Tick... tick... tick... tick... tick... tick...
by David Davila (playwright / songwriter)
I never actually met the late Jonathan Larson in the flesh. I only mean to say that he spoke to me... directly... okay... indirectly... through his art...
Last week I saw the revival of TICK, TICK... BOOM! at City Center Encores, and it blew me away. It was so alive, and new, and fresh, and it was very personal for anyone who creates art or has tried to pursue a goal that seems impossible.
The clock keeps ticking... time keeps running out.
When Jonathan Larson wrote TICK, TICK... BOOM! he had almost given up on writing all together, and indeed, his time was actually running out. So he did what any other artist would do, he tackled the subject matter straight on. TICK, TICK... BOOM! is personal for Jonathan Larson, and seeing this new production made me realize how personal RENT was for his as well...
I was only fourteen years old and living in Edinburg, TX when Jonathan Larson died. I didn't even know who he was until RENT transfered to Broadway and became a cultural phenomenon.
I remember the exact moment that I heard about RENT for the first time. It was mentioned in an issue of Entertainment Weekly, just a blurb in the back... then the cover of Newsweek magazine, which I read at my dentist's office.
I knew it was a musical about starving artists fighting for love and equality and fighting for their lives. They were different kinds of people who didn't fit in. They were my people.
Musicals were my new thing at the time. I'd just discovered and devoured MISS SAIGON, LES MISERABLES, A CHORUS LINE, and H2$ all because my high school choir teacher made me cassette copies of them, and I was looking for a new fix. I wanted to discover something of my own. Something that belonged to me and my generation.
I begged my choir director to see RENT the next time he went to New York, and can you believe it? The darn guy agreed.
When he came back from vacation he told me all about it, and how amazing it was, and he gave me a playbill and told me all about the story of Jonathan Larson and his little show that could, and the crazy fandom that it had spawned. I lived vicariously through him for a few moments. I didn't know the show. I still hadn't even heard the music yet, (we didn't have youtube back then) but I somehow knew that when I heard it my life would be changed forever.
A few months later the soundtrack came out and I begged my parents to buy it for me... that doesn't sound like it would be a big deal, but back then a double CD could cost $40 bucks... which according to the CPI inflation calculator would be $60.65 today... I would have to wait for Christmas.
(With albums online only costing $9.99 you can understand how bad the music industry is suffering.)
I'll never forget that Christmas morning 1996 after all the presents were open and I'd spent the required amount of time with my family, I rushed to my bedroom, shut the door, and played the CD on my stereo. While it played, I followed along word for word with the attached libretto (I miss this about not having real copies of albums) and I finally got to experience RENT.
I cried, and I started listening to it again from the beginning. It's all I listened to for a year at least. I knew every lyric, every character, and I imagined what it might look like until I finally got to see the first national tour come through San Antonio a year later.
What I'm trying to say is that for years I obsessed over RENT, and plenty of other musicals as I wondered how in the world someone could create such a massive work from beginning to end. I began writing plays, and song, and songs, and songs, and short stories, and poems, and musicals, and screenplays, and every time I begin a new piece I find that I'm writing about myself, and my life. The characters in my plays, the voices in my songs are all my own beause I created them.