There are people in your life who will never know how a small gesture changes you. The fifth grade teacher who took me and my class to see Les Miserables at the age 11 comes to mind. As do my high school Spanish teacher whose love for the language somehow brought me to a point where I live with a household of Colombians. Actually there are countless people among friends, family and strangers who have done things both big and small that butterfly effected me into places unimagined.
But right now I’m thinking of someone else. More specifically, I’m thinking of my Aunt Carole.
My Aunt Carole is a hipster. She travels the world learning things with an appetite that cannot be stopped. When she travels she actually WRITES me postcard and sends them via international mail! And when I go to her daughters’ house and compliment something they inevitably say “Oh yeah, my Mom got that for me.” My Aunt Carole was the person who introduced me to Madeline L’engle. And she the indisputable queen of cool was also the person that bought me the first CD I ever owned.
It was the soundtrack to RENT.
In 1996 I had not heard of RENT because I was not living on the Upper East Side of New York. I was living in Concord, CA. I was however a band-choir-insert something here geek and I immediately loved RENT as all good geeks should. I loved its message, I loved its music and I loved to listen to it, over and over again. There is no possible way to listen to Seasons of Love and not want to hug your loved ones until they choke.
It’s a musical about living everyday the best you can, committing to art and creativity and remembering that life is short. The fact that it’s creator Jonathan Larson died the night before it debuted of a brain aneurism is a tragic punctuation mark underscoring its principal lesson: Life is short. Live it well. No Day but Today.
I listened to this music almost everyday in high school and beyond. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that I can sing the WHOLE THING. All three hours. Don’t test me because then I will subject you to proof of this claim. And then you will have lost three hours of your life and like RENT tells us “Life is short. Time’s a flyin”
So you’d think I would jump at the chance to see two of the original broadway leads perform this week in Sacramento. I mean how often would I ever get the chance to hear original cast-members of any musical perform? It’s kind of a duh.
Except that I have a newly adopted child and a depleted savings account from our Bogotá “vacation”. And I’m tired and my friends already went… and blah, blah, blah. And then I just said Eff it, being a Mom doesn’t mean not having any fun. No Day but Today. I started convincing Arnold to go with me. He wasn’t enthused but lamely acquiesced. And then luckily two days before Dahlia rode in on a white horse to save me with a timely e-mail invite. She said “You are my go-to musical buddy, wanna see RENT?” “Will you sit with us in the nosebleeds?” I replied. And because she is awesome she said “Of course”
And I’m so glad I went because it brought me back to a wonderful place: 1996 when I was 16 years old and full of optimism and sweet naiveté. I’ve listened to that soundtrack thousands of times in my life but I never, ever though I would get the chance to hear it sung by original cast members. The performance we attended was the last of a 300+ performance national tour. There were people who had flown in from Tokyo to see it. Jonathan Larson’s family was in attendance that night. The energy in the theater was unbelievable. RENT Heads are apparently as rabid as the TwiMoms. Dahlia and I were totally overcome by giddiness and our accidental last-minute good fortune. We clutched each other the whole performance demanding of each other “How could we possibly have almost missed this? This is unreal.” I did my best not to squeeze her till she choked.
Live music has a way of being demanding with you. Nostalgic music has a way of bullying you into submission. Aad as we sat there RENT was being quite abusive with me. I thought about all the years that had passed since my Aunt Carole gave me that CD. I thought of my friend Jessen and the many, many times we sang those songs together. I remembered how when we were crazy-broke in college she bought me an orchestra ticket to see the SF show because as she said “it has always been our thing, we couldn’t not go”. I thought of my family, my friends and of my little boy sleeping at home under Carmen’s watchful eye and I can’t help but think if you measured my life in love I would be luckier than most.
Thanks Aunt Carole for that CD you gave me all those years ago. If I measured your life in love you would be ten feet tall.