I Should Tell You: Things From Rent I Didn’t Understand As A Tween

Welcome to EVERYTHING IS RENT Week – a celebration of the 20th anniversary of one of our favorite musicals, and a beloved show by millions around the world. We’re kicking it off with confessions, of sorts. Let’s back it up a bit. Rent opened on Broadway on April 29th, 1996. We were 9 and 10 years old at the time. Rent mania was at its peak in the years following, and since we’re both cut from the same musical theatre/Patti LuPone cloth, we became fans of the show in our tween/teen years.

And if you’ve seen Rent or are familiar with the music, you know it would probably be rated M for Mature Audiences, or at least get a TV-14 rating. Naturally, there were some plot points, lyrics, and insights we didn’t get at the time, but now as adults (and older than most of the main characters in the show), we obviously have a different perspective on life and understand Rent much, much better than before. Here are some of the light bulb moments we’ve had in the past 20 or so years, and hopefully we’re not the only ones who were a little late to the game. Get at us, fellow millennials!

Everything about Contact

T: I believe I was 13 when I saw Rent for the first time (full disclosure, I’ve seen it 8 times in total), and true story – I went with my church youth group. I didn’t go to a super progressive church, however I did go to a United Church of Christ, which used rainbows in all their logos for a while because they were pro-equality and stuff. Anyways, it was a group outing sans parents, and it was a majority of my friends and like two of our cool youth group leaders. However, when it came time for Contact, a scene which simulates sex, I was uncomfy to the max. I looked down at my program, attempted to stare at other non-condom looking pieces on the stage, but I mostly just blocked it out of my first Rent experience. I even skipped over the song when I listened to the soundtrack (I know, #prude). It took me a while before I could listen to it for what it actually was, and why it held importance to the story as a whole. Stay safe out there, kids.

M: Oh, I skipped over Contact EVERY TIME. Probably still would. We played a lot of cast albums around my house when I was a kid, and I think it was an unspoken understanding that we didn’t listen to that one. But am I wrong in thinking that the staging was kind of weird, and so was the song and, awkward tween moments aside, it’s the least catchy number on the OBC album? My inner Catholic School 11-year-old suspects that I am not.

Mimi was a stripper

T: So this probably seems obvious to most people, but Mimi Marquez (Daphne Rubin-Vega) was a stripper. For some reason, I thought she was just a straight up prostitute/hooker/lady of the night. Maybe it was the provocative clothes and the fact she was on the hunt for her dropped baggie of heroin in Light My Candle? IDK. I mean it doesn’t even really make sense, seeing as how I knew all the lyrics by heart:

Do you go to the Cat Scratch Club?
That’s where I work, I dance
Yes!
They used to tie you up
It’s a living
I didn’t recognize you without the handcuffs

I also thought he meant she got arrested a lot – because she was a prostitute.

HOLD UP WAS LIGHT MY CANDLE ALSO MIMI TRYING TO GET A LIGHT SO SHE COULD HEAT UP HER HEROIN???? HONESTLY I’M HAVING AN A-HA MOMENT RIGHT NOW IS THIS REAL CAN SOMEONE CONFIRM THIS? THIS IS BRAND NEW INFORMATIOn

M: I grew up next to one drug house and across the street from another, so yeah, that part wasn’t lost on me. (This is where our urban vs suburban upbringing really shines. In our musical theater analysis. Because whether from the streets or the culs de sac, we’re both mostly theater nerds.)

All About Akita

T:  I have a tendency to listen more to music and composition over lyrics a lot of times, which I personally find annoying. So when I first saw Today 4 U being performed, all I could focus on was this guy dancing in heels way better than I ever could. Listening back to it, I always thought it was just a fun song to dance to. But then I got woke and paid attention to the lyrics and it was an eye-opening moment to realize Angel had killed a dog for money.

A few things about this:

  • A rando woman (imagine Jacqueline Vorhees on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt S1) rolls up to Angel in her limo and is all, ‘Dahling, be a dear, kill my neighbor’s dog for me because it’s too yippy and loud. But kill it using your talent as a plastic tub drummer, you know how you make a living. kthxbyeee’.
  • How would you agree to do this?? You’re broke and offered $1,000 yeah ok that makes sense.
  • But then you tell this story with glee to people you’ve just met?
  • Again, Jacqueline Vorhees wannabe was certain his drumming would make the dog kill itself: “I believe if you play nonstop that pup/Will breathe its very last high strung breath/I’m certain that cur will bark itself to death”
  • And then it did by jumping out the window of an apartment building.
  • Didn’t realize the phrase “Today for you, tomorrow for me” basically meant to pay it forward, and someone will help you when you need it the most.

Seasons of Love

T: By the end of 8th grade, I was fully obsessed with Rent. So much so that I managed to convince our music teacher to let us sing Seasons of Love at graduation. I consider this one of my greatest accomplishments, despite the fact it touches upon death. And it’s from a musical which features sexy, drugs, and death from AIDS. And I don’t think I fully realized that at the time. I don’t think my 60ish other classmates did either. You’re welcome class of 2000 from my Catholic middle school.

*PS: Please note pre-Hamilton Renee Elise Goldsberry in the video above, and also note the tears that will project from your eyeballs.

Learning La Vie Boheme

T: When I first listened to the soundtrack, I didn’t get about 80% of the references in La Vie Boheme. I could sing the entire thing back to you but there were so many pop culture references in the song that Amy Sherman-Palladino would be left exhausted. But, like ASP’s work, I had to look up and research all the words and names I didn’t recognize and TBH, Rent is the reason why I know who people like Akira Kurosawa or Vaclav Havel are. Art is educational, y’all.

PS: Still reeling from my Light My Candle revelation, TBH.

M: See, there was no tumblr in 1996, so young people had to list the stuff they were into in song, instead.

Nobody Pays Their Rent

M: I rewatched Rent this past Christmas, after the unexpected death of a too-young family member a week before. I fast-forwarded through all of the parts about, y’know, death and dying. HEY. Did you know when you take out the AIDS and tragedy, Rent is just a piece about financial irresponsibility????

When I was 9-14 years old, I was very “YES. You ride that bike midday past the 3-piece suits. Follow your heart. Follow your ART.” And at 29, these people annoy me. Get a job – it doesn’t need to be a traditional one, but thief and grifter aren’t jobs – and pay your rent. And stop being shitty to your middle class parents who probably sacrificed their dreams so you could squat in a loft avoiding their calls.

Bad Tippers At The Life Cafe

M: In real life, just about everyone I know who is, or once was, struggling to make ends meet is also a very good tipper. Running out on your bill? Way to stick it to the artsy bohemian cafe and the waiter who makes less than minimum wage because you’re supposed to tip him. I guess it just bothers me because they’re not even screwing over “the man.”

One Song Glory > Your Eyes

M: Roger’s song about writing a song: so good. The actual song Roger writes: so very, very cheesy. Is the takeaway that Roger isn’t a very good songwriter? Or is the rhyming dictionary entry for “eyes” set to music actually a great song, and I just don’t realize it?

Falling Quickly

M: In sixth grade, it didn’t occur to me that Jack and Rose’s epic romance was actually a few days of pre-dating infatuation. At the same age, I also missed that the whole first act of Rent is just Christmas, pretty much. Which means that Angel and Collins go from zero to I’ll Cover you real, real fast. Of course there’s more immediacy when best cast scenario you’re about to get evicted and worse case scenario, you have AIDS, but for some reason I thought everyone knew each other longer.

 

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5 thoughts on “I Should Tell You: Things From Rent I Didn’t Understand As A Tween

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