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Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson

One of my favorite parts of traveling to New York and New Jersey to see family is when my father and I go to see a Broadway show. It’s an interest we share that simply doesn’t appeal to either my mother or my brother and so is a good bonding experience for us and frankly just a lot of fun. The combination of story and song grabs me, and seeing a live show is exhilarating in a way that no movie or television show ever could be. It is almost surprising that I like it at all let alone so much, considering that just music, just dance, and (often but not always) just theater don’t really appeal to me. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

This particular trip, the compromise my dad and I made on what to see (as Spider-Man doesn’t start until next week and Scottsboro Boys did not appeal to me) came to Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson, a show neither of us had heard anything about but that promised spectacle and history with a rock soundtrack in a combination that I thought would appease both of our tastes.

And I was right. BBAJ entertained nearly non-stop, reinterpreting and explaining the relevance of Old Hickory (as Jackson was known) to today’s politics, with plenty of fun analogies to rock stars and friendly jabs to “emo” music (something my dad was entirely unaware of as a phenomenon until now). I was probably a nearly ideal member of the target audience true, educated enough to get the references to Susan Sontag and Michel Foucault, young enough to laugh at the Green Day-esque makeup worn by the seventh president of the USA, and open-minded enough to take deliberate anachronisms (like phones in the 1830’s) the way they were intended. But my father still enjoyed it a lot even to the point of buying the soundtrack afterward.

It’s the humor, as with most things in life, that makes the show work. Jumping into the audience and asking a woman if she wants to see his “stimulus package” and ordering two female hangers-on in the White House to make out for the amusement of tourists might seem juvenile, but it also reflects the real rough humor of Jackson and his friends, just as a song about blood as a metaphor for love and rubbing said metaphor all over himself and his wife Rachel teases at some of the over-the-top lyrics common in emo music.

Broadway shows, and all cultural missives from New York and the coasts really, have a reputation of entirely generated by a politically liberal elite that dismisses or denigrates other viewpoints, but this show worked hard to balance its inevitable political message.  It points out the selfishness of both the frontiersmen wanting to take all the land from anyone else occupying it and the corrupt semi-aristocracy that controlled the government (for better or worse) until Jackson.

Jackson, though ultimately a sympathetic figure (as nearly anyone examined closely is) has defeats and triumphs and his flaws are pointed out as much as his better aspects. He really opened up elections to a much broader segment of America, but his reputation was based on often unjustified except by greed land grabs from Native Americans and other European settlers. He dismantled a lot of the corrupt infrastructure, but was the source of economic troubles. He strengthened the idea and power of the United States as a country, not just a collection of states, but partly by protecting the slave holding rights of southern states. So like anyone, his legacy is mixed and while “sometimes you have to write your own story,” it’s ultimately true that “you can’t shoot history in the neck.”

Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson entertains, informs, and maybe even inspires people to read more history, or rethink current politics, or even just try to be a rock star. I liked it, I recommend it to any theatergoers. As for the history, Jackson would probably have few regrets, as he puts it in the play, “Presidents don’t ask permission.”

Categories: Personal
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