Yes, yes, condolence calls don’t bear much scrutiny and it’s time to stop analyzing what each of these poor people had to endure, or what they appreciated, about a call from our 45th (in chronology and rank) president. In a way this is a minor blip. Though of course it is not minor for the families, no one will die from a bad phone call, which is more than we can say for some of his other decisions. But it’s deeply significant for our country, the other countries of the world, and all of the billions of us who are affected by this man’s holding so much power.

1. Trump is the worst person in the world to deliver condolences. He has no capacity for empathy, he is completely clumsy with words (see: inability to distinguish between “He was willing to die for his country” and “He knew what he signed up for”) and has zero sense of what is appropriate to say when (see: same).

2. Trump, when criticized, immediately attacks others. Even if they are grieving Gold Star families.

3. Trump is a pathological liar: he lies constantly and in situations where his lies are easily exposed.

4. One of the many things he habitually lies about is his own generosity. He promises money, or claims to have given it, and then little of the money ever materializes. His charitable “foundation” is a scam.

5. He is desperate to be the unique, the best, the first. Other presidents didn’t make calls, he claims (of course they did). No other president writes a check for $25,000–or maybe what he means is, no previous president would have promised such a check and not send it until compelled by public exposure, which may be true. This narcissistic neediness causes harm to other people, such as the grieving father he strung along. What might be even worse is that Trump seems not to perceive that a promise is not actually meaningful unless fulfilled; words are not enough. No wonder he stiffs creditors, reneges on contractors and now, as president, blithely breaks treaties.

6. When caught in a lie, it’s also part of his m.o. to pass the buck like it’s a hot coal. In this case, he immediately blamed the fabrication on “his” generals. “I was told,” he said. He lacks the most elementary courage needed for leadership.
7. A president does not need to call each family that has lost a servicemember; a letter, crafted by a staffer, is fine. Likewise, some people will appreciate the call, some will be angry and bitter, and many will not remember a word. They’re in shock and grief, damn it. There is no perfect, right thing to say–but there are many wrong things to say. There’s a “first, do no harm” principle to such things that he does not grasp.

8.  In no circumstances is it acceptable to complain about this duty. Again: if you don’t know that “this is one of the hardest things a president has to do” is not a complaint, whereas “Now, it gets to a point where, you know, you make four or five of them in one day. It’s a very, very tough day” is a complaint, then it’s best to just keep your mouth shut.

9. People who have lost a child are not “politicizing” the incident by talking about it in a political context. You can’t politicize what is already political, and what could be more political than asking someone to die for his country’s aims? They are not tarnishing the sacredness of their sacrifice by pointing out its connections to policies, parties, or politicians. I lost my last scrap of respect for John Kelly yesterday when he implied the Khans had done so.

When I was a kid growing up, a lot of things were sacred in our country. Women were sacred, looked upon with great honor. That’s obviously not the case anymore as we see from recent cases. Life, the dignity of life, is sacred. That’s gone. Religion, that seems to be gone as well. Gold Star families, I think that left in the convention over the summer.

If there’s something or someone else he could have meant by this reference to Gold Star families, please enlighten me.

10. Don’t even get me started on a so-called leader who keeps trotting out “the dog ate my homework”-level excuses. Again: leadership skills 101.

11. And the whole thing blew up because Trump didn’t want us to hear about Niger. So: what are we doing in Niger? And why was it such a secret? I was hoping the silence was only because he couldn’t bear to report a failure, but it’s become apparent that this is a secret mission. So what’s going on there? Did Congress know about it?

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I know there is a long list of things to worry about that Trump is doing vis-a-vis Puerto Rico alone, yet this little exchange may be what frightens me the most. (Transcript from the Washington Post.)

THE PRESIDENT, in Puerto Rico: I want to thank the Coast Guard. They are special, special, very brave people . . . . Would you like to say something on behalf of your men and women?

AIR FORCE REPRESENTATIVE: Sir, I’m representing the Air Force.

THE PRESIDENT: No, I know that.

Our daughter used to do this. 

“Mama, my lunch isn’t in my backpack.” 

“Yes it is, honey, see, right here.” 

“I know.”

It drove us nuts. It peaked at about seven or eight, I would say. Now, at ten, she knows not to say “I know” to a fact that she has just demonstrated she doesn’t know. Yet the President of the United States (age 71) is too emotionally stunted to utter the words, “Ah, so sorry, my mistake. The Air Force. Please, tell us about what your people are doing.” 

How can such a person lead? He is constantly boxed in by the need to protect his fragile ego. How is he ever going to change course about big things if he can’t even cope with being wrong about something as small as this? And how can he have a reality-based policy about  anything if his response to a mildly embarrassing fact (mixing up Air Force and Coast Guard uniforms) is to tell a roomful, a worldful of people, “You didn’t see what you saw. My version of reality is the true one”? 

Joy spotted a sign for an etching workshop here in Oaxaca (grabado en metal, in Spanish): three days, five hours a day, various techniques. Investigation confirmed that the artist, Marco Velasco, would gladly teach a ten-year-old how to work with acid, something not all printmaking workshops here have been willing to do, so all three of us signed up.

The germ of this piece came to me seven years ago; it even inspired me to begin learning GNU Gimp (open-source Photoshop) because I envisioned it as a digital collage. But I didn’t learn how to make digital collages (yet), and the piece sat in my sketchbook and a corner of my mind. When I learned about the variety of marks one can make with etching, it emerged and said “make me a print!”

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Colony Collapse Disorder, etching, about 4″ x 8″, (c) Amy Zucker Morgenstern July 2017

 

It involved fun research. I did not know that the headache-medicine people, Bayer, own a company called Bayer CropScience, soon to acquire Monsanto. Nor that it is one of the biggest manufacturers of neonicotinoids, the pesticides that work by attacking insects’ neurological systems, and of course an ardent advocate of the claim that they have no significant effect on bees. Nor that Monsanto has decided to protect Bayer’s flank by producing a new kind of bee. (It’s the Roundup Ready corn of the insect world. Make poison, spread it on everything, and when you discover that it kills some species you like, instead of changing the poison or ceasing to spread it, alter the species.) Bayer’s logo even resembles the cross-hairs of a rifle, a pleasing bit of serendipity. I also did not anticipate that looking up images of the Gadsden flag, the one that says “Don’t Tread on Me,” would cause websites full of US flags and pugnacious political mottos to pop up in my ads, but of course it did.

I think the founding principles that united the American colonies left us particularly vulnerable to attacks like the one on the bees (and our food sources, and the entire web of plant and animal life), but these ideas are still too abstract for art; I don’t have the image yet to express what I think is threatening to cause the collapse of the human colonies. Maybe there will be future works in a series.

I know for certain that I want to do more etching. I loved the techniques. You can scratch into the varnish that will resist the acid, or use a different kind of varnish and draw right onto it (the smudges in the lower left come from my leaning on the plate as I did that, a mistake), or scratch into the plate itself. And make areas of darker and lighter tone by how long you leave the plate in the acid, and by gently sanding the plate’s surface. Unlike relief techniques like linocut, where you think in negative (what you want to be dark, you leave behind as you carve), the marks you make on an etching plate will be dark. This makes it possible to transfer images to the plate in my own drawing style. The three days involved painting, drawing, scratching, sanding–I enjoyed every minute.

A Mexico first for me: yesterday, in order to get from Tlacolula (home of a huge Sunday market) to the small town of San Marcos Tlapazola, we and our friend Jacki took one of the ubiquitous tarp-covered trucks that are a cheaper alternative to taxis. I’ve ridden in Mexican taxis, colectivos, buses, moto-taxis, and–an experience our daughter remembers as one of the highlights of our six months in Oaxaca, and possibly her life–the back of a friend’s pickup truck. These transports are small pickup trucks with a bench running along each side. The rear is slats, which, like the uncovered last couple of feet, allow a view of the countryside one has just passed.
 
The ride was fun. The route to Tlapazola was dusty, and other women covered their mouths and noses with their rebozos, the also-ubiquitous long woven scarves that are used to shield one’s head from the sun or rain, hold babies, carry groceries, keep warm, and who knows what else. I have a beautiful one, but it’s wool and I left it at home on this warm day–foolish gringa! I commented to Indigo, “Otro de los muchos usos de rebozos” (another of the many uses of rebozos). I don’t know how much Spanish the woman closest to us spoke, because she was speaking Zapotec to her friend and Joy noticed later that some of the women in Tlapazola knew little or no Spanish, but she saw us covering our faces with our hands, and offered the end of her rebozo to both of us.
Tlapazola was having a feria de barro rojo, a fair to promote the red-clay pottery that is its particular art form; during the Guelaguetza most of the villages near Oaxaca hold an event like this. The woman with the rebozo had a table, and I bought a little skunk that she’d made, loving its snout and the curve of its tail. A troupe of small children–they couldn’t have been more than 7 or 8, some younger–performed the Danza de las Plumas. Usually it is done by grown men, with huge feathered headdresses; the boys had smaller ones, but wow. (Girls also have a small part in this dance, but don’t apparently get to wear the headdresses or play the clowns who harass the other dancers.) Unfortunately, I can’t upload any of my photos or videos until I get back to the US, but here’s one on YouTube.

They did at least a dozen dances, standing patiently in between dances while a man told the story being acted out by the dance (and explained, every single time, that the group was from a cultural center at Teotitlan del Valle). I loved hearing the story, which was about Moctezuma and the “malos presagios” (bad omens) being told him by his advisers, as unknown people and monstrous beasts arrived on the shore. Lacking the perseverance of the children, I finally got so hungry I had to go get tamales from the food section, and missed the end of the story. I am sure it did not end well for Moctezuma. But it was very cool to hear this story of conquest, colonialization, and the culture that has withstood them, the first time I’ve heard the context for these dances.                                                                     
On the way back to Tlacolula, it was raining, which solved the dust problem. The bumpy road often adds false steps to a pedometer’s reading. This one didn’t add more than a few hundred, but my Fitbit seems to think they were all taken on stairs. It reports that I climbed 43 flights.

I’m at the annual meeting and conference of Unitarian Universalists, General Assembly: this year, in New Orleans. Instead of bringing knitting to occupy my hands through the many meetings and workshops, as I have done before, this time I brought my sketchbook. The last three might be called Variations on a Theme by Brice Marden, since seeing some of his work at SFMOMA last week clearly influenced what’s in my head.

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I didn’t even know what a rap battle was until I heard Hamilton, and now I’m trawling through YouTube looking for the ones I like best. Insult humor has never done much for me before, maybe partly because what I saw of the dozens, or as we called it as kids, “yo’ mama jokes,” was just that: kids’ stuff. The put-downs were just put-downs, without much zing because they weren’t clever. Watching grownups do the dozens, or their heir, battle rap, is a whole other thing. And once you know how sharp and funny battle rap can be, framing an intra-Cabinet argument about financial policy as a rap battle is one of those ideas that is so obvious and right that you can’t believe no one’s done it before.

Washington’s opening is like Miranda’s wink at the audience: “You’re watching a musical about the country’s first Treasury Secretary, and the joke’s on you because it’s actually terrific!” The president doesn’t say that, of course. Instead, he delivers the show-biz patter:

Ladies and gentlemen, you coulda been anywhere in the world tonight, but you’re here with us in New York City. Are you ready for a cabinet meeting?

If the prospect of an exciting cabinet meeting puts a disbelieving smile on any face in the audience, it’s been wiped off within a few bars. This is hot stuff. They’re posturing, strutting their credentials:

Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness,
We fought for these ideals, we shouldn’t settle for less
These are wise words, enterprising men quote ’em,
Don’t act surprised, you guys, ’cause I wrote ’em.

Trading innuendo and insults:

Jefferson: Now place your bets as to whom that benefits
The very seat of government where Hamilton sits.

Hamilton, later: And another thing, Mr. Age of Enlightenment

Hamilton again: Thomas Jefferson, always hesitant with the President
Reticent—there isn’t a plan he doesn’t jettison
Madison, you’re mad as a hatter, son, take your medicine
Damn, you’re in worse shape than the national debt is in

Hamilton wins the battle of rhetoric, though not the policy argument. His plan won’t pass without enough votes in Congress, and it hasn’t got them–yet.

Other moments:

  • Madison is such a flunky, I’m embarrassed for him.

Jefferson: Such a blunder sometimes it makes me wonder why I even bring the thunder

Madison: Why he even brings the thunder…

  • It’s been less than two years since Hamilton and Madison worked on the Federalist Papers together. I would love to know what made them hate each other so much. Was it that process itself?
  • Both Hamilton and Jefferson are too brilliant to get away with taking the just-plain-folks side in the culture war between the experts and the anti-experts, but Jefferson goes for it, with a little laugh in his voice when he says of Hamilton’s plan, “It’s too many damn pages for any man to understand!” I wonder if the “I’m less expert than you” contest really existed then.
  • Washington, showing superhuman patience, gives Hamilton a crash course in political necessity.

Washington: You need the votes

Hamilton: No, we need bold strokes. We need this plan.

W: No, you need to convince more folks

H: James Madison won’t talk to me, that’s a nonstarter

W, echoing his line in “Right Hand Man”: Ah, winning was easy, young man. Governing’s harder.

H: They’re being intransigent

W: You have to find a compromise

H: But they don’t have a plan, they just hate mine!

W: Convince them otherwise.

My daughter wanted to know what Hamilton’s debt plan was. I didn’t know anything about it besides what was in the play, but the question led to a conversation about something I and anyone else who follows U.S. politics knows plenty about, the tension between the various states, and between the authority of the federal government and that of the states. Jefferson has a point, I told her, and we’re still arguing the same one today, since most laws and policies benefit some states more than others, and therefore basically benefit some at the expense of others. And Hamilton has a point for the same reason: the states with free labor did have a huge advantage over the ones that insisted on paying all workers, and we still have states running that race to the bottom when it comes to workers’ rights, health and safety laws, and environmental protection–we’ve just raised the bottom a bit so that it can’t include chattel slavery as it did in the days when free states had to compete with free. (Hamilton’s argument is a little anachronistic, by the way; slavery would still be legal in New York for another 10 years. But the state’s economy wasn’t as dependent upon it as Virginia’s.) And we’re still very much wrestling about how much power should inhere in the federal government. Few of us are very consistent; most U.S. Americans, left, right, and center, tend to cite the principle of states’ autonomy when we like a state’s policy in defiance of the federal government, and uphold a strong central government when we want to overrule a particular state law. So within us, and among us, the rap battle battles on.

Incidentally, listening to Hamilton and looking up the terminology has clarified what I’ve wondered for some time: is “federalist” the position advocating a strong central government, or a weak one? The answer is the former.  So I have no idea why the Federalist Society calls itself that, when it is a small-federal-government, states’-rights organization. Lots of other people also call themselves “anti-federalists” when they mean they favor a strong federal government, and they have it backwards, at least if “federalist” means Federalist. Hamilton, the Federalist, argued strongly for a strong central democracy, and against the idea that the states were or should be sovereign entities.

Another echo of today is Jefferson’s specious comparison of empire-imposed taxes to self-imposed taxes:

Look, when Britain taxed our tea, we got frisky
Imagine what gon’ happen when you try to tax our whisky

He sounds just like the Tea Party, every member of which has three representatives in Congress (unless they live in our resident colonies, D.C. or Puerto Rico), yet which likens us to the colonists who had to pay a tax on tea without representation in Parliament.

We’re in Act II! I’m curious about the way the chorus gives the date this time, not in its usual straightforward way, but stuttered–“Se-se-seventeen, se-se-” until Burr cuts in and completes it. Anyone have any ideas why?

Of the several intros of the “How does a . . . ” variety, this is my favorite to sing along with, with its fast tempo and easy transitions between rapping and song. “You haven’t met him yet, you haven’t had the chance, ‘Cause he’s been kickin’ ass as the ambassador to France . . . You simply must meet Thomas, Thomas . . . !”

We’ve met the actor already; Act II ushers out four characters and bring in four new ones played by the same actors. Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette make a great pair of roles to be doubled because Lafayette is French, Jefferson a Francophile; each wrote his country’s declaration of independence, and just as the song says, Lafayette consulted Jefferson as he was writing “The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen”; Jefferson was, yes, ambassador to France before becoming the United States’s first Secretary of State. Oh, and the kicker, Hamilton was friends with one of these men, enemies with the other. It’s fun to hear Daveed Diggs move from one to the other, drop his French accent and drop into the slightly southern, distinctly condescending voice of Jefferson (I find his voice as Jefferson enjoyably annoying). It’s fun for us, that is; not so much for Hamilton, though he holds his own.

Anyway, we’re not to their first argument yet; that’s the next track. “What’d I Miss?” is just Jefferson coming home in a whirlwind of activity, to music that’s way out of date. He’s still doing boogie-woogie while the country he’s returning to has moved on to hip hop, which is one way Miranda tells us things are changing fast in the new nation. (In reality, Jeffferson did not miss the war on account of being “off gettin’ high with the French” (“Cabinet Battle #1”); he was quite busy stateside as governor of Virginia, a state that, according to Sarah Vowell, was notably stingy with support for the Continental Army, and therefore partly to blame for the soldiers’ having frequently gone shoeless and hungry even as they marched into battle right there in Virginia.)

His pal James Madison is another doubled role and another surprise and pleasure. Listening to Hercules Mulligan and James Madison side by side (so to speak) fills me with admiration for Okieriete Onaodowan’s versatility. His Mulligan is all roughness, toughness, and bluster, who mostly raps his lines and holds his own with the older* Laurens, Lafayette, Hamilton, and Burr, while his Madison is a soft-spoken second banana with a lovely singing voice.

You can see right away why Hamilton and Jefferson are not going to get along, even before we learn of the differences in their political philosophy. Both are arrogant, and two people this full of themselves are bound to clash (just look at Ed Koch and Donald Trump). Their arrogance takes different forms, each expressing their social class and status. Hamilton, the illegitimate, orphaned immigrant, knows he “amaze[s] and astonish[es]” (“My Shot”) with his hard work and genius; he’ll lobby George Washington to develop his gifts (“honor, a tolerance for pain, a couple of college credits and [a] top-notch brain,” as he says in “Helpless”), yet be tickled when they land him a spot as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention. He’s pushy, as you can see in the staging of this song. Listening to the bit where Washington sings “Mr. Jefferson, welcome home,” I figured Hamilton just stands next to Washington and eagerly, even politely, introduces himself, but not so: he cuts in on the president–the president–as Washington tries to shake Jefferson’s hand. Jefferson’s arrogance is no less, but has a different feel. He is to the manor born (pun intended) and he takes his honors as his due: “It says the president’s assembling a cabinet and that I am to be Secretary of State–great!” Jefferson is an aristocrat and a snob, predisposed to think himself superior to Hamilton because he was born to money and land. He no doubt despises Hamilton for being pushy, a failing Jefferson himself is not heir to because he’s always been on the top of the heap Hamilton wants to climb. (Later, in “Washington on Your Side,” he criticizes Hamilton’s “new money”–no one hates new money more than old money does.) And that “what’d I miss?” is so arrogant in itself, almost assuming that he can’t have missed much of importance. As if he just stepped out for a moment and can be filled in over a drink.

As a Unitarian Universalist, I want to like Jefferson–he was a quasi-Unitarian and praised the church highly in his time–so it’s a bit of a hair shirt at first to hear him being such a jerk. But it’s also fun to see him cut down to size. And although we shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that Miranda’s Jefferson is the true Jefferson, or his Hamilton the true Hamilton, the real Thomas Jefferson totally deserves the dig here about the woman commonly called his mistress, but more correctly called the survivor of rape and sexual slavery at his hands, Sally Hemings: “There’s a letter on my desk from the president . . . Sally, be a lamb, darlin’, would you open it?” The most touching line in the song, the one where I feel the most affection and empathy for Jefferson, is “Looking at the rolling fields, I can’t believe that we are free”–how that must have felt after all of the work and dreaming and sacrifice! And it’s equally infuriating, because he’s just returned to his plantation full of slaves and has a hell of a nerve reveling in freedom. “What’d I Miss” delivers the whole complex package of Jefferson from the get-go: brilliant, patriotic, racist, revolutionary, reactionary, hardworking, respected, hypocritical.

 

*That’s in the world of the play. Miranda sketches his character as “a tailor’s apprentice,” with the others “in loco parentis,” but in reality he was considerably older than the other four.

 

Maaaaan, this song is non-stop! The repeated figure on the piano propels it forward, with the “Awwww!”s and “Non-stop!”s of the ensemble periodically giving it another push. Even though it’s episodic, with many changes of pace, and imparts an astounding amount of information about a very packed several years, it doesn’t lose its momentum.

I have been trying to blog about these songs every day, but the ones I love best tend to hold me up for a few days. I feel a kind of pressure to get them right. What if I post about “My Shot” or “Non-Stop” and I don’t say everything I want to say? Um, can you tell I relate to Hamilton’s character just a bit?

People with this kind of drive are a pain in the tuchis, a fact from which Miranda, who explicitly describes himself the same way, does not shy away. Eliza is exasperated with him, and Phillipa Soo lets us know with the tone of her first “Alexander” that this is not the first time they’ve been over this. Burr has said “no” to writing what will become the Federalist Papers, Burr says no, or argues, six different ways before Hamilton says “You’re making a mistake,” and Leslie Odom, too, says with his laughing, incredulous, “Good night,” I love the guy but he does not know when to stop. Hamilton can’t even summon patience for the man he admires most, Washington. When Washington invites him to join the first cabinet of the country, he nudges him to get to the end of the sentence, as if to say, yes, thank you, George, please pop the question already, I’ve got things to do.

Ah, he’s an arrogant PITA, isn’t he?:

I practiced the law, I practic’ly perfected it
I’ve seen injustice in the world and I’ve corrected it
Now for a strong central democracy
If not, then I’ll be Socrates
Throwing verbal rocks at these mediocrities

Hear the three rhymes in quick succession there? Socrates / rocks at these / -ocrities? That’s an unstoppably creative mind at work. Maybe the pleasure of observing it is why we, and Burr, and others, put up with him.

The question of what these two men like about each other is explored more thoroughly in this song than anywhere else, and Miranda’s explanation convinces. You can see the liking there, even while they’re driving each other mad. When they express frustration to each other, it’s not just with a “why,” but with a “how.” “How do you write like tomorrow won’t arrive?” Burr asks–he can’t wrap his mind around Hamilton’s energy. “I don’t understand how you stand to the side,” Hamilton declares–he isn’t just saying “Stop standing to the side,” he really doesn’t get it. Rather than dismiss each other, they keep trying to understand each other. When Hamilton approaches Burr about writing what will become the Federalist Papers, he is sincerely admiring; it’s not flattery when he details the ways Burr is the better lawyer. And Burr is admiring, as well as gobsmacked, when Hamilton writes 51 of the 85 essays over the course of six months. (Can we stop and think about that for a moment? That’s an average of two essays per week for six months straight. I write for a living and after four or five weeks of an essay [sermon] per week, I’m dying for a break. The man is non-stop.)

Also, we know how I like funny, and this song is laugh-out-loud funny. After speechifying dramatically about “the first murder trial of our brand-new nation,” Hamilton says:

I intend to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt
With my assistant counsel—

Burr: Co-counsel
Hamilton, sit down
Our client Levi Weeks is innocent. Call your first witness
That’s all you had to say!

Hamilton: Okay!
One more thing—

Hamilton’s tone of thrilled disbelief when he says, “I was chosen for the Constitutional Convention!” adds a little humility as well as humor; he still can’t quite believe how far and fast he’s risen, and it makes him less proud than delighted and surprised. And I love the other delegates’ reactions:

[ENSEMBLE MAN]
Bright young man…

[ANOTHER ENSEMBLE MAN]
Yo, who the f is this?

There’s also humor in Angelica’s “Don’t forget to write”–as if there is any question but that Hamilton will write to her, voluminously. It’s what he does.

If you look at the diagram of all of the cross-references, it shows that “Non-Stop” incorporates eleven, eleven, songs from earlier in the first act. It really goes wild in the “all skate,” as arranger / conductor / keyboardist Alec Lacamoire calls the zenith where five parts are sung at once, but the song starts pulling in references before that, around two minutes into the 6:25 song. I’ve marked them with <– in bold type. Thanks to Genius.com for the lyrics transcription.

[HAMILTON]
Hey
What are you waiting for?  <–“Aaron Burr, Sir”

What do you stall for?

[BURR]
What?

[HAMILTON]
We won the war
What was it all for?
Do you support this constitution?

[BURR]
Of course

[HAMILTON]
Then defend it

[BURR]
And what if you’re backing the wrong horse?

[HAMILTON]
Burr, we studied and we fought and we killed
For the notion of a nation we now get to build
For once in your life, take a stand with pride
I don’t understand how you stand to the side

[BURR]
I’ll keep all my plans
Close to my chest
I’ll wait here and see
Which way the wind
Will blow
I’m taking my time
Watching the
Afterbirth of a nation
Watching the tension grow

[ENSEMBLE]
Wait for it, wait for  <–“Wait for It”
It, wait…Which way the wind
Will blow
I’m taking my time
Watching the
Afterbirth of a nation
Watching the tension grow

[ANGELICA]
I am sailing off to London   <–“Satisfied”
I’m accompanied by someone who always pays
I have found a wealthy husband
Who will keep me in comfort for all my days
He is not a lot of fun, but there’s no one
Who can match you for turn of phrase
My Alexander

[HAMILTON]
Angelica

[ANGELICA]
Don’t forget to write

[ELIZA]
Look at where you are       <–“That Would Be Enough”
Look at where you started
The fact that you’re alive is a miracle
Just stay alive, that would be enough
And if your wife could share a fraction of your time
If I could grant you peace of mind
Would that be enough?

[BURR]
Alexander joins forces with James Madison and John Jay to write a series of essays defending the new United States Constitution, entitled The Federalist Papers. The plan was to write a total of twenty-five essays, the work divided evenly among the three men. In the end, they wrote eighty-five essays, in the span of six months. John Jay got sick after writing five. James Madison wrote twenty-nine. Hamilton wrote the other fifty-one!

[BURR]
How do you write like you’re
Running out of time?
Write day and night like you’re
Running out of time?
[BURR AND MEN]
Ev’ry day you fight like you’re
Running out of time like you’re
Running out of time
Are you running out of time?

[ALL WOMEN]
Running out of time?Running out of time?Running out of time
Running out of time
Awwww!

[FULL COMPANY (EXCEPT HAMILTON)]
How do you write like tomorrow won’t arrive?
How do you write like you need it to survive?
How do you write ev’ry second you’re alive?
Ev’ry second you’re alive? Ev’ry second you’re alive?

[WASHINGTON]
They are asking me to lead  <–“History Has Its Eyes on You”
I am doing the best I can
To get the people that I need
I’m asking you to be my right hand man  <–“Right Hand Man”

[HAMILTON]
Treasury or State?

[WASHINGTON]
I know it’s a lot to ask

[HAMILTON]
Treasury or State?

[WASHINGTON]
To leave behind the world you know…

[HAMILTON]
Sir, do you want me to run the Treasury or State department?

[WASHINGTON]
Treasury

[HAMILTON]
Let’s go

[ELIZA]
Alexander…

[HAMILTON]
I have to leave

[ELIZA]
Alexander—

[HAMILTON]
Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now  <–“The Schuyler Sisters”

[ELIZA]
Helpless… <–“Helpless”

[HAMILTON]
They are asking me to lead

[ELIZA]
Look around, isn’t this enough?

[ANGELICA]
He will never be satisfied
He will never be satisfied
Satisfied
Satisfied…
He will never be satisfied
Satisfied…
Satisfied…Why do you fight like
[ELIZA]
What would be enough
To
Be satisfied
Satisfied
Satisfied…Look around
Look around!
Isn’t this enough?
What would be enough?
Why do you fight like
[WASH]
History has its eyes…On…You!
[WASH/MULL/LAUR/LAF]
History has its eyes…
On…
You…
[BURR]
Why do you assume you’re the smartest in the room? Why do you assume you’re the smartest in the room? Why do you assume you’re the smartest in the room?
Soon that attitude’s gonna be your doom!
Why do you fight like you’re running out of time?
Why do you fight like
[Ens]
Non-stop!
Non-stop!
Non-stop!
Non-stop!

[COMPANY]
History has its eyes on you

[HAMILTON]
I am not throwin’ away my shot!<–“My Shot”

I am not throwin’ away my shot!

I am
Alexander Hamilton!
I am not throwin’ away my shot!

[MEN]
Just you wait!  <–“Alexander Hamilton”
[FULL COMPANY]
Just you wait!Alexander Hamilton
Hamilton, just you wait!

What a way to end the first act. Even just listening at home, I pump my fist and cheer.

Parents, doesn’t this line capture perfectly what happens to you when you hold your child for the first time?: “There is so much more inside me now.”*

Alexander Hamilton sings it to his baby son, and since it immediately follows the line, “Pride is not the word I’m looking for,” it could be interpreted narrowly, as “There is so much more than pride inside me now,” but I both think it makes more sense, and like it better, interpreted more broadly.

As I got familiar with the musical, but didn’t yet really know who was singing what or what plot points were unfolding–the “folding laundry in the other room while it’s playing on the stereo” stage of acquaintance with the CD–I started to develop a mental list of things that have to happen, dramatically speaking. We have to know how he becomes the treasury secretary; we have to hear the war come to an end; we have to know why Hamilton and Burr duel; we have to know how duels work; we have to hear how he and Eliza fall in love. And somewhere in there, we need a duet between Burr and Hamilton. “Dear Theodosia” is it.

Oh, they sing together plenty of other times, but this is just the two of them, their voices twinned in close harmony and then unison, a matching verse for each, making it very different than “Aaron Burr, Sir” or, in Act II, “The Room Where It Happens.” The closest parallel will be “Your Obedient Servant,” when things go downhill in an exchange of increasingly angry verses. For the moment of (literal and figurative) harmony between them expressed in “Dear Theodosia,” Miranda chooses something purely personal they have in common: the birth of each one’s first child, the moment each becomes a father. We’re reminded that each grew up without his own father, and that they are both heroes and founders of this country, an act that is as personal as it is political.

You will come of age with our young nation
We’ll bleed and fight for you, we’ll make it right for you
If we lay a strong enough foundation
We’ll pass it on to you, we’ll give the world to you

It’s a gentle melody, on piano, strings, harp, and acoustic guitar. The tenderness of the song cements our affection for each of the characters, heightening our sense of what is at stake. We want them to survive, both of them! And to add a layer of heartbreak that isn’t stated in the play, both of these children will precede these fathers into death. So the two men will share the experience of that grief as well.

For now they share something gentle and beautiful: a surrendering of pride. Nothing does more than the first days of parenthood to make you feel like all your skill and expertise have left you totally unprepared. I am sure my wife and I were the bazillionth human beings to hold a child and utter the words, “Oh my god, we’re supposed to know how to keep her alive?” Hamilton has only a few moments of humility in the play, just enough to leaven his pride and arrogance, and this is one of them (most of the rest come in Act II). It is Burr who says to his child, “I’ll make a million mistakes,” a repeated theme for him and, notably, not for Hamilton. Yet Hamilton discovers his limits too, in words they share: “And I thought I was so smart.”

Their parts intertwine, sometimes echoing, sometimes together in harmony (sorry, formatting will work only on a desktop, if that):

Hamilton:                                                     Burr:

My father wasn’t around
.                                                            My father wasn’t around

I swear that
I’ll be around for you                           I’ll be around for you.

I’ll do whatever it takes
.                                                             I’ll make a million mistakes

I’ll make the world                                 I’ll make the world
safe and sound for you…                           safe and sound for you…

Then they end singing in unison. Just lovely. If only our love for our children dissolved all enmity between us.

 

 

 

 

*Maddy, am I continuing my streak? Is this one of your favorite lines too?

It’s quite a feat to make King George III, the natural villain of the piece in any American Revolution story, rather sympathetic and interesting, but Hamilton does it. He’s funny, and most people, like me, are inclined to soften their view of someone who makes them laugh. Then, too, he’s got problems, poor guy. He gives us a peek into his experience. And even though it’s hard to hear it from him, he speaks truth.

What comes next?
You’ve been freed
Do you know how hard it is to lead?
. . . Do you have a clue what happens now?

That truth is exactly what must be on the victors’ minds now that they have to turn revolutionary dreams into an actual working government. The Continental Congress was overseeing a new country that was fairly desperately in debt at this point; as Hamilton noted back in “Stay Alive,”

Local merchants deny us equipment, assistance
They only take British money, so sing a song of sixpence.

The war debt has the country flat broke–some states more than others, so there’s also the tension among them to be dealt with. The Constitution has yet to be drafted; there are no rules. Throughout history, revolution is often met by counter-revolution, or just never settles down into the sober, boring business of governance. The words Miranda puts in  King George’s mouth drip with schadenfreude and a bit of sour-grape juice, but that doesn’t make them incorrect. No less than George Washington agrees with him, a few songs later when Hamilton’s fine theories come up against realpolitik: “Winning was easy, young man. Governing’s harder” (“Cabinet Battle #1”).

The king’s problems are laid out in the intro:

They say
The price of my war’s not a price that they’re willing to pay
Insane
You cheat with the French, now I’m fighting with France and with Spain
I’m so blue
I thought that we’d made an arrangement
When you went away . . .

Poor George. He is still stuck in the past, looking back nostalgically at that almost 200-year-old “arrangement.” But he is in a world of trouble, now that both Spain and France have been riled up against him. Jonathan Groff hits a tone on “I’m so blue” that makes me want to hand him a hanky and pat his shoulder, he’s so bewildered by his turn of fortune. It doesn’t last–in the next line, “. . . you were mine to subdue,” he sounds aggrieved, even a bit threatening. Yeah, the hell with that. Sorry, dude, the deal is off, and we’re glad we left you. But still, the song has let us see the world from his point of view, and that empathy helps us to hear the warning he delivers.

Also, he’s been there, right? “Do you know how hard it is to lead?” comes from the depths of bitter experience, and then, “When your people say they hate you / Don’t come crawling back to me.” It’s vengeful and petty, the ditched boyfriend crowing that his ex will get her comeuppance, but there’s also a pang of truth: his people said they hate him. And what United States president or member of Congress has not had the same experience? It’s gotta hurt, even when it’s just. We don’t want it to happen to Hamilton and Washington, whom we’ve come to like. And we want our country to be a country, instead of sinking into the morass that so many new nations do after throwing off the shackles. As with the preceding “Yorktown,” it feels a bit miraculous that the leaders of the time did turn to statecraft and create something that could last.

Though we have our problems . . . We had to fight a war 80 years later because we couldn’t find unity without continuing slavery. (In a bitter irony, if we’d stayed in the British Empire, the enslaved people on our continent might have been freed in 1833, when England abolished slavery throughout all of its colonies.) Some of the dreams, such as women’s suffrage, took even longer to become reality, and some of the accomplishments of the new nation ended up being liabilities–I’m thinking of Hamilton’s invention, the Electoral College, which made a lot more sense for those 13 colonies than it makes for today’s vastly disparate states. When I hear this song and think of today, I understand a line that appears in all three of the king’s songs, “Oceans rise, empires fall.” The empires are obvious, but why “oceans rise”? Maybe it’s only in his first and third song so it can be here, and remind us that the rise of the oceans is one of the worst creations of, and greatest challenges to, these United States of America. Is King George snickering, wherever he is?

My favorite line, for laughs, is when Groff, having perched on the pinnacle of British accents–“You’re on your own”–drops down to surfer dude tone with “Awesome. Wow.” I’ve tried to analyze how Miranda makes anachronism work for him, instead of clunking. I don’t know. He just has the ear. Of course, it’s possible that it will clunk when Hamilton is produced 20 years from now; slang is the thing that sounds most cutting-edge when it’s new, and ages fastest and worst. But I think it will wear well. As slang goes, “wow” has shown a lot of staying power. I’m afraid the rising oceans won’t go out of date anytime soon, either.

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