There’s a grand tradition for those who celebrate Christmas: The Advent Calendar. Each day starting on December 1 and ending on Christmas Day, you open a flap on the calendar to reveal something: A poem, a candy treat, or a tchotchke.
(Yes, I recognize the irony of using a Yiddish word to describe a Christian celebration. I’m multicultural like that.)
Over the years, a new internet tradition has developed. Bloggers with large audiences create online advent calendars, with links to items that might generate a few shekels in referral fees.
I don’t have a large audience, but I’m gonna take a shot with this tradition anyway. So… starting today1, I’m writing about items I bought with my own hard-earned moola in 2016. Every item will be something I found interesting, useful, or just plain fun. I’ll link ’em up to Amazon or somewhere else you can buy ’em easily. And if you do, a few pennies get redirected to me, yet costs you nothing more.
And I make this pledge to you, my loyal reader: Whatever amount I generate from this brazen scheme, I will use it to buy something I love and will make me happy.
My first pick will not come as a surprise if you’ve met me in person, as I’ve been obsessed with this musical since buying the CD in February. My friends and family have had to put up with me quoting lyrics from it at the slightest provocation.
I won’t make you wait for it: I’m talking about the original Broadway cast recording of Hamilton: An American Musical.
You’ve no doubt heard about this record-smashing hit musical. It won a Grammy. And a Pulitzer. And a Tony. OK, 11 Tonys. And tickets are virtually impossible to get2.
If by chance you haven’t heard about it, it’s “a story of America then, told by America now“. It’s a hip-hop history lesson on the life (and infamous death) of the ten-dollar Founding Father, Alexander Hamilton.
And it’s fucking brilliant.
I grew up listening to hip-hop. And I’ve always enjoyed musicals3. But I never thought those two could be combined, and I certainly didn’t imagine they could be combined well.
Turns out, the creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, is a genius (and not just because he took home a MacAurther “Genius” Award).
The music, story and lyrics are all sublime. A mix of hip-hop, R&B, traditional musicals and even some BritPop, the album rewards you for repeat listens. Even after nearly a year, and hundreds of plays, I still hear nuances, from musical motifs that pop up unexpectedly, to Miranda-as-Hamilton’s angry growl as he exclaims to George Washington during Meet Me Inside that detractors “take your name and rake it through the mmud!”
(When you’ve binged enough, you too can identify every single “yo!” used in the show.)
The brilliance doesn’t stop at Miranda’s work, though. The cast itself is phenomenal, starting with Leslie Odom, Jr as Aaron Burr (the damn fool that shot Hamilton), Phillipa Soo and Reneé Elise Goldsberry as two sisters, one he loves and marries, the other he just… loves, and Daveed Diggs fast-rapping his way through two very different roles.
(I’m unjustifiably proud that not only do I know most of the album’s lyrics, but I can actually do even Daveed’s fastest raps. That’s right, I match his practical, tactical brilliance.)
Of course, when you’re this obsessed, would it be enough to just listen to the cast album, non-stop? No, you will never be satisfied until you buy Hamilton: The Revolution, the behind-the-scenes book and libretto. It’s beautifully produced, with stories explaining how the sausage got made. You just assume that it happened, but this book really puts you in the room.
And then you find yourself wanting to read the biography of Hamilton that started Miranda down this crazy path, because you want to learn the real story about the man whose enemies destroyed his rep and America forget.
And then, and then, you learn Miranda decided to “reimagine” songs from the musical and collaborate with massive artists like The Roots and Busta Rhymes and Usher and Queen Latifah and Kelly Clarkson and Alicia Keys, and Ashanti and the end result is yet another drop of brilliance called The Hamilton Mixtape.
(Hearing Ja Rule and Ashanti do Helpless, knowing that Helpless was in part inspired by Ashanti and Ja Rule made me shudder.)
So, that’s the story of tonight, the first day of this advent calendar. I hope you’ll be back. I mean, how can you say no to this?