The past couple of months have seen something unique happen in my house. My wife the history teacher, our three teen/tween kids and I actually agree on how we wish to be entertained. With the exception of an occasional foray into the new One Direction album or a belly rub for Layla the Puppy, our home is All Hamilton, All The Time. At any time of day or night, when one of us is angry at the kids we will threaten to “send a fully-armed battalion…to remind you of my love…da da da DA da, da da da da Daaaai da da.”
Hamilton of course is the perfect intersecting area of our family’s Venn Diagram of Interest, where there is history, brilliant writing, hip hop (and almost every other genre of music you can think of) and politics all wrapped into a two hour musical. (Hey, maybe I love it so much because it is at any moment more interesting and inspiring than anything happening in the real politics of the present, but I promised myself I wouldn’t talk politics on the blog until March.) It’s gorgeously acted, a lock to win a clutch of Tonys, and is the brainchild of the guy from The Heights, Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Miranda, who at 35 is ridiculously accomplished (look him up), is also the cousin of a kid at my two older children’s school. The headmaster there locked him in to speak to the students early this fall, before the soundtrack to Hamilton was number 1 on the Rap charts and Miranda had Freestyled with Jimmy Fallon and the show sold out until NEXT October. They let parents attend, and so last week Amanda and I went to hear what a theatrical genius would say to a bunch of teenagers.
Turns out that Miranda has his finger on the pulse not just of 18th Century American history, but on the psyche of the 21st Century Teen as well. He spoke without a note for almost an hour about getting to where he is now by surrounding himself with smart people, figuring out what he wanted to do, and then doing it, over and over, improving and tweaking and keeping his Ass in the Seat.
Our son the Artsy Theater and Music and Animation kid, was enthralled. He’d been into Hamilton since he saw it with Amanda over the summer when my back was out and he took my place. Miranda is a role model to him of the best sort, and when he heard that Miranda was going to be speaking at school, he stayed up until midnight for three nights drawing a cartoon of the cast of Hamilton entirely comprised of Looney Tunes characters. It was inspired, and he had the opportunity to give it to Miranda backstage (and then have his life made when Miranda tweeted a photo of the picture).
But what Miranda said and Joe understood, and what I thought was so cool and relevant for so many of the people I work with in my life in publishing is this: If you figure out (early, much of the time; but whenever) what you want to do—whether that’s writing a novel or composing a song or swimming fast or trading derivatives—you need to immerse yourself in it with great passion and intensity. You need to practice, even if you are gifted. You need to figure out the best ways to meet the right people, to put yourself in the most advantageous position possible, even if that is difficult and requires tremendous patience. (To paraphrase one of his most famous lines—possibly so inspiringly used because it is so much about his own ambitions—you need to figure out how to be in the Room Where It Happens.)
And it’s not that this is completely new advice, for sure (although it was interesting that his view was so not about being well-rounded, but rather about being expert in your field of passion first, then smoothing out the edges). But what held Joe’s attention, and all 600 others’ in that room that day, was that this kid from Washington Heights, who made the first Secretary of the Treasury Hot in 2015 by making him a rapper, was saying it and was his own best example.