I have recently been listening to, and relistening to, two wonderful works.
One is Hamilton, An American Musical, a smash hit playing on Broadway and already the recipient of sixteen, sixteen, Tony Award nominations including Best Musical. Thanks to my daughter Greer, a musical theater major in college who still loves to perform to this day, for turning me on to this absolutely wonderful musical tour de force through the early days of the Republic from the very gritty perspective of those who were in “The Room Where it Happens”. I love history and I love music and musicals, and Greer very rightly steered me towards a show that she knew I would listen to more than once.
The other is Average Anthems, a wonderful collection of parodies and comical songs created and performed by Dustin and Genevieve Ahkuoi of Athens, Georgia. Dustin performed in Athens with Greer (yes, it’s a very small world, isn’t it?) in several local theater efforts, and now he and his bride have come up with something that makes you smile, smirk, grin, chuckle, snort, and then just laugh out loud. Who doesn’t need this in our current age? I ask you, who?
If you have not listened to both of these already, go do it. Right now. I’ll wait. I’ll be right here when you get back.
Now that you’ve listened to both of these, you know how excellent they are and how much fun it is to hear good, really good, music that is created and performed by those who have a passion for it and treat it with tender loving care.
My first thought, after WOW, and probably yours too, is man there is SO much content here. So many words. So many riffs. So many ideas and thoughts and connections and things to ponder. So many little nuances that you miss the first or second or even third time you listen.
One thing that I have noted in the modern age of iPod and iPhone and tablets and MP3 players and Spotify and Pandora and all the rest is this: we tend to listen to things that we like over and over again, putting them in playlists and compilations and groups according to activity or mood. You have your running playlist and your reading playlist and your work playlist your relaxing in the hammock playlist, right? I am listening to Chopin Etudes Opp 10 and 25 played by Freddie Kempf as I write this. These are some of my favorite classical works that I sometimes listen to as a single activity, headphones on and taking in every note. Other times, like now, I am writing or reading or washing the dishes, and I want something in the background that is familiar, comforting, uplifting, that I don’t have to strain to hear. It is an accompaniment to my life.
That is all well and good. However, the two works above should not be listened to in that manner, as background for anything else you are doing.
You must sit down, or lie down, and really listen to them. Hear them. Hear the music. Listen to the words and hear what they say. Follow the story. Take in the ideas and let them rattle around in your head for a while, even after you turn the music off.
Hamilton and Average Anthems are both making comments about the life we live, be it in the eighteenth century colonies or twenty first century America. They are telling us about ourselves, how we think, how we relate to others, how we now relate to things and ideas. They are giving us powerful feedback, sometimes very seriously, sometimes deliciously comically, about being human.
What do the creators of this music, the artists who perform them, want us to hear? What do they want us to take away? Well, of course, you would have to ask them directly to be sure about that. I can tell you just a few things that I learned or felt or experienced as I listened. Your experience will most assuredly be different in some way, your very own, as it should be. The important thing is, they spent hours and hours and hours crafting these gifts to us, and most certainly wanted to convey something to us that is inspiring, real, funny, satirical, ironic, sad, enlightening, and poignant.
In Hamilton, as in many artistic offerings, there is the message of hope. When Hamilton declares, “Just you wait. There’s a million things I haven’t done”, I felt an upsurge, a sense of excitement about what was to come for this young immigrant who was a founding father, yes, but who was also brash, smart, and impulsive. We already knew from the outset how this story was going to end, but somehow, in the beginning, we think that maybe, just maybe, something will happen to steer the narrative in a different direction.
We learn a wonderful modern day lesson about how to strengthen and deepen relationships when Hamilton is told to “talk less, listen more” several times in the musical.
We learn that if we will only “look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now” that we will truly appreciate our life and times. “History is happening…” No less true for our own age, when Jefferson and Adams and Hamilton are replaced by Trump and Clinton and Sanders. We are coming off the first eight years with the first African-American president. Before the year is out, we may see the election of the first woman president. You don’t have to agree with it. You don’t have to like it. But “look around…history is happening”.
Music gives us reason to smile and sometimes laugh out loud. I get such a kick out of the brutal comic stylings of King George as he inserts his commentary here and there about the American Revolution and the major players in it. “You’ll Be Back” and “What Comes Next” are delicious. “I’ll send a fully armed battalion to remind you of my love.”
Helpless is a toe-tapping feast of feeling as Philippa Soo and the cast lead you spinning around the dance floor of your mind as you are lifted up and twirled around and soar higher and higher on love at first sight. “Where are you taking me?” he asks. “I’m about to change your life,” she replies. Indeed. Who among us has not felt this very feeling, this soaring sense that anything is possible?
Fast forward to Burn, a gut-wrenching , heart-wringing palace of paragraphs that lets us know from the first note that this woman has been betayed and that her world is falling apart. How can a song that references Greek mythology, “Erasing myself from the narrative” and wrings so much emotion from a life not grab us and throw us to the ground, sobbing? “You forfeit all rights to my heart.” The cello in the background and the last lingering minor chord of this powerful song leave you stunned. You, along with Hamilton, are burned.
Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story wraps it all up with a bow. “When you’re gone, who remembers your name?” There is redemption, hope, and giving back. We all get the sense that whether we are felled by a bullet in a duel, sickened by cancer, or die fifty years later after establishing the first private orphanage in New York City, that we all keep “writing like we’re running out of time”.
Now, Hamilton may tend to make you think very serious thoughts about life, liberty, and your own pursuit of happiness, but then the Ahkuois ride in on a wave of hip hopping gaiety that picks you up, dusts you off, hands you a doughnut and then has you grinning from ear to ear two songs later. Yes, I would recommend listening to them after Hamilton!
The very first song on Average Anthems had me at the very first note. I meant, “Time to check my social media-ya-ya”? Fantastic! They have us by the narcissism from the first phrase. I mean, really. Virtual life. It has us all fooled.
As I told Genevieve in a text after the album was released yesterday, “You had me at hello…” with Hella Cravings. Oh, my God, this song is so funny I can’t even tell you. “Hella cravings for some fries…” “It’s no secret that Zumba class is the last thing on my mind.”
My Coffee. “I’m just an addict, looking for some java.” Well, yeah. Duh. (It’s scary how well these two know us!)
“I’ve got a problem.” Don’t we all, but Dustin tells us that watching House of Cards or Orange is the New Black may be a Netflixion.
These two musical offerings, while very different, entertain, teach, make us think and give us a reason to take ourselves a little less seriously.
Buy them (hey, support these creative geniuses!), stream them, but get them .