And in this corner… | Sept. 7, 2018

Late to the party

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When I was younger, I vowed to stay current with music, movies, TV shows and most things in pop culture. I didn’t want to become that old out-of-touch guy. But, at 51, it’s much harder to do and, to be honest, I find myself not really caring as much (my young self would be angry at that). There’s just too much on my plate and so many life distractions to be so “hip and with it.”

But, as much as I have actually tried to stay current, I’ve been a repeat offender of jumping on the bandwagon for something well after it becomes popular or after some of the novelty had already worn off.

I certainly was late to the party with all social-media platforms. I was resistant and reluctant at first, but ultimately relented and now use social media for work stuff and to document life adventures. I certainly didn’t jump on the trends like fancy coffee drinks, the Ice Bucket Challenge, “planking” or get into lots of the nameless, mindless pop music that’s come and gone. Give me the classics like The Beatles, a dark single-breasted suit, the 7th-inning stretch, a Gershwin tune and Frank Sinatra. Give me the things with staying power, and I’m good.

But, I admit that I am again a bandwagoner and really, really late to the party for a few new award-winning, crowd-drawing sensations. But, this time, I immediately regretted waiting so long to enjoy them.

I’m referring to “La La Land” and “Hamilton.” I barely paid any attention to either of these at the time of their release, with all their awards and critical acclaim. However, I did watch the Oscars, as “La La Land” kept winning, but didn’t know what the fuss was all about and didn’t think a modern musical was my flavor.

So, about a year after the Oscars, I finally watched the movie and was charmed instantly. The opening scene on the 105-110 freeway overpass was beyond belief. The cast singing “Another Day of Sun” was a genius overture narrative of the classic story of the cliché hopeful from a small town packing up and heading west to pursue dreams of fame and fortune. The scene included all the subtle elements of LA, with the traffic jam, people of all types driving solo in their cars, the Cinemascope celebratory bird’s eye view of Los Angeles and even the Dogtown skateboarder and BMX bike rider making cameos.

I immediately recognized the film’s homage to the classic Hollywood musicals with Gene Kelly, like “An American in Paris” and “Singin’ in the Rain.” Though maybe Ryan Gosling is no Gene Kelly and Emma Stone is no Ginger Rogers, as a couple they were both very charming and had great chemistry. They certainly did their best with the twirls, stutter steps and vintage dance moves, especially in the fantasy sequences. And bravo for Ryan’s jazz piano playing.

I think I took to the movie so quickly because of my own love for the City of Angels. I spent a lot of time there as a child visiting my grandma in the Beverly and La Brea area. The movie made me feel nostalgic for all that. I had another LA chapter as a college student exploring different parts of the city with my roommates every Thursday night. Later, I became that cliché hopeful pursuing my own dreams of the music business and becoming a band manager or agent. In college and immediately after, I was surrounded by creatives trying to make it to the Hollywood big time, all working extra hard just to pay the bills. They were the waiters, waitresses and office workers turned actor. And in any given bar or restaurant, you never knew who was a drummer, guitar player or lead singer when they served you.

“La La Land” had me laughing with its subtleties of those hundreds of standard thin-walled, multi-unit apartment complexes with the small kitchen, living room, leaking ceilings and slatted drapes that four or five wannabes shared. I visited a lot of friends in Hollywood and Studio City in apartments just like Emma Stone’s, all of whom were pursuing their own Hollywood dreams.

The repeated “City of Stars” song pulled my heart strings with its sweet and melancholy tune and the familiar hopeful line of many Hollywood dreamers: “Are you shining just for me?” When Ryan Gosling sings it under a perfect Los Angeles sunset on the Santa Monica Pier, Los Angeles becomes and even bigger sprawl and the dreamer even smaller. I had many late nights in Los Angeles talking with other dreamers about the clubs we wanted to play, getting signed to a record label, touring and how exactly we get that one big shot at it all. I walked along the neon streets of Hollywood wondering what buildings had all the agents and how I could break through the clutter and get noticed. When would I have meetings there? And when do I get my pass into those famous hills?

As for my fandom of “Hamilton,” where do I begin? I never really knew much about his rise from poverty and sickness to being “the $10 founding father without a father who got a lot farther by working a lot harder by being a lot smarter by being a self-starter” until I became familiar with the music.

I had, however, been intrigued by the media coverage of Lin-Manuel Miranda and the evolution of this modern musical. I grew up on musicals, thanks to my mom, but have not been very interested in any contemporary ones. Again, I just haven’t been able to keep up with the what’s-what in pop culture. I saw “Rent” years ago and enjoyed it, but Hamilton had me at its opening dramatic military-band-meets-18th century-violin musical hook.

When I first saw the segment on 60 Minutes about Lin-Manuel Miranda discussing his concept for a historical political musical, I thought it looked interesting. Even more so when he gave a preview performance to President Obama long before the show actually opened.

Alissa and I followed the hype and TV coverage and listened to the soundtrack on heavy rotation in our car for months and months. We finally caught a break from a friend who sold us an extra pair of tickets for the Pantages Theater. Seeing “Hamilton” live was as good as hyped. Being familiar with the music and lyrics before seeing the show made it all the better.

And how about that music and lyrics!? Not a word wasted in the writing to move the plot along. Incredibly clever and intelligent rhyming and play on words throughout the show. I wish I was a fly on the wall during that creative process.

We even got a history lesson beyond 1776 and the American Revolution. I don’t think I have been this interested in the Founding Fathers, with their flaws and foibles, as much since I was in the 5th grade. During the show, I laughed at the madness of King George. I cheered on George Washington. Had a crush on the Schuyler Sisters. I was impressed how fast Lafayette could rap. And I felt only slightly sympathetic to Aaron Burr and his attempt to be as important as his peers. But, more so, I was inspired by Hamilton’s intellect, prolific writing ability and his workaholicism. As silly as it sounds, the show has been an inspiration to me when I work on these small essays. I wish I had command of the language and could put words together as well as Lin-Manuel.

I loved the diverse cast and seeing the historic figures in different shades of color than the history books show us. I felt especially fired up and patriotic as the band of revolutionaries sang, “Raise a glass to the four of us, tomorrow there’ll be more of us!” I was ready to join the fight (or at least throw some tea into the harbor).

I liked the mix of hip-hop, jazz, rock and the not so typical music score. And those talented actors in the original cast could really belt out a song, rap or croon a heartfelt melody.

I’m a sucker for talent and a sucker for the intelligence that goes into this type of music, lyrics and choreography. The soundtrack remains in heavy rotation for us, and my daughter Marley sings along, too.

I tried to tempt Alissa to see “Hamilton” again in May when we were in New York, but we avoided the impulse. Instead, we sang the show tunes as we rode bikes through the five boroughs.

I wasn’t into Myspace, selfies, Angry Birds or Pokemon Go, but it’s true I can be late to the party and still be a sucker for a dose of pop culture when I take the time to enjoy it.

Confession: I have now watched “La La Land” no less than 10 times. I even recently had my chance to see it on the big screen at the Art Theater.

Wait a minute. I just realized I wrote about two musicals. Am I losing my punk-rock edge?