“Wearing the traditional white Tibetan scarves presented to them upon his greeting, President George W. Bush and Mrs. Laura Bush walk with the Dalai Lama through the Center Hall of the Private Residence at the White House. “ 10/16/2007
George W. Bush and Laura W. Bush have adopted a new puppy. The former first couple announced on Facebook that they brought home little “Freddy Bush” last week after visiting an SPCA facility in Dallas. “We already love him, and even our cats Bob and Bernadette are finding Freddy’s charm futile to resist. If you could use a little extra joy in your life, consider adopting a pet from an animal shelter or rescue group.” )
[…] “I keep pinching myself when I stop and wonder that somehow I triggered off this creative explosion in the mind of Lin-Manuel Miranda,” Chernow told Vanity Fair Monday. Back in 2008, Miranda invited the historian to an In the Heights matinee to confess, “‘Ron, I was reading the book on vacation in Mexico, and hip-hop songs started rising off the page.’ I said, ‘Really?’ That was more than a little surprising; this was not a typical response to one of my books.” Chernow soon learned that Hamilton’s rise to prominence from an orphaned, impoverished youth was a “classic hip-hop narrative,” and such an intense, driven protagonist would be well served by information-packed raps. During the Q&A, Chenow said that he felt a bit embarrassed at Miranda’s ability summarize the first 40 pages of his book into a four-minute track: “Alexander Hamilton.”
Despite the laid-back notion of Horwitz turning the camera on his longtime pal, Hamilton’s America is a handsomely shot 82 minutes, in no way resembling home movie footage. The documentary, which first screened earlier this month at the New York Film Festival, samples at least 15 of Hamilton’s 52 songs, offering better views of the stage than any four-figure scalped ticket could purchase. Two stories unfold simultaneously. Hamilton’s personal saga is told through illustrations and accompanying cast members to various historical sites where their characters once stood. “We get out into the world and see the actual spaces that the founding fathers and mothers inhabited, and where they walked and fought,” Horwitz told Vanity Fair, including the Morris-Jumel Mansion in New York, the Schuyler-Hamilton House in New Jersey, Valley Forge National Historical Park in Pennsylvania, and Mount Vernon in Virginia. Miranda and Leslie Odom Jr., the actor who plays Aaron Burr, also make a memorable trip to the Museum of American Finance on Wall Street, where they don gloves and inspect antique dueling pistols similar to the ones their characters wielded on a fateful day in 1804. The film details the many personal and professional parallels between Hamilton and his eventual killer. “If that’s all you’re looking at is our worst act on our worst day, anyone of us could be painted as the villain,” Odom Jr. says while visiting Princeton Cemetery, where Burr was buried 32 years after the most famous duel in American history.
Meanwhile, Miranda’s Hamilton pathway is charted with handwritten notebook pages and clips from all the musical’s milestones—his 2009 solo performance at the White House, the show’s Off Broadway debut at the Public Theater, when the cast was informed that the show was Broadway bound, the Broadway opening-night after-party, the full cast’s subsequent White House concert, and the 2016 Tony Awards, where the company took home best musical and 10 more trophies. Both chronologies are intercut with interviews. Sometimes in the documentary Miranda is posing the questions, as with Barack Obama, Stephen Sondheim, John Weidman, and a starstruck Nas; others, including the show’s cast and crew, Chernow, his fellow historians, and fans including George W. Bush, Laura Bush, Paul Ryan, Elizabeth Warren, former Treasury secretaries Henry Paulson and Timothy Geithner, Questlove (who produced the show’s Grammy-winning cast album as well as The Hamilton Mixtape, coming later this year) and Tariq Trotter from the Roots, and Jimmy Fallon (at his most endearing), speak directly into the camera. “We were talking to elected and appointed officials very far to both sides of the aisle, and obviously, we were not going to be philosophically aligned with everyone we were interviewing when you cast a net that wide,” Horwitz said. “But they and their staffs could not have been more warm and inviting.”
Left-leaning viewers will likely feel much nostalgia for the few remaining weeks of the Obama administration. In the video where Michelle Obama introduces the Hamilton cast to hundreds of students assembled in the Blue Room, she is more exuberant than we have ever seen her as First Lady, and she and the president watch from the front row, bopping their heads to the music. POTUS later greets Miranda with a casual, “Hey man,” and when Miranda discusses George Washington’s wise choice to step down as commander in chief after a few years, we’re shown footage of Obama listening to “One Last Time.”
On-screen, the Public Theater’s artistic director, Oskar Eustis, compares Miranda to William Shakespeare. To some, Miranda seems like an overnight success now armed with a MacArthur Fellowship. Throughout the film, the audience learns otherwise: in Miranda’s first two and a half years at work on what would eventually become Hamilton, for example, he wrote only two songs. We see him as a father to a two-week-old with an unfinished show in tech rehearsals, someone who has managed to stock his refrigerator only with tonic and ketchup. “I’m so happy to have [the film] as a document of, like, these crazy moments where I’m just hitting my head against the wall,” Miranda, also one of the film’s executive producers, told Vanity Fair. In the Q&A, he revealed that he did not figure out how to script the play’s final showdown until New Year’s Day 2015, when he was walking his dog in Fort Tryon Park—just six weeks before the show opened to raves at the Public.
When Hamilton was a teenager, the island where he was raised, St. Croix, was demolished in a natural disaster—later described by Miranda in the song “Hurricane.” A newspaper published a descriptive letter that Hamilton penned about the destruction, and on the strength of this, Hamilton’s neighbors pooled their money so he could receive an education in North America. “He literally writes his way out of his circumstances,” Miranda says in the documentary. It’s just one more trait he shares with his onstage alter ego.
Smoking Coffee to Get High Will Make You Feel Like Shit
If you’re in the minority of teenagers without access to pot, you’re liable to do some pretty stupid shit to catch a buzz. Lately, the parent-fear-machine, aka the internet, has been ablaze with warnings about kids smoking coffee grounds. The side effects of ingesting caffeine in this fashion include convulsions, diarrhea, dizziness, hallucinations, vomiting, fever, and a bunch of other scary nonsense that has little to do with the method of ingestion. This potentially fake fad is nothing new; in 2011 a Reddit user outlined his experiences as a bean-head, and a post on Erowid from 2007 summed up the stupidest way to consume caffeine. Obviously, I had to try it out. Luckily for my dumb ass, my friend Elizabeth was there to both capture the magic and call an ambulance if I started hallucinating and shitting uncontrollably.
First we scoured YouTube for tutorials, and after stumbling across multiple videos of grade school-aged children rolling coffee joints using Post-It notes and cotton balls (unfortunately taken down), I realized that it was up to me to blaze the trail. As a veteran smoker, I started with the classic: a spliff.
I pulled out my coffee grinder, cigarettes, rolling papers, a cotton ball, and George W. & Laura Bush rolling tray, and I mixed a hefty portion of ground hazelnut flavored dark roast in with my tobacco. I managed to roll one of my least impressive spliffs to date, complete with a homemade filter, because despite the years of abuse my lungs have suffered in the name of “chillin’ balls”, I still wasn’t quite ready to subject them to something I had just watched a child almost vomit from without the benefit of a barrier.
Out on the balcony, I shouted “TURN UP!”, lit the tip, and took my first drag. I thought I could make out the faintest hint of hazelnut, but beyond the artificial flavoring, there wasn’t much of a difference from a regular cigarette. Perhaps I hadn’t used enough grounds. I rolled a second spliff with twice the fun, and went for a hefty pull, expecting to come up heaving. Surprisingly, the smoke came in smooth, although a bit bitter and lacking in any recognizable coffee taste. I felt stupid and Elizabeth asked if this was supposed to make me hallucinate. I didn’t think so, but I was truly hoping it would help clear a two-day blockage in my lower intestines. I felt a little lightheaded.
As any self-disrespecting toker, I was anxious to kick it up a notch, so I grabbed my vape pen and did my best to clean out the remaining wax before filling it up with some finely milled Turkish coffee my grandmother had given me before going on vacation. I hope she never reads this.