With the plot surrounding an east German transgender rock musician in the 1980’s who undergoes a botched reassignment surgery leaving her with an ‘angry inch’ all so she can escape communist Germany with her new husband, the music can be nothing but campy, glam and amazing. Written by Stephan Trask and performed by Hedwig herself, James Mitchell, the songs are explosive, exploring the ideas of ideology, love and destiny and sung with the raw power and emotion akin to the likes of David Bowie and Frank Zappa. In fact the soundtrack has been so popular that in 2003 a CD of covers was released named ‘Wig in a Box’ featuring artists such as Yoko Ono and Cyndi Lauper.
Diving into the music, what is most prominent and beautiful about it is the vividness of character and imagery that the songs draw on and create. For instance, ‘The Origin of Love’ is an emotive ballad based on Plato’s Symposium, which tells the tale of love. Humans were once composed of two people stuck back to back—men to men, women to women and men to women—and out of jealousy the gods split them in half, causing the two halves to wander the earth trying to find each other. When two halves were put together this was the act of sex and when the desire to become one person between the two halves occurs, that is called love, for love is the soul’s desire. This song is so aching because Hedwig sings it from her soul bathed in an instrumental ambiance; she believes in Plato’s idea of destiny and soul mates and believes Tommy Gnosis to be her soul mate, her separated half.
To further add to the plot, when Hedwig arrives in the States after her sex change operation—gone quite awry—she is met with disappointment, loneliness and despair. Out of her realization that she has sacrificed everything for nothing, Hedwig assembles her band, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, comprised of Korean army wives and notably Christian teenager Tommy Speck or Tommy Gnosis. Tommy is who Hedwig believes is her soul mate; therefore, when Tommy leave the band and starts his own performing Hedwig’s songs she is understandably miffed. Their relationship is epitomized in ‘Wicked Little Town’ sung in two different versions: one by Hedwig and the Angry Inch, sung for Tommy and the other by Tommy, sung for Hedwig. The first is Hedwig describing her fist meeting with Tommy, how she fell in love with him and why he is her soul mate. When Tommy performs his version, Hedwig is standing starkly at the concert watching, as Tommy reveals the truths behind his feelings: he did not understand how much he hurt her and took from her, that she is more then just a man or woman and that destiny is not for certain and meaningless and she should give up on the idea of soul mates. It is heart wrenching and unpredictable—except I just told you, but either way, it is great.
It is understandable why this soundtrack has gained so much notoriety and fame since its humble beginnings as a play all the way to its cult movie status—it is ingenious, original, funny, outrageous, thoughtful and so many other adjectives. Musically the songs are fun and energetic, but it is definitely the lyrics that make the stand and shine the brilliance.
Tracklisting (recommended tracks are highlighted)
- “Tear Me Down”
- “Random Number Generation” (excerpt only)
- “Tear Me Down (Tommy Gnosis version)” (excerpt only)
- “The Origin of Love”
- “Sugar Daddy”
- “The Angry Inch”
- “Wig in a Box”
- “The Origin of Love (Tommy Gnosis version)” (excerpt only)
- “Wicked Little Town”
- “I Will Always Love You” (excerpt only)
- “The Long Grift” (excerpt only, full version on soundtrack)
- “Nailed” (on soundtrack only)
- “Freaks” (excerpt only, full version on soundtrack, with Girls Against Boys)
- “In Your Arms Tonight”
- “Hedwig’s Lament”
- “Exquisite Corpse”
- “Wicked Little Town (Reprise)”
- “Midnight Radio”