1776

By Allison Brennan

Okay, this is SO not fair, but Alex stole my blog. Not about her book, but about the musical 1776! I figured since it’s Independence Day, I’d talk about my favorite musical–1776–and there Alex goes and posts a couple clips! I don’t know whether to thank her or curse her . . . but I’ll tell you, it is extremely eerie how often Alex and I are on the same wavelength. Downright scary at times . . . 

I’m not a huge fan of studying history, except for American or California History. (The latter because in California, we learn about the gold rush and have mission projects, etc, from a young age–it’s a big thing in school–so I’ve always been interested in the gold rush and turn of the century California history.) (Hmm, I also really love Greek and Roman mythology, which is part history part literature. I may be one of the few people on earth who read THE ODYSSEY when I was 13 and enjoyed it . . . I also read THE ILIAD in third year Latin. I didn’t enjoy that so much, and can’t remember a damn thing about that story . . . )

When I first moved to Sacramento, a friend of mine had 1776 on tape and we watched it the night before the Fourth. I loved it! It was 1989 or 1990 when the movie came out (the original play was produced in 1969) and I’d just read PATRIOTS: The Men Who Started the American Revolution by A.J. Langguth which I greatly enjoyed because it touched on all the major events of the American Revolution, and included some interesting personal stories, but it wasn’t too “heavy”–it was very accessible. (Not as good as David McCullough’s 1776, but fun.) After I married, I took my husband to the stage production, the revival, in I believe 1997 or 1998 . . . 

Anyway, 1776, a fictionalized but fairly accurate account of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, begins on May 8, 1776. (The continental congress didn’t keep good records, so much of the debate is not “official” and interpreted through the writings of those who were there. And as writers we know that POV changes everything.) The congressional custodian finds John Adams alone in the bell tower and tells him that everyone is looking for him for an important vote. Adams enquires, and the clerk says:

“Whether we should grant General Washington’s request to require that all members of the Rhode Island militia wear matching uniforms.”

Adams storms down to the floor, bursts through the doors, and says:

“I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is called a disgrace, that two become a law firm, and that three of more become a Congress!”

As Adams rants about the injustices of the British Crown and the cause for Independence, the Congress debates the all important issues of . . . whether to open the windows up to relieve them of the stifling Pennsylvania heat. Half the Congress wants to open the windows for fresh air; the other half wants them closed because of the flies.

Some things never change.

(The State of California is $19 billion in debt–or more–and one of the important issues brought up is whether to rescind the honor travertine has as our state rock because it has asbestos in it and–if you grind it up and use it in projects, like roads, it can cause cancer. Which is why it’s not used in roads, but that hasn’t stopped the all-important debate. I mean, it’s obviously more urgent than the fact that we have NO BUDGET. I started my job in the legislature in 1992 and my first paycheck was an I.O.U. I think we’ve had one budget on time since . . . )

One of my favorite quotes in the entire musical is when Stephen Hopkins from Rhode Island comes in and the vote for debating the question of Independence is divided. He’s the deciding vote and says:

“I’ve never seen, heard, or smelled a subject that was too dangerous to talk about! Hell, yes, I’m for debating anything!”

I’ll admit, I love this musical. It’s idealized in many ways, but embodies our common foundation. We are Americans, the most free country, warts and all, and for the two hours of the musical I can believe in us.

We usually have a fourth of July party but canceled it this year. I leave tomorrow night for Thrillerfest; last week we had a big party with friends and family for my six year old’s birthday, and my daughter is at summer camp. Next year? We’ll have a big party! Today, we’ll have a quiet BBQ with family and shoot off fireworks in the driveway and watch the big fireworks from a great distance.

What are your plans for today? Comment and I’ll send one lucky winner the DVD of 1776 and any book in my backlist. 🙂

P.S. The DVD I’m sending is the “Director’s Cut” which really should be watched after the original, but I can’t find the original . . . why? Because it’s a lesson in editing. You’ll see that whoever decided to trim and edit out some scenes in the original movie production of the play were right. At least, IMHO. LESS is often MORE . . . in television, movies, plays and our own books. Kill your darlings 🙂

P.S.S. A special thanks to the men and women serving in our armed forced around the world. You all keep the Independence in Independence Day.

27 thoughts on “1776

  1. Alexandra Sokoloff

    LOL, Allison – it really is eerie. With everything ELSE we have in common – on the thriller/supernatural side – who’d guess that the other side of that would be musical theater?

    It’s an absolutely stunning film – I get chills all the way through it, every single time, and it has some of the best songs of any musical ever. ("He Plays The Violin" – dreamy!)

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  2. Bobbie

    I love "1776." I have the tape and am ordering the dvd today b/c my kids all need to see the movie at least as many times as I have and our VHS player is long gone. It and "Hair" are the two musicals I’ve memorized all the lyrics to… not sure what that says about me except that I love the notion, I suppose, of being who we’re meant to be even when in the minority.

    Now I’ll be humming these songs all day. That’s a great way to start my 4th. Thank you.

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  3. PK the Bookeemonster

    I love history but one of my most favorite periods is the American Revolution and the Founders. And of course I love musical theatre! My undergrad degree is in theatre (as a stage manager). But I grew up loving Jesus Christ Superstar more than 1776. Rock operas, baby.
    I’ve put the flag out this morning. Our subdivision is pretty much deserted and the houses are missing their RVs and boats. We live outside city limits so we’re ground zero for fireworks and believe me these aren’t just sparklers. Mortars everywhere. And tonight it will go on and on past 1am I’m sure. Otherwise, my husband and I are going to do our own thing: me, working on the project and he will probably play his computer game (though he better mow today, darnit). 😉
    Happy, safe 4th of July!

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  4. judy wirzberger

    Wish I had grown up in California. I’m from Illinois and I got really tired of log cabins and Abe. The gold rush was much more exciting. We seemed to study the Civil War every year through high school.

    Workers outside my window at 6:30 this morning with beeping trucks rousted me out of a comfy sleep. I know there’s gotta be a law. But now I’m sipping coffee and wondering if I am truly awake. I’ve just discovered my cotton robe is on inside out.

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  5. Louise Ure

    It’s a gorgeous, sunny San Francisco day. We may even have clear skies (no fog) to see the fireworks tonight. That would be the first time in about ten years.

    Sad to say I’ve never seen the musical. But with these recommendations, I will now.

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  6. Jacki Newbery

    Ah, 1776…one of my favorite musicals. William Daniels, Blythe Danner and…everyone else whose names I can’t think of showed me that history is not made of facts, but of real people.

    My city celebrated by shooting off fireworks last night in the park. I didn’t go, but I was able to sit on my front porch and watch the display. There will be more fireworks in other parts of the city tonight, but I can’t go as I’ll be at work. I have a few hours to myself this morning to work on my writing, then will go to work this afternoon. But I will be thinking of Martha, Ben and John dancing to "He Plays the Violin" while I’m there. As long as I don’t break out into song, it should be all right.

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  7. Stacy McKitrick

    Between you and Alex, now I want to see the movie again. I remember seeing it way back when I was in high school (in the 70’s).

    Our plans are quiet today. The fireworks went off last night in downtown Dayton and they were pretty awesome. I miss seeing the fireworks on the 4th (heck, I miss seeing them on the beach, since I grew up in Santa Barbara), but very few of the communities do that anymore (too expensive, I guess). So, hopefully I’ll get lots of writing done since it will be too hot to venture out for long (in the 90’s today).

    Happy 4th!

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  8. Gillian Layne

    I’m wondering if the rain storms will move out for our town’s 4th fireworks show–and contemplating an apple pie. And eating a bomb pop. And revising a manuscript. Cause if I use the holiday as an excuse to skip a day…. 🙂

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  9. Alafair Burke

    I am writing poolside this morning at the agent’s house in Long Island. Cards will be played. Hot dogs will be eaten. I suspect I’ll encounter a margarita at some point. Happy Fourth of July!

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  10. Fran

    In 1976, a couple of friends of mine and I had just finished seeing the play for the first time. In a moment of unbridled enthusiasm and sheer love of country, we jumped into a car (a huge behemoth of a thing, a Ford LTD, if I remember properly), and drove from New Mexico to Washington DC, just so we could be there on the Fourth of July, to touch, for a brief moment, the history that was so vividly brought to life in the play.

    Ronna had a huge crush on the character of Thomas Jefferson too, which was actually kind of cool and endearing.

    It was hot, the place was packed, and we were so very, very happy to be there!

    Anyone who doesn’t tear up at the song the boy sings to his mother is a heartless bastard, and that still brings me to tears today, because you know somewhere in the Middle East, some kid’s right there right now.

    Thank you, Allison!

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  11. --Deb

    I ADORE this musical. My 5th grade teacher used to play the soundtrack in class and I missed it so much, I bought a copy for myself in 6th grade. (Well, got Mom to buy it for me, you understand.) When we got our first VCR around 1981, I stayed up past midnight on July 4th to tape it off of channel 9/WOR … a version I didn’t find out until years later had been sanitized for family viewing–some of the lewder exchanges about oxes and bulls, for example, had been edited out. My best friend and I watched and rewatched and practically memorized the entire thing, quoting swaths of dialogue along with John and the others. I used quotes from the movies in essay questions in high school and when I started reading books about the Revolution, I was amazed at how accurate the musical was. Sure, I don’t believe the Continental Congress really burst out into song, but so much of the dialogue was taken from real letters and speeches. The history in the musical is darn close to the way it really happened. (Just with a catchier soundtrack and perhaps a little more humor.)

    And, naturally, when the DVD came out with the restored Cool, Cool Considerate Men number, I had to buy it. I gave a copy to my best friend, too. And you can be sure I’m watching mine today! Love it. Love it, love it, love it.

    (Oh, and since I DO have a copy, you do not have to enter me to win the one you’re giving away. I just had to jump in because, how could I bypass a 1776 conversation?)

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  12. J.D. Rhoades

    Went to see the fireworks last night. Headed for a friend’s party this afternoon.

    The part about the state budget really struck a chord for me. I do a good bit of work on state contracts, so no budget often means my income is held up while the legislators wrangle. It should be noted that they continue to get THEIR paychecks via continuing resolutions.

    This year there was a delay while the legislators argued over whether chocolate milk should be allowed to be served in day care centers. No, I’m not making that up. Then the big sticking point was whether scholarship athletes from out of state should have to pay out-of-state tuition at state universities. This would seem to be a no-brainer, since they are, after all, from out of state. But they’ve been paying in-state tuition for years because the big rich booster clubs (like UNC’s Rams Club and NC State’s Wolfpack Club) pick up the tab, and they didn’t want to have to raise more money. I mean, Heaven forbid. Better to lay off teachers than make the fat cats of North Carolina cough up a few more bucks for their sky-boxes, right?

    Well, the good news is, we finally got a budget, paychecks will only be delayed a week or so, and I only had to take a small pay cut on one contract for the second year in a row. But it does leave me thinking of the old saying " Democracy is the worst form of government in the world, except for every other kind."

    Happy Birthday, America!

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  13. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    I’ve got three days off work and I’m writing 15 hours per day on deadline. Yippeee.

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  14. Eika

    Tonight, I will be stalling, begging, pleading, and whatever else it takes. Because there’s no getting out of working at McDonalds from before the fireworks until after the fireworks, but I get a break tonight darn it, and if I can get that break to start about ten minutes after dusk I’ll get to watch. From a greater distance than usual, sure, but it’ll be something.

    The rest of the afternoon will be spent checking e-mails, making phone calls, and making lists. My friend in the military is going on leave next week, and she told me she’s so sick of everything that she just wants to go to Disney World with a friend. Not that she actually told me that; I figured it out when I got the e-mails from travelocity telling me I have a flight booked. She’s also buying herself a kindle so she can have more books in her limited storage space in Afghanistan, and I will be giving her about a dozen CD’s so she can have something to listen to. What are friends for?

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  15. JT Ellison

    Happy 4th, everyone! Nashville has the third largest fireworks display in the country, so after a family picnic out int he country we’re heading down to see it. A little Tchaikovsky on the side, and we’re set. Be safe and have fun!

    Allison, I’m with you on the mythology…

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  16. TerriMolina

    I’ve never seen the 1776 movie…I’ll have to find it.

    In school I loved history–American and Texas were my faves. Hated Government! I don’t know what it was about the prohibition era but I found it facinating. When I went to RWA in San Francisco a few years back I went to another author’s book launch party at a Speakeasy…talk about cool!!!

    Have a great time at Thrillerfest!

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  17. TerriMolina

    oh, as far as plans for the day…my husband is smoking some ribs, I’ll be making potato salad later and a fruit bowl and my daughter made brownies….yep, the plan is to put on ten pounds! The kids and I will probably also go swimming and just veg on the deck this afternoon, for this morning though, I plan to complete the rewrites on the chapter I’m working on.

    Happy 4th!!

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  18. Barbie

    Wait… did you just say you read THE ILIAD in LATIN???????? O.O <– that’s my pure and complete shock look. Man, that’s like, cooler than walking on water!!! (I read the The Odyssey at 13 and enjoyed it, too. And I know the blog isn’t about that, it just…)

    I studied American History this year at University. Of course, a semester doesn’t even begin to cover it, but I got a good overview on it all. I HATED it as I was studying it (OMG, so much to learn), but, now, when I think about it, I think I was enjoying it more than I realized! 🙂

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  19. Allison Brennan

    LOL PK, for me my fave rock opera was TOMMY. But I have a great affection for THE WHO . . .

    Sorry, Zoe! You know us unrefined Americans . . . we can’t help gloating a bit today 🙂

    Yes, Barbie–I took Latin because I heard it would help me improve my SAT scores. And I didn’t want to learn French or Spanish, my other choices. I did great first two years. Third year? Not so great! But I scored 680 on the Verbal SAT (710 in math) and so I figured it did help. The math score stunned me considering I got a C- in Geometry . . .

    Stephen, what are you doing on this blog when you should be writing? (Hmm, pot and kettle . . . ) But my deadline isn’t until mid-September!

    ALAFAIR! I think I need your agent. Hanging by the pool with margaritas? Damn.

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  20. Sandy

    We’re doing a little chicken on the grill and for dessert having chocolate cupcakes with mile-high frosting replete with red, white, and blue sprinkles!

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  21. KDJames / BCB

    Quiet three-day weekend here. Daughter is camping in freezing temps with BEARS in the Canadian Rockies, son is at the beach, The Dog’s Favourite Person has charge of The Wonder Dog so I am spared from fireworks-induced canine psychosis, my cat spends most of her time hiding and plotting, and The Intruder Cat my daughter left here for me to babysit this summer will . . . I have no idea what she’ll do, but she’s only eight pounds of fur, how bad could it be? And I’m writing.

    Haven’t seen 1776 but have to confess I’m not a huge fan of musicals. Sometimes you can take two great things and put them together and it’s amazing, like peanut butter and chocolate. But music and acting, um, not so much. I know, in the minority here.

    Hope you all enjoy the holiday. And Happy Anniversary, Zoë! Remember, "no one ever died from lurgy." 😉

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  22. toni mcgee causey

    I can’t believe I’ve missed this musical all this time. Must watch.

    Though I think that sometimes Louisiana really doesn’t think of itself as a state. It’s more like a grudging third world country, and now with the oil spill following devastating hurricanes, we’re going to look like one, too.

    But I love American history. My husband’s ancestor fought alongside the Swamp Fox, the guy the movie The Patriot is about–he was one of the prominent soldiers in that group. He ended up being granted land in Mississippi when it was over with and had something like 23 children along the way. [I have always thought of her as having been relieved to get away from that many kids, but that may just be me.]

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  23. pari noskin taichert

    I’ve never seen it either, Toni. I think we’ll get it for the family to see.

    Yesterday, we had a mellow time — the kids cooked dinner, I wrote and my hubby read/slept most of the day. We had a good fireworks session once it got dark. C’est tout.

    Reply

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