The Nico Lemay Blog

Never Stop Wondering

The Broadway Musical Missing From Your LifeHamilton, created by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Let me just start by saying that I didn’t want to watch this. It was forced down my throat, and now I’m here to tell you that you have to watch it! I am aware that generally speaking, only annoying people tell you about new broadway musicals that you simply must watch, but this time it’s different! I’m kidding of course, people have been going to see broadways for centuries now, and it’s because they’re often fantastic. That being said! In my life, I haven’t experienced many things as creative as the play named Hamilton. I don’t quite know how to praise it. It was spectacular, it was captivating.

I guess I should tell you what it is: Hamilton is a broadway musical about the life of the famous historical character, Alexander Hamilton, who is one of America’s founding fathers. Hamilton was a young, destitute orphan when he immigrated to the British colonies that would become the United States. Fueled by a unique drive, he became a self taught workaholic who wanted to be at the center of something big. He got his wish, and lived an extremely eventful life, where he commanded soldiers in battle, served as George Washington’s right hand man, worked as a politician, as a legal scholar, as a lawyer, as a banker, and as an economist. He, and those others who make up the cast of this story, are worth remembering. Many revolutions that successfully throw off the clutches of their oppressor, tear themselves apart with infighting. In the case of the American revolution, it gave rise of a great nation, and this might have something to do with the quality of the individuals who spent their lives to achieve it. Alexander Hamilton was not perfect, but he was not like anyone I knew.

Hamilton’s life is indeed the perfect setting for an exciting movie or play, but the creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, decided to imaginatively capture the era through the lens of modern popular music; namely, through Rap. 18th century America is convincingly brought alive in the surprisingly fitting lyrics written by Miranda, and sung by his actors, who rap and sing songs that bring alive the colourful lives of these figures from revolutionary America. I have heard more than one person say that Miranda’s telling of the story opened their interest in the period, which had otherwise seemed dry and boring until they saw the play. Watch this play, and get personally invested in the success and failures of Alexander Hamilton. The quality of the performances was absolutely top notch. In the following video, the creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, performs one of the play’s songs at the white house, years before the eventual release of the play. Today, if you want to watch it, you can see it wonderfully brought to the screen on Disney Plus.

Song Stuck in my MindSomeday Never Comes, by Creedence Clearwater Revival. I love this band, but this song is pretty different from their regular repertoire in my opinion. It plays with dissonance in ways that CCR isn’t known for, and it has been stuck in my head since I first heard it last week. To me, this song sounds like melancholic nostalgia. Listen to it on Youtube, Spotify.

Great Course I Recently FinishedThe High Middle Ages, by Philip Daileader, Professor of History at The College of William and Mary in Virginia, produced by the Great Courses. One thousand years ago, Europe not a nice place to live. Where the literate, engineering and densely populated Roman Empire had once thrived, now resided a destitue community of small kingdoms. Illiterate, poor, and often hungry, these states had been existing in a world of penury for centuries. As we know, when there is abundance, we are likely to seek peace and cooperation in order to enjoy that abundance, but when there are shortages, we make sure that we get ours first, just like when Covid reduced us to hoarding toilet paper. This made for an often violent time in history. It is not clear why the early middle ages were so bleak. Barbarians have often been blamed for the destruction of the Roman Empire, but diseases also played a role, as did civil wars, and many other factors. More and more, it appears likely that climate change was the overarching catalyst that ruined everything.

Rather than the global warming that threatens us today, the Romans might have been caught in a cooling period, which resulted in poorer crop yields around the world, and colder climate, which forced northern peoples into migrating southwards in search of more temperate climates to cultivate and graze. Therefore, climate change would have forced the desperate migration of millions southwards, creating humanitarian crises, wars and rebellions. Further mismanagement combined with less sunlight and colder years resulted in failed crops, weaker immune systems and massive plagues. that claimed up to a quarter of Europe’s population. Following all of this, was the breakdown of trust between strangers. One thousand years ago, people in Europe had been doing the best they could in the situation that resulted from the collapse of the Roman Empire, and their world may have been dangerous and dark, but it was about to become very bright indeed.

This sets the stage for Daileader’s class. This colder world was more challenging, and thus society had gradually been reorganized into the feudal system, made up of three classes: those who worked, those who fought, and those who prayed. To us today, these might seem like silly categories, or even as exploitative, but they appear to have served their purposes, and been some sort of adaptive response to the unique challenges that nature imposed on human life. From the 11th century onwards, this feudal system evolved, and grew into various styles of kingdoms and republics. The centuries following the 11th century saw Europe emerge out of it’s poverty and disorganization, and grow into a continent that built great buildings again, that created fantastic works of literature and art. Along with the cathedrals came the development of the constitutional system government in England, where parliamentary power learned to check the authority of kings. Europe became strong again, and started reaching it’s arms outside it’s continental borders for the first time in centuries, sending off tens of thousands of it’s soldiers, priests and peasants on crusades in the ancient extent of the Roman Empire, and beyond. The high middle ages were a times of knights, of great story telling, of nation building, and even includes stories of great women, such as the fantastically interesting Eleanor of Aquitaine.

The people who lived in this era were different from us. It is difficult to put ourselves in the shoes of our ancestors, and few shoes are harder to fit than those of our medieval ancestors. Their mentality was strange, their beliefs were outlandish and their way of life was hard, but they eventually became us, and for that reason, I recommend that you learn about them. This course, just like all other Great Courses, was fantastic, and Professor Daileader was entertaining throughout the whole twelve hours of the course. Listen to this course if you want to know how the rowdy and rag tag kingdoms of the middle ages entered the high middle age, how the concepts of chivalry were used to rein in the violence committed by those who fought, and how everything went from the way it was, to the way it is.

If you wish to listen to the Great Courses but do not wish to pay the 50+$ it costs to buy one their courses on Audible, I recommend you subscribe to Audible’s monthly membership, where for 15$ per month you get access to any title in their catalogue, including any of these expensive courses. No, I’m no making any money off this.

Documentary For Music LoversBeware of Mr. Baker.

Ginger Baker

I watched this documentary some years ago, and decided to revisit it this week. It focuses on an individual by the name of Ginger Baker, who was one of the greatest musicians of the last century. He was also a bastard, who never seemed to care what anyone thought. This documentary wont make you love Mr. Baker, in fact you might develop a deep dislike for him, but you wont be able to help yourself from admiring him. Ginger Baker is perhaps most famous for being the drummer in the band Cream, along side Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce, but his contribution to music is much greater than one band could ever be. Throughout his life, Mr. Baker was present at the birth of Rock and Roll, he played and partied with all the greatest musicians you’ve ever heard of, from Mick Jagger to Jimi Hendrix, and he scared the shit out of all of them. He led the charge, and was uniquely placed to influence the direction of music for a time. He saw himself as a jazz musicians, and constantly set up “battles” with the most famous jazz drummers, but simultaneously became the first drummer rock god. He pioneered the drum solo, and reinvented the popular rhythm, but he was much more than a drummer. He was also a band leader, a creator of music and an organizer of people. He did it all for the sake of music.

Drunk, outrageous, constantly addicted to drugs, a terrible father and husband, he became the mould in which rock and roll drummers would be cast for the next half century. If that was all Mr. Baker had done, the documentary would be worth watching, but in reality, this was only the start for him. When he was 32, Ginger Baker drove across the Sahara, determined to explore the world which had provided his primary musical influence: Africa. Obsessed by traditional African drumming since he was a boy, Baker had always looked to Africa as the golden standard. He set up a recording studio in the city of Lagos, in Nigeria, the first of it’s kind in the country. It is not a place that wealthy and famous musicians tend to visit, and back then, it was a far more dangerous and squalid place than it is now. Never the less, Baker lived there, and not in luxury. He became friends with the local legend, Fela Kuti, a terrifically important musician in his own right, who was a force of nature, and an outspoken rebel who used his music to publicly denounce the military junta that controlled his country. More on him next week, probably. Baker spent his time in Africa learning everything he could, recording everyone he could out of his good will, but even there he managed to make enemies and to alienate his friends.

This documentary, created by the Rolling Stone writer Jay Bulger, is about an extremely complicated figure who played a pivotal role in music history. It manages to gather together just about every important musician since the 50s to tell you how Mr. Baker influenced their music. He was a force of nature, and one of the greatest examples of what not-giving-a-fuck can help you achieve. It is simultaneously a cautionary tale about the downsides of not-giving-a-fuck too much.

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