Books. Tea. Cats. Scribbling.

Tag: Hamilton

Odds and Sods, Bits and Bobs

Don’t worry; I’m still here. The fact that I haven’t updated since getting Covid-19 in January is an artifact of laziness/inertia rather than a result of severe illness.

I was ill. But luckily, more than 6 weeks out, I seem to have encountered minimal after-effects. That’s not to say I’m completely out of the woods for long covid: I know that many people start experiencing long-covid-ish symptoms months after exposure and initial recovery. But right now, I’m physically ok.

A few random life things, just so you know what I’ve been up to:


I saw Hamilton in the theatre last night! I originally had plans to see it on March 18th, 2020…but you can guess how that went.

The thing I’m still dealing with is that I’ve had the voices of the original cast recording in my head for years, so while watching it last night, I was constantly comparing the live performers in front of me to the original cast. I think if I had gone in completely ignorant of the actual music, I would have enjoyed it more. As it is, the whole was greater than the sum of its parts, with only a few standout parts matching or exceeding those of the originals – the performers behind Burr, Jefferson, and Mulligan in particular. Unfortunately, I found the performer for Hamilton himself to be underwhelming: a nice-enough voice reciting the lines with very little of the wit or acidity that the role requires.

Pi Day

Pi Day was two days ago, and I am a long-time devotee.This year’s pies were a mix of new (tamale pie) and traditional (Dutch apple). The tamale pie was particularly risky, because I’ve never made one before and I just flew by the seat of my pants rather than follow a particular recipe. Going into the oven, there didn’t appear to be near enough cornbread topping, but it ended up spreading out nicely.

A slice of homemade Dutch apple pie.

The Dutch apple pie has also turned out wonderfully, but my god, I spent so much time in the kitchen on Tuesday. I had to do my prep in stages to have any hope of pulling things off.


I’m still practicing on the Rav Vast. And in fact, like I threatened in my first post about this new hobby, I did get a second drum after all. I found a person in BC willing to sell the scale I was most interested in, and I got it right before Christmas. This new drum is in the B Rus tuning, which I think sounds really bright and cheerful.

The bonus is that it’s an older model with a different finish, made using a different thickness of steel; the Rav afficionados say the older models have better tone/sustain, and I’m inclined to believe them. The even bigger bonus is that since the seller was Canadian, I didn’t have to worry about currency conversion or import fees, so this second drum cost significantly less than the first.

I’ve finished the beginner’s course on Master the Handpan. Now I’m making my way through the new course with Malte Marten, and I’m (slowly!) getting a grip on basic polyrhythms.

Unfortunately, I think I’ve been bitten by the drumming bug even harder, and now I want a third drum! I’m looking at the wares from Nova Drum, because they make drums with smaller diameters. As someone with small hands and stubby fingers, I approve.


The friend I’ve been sharing my community garden plot with for the past 2 years has decided to bow out from gardening this year due to other commitments. I’m not sure how I feel about doing it alone. I have a tray to start seedlings, and plenty of seeds, but I still need to get off my butt and actually start sowing. I should do that soon, or else it will be too late.

Pop culture/entertainment

Technically I’m still watching Deep Space 9, but I’ve stalled on the fifth season for about a year. Right now I’m slowly making my way through Columbo instead. The show is both a very satisfying skewering of rich assholes and an intriguing time capsule into 70s-era California – the architecture, the landscapes, the clothing.

My other current pop-culture rabbithole is Australian prog/psychedelic rock band King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. I first started by listening to Flying Microtonal Banana because of this Youtube video about microtonal music. Then I branched out into Nonagon Infinity, Fishing for Fishies, and Ice, Death, Planets, Lungs, Mushrooms and Lava. In fact, I’m listening to “Ice V” as I type this.

I Love the Hamilton Musical, so Here’s a Hamilton Book Review

Yes, I know this the Hamilton musical logo and not the cover of the original book, but I don't care.

Yes, I know this the Hamilton musical logo and not the cover of the original book, but I don’t care.

Title: Alexander Hamilton
Author: Ron Chernow
Publisher: Penguin Books
Format: Print
Rating: 5 out of 5
How I got it: I bought a copy for myself

It’s pretty much old hat at this point to say that the success of Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop Broadway musical of the life of U.S. founding father Alexander Hamilton, was so improbable. A musical based on Ron Chernow’s award-winning biography of America’s first Treasury Secretary? With hip-hop and a cast full of actors of colour? It sounded like it wouldn’t sell. But it did. And I and millions of other people not lucky (or rich) enough to live in Manhattan have been trying to enjoy the musical vicariously by listening to the official cast recording or by reading Chernow’s biography, which is what started the whole thing in the first place.

Oh, and by the way — this year’s Tony Award nominations are being announced as I finalize this post. I predict that Hamilton will get a fuck-ton of nominations and then, come June, stomp all over the awards ceremony like Godzilla. Because this musical deserves it, and I reeeeaaallly wanted it to be nominated for a Hugo, and I’m still pissed that the Sad Puppies ruined this year’s Best Related Work category. So there.

So, yes, let me say: I love the Hamilton musical. I started listening to it over New Year’s and I’ve been doing so nearly non-stop (ha!) ever since. It’s an amazing synthesis of style, culture, history and political statement; I say this as someone who has until this point pretty much hasn’t listened to a lot of rap, R&B, and hip-hop. Hell, I’m even managing to (slowly) convert my husband towards the cause! Even if he’s not a Hamilfan like me, he’s bopped along to the King George songs and watched some #Ham4Ham videos.

I read Chernow’s biography Alexander Hamilton as a way to round out my understanding of the musical as a cultural phenomenon.  What was it that Lin-Manuel Miranda saw in this book? After reading it, I’m still not sure how he happened across such an unusual mode of adaptation. Trying to figure this out is a major reason why I’m even writing a Hamilton book review.

I mean, when I read it, I kept imagining all the characters and locations — Hamilton, Washington, the constitutional convention, revolution-era New York — as elements of a lush HBO miniseries, replete with fire-lit conversations and austere, period-appropriate attire. In contrast, comparing Hamilton’s life to the mythologized, tragic arcs of modern-day music is something I think only Miranda could have done. I feel small and hidebound in comparison.

Aside from that, the book is astounding on its own merits as a literary work. I’m amazed by the depth and breadth of research Chernow had to do to write it. Just thinking of all of the research involved — consulting not only all of Hamilton’s original writings, but those of his contemporaries, as well as digging up heretofore unseen information regarding his family and origins — is exhausting. Does Chernow write every second he’s alive, like he’s running out of time?

Part of why this book strikes me as so monumental is that, as a Canadian, I don’t know very much about American history or the structure behind American politics. Reading Hamilton has been surprisingly insightful, because now I have a better sense of certain aspects of the American political character — like the constant tension between federal and state governments — that seem to be hard-wired. Given the current contentious political climate down there, this is pretty useful context.

However, one problem with it being so comprehensive is that the musical, by necessity, is forced to condense and omit things. In my attempt to keep my head straight, I mentally ticked off the track listing as I progressed through the book — “oh, I’m right around the part where ‘Your Obedient Servant’ is” — but there were large stretches of the book where no equivalent song from the musical applied, or where a single song covered what seemed to be a decade’s worth of events.

On top of that, Chernow’s biography isn’t completely chronological; instead, it’s organized into certain overarching episodes. I had a hard time keeping things straight in my head and would have appreciated a timeline in the back of the book to untangle all of the things happening concurrently. This is especially true considering the musical’s divergences from historical fact.

Miranda’s choices to streamline Hamilton‘s narrative make a lot of sense, even if trying to find a 1:1 correspondence to events in the book are difficult. However, one choice that I’m really surprised by is the presence of  “Burn”. In the musical, “Burn” is a heartbreaking song where Eliza, Hamilton’s wife, decides to burn all of her correspondence with her husband as a result of him revealing a disastrous affair — she’s attempting to regain agency over her life by erasing herself from the narrative.

However, Chernow devotes, at most, only one or two sentences in the entire biography to this idea. And, although he believes that Eliza did burn her letters, he has little evidence to back this assertion up beyond the fact that so few of her letters are currently accounted for. That Miranda makes an entire song out of this tiny snippet of information fits in with his revisionist take on American history, but I was really surprised by how little space this idea took up in the original source material.

On a side note: Eliza is amazing. Eliza is wonderful. Eliza is a beautiful cinnamon roll too pure for this world, and I want a book all about her widowhood where she struggles to make do for herself and her children and becomes a beacon of hope for orphaned children and a beloved relic of the revolution in her old age. Can Chernow make this happen? If so, I can’t wait for it.

There is so much else I want to say in a Hamilton book review like this, like my love for the braggadocio of the Broadway incarnation of Hercules Mulligan or my grudging respect for the impact that Aaron Burr had on American politics. For example, I think there are some really trenchant observations to be made about the parallels between modern-day social media and the voraciousness of the newspapers of the revolutionary period. Man, those printers were fierce! Even worse, their prose was so hyperbolic! I had a hard time taking such biased writing seriously, even if it was appropriate to the period. But I like to think that a few decades from now, trollishness on Twitter will look similarly antiquated and disreputable. (God, I hope I’m satisfied.)

I recognize that I’m babbling by this point. Hamilton-the-musical is really, really good, and so is Hamilton-the-book. Both works represent artists at the top of their form, creating works that are nuanced, multi-layered, and the product of intense effort. I respect that kind of work ethic, and I have a feeling that Alexander Hamilton himself, the man behind it all, would be proud.

By the way, if you’re looking for a really in-depth analysis of the book and how it compares to the musical, check out The Hamilcast, a podcast where a few fans discuss Chernow’s biography chapter by chapter. I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with them on Twitter, and they seem to be good folks.

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