It’s one of my goals this summer to save up and go see Darren Criss (aka Blaine on “Glee”) in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” on Broadway. I first fell in love with Hedwig’s story a long time ago, probably around the time the movie came out, but having rewatched it again, I’ve become even more infatuated with it.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a band who is following around a bigger superstar named Tommy Gnosis who stole all of Hedwig’s songs. Hedwig was technically born a boy (Hansel), but always gravitated to the feminine side; the “angry inch” is a reference to his botched anatomy- a procedure that went horribly wrong after his mother and lover at the time insisted that in order for him to leave Berlin, he had to literally leave a piece of himself behind (Interestingly, while Hedwig embraces his “angry inch” for most of the film, the song “Angry Inch” is indeed, the most angsty song played by Hedwig and her band- lyrics include, “My sex-change operation got botched / my guardian angel fell asleep on the watch / now all I got is a Barbie-doll crotch / I got an angry inch.”)
Which brings me to the song-writing, which writer/producer Stephen Trask should have won numerous awards for. The last song performed, “Midnite Radio,” has always been my favorite. Lyrics include, “like your blood knows the way / from your heart to your brain / know that you’re whole / and you’re shining / like the brightest star / a transmission / on the midnite radio / and you’re spinning / like a 45 / ballerina / dancing to your rock and roll / here’s to Patti, and Tina, and Yoko, Aretha, and Nona, and Nico, and me / and all the strange rock and rollers / you know you’re doing all right / so hold on to each other / you gotta hold on tonight / lift up your hands.” (This song always reminded me a little of Bowie’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide,” perhaps why it’s my favorite.) This song is performed at the conclusion of the movie, when Hedwig sheds his wig and female persona and instead embraces both the male and female. This is why his tattoo is now complete and pretty much sums up the why this movie is full of ancient wisdom: Throughout the film, Hedwig was searching for his “other half,” but was unsure if his other half was male or female. He thought he found this other half within Tommy, but that clearly wasn’t meant to be. The scene when Tommy finally says goodbye to him (whether it was in Hedwig’s head or not) is beautiful because it made Hedwig realize that to make himself complete, he had to search within himself- to embrace both Hedwig and Hansel- child and adult- male and female.
To further my point, let’s look at the lyrics to “Origin of Love”:
“When the earth was still flat,
And the clouds made of fire,
And mountains stretched up to the sky,
Folks roamed the earth
Like big rolling kegs.
They had two sets of arms.
They had two sets of legs.
They had two faces peering
Out of one giant head
So they could watch all around them
As they talked; while they read.
And they never knew nothing of love.
It was before the origin of love.
And there were three sexes then,
One that looked like two men
Glued up back to back,
Called the children of the sun.
And similar in shape and girth
Were the children of the earth.
They looked like two girls
Rolled up in one.
And the children of the moon
Were like a fork shoved on a spoon.
They were part sun, part earth
Part daughter, part son.
The origin of love
Now the gods grew quite scared
Of our strength and defiance
And Thor said,
“I’m gonna kill them all
With my hammer,
Like I killed the giants.”
And Zeus said, “No,
You better let me
Use my lightening, like scissors,
Like I cut the legs off the whales
And dinosaurs into lizards.”
Then he grabbed up some bolts
And he let out a laugh,
Said, “I’ll split them right down the middle.
Gonna cut them right up in half.”
And then storm clouds gathered above
Into great balls of fire
And then fire shot down
From the sky in bolts
Like shining blades
Of a knife.
And it ripped
Right through the flesh
Of the children of the sun
And the moon
And the earth.
And some Indian god
Sewed the wound up into a hole,
Pulled it round to our belly
To remind us of the price we pay.
And Osiris and the gods of the Nile
Gathered up a big storm
To blow a hurricane,
To scatter us away,
In a flood of wind and rain,
And a sea of tidal waves,
To wash us all away,
And if we don’t behave
They’ll cut us down again
And we’ll be hopping round on one foot
And looking through one eye.
Last time I saw you
We had just split in two.
You were looking at me.
I was looking at you.
You had a way so familiar,
But I could not recognize,
Cause you had blood on your face;
I had blood in my eyes.
But I could swear by your expression
That the pain down in your soul
Was the same as the one down in mine.
That’s the pain,
Cuts a straight line
Down through the heart;
We called it love.
So we wrapped our arms around each other,
Trying to shove ourselves back together.
We were making love,
It was a cold dark evening,
Such a long time ago,
When by the mighty hand of Jove,
It was the sad story
How we became
Lonely two-legged creatures,
It’s the story of
The origin of love.
That’s the origin of love.”
Besides the references to famous Gods in mythology, essentially what Hedwig was singing about follows the tradition of Hermeticism. This song subtly adheres to the concept of “as above, so below,” as well as the “three parts of the wisdom of the whole universe.” In particular, it relates to cosmogony, in that according to Hermes, God first created the androgynous man, yet man’s vanity in wanting to dwell in nature caused division; hence, genders were formed. Hermes asked, “O son, how many bodies have we to pass through, how many bands of demons, through how many series of repetitions and cycles of the stars, before we hasten to the One alone?” Hermes was most likely referring to reincarnation, and how humans will continue being reincarnated until they return to God- the Source- the One. As mentioned previously, this idea is brilliantly portrayed in the film’s ending, when we see Hedwig/Hansel’s tattoo, once two broken pieces, now as one. As Hedwig/Hansel walks nakedly out of the dark alley, he is as close to complete as a human being can get, in that he has embraced both male and female, and is being reborn- but this rebirth isn’t happening due to physical death, but instead, Hedwig has experienced a spiritual death, which is always followed by spiritual rebirth. I could also get into Jungian theories of the “shadow,” and how Hedwig has shed his ego/identity to become a new person, but it’s my belief that even those ideas are connected to the ancient wisdom of Hermes.
Essentially, Hedwig was a sage and prophet in his/her own way. Even the stage name Hedwig gives Tommy, “Gnosis,” is a word meaning knowledge or wisdom. When we see Hedwig seemingly adopting Tommy’s persona at the end, we must remember that #1, he gave Tommy that persona, and #2, it symbolizes Hedwig’s internal journey and quest for knowledge and wisdom that was within him/her all along.
One of the best scenes in the movie is when Tommy tries introducing Hedwig to bands like Boston, Europe, Asia and Kansas, and Hedwig replies, “I don’t like travel” (haha) She then introduces him to all the greats she listened to as a boy with her head literally in the oven: Bowie, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed (recently in the 2015 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Lou’s inductor, Patti Smith, said one of the topics Reed was passionate about were those people who fall between genders- RIP Lou.)
Anyone who has ever “fallen between genders,” has been outcast, deformed (physically or mentally,) is a member of the LGBT community, or simply is androgynous- and has received flack from society because of it, whether it be a look of disgust or physical harm- you must see this film. It will change your life. It’s humorous in all the right places, but it will just as easily tear your heart out and gently put it back in, if you let it. That is, if you truly understand its message (And don’t just listen to me- form your own opinions, do your own research, then write your own review- I’d love to read it.)
John Cameron Mitchell, you are a brave soul, and Stephen Trask, your brilliance is astonishing. Rock on.