Baader-Meinhof. Not that long ago, I wrote a facebook status that said simply that. A friend discretely messaged me, soon after, to ensure that I hadn’t been trying to enter the term into a search engine and that sense of humiliation still colours the way I think about the phenomenon. I remember that and I think, sometime that’s going to come back around on the facebook memories thing – sometime, I’m going to be tempted out of perversity, to hit that share button. No, not perversely. Heroically. The re-share will undo the ambiguity of the first post, turning it into a deliberate act and I will triumph over my shame.
Except I won’t. Because then there’s Hamilton. Hamilton the musical.
I didn’t ignore Hamilton. I didn’t notice it. Friends, colleagues, students had been talking to me about it with a kind of fervour for over a year and I had nodded, saying, “No, can’t say that I’ve heard of it.” Odd that I never felt compelled to look it up. Odd that it didn’t stick. The enthusiasm that people have for that musical is a force. It gushes, unashamedly. The people who had told me about it were electrified and I greeted this with a dull, slippery confusion. Their fanishness was not going to stick to me. Whatever this thing was, – a musical did they say? – it wasn’t for me. Such was my ambivalence that I wasn’t able to connect that these people, people I liked, respected, were all talking to me about the same thing. It washed over and past me, dissipating into nothing.
The moment that lit the trail towards Baader-Meinhof style realisation in hindsight was a friend’s instagram of her daughter, Ruby, in January. She, gleefully, holds her arms out to the Broadway sign as if introducing it. She is contorted sideways, looking backwards and upwards at once, legs planted apart in the manner of the logo. While obscured by backlighting, her look is a mix of reverence and concentration. I wanted to know why anyone would look at a sign that way. What was this thing? Why was Ruby excited?
Enter Pop Culture Happy Hour. The podcast that will tell you all you need to know about a thing. Except it didn’t enter. It had been there for a while. Now, I remembered. I had seen Hamilton before. I’d scrolled past it countless times. It wasn’t just a town South of Auckland that I was incredibly reluctant to visit. It was sought after. People wanted it. And I remember another thing. The book.
My friend Aimee has a book which she is extremely protective of. Her book on Hamilton. It has, of and on, sat on her desk at work for over a year. The way she touches it resembles a caress – as if she’s checking that it still exists. The first time she brought it into school she had held it out to me like Rafiki holding Simba. All that had registered was that this book was special to her for some reason. I had listened to my friend, more than once, talk about this show while she held the book to her and I had not heard a word. My mind had skulked off to other corners. I was not present.
Pop Culture Happy Hour recommended the cast album. So I listened to it – on shuffle at first, which I don’t recommend. The temporal dissonance of the non-linear Hamilton could probably stand as a metaphor for my entire association with the musical. I did it in the wrong order. I wasn’t entirely sure who lived or died. I thought Burr was the hero. I had missed something essential.
Then I learned how to turn shuffle off on Spotify and it displaced The Mountain Goats as my favourite music to run to. I listened to it again and again. On loop. Non-stop.
But I still had one more realisation to make. This was not the realisation that I had been a bad friend by passively dismissing interests, although this was important to attend to. No, this came back to the city in New Zealand of the same name.
I’m really glad I never said to anyone, “Did you know the guy who composed the music for Moana is from Hamilton?” Although, if I had, the same ambiguity that had confused me, may have saved me.
This was a fact that I had learned at the NZ premier of Moana, an ultimately hollow spectacle of blue light and drums despite the really good kapa haka. Lin-Manuel Miranda was there, I think. He was interviewed, soundbite style, beforehand. Perhaps I had been distracted by the children who were waiting for the film to start. I thought it was mean to make them wait and I was anxious that I had forgotten my bike lights and would be riding in the dark because it had gotten so late. Or perhaps it was because I had kicked over my complementary popcorn and was not sure that I’d picked it all up. I felt bad that there was so much free popcorn. I also felt relieved that I had kicked it over because this meant that I would not eat a carton of food that I did not like. But still, I had wondered why more of a fuss hadn’t been made of him. This was a guy from New Zealand who had written the music for a Disney feature and they were doing bits with actors!
I wondered later, too. Multiple times. A guy from Hamilton, I thought. Wow. Surely that’s as big a deal as Lorde, I’d thought. The idea was entrenched. That’s why, even after becoming a fan, it still took me months to fix that last misconception, to bring it into line with my new understanding.
Now, of course, I see Hamilton everywhere. I see Miranda’s influence in students’ poetry. Smug allusions pop. I see it in my past. Memories of conversations make sense now, even if my past self remains impassive and unmovable. I recall my ex-husband measuring his work ethic against Hamilton’s. Although, this could be a false construction. He did always work like he was running out of time.
This leads to an obvious line of self-doubt. I wonder what else I am not paying attention to. What else I am missing. What new humiliations of misinformation I have in store for myself. But I also think about Ruby under that sign, looking backwards and upwards at once, and get the sense that there are people who will tell me. And, eventually, I might listen.