A couple of weeks ago my daughter recommended a documentary series on Netflix called Song Exploder. The show, which is hosted by Hrishikesh Hirway, began life as a podcast. Each episode explores the creation of a single song with the songwriter. There are currently four episodes available on Netflix. The one with Lin-Manuel Miranda, discussing the creation of “Wait for It,” Aaron Burr’s song from Hamilton, was particularly fascinating.
There’s a lot of good stuff in it, including Miranda’s anecdote about being struck with inspiration while riding the subway to a friend’s birthday party. He arrived at the party, drank half a beer and said, “I’m sorry, but I have to go.” If you’ve ever had one of those “grab it now because it may not stick around” flashes of inspiration, this will resonate with you.
The bit that slammed into me like a subway train, though, was where Hirway talks to Alex Lacomoire, music director and orchestrator for Hamilton, about whether Aaron Burr (who eventually killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel) was a villain.
“He is a person who did villainous things,” Lacamoire says. I thought he was trying to sidestep the question until he went on. “If you are judged by your worst day, who would any of us be?”
Let’s hear that again: If you are judged by your worst day, who would any of us be?
Have you ever felt like someone took a metaphysical baseball bat and whacked you between the eyes? That’s what this statement felt like to me. The fact is, any of us, at our worst, is not particularly admirable. Even Jesus had that weird day with the fig tree.
One of the reasons Lacamoire’s question hit me so hard, I think, is because Lilith, the protagonist in my work-in-progress, is a villain in my first two books. Readers almost universally loathe her. I know she’s unlikely to sell many books for me but for some reason I feel compelled to tell her story anyway.
Because the converse of Lacamoire’s statement is, “If we were judged by our best day, who would any of us be?”
That reminds me of a quote (paraphrased) I’ve always liked:
I suspect it’s like a bell curve, where the middle is everything within 2 standard deviations of our core identity but under stress we’re capable of outlier behaviors.