Significant time as an airborne organism last week enabled me to breeze through John Adams’s very enjoyable Hallelujah Junction, one of the few books I’ve read that completely eschews any explanation of its title (explanations can, of course, be inferred).

Fascinating to read about how the confluence of enormous talent, intelligence, perseverance, high aspirations, luck, great personal skills and an almost-insane disdain for impassable obstacles can produce such an extraordinary creative path.

Interesting also to note the number of instrumental compositions in Adams’s oeuvre that draw on his personal narrative – My Father Knew Charles Ives, Chamber Symphony, Dharma at Big Sur et al  — while so many of his vocal works draw on heritages very distant from his own.  If I were to have a conversation with him, and if I were a much more impertinent man than I am, I would want to ask him about that.  Not in a critical way, but out of genuine curiosity.  It’s possible that Adams has sought but never found a literary partner who transplanted a middle-class New England upbringing to California soil.  But all the signs point to the conclusion that he has never particularly wanted to find one.

My genuine curiosity is, of course, partly selfish, because I have a similar question for myself.  Surely it wouldn’t be that difficult for me to find a writer/collaborator whose background has significant overlap with my own.  But I’ve never felt the desire to seek one out.  Why is that?  Seems to me that Mr. Adams, who has thought through so many things so thoroughly, might have a helpful answer, coming from someone who has traveled down that road a few years ahead of me.

And again, I don’t see it as a criticism.  Adams has sought out writers from very different backgrounds from his own, and has enriched himself and us through the resulting collaborations.  But I also know that there is a difference in the way we express cultures we grow up in and cultures we study, regardless of how sincere and detailed our studies may be.  His instrumental 9780312428617works have been forged in the smithy of his soul; most of the vocal works have been chiseled with borrowed tools.

I’d like to ask him about that.  But maybe I’d be better off asking Bruce Craigmore or Marcel Proost.

Then there is Doctor Atomic.  The protagonist is a creative, brilliant, ambitious, middle-aged white guy.

Kind of like Doctor Adams, come to think of it.

Leave a Reply