This article belongs to Masterpiece Mixtape column.
I've never really been a fan of musicals. I think it's that I find the song writing in them, generally, to be too fanciful. But as much as I dislike musicals, I really, really dislike rock musicals. For the longest time, however, I couldn't work out why. Then I saw Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and I worked out what the problem was - rock musicals take the structure of the normal musical song and just add studio-session guitars to them. It doesn't sound like rock, it sounds like a Broadway producer's approximation of rock. Hedwig and the Angry Inch, however, is a musical that truly rocks.
Beginning its life as an off-Broadway musical in 1998, Hedwig and the Angry Inch was adapted into a critically acclaimed film in 2001. It tells the story of Hedwig, formerly Hansel, an East German post-op transsexual with dreams of rock'n'roll glory, who at every turn is met only with disappointment and dissolution. Simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking, Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a rock musical that perfectly blends story with character and some truly kick-arse tunes.
One such tune is Midnight Radio. Perhaps the most moving song in the entire show, Midnight Radio stands as a testament of Hedwig's life, her aspirations, inspirations and her place in the world. It's a song that begins with defeat and loneliness but gradually builds itself up; reaching a crescendo that could rouse even the stoniest of hearts.
The musical's overall focus on glam rock is perfectly exemplified in this song, borrowing so strongly as it does from Bowie, while citing all the pioneering female artists who have served as inspiration to Hedwig; the power behind it all leaves you forgetting that Hedwig is not an actual person, but rather an invention of some very brilliant minds.
On a personal level, Midnight Radio is a song I often find myself humming – if not outright singing – to myself. It manages to do what so few rock musical songs do, which is to catch the raw power and pain that makes up true rock music – music that is imbued with soul and a sense of its own history. It evokes such incredible emotion that it almost instantly becomes a favourite song to listen to. It's something that, if you listen to it at just the right time, can completely take your breath away, and transport you to another place entirely. If that's not good rock music, I don't know what is.
If Grease drives you up the wall, if you can't handle doing the Time Warp again, and if you're looking to avoid paying the Rent, I highly recommend you put on some make-up, turn on the tape deck, pull the wig down off the shelf, and spend some time with Hedwig and the Angry Inch.