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Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story

How Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton Inspired Me

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Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story
liachang.wordpress.com

Have you ever been inspired by something? No, not just picked up an idea for a creative project or gave you a reason to do whatever. I mean has something ever brought your passions up from the deepest part of your soul, and given you motivation and drive to pursue them on a more active level than you ever have before? My friends, I have recently been inspired in such a way by Lin-Manuel Miranda's "Hamilton."

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My younger sister, as an aspiring Broadway starlet, keeps a close eye on the musical theatre scene. She probably one of the first people in our house to know about the show. I remember her showing me some clips from the Broadway preview video on YouTube(yes, they have those), and being...unimpressed. Honestly, I had never been a big fan of the hip-hop/rap musical styles that the show is built on and based around. The video didn't convince me; showing me a series of disconnected snippets of songs from throughout the show is not the best way to engage someone who enjoys the flow of a show.

The cast album was first available via NPR sometime in September. I remember my parents sending me the links via e-mail. I listened to the entire first act that night; once I got over the musical style, it was pretty good. The lyrics were interesting and complexly rhymed, and also did a good job carrying the story, a vital facet of any sung-through show. I didn't find the premise strange; uncommon and intriguing, yes, but for a girl whose favorite musical is about a supercomputer pill that makes you cool, an unconventional concept doesn't repulse.

I didn't listen to the second act in its entirety until Christmas Break. Crazy, huh? I started on it over school, but didn't really have the time to listen through fully. It wasn't until I was listening to the album with my mother on her iPod while making Christmas cookies that I got to hear the emotionally-powerful second act. It's honestly stronger in that respect than the first, especially while playing all the way through. That was when I heard this song.

It may not seem that immediately poignant (my mom is obviously alive), but this song made me realize something: Alexander Hamilton was a writer. The song itself is about an incident glossed over in the show's introductory song:

Then a hurricane came, and devastation reigned/Our man saw his future drip, dripping down the drain/Put a pencil to his temple, connected it to his brain/And he wrote his first refrain, a testament to his pain/Well, the word got around, they said, “This kid is insane, man”/Took up a collection just to send him to the mainland

To translate slightly, when Hamilton was 17, working as a trading clerk on the island of St. Croix in the West Indies, a hurricane hit the main settlement. Hamilton, in the wake of the storm, wrote a descriptive account of the storm which was published in the local newspaper(that due to time and historians is available via internet). And then...well, in the words of the song:

I [Hamilton] looked up and the town had its eyes on me//They passed a plate around/Total strangers/Moved to kindness by my story/Raised enough for me to book passage on a/Ship that was New York bound…

Hamilton, by his writing skills, took himself from a small Caribbean island to New York City, at the time the second largest city in Colonial America, on the verge of the American Revolution. He didn't stop there. He wrote letters for George Washington as his aide-de-campe, he wooed his wife Eliza in the sort of letter courtship immortalized by Jane Austen, and he wrote a majority of the Federalist Papers defending the freshly-written Constitution. As the act one finale describes it:

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!

That is (175,000 words*(51/85 essays)) = 105000 words. In 6 months. Like the song goes on to ask,

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?

Ultimately, this is a show about stories and writing. Eliza, Hamilton's wife wants "to be part of the narrative" and later "erases" herself from it, burning her letters after Hamilton has an affair-and publishes an account of it. A running theme of the show, established in the first act is "you have no control/ who lives, who dies, who tells your story". Writing, and being unafraid of sharing his opinions, are Hamilton's greatest strengths. As Hamilton sings in his soliloquy,

I wrote my way out of hell/I wrote my way to revolution/I was louder than the crack in the bell/I wrote Eliza love letters until she fell/I wrote about The Constitution and defended it well/And in the face of ignorance and resistance/I wrote financial systems into existence/And when my prayers to God were met with indifference.I picked up a pen, I wrote my own deliverance

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In the eye of a hurricane/There is quiet/For just a moment/A yellow sky...

That night, after processing the entire album in my mind, as I said my evening prayers, I cried. Not out of guilt or despair, but out of passion. I wanted to write. I wanted to write so hard, I literally cried myself to sleep. Remember when I said I found God's path for me? This is when. This is why. Thank you, "Hamilton."

And this is all before I even saw the show.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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