Reformation à la Postmodern Jukebox and Hamilton
A year or so back, thanks to my first cousin once removed (that’d be my cousin Peder’s daughter Solvei: I had to go to a website to make sure I had that relationship term right), I learned about the band Postmodern Jukebox.
Dang, they’re good.
Solvei posted the video of “I Really Don’t Care,” featuring the most incredible vocals by Morgan James, not to mention the musical phenom that is Tim Kubart, aka “The Tamborine Guy,” who is having so much fun shaking those zils that it looked almost a bit illegal.
The band was started by Scott Bradlee, who had this ingenious idea of reconstituting, of quite literally transposing, tunes from one era and genre into another. Not only that, but the members of the band revolve too: different musicians, yet same commitment to a way of doing music.
So here’s Livin’ on a Prayer like you haven’t heard it before, and by the same token (albeit by a different rhythm) All About the Bass twice. Take a listen to I Will Survive à la Latin rhythm, and see if that doesn’t help you get your resilience on.
In an NPR Interview on All Things Considered, Bradlee says this:
You know, I think another thing that I’m kind of trying to showcase in this particular series is that these older styles of music, they’re not dead genres. They’re not, you know, no longer relevant. Just by taking modern contemporary source material, we can kind of revitalize them a bit. And we’re getting a lot of comments of people that never really listen to jazz or never really listen to ragtime or doo wop or whatever, but they’re finding that they really have an affinity for when it’s presented in a way that’s interesting and relevant to them.
So mentally bookmark that, and now turn your attention to the Broadway hit Hamilton.
It took good Michigan friend Mary Beth M to get us into the Hamilton craze: we might be late to the game, but we are now Hamilton fiends like the rest of the universe. Mary Beth may have cost me the expense of a soundtrack, but it sung us all the way home to Minnesota, and through house-cleaning, and to errands in Duluth, and thank goodness that we live deep in the woods so nobody can see us three Northern Europeans miserably trying our hand at our own version of hip hop lines and moves.
What happens in Two Harbors, stays in Two Harbors.
Point is, Lin-Manuel Miranda created this masterpiece, this reconstitution (pardon the pun), the literal transposition of the history of the players of the Revolution, into a musical that transports the US that is now into the US that was then, and loops it right back again.
Actors with clear Latino, African, Chinese, and even some scattered with Northern European heritages all show up on the stage in the roles of the main characters, most of whom themselves were white, back in the day.
Miranda’s genius was, of course, to recognize that were the story to be told today by modern Americans, the passions and crises and foibles and victories would be the same, but the people experiencing them would be different, and the way they’d tell their tales would be different, and yet….the story would overwhelm with truth, just as it did back then.
Take a look at these lines transcribed from the PBS Great Performances documentary about the Hamilton production:
At round about 5:35, Ron Chernow, the author of the book upon which the musical is based, tells of his first conversation with Miranda about making the biography a Broadway show:
“[Miranda said] ‘Ron, I was reading the book and hip hop songs started rising off the page,’ and I said to him, ‘really?'”
And then Miranda, on this same revelation of his: “I said, this is Tupac, this is Biggie, this is a hip hop story. This is my next show.”
“[Hamilton] is the story of my father.”
Later in the documentary, Chernow says, “The hip hop in the musical has gotten the most attention cause it is the most novel, and because Hamilton sings in hip hop, but there’s jazz, soul, R and B and just plain Broadway show tunes as well.”
Same story, told in different way, so that both old and new ears can hear it anew.
Yesterday we didn’t only celebrate Reformation Day: we celebrated the 499th Reformation Day.
Next year is the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation.
So for this next year, we have a shot (cue, “My Shot“) to recall Martin Luther, this monk-turned-cataclysmic gadfly who unwittingly changed the notion of the Church, of the laity, of the clergy, and, not least of all, well, of God.
So, in keeping with PMJ and Hamilton, maybe it’s time for a reboot?
Maybe it’s time to revisit the essence of Luther’s message, and reconstitute it, to transpose it, to have the key actors look different than the original players, to hear “A Mighty Fortress” in the key of Rap, or Hip Hop, or Latin Swing.
Maybe it’s time to rethink that treasured history by recalling more that women were players in the Reformation: I’m grateful for scholars like Dr. Kirsi Stjerna who teach us our history from the underside.
Maybe we can hope that all Lutheran sisters and brothers will one day be fully recognized as full servants of God (Sing it, Angelica Schuyler, “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal….And when I meet Thomas Jefferson … I’m ‘a compel him to include women in the sequel!”)
Maybe it’s time to rejoice that we are more unified by God than divided.
Maybe it’s time to reform our Reformation history, to retune it, to transpose it, to learn it anew, love it again, to make it refreshingly relevant, and sing and dance it into a new 500 year history-in-the-making, spreading the Good News of radical grace, and welcome, and forgiveness, and justice, and freedom in the trust that although death is real, life is real-er.
If we could keep a bit of the German beer tradition, though….gosh I’d be glad for that.