I want to start out this post by apologizing for the lack of posting lately. I wish I could tell you that it was because I had a really busy summer (and in a way I did) but the honest and blunt answer it that I was going through a period of depression this past year and it reached its peak over the summer when I pretty much isolated myself from everything and everyone. But I am here now so let’s move on.
In spite of my withdrawal I still managed to become abducted…by RENT!!!
I saw it once a few years ago and was not impressed. I mean I think I went into it thinking it was going to be about something else and I had no idea what I was getting myself into. But I watched it again this summer and I also watched the special features so I got to learn all about the story of how Jonathan Larson came to write the musical. And now it has spoken to me. I mean it has really spoken to me!
I have come to terms with the fact that I may never become an official "renthead". The play closed on Broadway like 3 years ago, and in order to be a true renthead I would need to wait in line for the $20 lottery tickets and become friends with all the other rentheads.
In the mean time though, there are some things I can do.
1. I have re-watched the movie version about 30 times in the past 3 months.
2. I have purchased and watched the "Rent: Filmed Live on Broadway" version about 10 times.
3. I have purchased the soundtrack to the movie and learned every word to pretty much every song, including La Vie Boheme.
And 4. After falling in love with Anthony Rapp, who plays Mark Cohen, I have purchased and read cover to cover his autobiography;
"Without You: A memoir of love, loss, and the musical RENT"
Anthony Rapp's autobiography begins with his first audition for the RENT workshop before the show was completed and at a time when the production team was still working out a lot of kinks. And ends with Rapp on the RENT film set about 10 years later with Christopher Columbus making a feature film version of the now successful and Tony award winning musical. Using those key moments as book ends Rapp takes you through the journey of that time in his life which also included his coming out as a homosexual and his mother's struggle to fight cancer resulting in her unfortunate passing.
On the surface it may be hard to see how I could possibly relate to Rapp or to RENT. I am not gay. I have not lost my parents. I do not have a drug addiction. I do not have AIDS. I may be in debt but I can afford to pay my rent and bills and keep food on the table. And I have never lived in the East Village of New York City. Hell, I have never even been to New York!
But that just proves how important it is to look under the surface.
Putting all those things aside, RENT and Without You, are both a call to celebrate life. Any life. Even, my life.
For example, my favorite song in RENT is the track “La Vie Bohem.” It is an up tempo number that is a salute to all things Bohemian. To all things that label someone as an outsider.
Now I always enjoyed this number because of it’s tempo and party like atmosphere but I came to love it even more after reading Rapp’s interpretation of the lyrics.
There is a line where all the characters come together and chant;
“To people living with, living with, living with. Not dying from disease.” In Without You Rapp writes “In 1994 this was still a revolutionary idea- that it was possible to live a full life in the face of AIDS or cancer; that being ill didn’t mean being dead.”
When I read that, my interpretation was to take it one step further. It is not just about realizing people can have a full life in spite of diseases like cancer and AIDS, but any ailment. Including depression.
When a person suffers from depression and anxieties like I do, especially when it is due to genetics and chemicals, it feels like a disease. An illness my body will always suffer from. One symptom I do struggle with, if I allow my depression to go unchecked is becoming suicidal. It can all become so overwhelming. It feels like a death sentence. Like if this is my life, if this is all my life has to offer me, what kind of life is this?
One I don’t want anymore.
But, what Rapp and Larson are saying is that this is not it. There is more. Depression and disease, it DOES NOT have to be a death sentence. You can still have a FULL life.
To also quote lyrics from Anthony Rapp’s solo album, Look Around, “you can do so much more than survive this.”
In Without You, Rapp also writes about his own struggles with depression. And one part that meant a lot to me was when he wrote about how he felt when he started coming through to the other side. He wrote;
“But as painful as this time had been, in some ways I had never felt more engaged with my life, more receptive to and appreciative of the people around me, or more exposed to the complexities and depths of my own emotional core. Life had suddenly become incontestably immediate to me, necessary and vital, and that was something for which I was profoundly grateful.”
Over the past year there have been moments where I felt suicidal. And I am not going to sit here and wax poetically about how RENT or Anthony Rapp stopped me from doing anything. Because it simply wouldn’t be true. I was already on my way out of those dark days when I found RENT. I had made the choice to live, and to get help. But, I never believed, even then, that I would ever be truly happy. I chose to live because I knew that I couldn’t kill myself and leave my family and friends to deal with that. But I wasn’t happy. It wasn’t until RENT and Without You that I started to feel like I could do more then just survive it. And for that I am profoundly grateful.