When I was 13, I heard about the band Good Charlotte from someone else, and promptly loved them and decided that they were my band and that if anyone else heard about them and started liking them just as I had, then they were “stealing” my favorite band. But of course, just as with any band with eyeliner-wearing frontmen, the word spread rapidly amongst my 11-16 year old female cohort and soon all my friends had copies of The Young and the Hopeless and had even decided which member they liked best: “Who’s your favorite?! Mine’s Benji! He’s just sooooo hott!!!” I was haughty and livid about this injustice that was unfolding before my tragic teenage self.
Apparently, I have not matured at all since age 13, because I feel the same way now about my favorite Founding Father. (Wait a minute…you’re telling me you don’t have a favorite Founding Father?!) Not many people know this about me, but in high school, there was a point in time that I had pretty much no intention of going to college or making something of myself. I figured I’d get a job somewhere and eventually get my own apartment and spend my time going to [Good Charlotte-esque] shows with my friends. To clarify, there is absolutely nothing wrong with those decisions, but those of you who know me may be surprised to hear that because it’s such a different life than the one I have now.
My parents, being the educated non-fiction enthusiasts that they are, had quite a collection of books lining the shelves of our den. One of those books I gazed up at while arguing with my brother over who got to use the computer next was Duel: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and The Future of America by Thomas Fleming. The striking portraits of the two men on the cover, for some reason, stuck with me. One night I had a dream about Hamilton. I can’t recall the details, and couldn’t even back then, but I found it odd so one afternoon I picked up the book and started leafing through it, curious. And just as with the brooding pop-punk of the Madden twins, I was hooked.
What I learned was that this man, who I knew existed and had contributed to history in some way but was fuzzy about the details, had the most remarkable life story I had ever heard. (I could explain it myself, but Lin-Manuel Miranda does it better.) Not only was I amazed by the sheer amount of difficulties he faced in his life: being orphaned as a young child, illness, war, opposition, slander, the death of his son, etc., I took note of the many accounts of how hard he worked and how tireless he was in his studies and virtually everything else he touched. If he could do so many things with his life while being so disadvantaged at first–rise to the rank of aide-de-camp then Colonel then General in the first U.S. military, ensure the passage of the Constitution by writing The Federalist Papers, singlehandedly establish America’s financial system as the first Secretary of the Treasury, lead the Federalist Party, found the Coast Guard, found The New York Post, among other things, then what was holding me back?
I started actually caring about school. I started doing my homework, taking Honors and AP classes, and developing goals. I toured colleges and researched different majors. But at that point, I knew what I wanted to study: History. And I knew where I wanted to do it: The University of Oregon. One problem: Out-of-state tuition. I cringed at the “D” I got in Chemistry my sophomore year and knew I could never overcome that. So in my scholarship essay, I wrote about Hamilton. I wrote about pulling that book off the shelf and how his life changed mine. And seven months later, I got a thick packet in the mail notifying me that I was one of 20 students U of O had selected to receive a scholarship for western students. I got my wish, and it was only possible because of that book.
Which brings me to why I am bitter: My love for Good Charlotte has faded as have my feelings for many other things I liked when I was 13, but my love for Hamilton–or “Hammy” as I, and his Revolutionary War buddies, like to call him–has multiplied and gotten creepier, if anything. My aforementioned frenemy Lin-Manuel Miranda has written a Broadway hip-hop musical about Hamilton’s life and it is…well, it’s AMAZING. And that’s not just a Hammy/American history enthusiast saying that. It’s this guy who you might know and also this guy and this guy. The play is sold out for the next, like, I dunno, for however much time we have until that caldera in Wyoming explodes and kills us all. The Obamas and the Clintons and J.Lo and Madonna have been to see it, but they seem to be the only people who can get tickets. Aaauuuggghhhhhhh I wanna go so bad!!! Lin, if by the power of the Interwebs you somehow see this blog post, plz hook a sista up Elizabeth Schyler-style.
Anyway, everyone suddenly seems to be paying attention to Hammy because it’s cool now. And I’m mad because I LIKED HIM FIRST and I’m mad because LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA did what I could not and created something fabulous that will live through the ages and give the man the proper homage that he deserves. So yes, I am irrationally annoyed and jealous. My mom aptly pointed out that my strengths lie in fields other than hip-hop musicals, and she is correct. At some point I will finish this g@#$ d%^&* book I’m working on and maybe it will come close to what Lin has created.
I want to do great things. And that’s because of Hammy.
P.S. A few of my favorite American history books inspired by Duel:
- *Burr by Gore Vidal: (Exhaustingly researched) historical fiction. Brilliant, compelling, scandalous. Cried like a baby at the end. Currently re-reading for the third time.
- *Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow: Biography the play is based on. Super long, but never at any point remotely boring.
- Founding Brothers by Joseph Ellis: He picks five stories that beautifully illustrate the charming and contentious relationships between the men who created this country. Cried at the end of this one too. (Maybe I shouldn’t be publicly admitting to this…)
- The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789 by Joseph Ellis: Seriously, can this guy do anything wrong?
- 1776 by David McCollough: Also known as the “John Adams” guy. I have the big picture-book version and would highly recommend it.
*These books were given to me by Judge G. Murray Snow. Thanks, Uncle Murr.