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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

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‘RENT’ proves musical themes have no expiration date

In high school, I spent a lot of time in Brown Deer High School's Little Theater. Involved in all the fall musicals, I loved the marriage of song, dance and drama on stage. Whether live or on film, I get such a kick out of storylines that are sung instead of spoken. Knowing this, it's no surprise that I stared attentively at the TV screen whenever a preview for "RENT" came on or that a bunch of my drama club friends' AIM profiles included "RENT" countdowns months before the movie premiered. I couldn't wait for the film to reach theaters and my life was finally made complete Thanksgiving Day when, in a tryptophan and pumpkin pie stupor, I saw Mimi, Roger, Angel, Mark and the rest of the bohemian cast make serious statements about humanity and society, using song and good old rock & roll to change the world.

If you couldn't tell, I loved the film adaptation of "RENT." I bought the soundtrack not long after seeing the movie and "La Vie Boheme" has decidedly replaced Lindsay Lohan's "Confessions of a Broken Heart" on my iPod's most played list. So you can imagine my surprise, and disappointment, that rose in response to less than enthusiastic reviews by other and some might say, more qualified, critics. One such reviewer, Thelma Adams, stated in a recent issue of US Weekly (Not the most prestigious publication, I admit), "In the hands of 'Home Alone' director [Chris Columbus], it's as dated as 'Hair' or 'West Side Story.' What may have seemed daring when it debuted on Broadway nine years ago — man-on-man liplocks, frank ballads about AIDS — here feels homogenized and tame. The movie will neither satisfy the musical's rabid fans, nor win any new converts."

Now, no offense Thelma, but them's fightin' words. True, "RENT" has been performed the past decade and true, homosexuality isn't seen with the same almost unequivocal taboo of years past, but that is not to say that the message behind the lyrics, the overall soul of the work doesn't cross over decades of societal dynamics. As a 19-year-old college student, with a life decidedly different than those portrayed on the big screen, I was nevertheless touched by the heart of the film. I don't live as a squatter in the poor bohemian artist sector of New York City and I don't know anyone afflicted with the tragic disease of AIDS, but I do know that the most important thing in this world is love and that living each moment is not a bad way to live. Cheesy? A little, sure, but proof that the very essence of this very popular musical — the point writer Jonathan Larson tried to get across — is one that withstands the changes and advancement of society as well as the passing of time.

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In her critique, Adams mentions "Hair" and "West Side Story," referring to the two (in my opinion) musical masterpieces as dated and behind the times. Again, I have to assert that the reviewer is fundamentally at fault in her criticism. Granted, the politically charged musical "Hair" centers on the free flowing, loose world of hippies in the 1960s, but that most certainly is not the entirety of the performance. In "Where Do I Go," the audience is presented with questions of life and purpose with the lyrics, "Where is the something/ Where is the someone/ That tells me why I live and die." Today, we may not have flowers in our hair and most of us don't flash the peace sign at everyone we see, but we do wonder what about the driving force behind life, and we do search for it, whatever it is.

Adams said the aforementioned pieces were "dated." But doesn't music — good music, I mean — ignore the boundaries of time and appeal to people in multiple ages and eras? Just because a song was written two, 20, 200 years ago doesn't mean that its lyrical value has to be any less than it was at its initial presentation. Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" is just as true today as it was in 1990. The eclectic singer's fun-girl anthem is still played today, with the girls dancing along to it in sequined shrugs as opposed to shoulder pads. In a similar way, Frank Sinatra's love songs haven't stopped bringing couples together or stopped serving as the soundtrack of countless relationships. Along the same vein, most traditional Christmas songs, though written decades ago, still remind people of a special time of year and the activities and people that surround it.

Songs today can channel the ideas that drove songs and feelings of the past. Lyrics have been used in countless situations to force change, communicate varying viewpoints and let various feelings be known. The spirit of Dylan's anti-war songs of the 1960s, for example, can be seen in The Redwalls' "Glory of War" or Stars' "He Lied About Death." Again, these are just further examples that songs and lyrics do not have a definitive timeline, nor do they have an expiration date.

Just like the lyrics "no day but today" speaks to the hearts of people in 2005 much to the same extent as it did to those in 1996. Point is, whether through musicals as a whole or as individual songs on the radio, the message of music does not expire. Thanks for trying, Thelma, but because music is universal, and the themes embraced by musicians, singers and artists alike can apply to everyone, there is no reason why the music of the past can not mean just as much, or in many cases, more, to contemporary society than it did when first released.

Laura Stanelle is a sophomore planning to major in journalism. She does a pretty mean rendition of "Out Tonight" — a song whose message definitely applies to her life in Madison. She can be reached for question or comment at [email protected].

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