I listened to the Hamilton cast recording for the first time last week (just one day before Mike Pence caught the live treatment, as it turns out). It is, I can happily report, freaking incredible. Lin-Manuel Miranda deserves his MacArthur genius grant, I now look at 10-dollar bills very differently, and I’ve joined the legions of people hoping that the (moronic) #BoycottHamilton thing leads somehow to greater ticket availability.
And yes, I realize that I’m about 18 months behind the rest of the world.
I could try to come up with an explanation for my cultural tardiness, but the truth isn’t grounded in a whole lot of logic. Honestly, I have a hipster’s flair for arbitrarily avoiding things that garner universal praise if I don’t get in on them more or less on the ground floor (like, I still haven’t seen Avatar and probably never will).
This is an irrational, childish way to live, I know. Why on earth would I willfully deny myself potential enjoyment of something just because it’s ultra-popular? What difference does it make if a whole lot of other people take enjoyment in the same thing? How can that possibly detract from my experience?
As a great philosopher once said, “It’s a fool who looks for logic in the chambers of the human heart.”
None of my attempts to break the bad habit have gotten very far, and at this point, I’m more or less resigned to my own stubbornness and the inevitable missing out that comes along with it.
But I’ve recently realized that there’s an upside to my pigheadedness that occasionally makes being a complete idiot totally worth it: the special kind of appreciation for something that comes only when you discover it way after everyone else you know.
Because here’s something about fandom that’s only been true since about the time the first smart phones launched: it’s exhausting. Think about it: if you’re really into, say, Game of Thrones, the internet serves as an unofficial proving grounds where fans are in a constant race be in on as many jokes, recaps, new theories, and memes as possible. Having to DVR just one episode to watch 24 hours later puts you behind. You spend the day avoiding spoilers (which means ditching social media, ignoring texts, answering the phone with, “I HAVEN’T WATCHED IT YET!”, and keeping your eyes down as you pass by your coworkers desks, lest you accidentally catch a glimpse of their feeds. It takes a tremendous amount of time and energy just to feel like you’re a part of the culture surrounding the stuff you love.
Don’t get me wrong; some of that is what’s so great about what constant access to the internet (and thus, other fans) has done for being a nerd. It’s no longer a solitary experience, which is great. But, of course, that connectedness leads to a need to keep up not just with a show or film series or band, but with other fans as well.
But you know what? When you don’t start watching a show until it’s off the air? Or when you don’t see that movie until it’s on the bargain shelf at Target? Or when you don’t listen to the cast recording of that hit musical until its biggest stars have moved on to other projects? Well, then you’re free. You feel no pressure to have an opinion, you’re not likely to get caught up in the hype (good or bad), and all the stuff that the rest of the fandom has spent their lives creating during the height of the thing’s popularity? You get to enjoy that too. All of it. At your leisure. You suddenly understand all the references you haven’t understood up to that point, but feel no need to be in on making them yourself, because everyone else has, for the most part, moved on. Granted, you miss out on the feeling of common experience that comes with partaking of something at the peak of its popularity, and that can be special (knowing that everyone else just got their mind blown by the same scene as you is kind of awesome), but as I pointed out before, that can sometimes be more of a burden than a pleasure.
So here I sit, well more than a year since Hamilton hit Broadway, enjoying the hell out of a cast recording (don’t call it a soundtrack; apparently that’s a sore spot amongst theater folks) that’s old news to just about everybody. I’m out of the loop. Behind the times. Late to they party.
I can’t recommend it enough.