Wednesday, March 12, 2008

In which I read the book that John Adams wrote

I started working as a music copyist for composer John Adams about 1985 on a little piece he called Hamonielehre. I've worked on a lot more of his music since then.

We live in different California urban areas positioned on different cultural tectonic plates. Our communications have always been principally by remote technologies: first by phone, then by fax and now by email. It's rare for us to see each other, rarer still to talk in person. Our last conversation happened during a hair-raising night-time rush hour drive through Palo Alto, California.

Lately John has occasionally mentioned "my book" but never really explained what he meant. It turned out to be his autobiography entitled Hallelujah Junction which is also the name of his piano duet which is also the name of an actual junction. (See it in Google Maps by clicking here.)

More surprisingly, last week he honored me by sending actual Word files of an actual complete draft. So far I've gotten as far as chapter five (out of fifteen.)

John Adams after concert discussion Standford University Nov 2007
I asked his permission to quote from Hallelujah Junction here. He agreed but added that the quotes I picked were "funny". I intend them as "teasers", little bits to make you wonder just what he's talking about. Maybe they'll give an impression of his prose style.

The real point is that I am reading John Adams' autobiography. And you are not.

I'm finding an awful lot of interesting stuff I never knew.
(Anything in purple is a quote.)

Another patient walked around with a harmonica stuffed into his mouth. When he smiled his face became the front grille of an automobile. He serenaded us by moving the harmonica with his lips while conducting with his two free hands.

The trip was symphonic in form, with an exposition, development and recap. Or maybe it was a rondo…I forget.

If I’d learned anything from John Cage, there was certainly no evidence in my Quintet for Piano and Strings, music that sounded like it could have been composed in 1910 Vienna by a young man bent on committing a triple murder-suicide.

Tacky, laughably hokey strip clubs lined both sides of neighboring streets, and each had its own sleazy barker, dressed in regulation loud, horrific Seventies-style bellbottoms and Hawaiian shirt. His job was to coax the reluctant tourist into the dark interior. “Come on in, sir, take a peek. It’s on the house. Ladies invited, too.”

... and then staying up nights until the building closed, huddled in my office with a soldering iron, my desktop covered with surplus resistors, capacitors and circuit board chips that I had scrounged at a flea-market near the Oakland airport.

John Adams being photographed at Disney Hall 2005
I vividly recall standing patiently in the park with my microphone poised over a pile of dog poop, recording the buzz of several blissed-out flies as they hovered over their find.

Between the toxin of the bee stings and the shock of hearing my piece for the first time, my nervous system began yet again to go into red alert. An hour later I found myself on a bed in the emergency room of the Santa Cruz hospital connected to an IV dripping adrenaline into my arm while a man who’d nearly lost his finger to a chainsaw moaned in the neighboring bed.

The top picture is John at Stanford University after the premier of his Son of Chamber Symphony. The second picture, which appeared in Mixed Meters previously, was taken in Disney Hall. Click pictures for enlarged views. The music bit is John's handwriting.

Read previous MM posts concerning John Adams by clicking here.

John's own website is where I could find no mention of his book

Hallelujah Tags: . . . . . . . . .

No comments :