Cancel any other plans tonight. You want to watch Rick Brookhiser walk you through the life of Alexander Hamilton — with the help of some gang members from Baltimore! He talks with the Corner a bit for your Monday lunch:
KJL: What did you enjoy most about putting together the documentary that airs tonight?
RB: Shooting on location. We spent ten days in St. Croix and Nevis. Don’t think sun and rum, it was twelve-hour days all the way. But it was very interesting to get to know, however briefly, some very different place. Best of the best: prompting Doc Peterson (one of the calypso singers) to make up a song about Hamilton’s death, which he did on the spot.
KJL: Why did you take the non-Burnsian approach you did, filming at such contemporary venues?
RB: The Burns brothers approach is beautiful, but it is both familiar and best done by themselves. Michael Pack and I wanted to show that this dead man and his dead allies and rivals are still alive; what they did still touches us, and the ambitions and passions they felt are still ours.
KJL: Did you watch The Wire? You make use of it early on in your Hamilton show.
RB: My director Michael did. I saw the point as soon as I saw the clip.
KJL: Would Hamilton relate to the gang members you brought in, or would he just realize the folly that got him killed?
RB: As a struggling white kid in the islands, he probably had different interactions with black people than other young Founders. He would certainly understand their sense of honor; he shared it. The tragedy of his death is that he believed two contradictory codes: the gentleman’s, and the Christian’s. He made his final choice as he lay dying.
KJL: What would Hamilton say about Friday’s near government shutdown and subsequent deal?
RB: Been burning through that revenue, haven’t you? What Hamilton would least understand is Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, and Obamacare. He was not big on government support of individuals: One reason he liked the new factory system was that it pulled women and children out of the home and put them to work. He had gone to work in Nicholas Cruger’s merchant house when he was ten, why not everybody else?
KJL: What surprises are in store for Brookhiser fans next?
RB: I am crossing party lines — Federalist to Republican — for a new biography: James Madison, out in October from Basic Books.
Read Rick’s book on Hamilton, too, if you haven’t!