The RENT reunion panel at BroadwayCon was amazing for a million reasons that I’m sure everyone else was posting about, but as I was listening to the original cast recording while on the subway home tonight, I recalled one thing in particular.
Cynthia O’Neal, the co-founder of Friends In Deed had a lot of fantastic stories to tell about Jonathan Larson spending time at the Friends In Deed space in the early 90s and how he tried to share the early versions of RENT songs with her. She never listened to the demo tapes he gave her, but when she eventually did see the show, she said she was touched by his inclusion of actual quotes by HIV+ individuals from the Friends In Deed support groups Jonathan had attended. In particular, she remembered a man saying, “I’m not afraid to die, but I am afraid I’ll lose my dignity.” That of course turned into the song, “Will I?”
I hadn’t listened to RENT in a quite a while so when that song came on while I was commuting home tonight, I first recalled this anecdote from Cynthia O’Neal, but was soon flooded with my own memories – the kinds of vivid memories that can only be unlocked when you listen to certain songs after a long time. I remembered how I use to listen to that song and replace the true meaning with my own gender dysphoria. I would listen to the song and it expressed so much of what I felt – my fear of losing all respect if I ever told people was I was feeling, my huge desire to wake from the nightmare of being transgender.
The third phrase from the song, “Will someone care?” brought back another, lighter memory: my high school boyfriend. Back in high school, I had these RENT lyric magnets (like poetry word magnets, but with RENT lyrics - @sunflowerexistence‘s mom had won them in a radio contest the week the RENT movie came out for knowing a super obscure lyric). My boyfriend was over one night and saw the magnets that spelled “will someone care?” Not being familiar with RENT and possibly thinking I had arranged them that way in a bout of emo loneliness, he swapped them around to read, “someone will care.” It was cheesy, but sweet I guess.
He died a few years ago. A lot of things have different meanings to me in the wake of his death. I cry when I hear “500 Luftballons.” I was able to relate to Hazel’s eulogy in the TFIOS movie far more than I would like to admit. And the “I’ll Cover You” reprise no longer makes me sad for the general heartbreak of the show and of the world, but sobers me with the reality of loss.
Remembering all of that tonight reminded me of how much has changed since I used to play “One Song Glory” on my walkman down by the lake behind my parent’s house, chain smoking stolen cigarettes in an attempt to feel something other than desperate and frustrating confusion. I’m older and slightly less confused now; mature and secure enough to have come out and transitioned, at least - something I never could have imagined the possibility of back then. I actually live in the city where the musical came to life and tonight the man behind the character I was always cast as when my friends and I sung along to RENT greeted me by name when he spotted me from behind.
But there have been a lot of rough patches too. Jon is dead. So many other friends are dead. I’ve faced hardships I never would’ve envisioned and ones I anticipated, but never could’ve known how hard they would actually be.
So as all of that washed over me while listening to that two and half minute song on the R train tonight, I thought about the main message the cast and creators stressed in the panel tonight. Almost all of them talked about how they nearly didn’t do RENT, how their auditions were laughably bad and the pay was worse. So many crucial elements almost didn’t happen. And then there were each of their stories about the most crucial element of them all: Jonathan Larson, and the last time they saw him.
So much of the origin story of the musical seems predestined. Yet, the strongest message it sends and the one everyone on stage tonight was adamant to make was that you really never know what’s going to happen. You can’t guess if something will take off, how you’ll feel about something, or if you’ll even be around to do it. It was the message Jonathan was trying to get across through his lyrics before his own death upstaged their debut and tragically made his point for him: there really is no day but today.
I’m a big fan of World War Z by Max Brooks. I think the style of writing and the depth of it is phenomenally well thought out, and the way it acts as a socio-political commentary is probably what makes it my favourite novel. The film made me vomit. I also like Lee Child, Mark Billingham, James Patterson, and similar authors (despite the odd forensic slip up) I’m also a fan of fantasy that plays with modern elements like firearms without being urban fantasy. At risk of sounding like a total Hipster, I generally prefer lesser known works to big, famous blockbuster works like TFIOS or The Hunger Games (though I acknowledge their popularity and understand why others enjoy them)
So, to list my favourites:
World War Z- Max Brooks
Bad Luck and Trouble- Lee Child
Sabriel- Garth Nix
Night of the Living Deadpool (Shut up, comics count)
The King In Yellow- Robert W. Chambers
This is a ridiculously hard question, but fortunately I have a running Top 3 list.
1. The Hobbit/The Lord of the Rings
2. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
3. The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi
4. The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
(Yeah, I put 4 because LOTR is kind of the default favorite above all else and I’m a cheater.)
I have to admit I read more fanfiction than actual books… Which I’m not ashamed of! So in no particular order….
The song remains the same- River Winters (supernatural and well over 100k)
End of me - Lyonene (supernatural)
The last guardians- lillelouis (chronicles of Narnia)
We two alone - shoreleave (Star Trek)
Counted among the traitors - Willowdryad (Narnia)
Digital Knights- astrorocket (digimon)
I’ve taken those from my favourites on fanfiction- some I haven’t read for a long time but at one time or another I’ve loved each of those stories.
Now onto books!
I’ve got your Number- Sophie Kinsella
Stalker- Faye Kellerman
Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich
The Casual vacancy by J.K Rowling
Percy Jackson/Heroes of Olympus - Rick Riordan
These are just a small selection! -S
I love almost every book I read (almost), but these 3 are ones that have really impacted me, in no particular order:
1) Frankenstein - Mary Shelley
2) Rebecca - Daphne du Maurier
3) The Book Thief - Marcus Zusak
Ah, it’s so hard to pick favorites! I don’t even really know how to choose… so here are 5 6 books I love, in no particular order:
1. The Great Gatsby- F. Scott Fitzgerald (This one is actually my absolute favorite)
2. The Book Thief- Marcus Zusak
3. Just Listen- Sarah Dessen
4. An Abundance of Katherines- John Green
5. The Things They Carried- Tim O’Brien
6. Choke- Chuck Palahniuk
Other than my #1, this is about the hardest question ever, but let’s try…
1. Dracula - Bram Stoker
2. The Scarlet Pimpernel - Baroness Orczy
3. Shakespeare. Just… (almost) all the Shakespeare
4. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall - Anne Bronte
5. Hell House - Richard Matheson
6. The Lord of the Dark Fire (AKA Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit, The Dark Tower series, and the A Song of Ice and Fire series)
I like so many books. I really love a lot of the classics you read in high school - my three favorites are Fahrenheit 451, The Great Gatsby, and a tie between Their Eyes Were Watching God and The Catcher in the Rye. I read a lot of poetry books, and my favorites of those are Richard Siken’s Crush and Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends and Every Thing On It (a little story about this book: it was published 10 years posthumously and the first poem is called Years From Now, which goes: although I cannot see your face/as you flip these poems awhile/somewhere from some far-off place/I hear you laughing-and I smile. It still gives me these happy little chills even to this day.)
I like a lot of YA fiction, too! Mostly Contemporary stuff. I’ll enjoy pretty much any John Green book you give me (Looking For Alaska is my favorite) and I loved Ned Vizzini’s It’s Kind of a Funny Story.
And last but not least, my two favorite series of all time are Harry Potter and Fullmetal Alchemist.
Followers, this looks like a nice opportunity for y'all to tell us about your favorites. :)