Rent References

This document is an attempt to explain some of the references in the song "La Vie Boheme" ("the bohemian life") from the Broadway musical Rent. I have no insight into Jonathan Larson's (Rent's author) intent, and so the following descriptions are completely of my opinion.

Curry Vindaloo

Specialties of central and southwestern coastal India, vindaloos are the most mouth-searing of the curry dishes. The complicated roasted spice blend on which they're based can contain any of various ingredients including mustard seeds, cumin seeds, ginger, peppercorns, fenugreek seeds, cloves and coriander seeds. Red chiles are a must and tamarind concentrate is favored. Vindaloo sauce is typically combined with meat and served with rice. Premade vindaloo pastes and dried spice blends are available in Indian markets. [From THE FOOD LOVER'S COMPANION, 2nd edition, by Sharon Tyler Herbst, Barron's Educational Services, Inc.]

Miso Soup

An item on the menu at the Life Cafe. Google search for miso soup recipes.

Huevos Rancheros

A Mexican dish on the menu at the Life Cafe.

1 flour tortilla
1 egg (fried)
1/4 cup salsa
refried beans
grated monterey jack cheese
sour cream
avocado slices

Place the tortilla in a baking dish. Put a thin layer of refried beans on the tortilla, and lay the fried egg on top of the beans. Put the salsa on top of the egg and cover with grated cheese. Bake for about 20 minutes at 375 degrees, or until the cheese is melted. Garnish with sour cream and avocado slices, and serve with chorizo.

(Also works well if made like a lasagne, with ground beef instead of chorizo: Grease the pan with butter and cover the bottom with tortilla shells, folded up along the sides of the pan. Scramble and cook the eggs and brown the meat; then layer the meat, eggs, beans, and cheese on the tortillas. Add chopped onions and green, red, and jalapeno peppers. Cover with another layer of tortilla shells. Spread salsa on top to keep the shells moist during baking, and bake until hot throughout. Cut into slices and serve with additional salsa, sour cream, and guacamole. And don't forget the Corona.)

More Links: Google | Wikipedia

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou (1928-) (born Marguerite Johnson), was raised in segregated rural Arkansas. Her best-selling account of that upbringing, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, won critical acclaim in 1970. A leading literary voice of the African-American community, Angelou wrote a dozen more books of prose and poetry, earning a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award nominations. She was also nominated for an Emmy Award for her acting in Roots. An eminent lecturer, Maya Angelou became a professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University in 1981.

In her book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which deals with racial prejudices, the autobiographical character Marguerite emerges from the private world of muteness into which she has withdrawn and confronts the prejudice around her. She is no longer a victim but a champion of her own identity. [From]

More Links: Google | Wikipedia | Annotated Biography


Probably Susan Sontag, cinema critic, author, playwright, who once wrote "The most truthful way of regarding illness--and the healthiest way of being ill--is one most purified of, most resistant to, metaphoric thinking." A highly respected American essayist and novelist, she was born in New York City in 1933, where she presently lives. Sontag has advanced degress in English and Philosophy from Harvard University, and has said her desire is to be an écrivain, what the French call someone whose profession is a writer without specialization.

More Links: Google | Wikipedia | AIDS and its metaphors (Sontag, 1989)


(1930-) Composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim. Has written for the musical theatre and also dabbled in teaching, screen writing, composing film scores, creating crossword puzzles for New York Magazine, and authoring plays. Was supposedly Jonathan Larson's mentor.

More Links: Google | Wikipedia | Stephen Sondheim Stage (


Probably Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997), beat generation poet.

More Links: Google | Wikipedia | Literary Kicks


Probably Bob Dylan, folk-rock songwriter and performer. Some have suggested it could also refer to poet Dylan Thomas.

More Links (Bob Dylan): Google | Wikipedia | Bob Dylan - Expecting Rain

More Links (Dylan Thomas): Google | Wikipedia


Probably Merce Cunningham, modern choreographer (especially given the next reference to "Cage"). One of the things he was known for were dance concerts with music supplied by John Cage where the two of them worked isolated from each other and the music and the choreography were united for the first time at the first performance. Here's An Interview with Merce Cunningham, in which he talks about his work John Cage. [Thanks to John Chu.] He once said:

...and then I read Einstein by pure coincidence, where he said there are no fixed points in space and I thought, well, that's perfect, that, as far as I was concerned, about stage space. There aren't any fixed points. Wherever you are ... could be a center. Well that's a Buddhist thought, of course -- wherever you are is the center, as well as where everybody else is. But that seemed to me quite marvelous, and enlarging.

More Links: Google | Wikipedia | Merce Cunningham Dance Foundation


Probably John Cage, avant-garde musician. Worked with Merce Cunningham, above, among many others.

More Links: Google | Wikipedia | Some John Cage Info

Lenny Bruce

Controversial comedian who was reportedly the first person jailed for swearing in public in the US. His name was invoked in the late 90's in the fight against the Communications Decency Act. Also mentioned (twice) in REM's "list" song "It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)".

More Links: Google | Wikipedia

Langston Hughes

(1902-1967) African-american playwright, poet. Wrote in 1926:

"We younger Negro artists now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If white people are pleased we are glad. If they aren't, it doesn't matter. We know we are beautiful. And ugly too... If colored people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, their displeasure doesn't matter either. We build our temples for tomorrow, as strong as we know how and we stand on the top of the mountain, free within ourselves."

One of his most famous poems, "Harlem", supplied the title and the theme for Lorraine Hansberry's play A Raisin in the Sun:

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over --
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

More Links: Google | Wikipedia | The Langston Hughes Society


Probably Uta Hagen (1937-), noted stage actress and teacher of Stanislavski's Method of acting. She won Best Leading Actress in a Play Tony awards in 1951 (for The Country Girl) and again in 1963 (for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf). John Chu notes that she presented the Best Leading Actress In a Play award (to Zoe Caldwell for Master Class) at the 1996 Tony Awards, at which Rent won Best Musical.

More Links: Google | Wikipedia

Pablo Neruda

(1904-1973) 1971 Nobel Prize recipient for literature. His was "a poetry that, with the action of an elementary force, brings alive a continent's destiny and dreams." [From Hispanos Famosos: Pablo Neruda.] His poetry played a large part in the '96 film Il Postino.

More Links: Google | Wikipedia | Elementary Odes | Links to Pablo Neruda Works |

Pee-Wee Herman

(1952-) Real name Paul Reubens, born Paul Rubenfeld. Comic made famous by his alter-ego, a quirky Jerry Lewis-like manchild instantly recognizable by his bright red lipstick, a matching mini bow tie, and a one-size-too-small gray suit with high-waters riding well above gleaming white shoes. First debuted in 1978, the popular stand-up character was such a hit on the big screen (1985's Pee-Wee's Big Adventure) and a ground-breaking kid's show (Pee-Wee's Playhouse, 1986-1991). Was arrested in 1991 for exposing himself in an X-rated movie theater in Sarasota, Florida, ending the run of Pee-Wee's Playhouse. Reubens has since appeared in a series of small TV and movie roles. [From alt.culture.]

More Links: Google | Wikipedia

Gertrude Stein

(1874-1946) Lesbian poet, novelist. Probably most well known for her relationship with Alice B. Toklas. While living in Paris, met and socialized with Picasso, Matisse, Juan Gris, Virgil Thompson, Apollinaire, Hemingway, and produced her most famous literary works: "Q.E.D.", "The Making Of Americans", "Tender Buttons", "The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas".

Roger in Rent might be interested in Stein's remark on composition: "The composition is the thing seen by everyone living in the living they are doing, they are the composing of the composition that at the time they are living is the composition of the time in which they are living."

More Links: Google | Wikipedia | Tender Buttons (1914) | Books and Writers - Gertrude Stein | Perspectives in American Literature - Gertrude Stein | An Interview with Gertrude Stein


Probably Michelangelo Antonioni (1912-), Italian filmmaker. [The Life of Michelangelo Antonioni] Michelangelo Antonioni was born in the northern Italian city of Ferrara in 1912. He began his work in film as a scenarist and assistant director in the early 1940's, and in the later half of that decade, when neo-realism first began to emerge in Italian cinema, he made six distinctive short documentaries. When Antonioni was 38 years old, he made his first fiction feature, "Cronaca di un amore" ("Story of a Love Affair," 1950), in which he began to depart from the neo-realism. He used professional actors in middle-class settings and portrayed his characters with less social emphasis, in a more personal and psychological manner, stressing what he later descrived as "spiritual aridity" and "moral coldness." He followed "Cronaca di un amore" with four other films in the mid-1950's, the best of these being "Le amiche" (The Girl Friends, 1955) and "Il grido" (The Outcry, 1957). Antonioni did not come to international prominence until 1960 when he made his masterpiece, "L'Avventura" ("The Adventure"). His first film abroad was "Blow-Up" (1966), followed by "Zabriskie Point" (1970) and "The Passenger" (1975), which starred Jack Nicholson.

Antonioni was also mentioned in the musical Hair, notable because many have called Rent "the Hair of the 90s":

Claude Hooper Bukowski
Finds that it's groovy
To hide in a movie
Pretends he's Fellini
And Antonioni
And also his countryman Roman Polanski
All rolled into one

More Links: Google | Wikipedia | Filmography (in Italian)


Probably Bernardo Bertolucci, Italian filmmaker. Famous films include "Last Tango in Paris", "Little Buddha", and "Stealing Beauty".

More Links: Google | Wikipedia | Bertolucci Biography, Criticism, Filmography at Vassar


Probably Akira Kurosawa (1910-8/6/1998), Japanese film director. [From Chris Marker's Web Site - no longer active 2/17/1997] "His position as one of the masters of cinema is well established but in spite of this his place within Japanese cinema is regarded as problematic by many, ironically over issues of his relationship and indebtedness to a western cinematic tradition. He is certainly the first significant Japanese director to have been recognised by western film makers and intellectuals." In 1999, Kurosawa was selected by Time Magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential Asians of the 20th Century.

More Links: Google | Wikipedia | The Epic Images of Kurosawa

Carmina Burana

A musical based on poems contained in a 13th Century German manuscript from the Benedictine abbey of Benediktbeuern, in Bavaria. The music was written by German composer Carl Orff (1895-1982), with its first performance in a combination of German and Latin in 1937. The songs themes include love, drinking, gambling, gluttony, sex, and Lady Luck (fate).

Some lyrics that seem appropriate to Rent:

I am bursting out all over!
I am burning all over with first 
New, new love is what I am dying of!

"O Fortune, like the moon you are changeable, ever waxing and waning; hateful life first oppresses and then soothes as fancy takes poverty and power it melts them like ice."

More Links: Google | Wikipedia | Carmina Burana Lyrics

Václav Havel

(1936-) Was President of the Czech Republic (1989-2003) after its "Velvet Revolution". Spent most of the 1980s in communist jails as a dissident playwright.

Wrote in an essay entitled "The Power of the Powerless" (1985):

"If a better economic and political model is to be created, then perhaps more than ever before it must derive from profound existential and moral changes in society. This is not something that can be designed and introduced like a new car. If it is to be more than just a new variation on an old degeneration, it must above all be an expression of life in the process of transforming itself."

More Links: Google | Wikipedia | A 1997 Interview | Interpreting Václav Havel


8BC was once a nightclub in the East Village (at 337 East 8th Street between Avenue B & C), founded by Cornelius Conboy and Dennis Gattra. Anthony Rapp of the Rent cast described it as a "a haven for performance art [and] a landmark of the downtown art scene." Bill Krauss, the original sound man for the band They Might Be Giants, described it this way: "It was the greatest club in the world for about two years. They had something like 3000 performances in two years. It was running non-stop. They had plays in the afternoon and performance art at dinner time, and bands at night. It was just a wonderful time."

More Links: Google


AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power. "ACT UP is a diverse, non-partisan group of individuals united in anger and committed to direct action to end the AIDS crisis."