Better a Witty Fool than a Foolish Wit

Inner Workings of My Twisted Mind.

No Day But Today!

Last week was all about the green witch. This week it’s all about La
Vie Boheme. So this might be long because I have a hell of a lot to
say about this. But just bear with me…I’ll try to make it as
painless as possible.

So in my last email I talked about Wicked and what a great musical it
is. I referred to Rent and how it was my favorite musical of all
time. Well the thing is, I can’t stop listening to it and watching it
on DVD. And now I’m going to write about it.

When I was fifteen years old my mom took me out of school for the
first and only time ever. A few months earlier I had heard that Rent
was playing in San Francisco. I didn’t know anything about it, but I
knew I wanted to see it. So we went to San Francisco on a thursday
night to go see Rent. It was playing at the Golden Gate theater. So
anyone who knows San Francisco theaters knows that the Golden Gate is
in a really sketchy neighborhood. Mom and I drove two blocks to the
theater (true l.a. fashion) because it’s in such a sketchy
neighborhood.

Even as I entered the theater I knew I was seeing something different.
They had decorated the whole lobby area with broken dish pieces. It
was beautiful in a very urban way.

Now, picture this. Julia at 15 years old, sitting in a theater. I
had bright pink (or maybe purple or maybe turquoise) hair. I wore
huge chains around my neck, wrists, ankles, anything I could hang
chains off of. I had on a jean jacket that was riddled with safety
pins and spikes, a plaid skirt, ripped fishnets, and a tank top.
Basically, I looked like I didn’t want anyone to fuck with me because
I didn’t.

I’ve sort of alluded to this before, but it’s an event I’ve just
recently started dealing with. When I was 14 a guy I knew died of a
heroin overdose (he wasn’t a really good friend, but I later realized
that I was friends with all his friends…we would have been good
friends eventually). It effected me more than I could really ever
imagine. I think the reason it effected me so much was that I
actually watched someone tell his girlfriend what had happened. I
watched her crumble to the ground, sobbing. That effected me. On top
of that, I was a teenager, and angsty. Basically, this was the point
in time where I tried to numb myself to everything I was feeling. I
was just feeling so much, and I didn’t really know how to handle it so
I started drinking…….heavily.

But one year later I saw Rent. And as cliche as that sounds it
changed my whole life. This was a show about people I knew. Roger
and Mimi were who I identified with the most (though this has changed
throughout the years). Roger was a recovering heroin addict,
musician, who was HIV positive. He had completely shut down and shut
everyone out of his life. Well, I guess two out of four ain’t bad…I
was a musician and I was completely shutting down emotionally. Mimi
was a heroin addicted stripper who was HIV positive, but she also sang
the song that really awakened me. The lyrics go something like
this…’The heart may freeze or it can burn. The pain will ease, if I
can learn. There is no future, there is no past. I live this moment
as my last. There’s only us, there’s only this. Forget regret or
life is yours to miss. No other road. No other way. NO DAY BUT
TODAY.’ She sings this in the middle of the first act, and suddenly I
felt a little more alive.

At the beginning of Act one Roger sings One Song Glory, which is about
writing one great song before he dies of AIDS. This opened me up a
little. And I realized that with each song, little by little, I was
starting to feel. Really feel. And it was a little scary, but it was
also great. I, like Roger, became open by the end of the play. Now,
I’m not saying that I left the theater and was suddenly transformed.
That I quit drinking myself to oblivion immediately, but it wasn’t too
soon after that I settled and that I let myself really feel my
emotions instead of constantly trying to mute them or block them out
all together.

I went home and bought the album which I wore through. In fact, I’ve
worn through two different copies of that soundtrack and my copy right
now has seen better days. I absolutely couldn’t get enough of it. It
was one of the first albums that I read all the liner notes front to
back. And in doing so I realized that this was modeled after La
Boheme. Hmm….interesting. One of my favorite movies is
Moonstruck, where that opera is used throughout. I love the music. I
bought that album too, and I read all those liner notes. As I
listened and read, I truly realized what a genius Jonathon Larson
(writer of Rent) was. There were some songs, like Light My Candle,
that were almost word for word translated from the Italian. There
were themes that were stolen from the opera, but used in new
interesting ways. There’s a riff from Musetta’s waltz that, when
played on a guitar, sound so amazing and new and different, but at the
same time, so similar and comfortable.

Even the character names are similar, but in a modern, sometimes
comical way. Roger is Rodolfo, Mimi is Mimi, Mark is Marcello,
Maureen is Musetta, Tom Collins is Colline, Angel Dumont Schunard is
Schaunard and Benny is Benoit. If you know the opera it makes seeing
Rent that much richer. But it also begs one to think. La Boheme was
a musical about artists who were starving in Paris, they were being
decimated by disease, and still learned to love and live through this
trememdous devestation. New York in the late ’80’s/early ’90’s was
the same way. AIDS was running rampant, Reagan wasn’t doing anything
about it, and there were stigmas attached to it. Basically, if you
had AIDS, you were either a junkie or gay…it was punishment for
sinning to get AIDS, but in reality this wasn’t at all true. Rent
takes this devestation and achieves what nothing else has…it
respects people that are usually looked down upon. It takes these
junkies and strippers and poor people and it treats them with respect.

I think the reason I connected with Rent so much was that I saw myself
in these stories. I was so passionate about things and I wasn’t
willing to comprimise my beliefs for money or comfort or anything. I
understood these people and their plight. I had friends who were
addicted to drugs and I didn’t respect them any less because of it.
At one point a round of people sing ‘will I lose my dignity,’ Rent
gave us freaks, us artists, us idealists our dignity back.

My favorite moment in Rent is, was, and always has been when they sing
La Vie Boheme. It’s a huge celebration of life and of a different way
of life. The lyrics range from simply listing the things we find
wonderful, ‘To Leather, To Dildos, To Curry Vindaloo, To Huevos
Rancheros, and Maya Angelou,’ the things we believe ‘To Sodomy, it’s
between God and me….To S&M,’ and the best line in the whole play
‘The opposite of war isn’t peace, it’s creation.’ But La Vie Boheme
not just about the great lyrics and great music, there’s some great
fucking choreography in it as well. It is shocking to some people,
but that’s what the song is about…this is what we believe and there
you go. At one point the lyrics state, ‘to anything taboo’ and oral
sex is simulated between two women. Then again, towards the end of the
song we are reminded, ‘let thee among us without sin be the first to
condemn…La Vie Boheme’ with fists raised in the air ready to battle.
The choreography in this scene lends itself to the concept of La Vie
Boheme.

Most people haven’t heard most of the songs in Rent. Seasons of Love,
however, is a song that most people have heard. It’s the one that
talks about 525,600 minutes and starts off the second act of Rent. It
is an amazingly beautiful song that just evokes so much emotion, so
much hope, so much sadness. Basically, the song categorizes all the
ways to measure a year ‘in midnights, in cups of coffee’ ‘in inches,
in miles, in laughter, in strife’ ‘in the bridges she burned, or the
way that she died.’ And in the reprise, they ask the most poignant
question: ‘how do we figure our last year on earth?’

Act two goes on through the year. It follows people breaking up and
making up and trying to make things work. It shows people opening up
to love, but it also shows the intense pain we can feel when we open
ourselves. The play shows this through the character of Angel.
Angel, who is now my favorite character in the show, is the emotional
center of Rent. He/She is the one that really knows that she has to
make the most of what she’s got left.

And the part that absolutely fucking kills me is when they sing
seasons of love again. On stage, they line up just as they do for
seasons of love at the beginning of act two, but at this point there
is a distinct hole in the line. A hole where a very important person
once stood. It’s quite possibly the most poignant piece of theatre
choreography I’ve ever seen. It absolutely kills me every single time
I see it on stage (and I’ve seen it seven times).

Now, I’ll fight my urge to go through the genius of every single song
in Rent and La Boheme and all of it’s incarnations (I’m saving that
for the dissertation), but I have to say, ending a musical by singing
‘no day but today’ at the top of your lungs and having Angel run back
out on stage has to be the best way to end a musical ever.

There’s no way I could ever do justice to Rent and how much it has
effected my life. All I can say is if you haven’t seen it, go. If
it’s not playing near you, rent the movie. And if you don’t at least
appreciate how amazing it is, I don’t think I can ever talk to you
again.

Peace, Love, Mark, Mimi, Roger, Collins, Angel, Maureen, Joanne,
Benny, and Thank You Jonathon Larson,

Julia

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June 27, 2007 Posted by | Alcoholism, Gay/Lesbian, High School, Movies, Musicals, Politics, Rent | 1 Comment