and don’t particularly like Bowie’s music (with the exception of “Space Oddity”) but something about this version is haunting and satisfyingly melodic, even with Cobain going off key. Poor Kurt looks terribly skinny here.

Townes Van Zandt

Has anyone ever heard of this guy? Yet another obscure (at least I think so) singer with beautiful music. I guess this music would be categorized somewhere between bluegrass and country. As usual, these are finds from the ancient contraption known as “the radio.”

Mr. Van Zandt, by all appearances, led a rather tortured life before succumbing to alcoholism and drug addiction at the tender age of 52.