Thursday, January 17, 2008

This Is What Happens When You Don't Pay The Rent

We all have certain things--movies, books, plays, whatever--that we loved so much when we were young that, even when we outgrow them, they remain inextricably linked to a time and place in our lives. Which is why I felt a twinge of sadness when I heard that "Rent" will be closing on Broadway after 12 years. You could make the argument that the musical, for all intents and purposes, ended a while back when Joey Fatone assumed a lead role. But the play will always hold a special place in my heart.

It's hard for me to express now, or even to fully recall, how deeply this show affected me when I first saw it at the tender age of 16. It an awakening to a world that was passionate and exciting and so different from everything that I had ever known or experienced. They were bohemian artists! Who were gay! And had AIDS! (Well, that last part never struck me as particularly glamorous.) Nonetheless, I longed to throw off the shackles of my benign suburban existence and join them in that gritty urban wonderland known as the Lower East Side.

Because I didn't have the cash to pay bourgeois theater ticket prices, I only saw the show twice when it came through Chicago. But I played the soundtrack on a loop for a year. Or for 525,600 minutes. One way to measure a year is by the number of times you listened to the "Rent" soundtrack when you were 16. My friends were similarly obsessed, and we sang the music everywhere: in the car, at the lunch table, during press nights for the school newspaper. Even when I went to college, I first bonded with one of my best friends over how much we both loved the show. (She was one of the original "Rent-heads" in New York and to this day will not reveal to me how many times she's seen it.)

But time has a funny way of tarnishing the idols of our youth. When the movie version was released a couple of years ago I went to see it, partly out of nostalgia and partly hoping to rediscover what I had loved so much about it. Instead, I found myself slightly irritated by the whole production. While the characters on-screen were singing about artistic integrity and living La Vie Boheme, all I could think was, "Why won't you pay your rent? I pay rent. Everyone I know pays rent. Get over yourselves already and pay your damn rent!"

On a side note, it probably wasn't the brightest idea to have most of the original cast reprise their roles in the film version, considering they are now well in their 30s. There comes a point when squatting in an abandoned warehouse ceases to be an act of youthful rebellion and just becomes vagrancy. Also, as Matt pointed out when we left the theater, Mark's movie kind of sucks. It appears to be just random shots of his friends mugging for the camera. No wonder he and Roger couldn't even afford a space heater.

Even though its cultural moment has ended, I suppose that the show will still live on in some form. Something in its message about breaking convention and the desire to create a niche for yourself in the world will always resonate. However, I don't really know what the current generation of youngsters will make of "Rent" in a world where AIDS, while certainly still a very serious disease, doesn't have the same life-shattering implications that it did in the mid-90s. Where being openly gay no longer has the same power to shock the wider culture (even my grandmother liked that "Will and Grace" show), and if you want to be an avant-garde filmmaker all you have to do is upload videos on YouTube from the comfort of your parents' home.

Ultimately, I suspect that the phenomenal success of the show was emblematic of a specific time and place, just as I will always associate it with a specific time and place in my life. But if there's one thing that "Rent" has taught me over the years, it's that we all need to grow up sometime.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

These Were A Few Of My Favorite Things

I know that we're already well on our way into 2008. But while 2007 is still fresh in our minds, I wanted to take a look back at some of my favorite books, movies, TV shows, etc. from the past year. I should note that not all of them were new in 2007, it just happened to be the year that they were new to me.


This was hands-down my favorite movie of the year. Such a lovely and understated romance that felt hauntingly real. And the music was amazing, of course.

I'm a sucker for sweeping romantic epics, particularly sweeping romantic epics set during times of war. It's also a wonderful adaptation of a wonderful book that seemed like it would be really hard to adapt.

I really can't remember the last time I laughed this hard at a movie. Between this and Juno, my age-inappropriate crush on Michael Cera is undeniable.

TV Shows:

-Friday Night Lights (Season 1)
Let me state for the record that I hate football, and that living in a small Texas town where high school football is regarded as the reason for living is pretty much my idea of Hell. But the first season of FNL definitely stands as one of the great discoveries of 2007. It's a beautiful portrayal of just such a town and the people who inhabit it. Season 2 has been a disappointment so far (the Landry storyline? Really?), but Season 1 is an almost flawless work of art.

It's been a pretty disappointing season of television all around (damn you, Hollywood executives!), but Chuck was an unexpected surprise that has emerged as my favorite new show. It's fun and clever and every scene set in the Buy More makes me laugh. Josh Schwartz continues to indulge his self-referential streak, but I'll forgive him because of the awesome Halloween episode homage to "The OC."

-How I Met Your Mother
I'm a season behind on this show, having just finished Season 2 on DVD. It's such a genuinely funny show with characters that you wish you knew in real life. Speaking of which, I recently found myself standing behind Jason Segel at a coffee kiosk at the mall and it was all I could do not to start singing, "Let's go to the mall...TODAY!"


-The Year of Magical Thinking (Joan Didion)
Such a beautiful and heartbreaking depiction of love and loss.

-Special Topics in Calamity Physics (Marisha Pessl)
Part murder mystery and part coming-of-age story, the writing is a bit overblown but the book is a lot of fun to read. I can't quite explain why, but I've always been a big fan of stories about precocious adolescent girls who solve crimes.

-Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (J.K. Rowling)
Great read and a solid finish to a fantastic series (except for that irritating epilogue).


-Bishop Allen
I'm not very good at writing about music, but Bishop Allen's second album "The Broken String" is a perfect blend of smart, infectious indie pop. Flight 180 is probably my most played song of the year.

-Wolf Parade
An awesome band introduced to me by my friend Sarah, who is a devotee of band member Spencer Krug. Worth seeing them live just for a demonstration of Krug's aerobic keyboarding.

-Once soundtrack
See above.

Overall, a pretty good year in the annals of pop culture. Feel free to holler back with your favorite movie, book or celebrity meltdown from the year that was.