Andy Kahan runs an outstanding author series at the Free Library of Philadelphia, and booked The New Yorker’s Alex Ross to interview the composer (and new autobiographer) John Adams. Andy asked me if I’d like to introduce the proceedings, which I was of course happy to do, and met two most humble and friendly gentlemen in the bargain. I have been reading both of their books, and I recommend them highly if you are at all interested in the landscape of music now (Adams) and music now and then (but not too far back then) (Ross). This is pretty much what I said to the crowd of very engaged folks who braved the first snow-dusting of the season to come hear two bright fellows speaking brightly:
I don’t know about you, but my favorite teachers were the ones who knew everything and loved everything and connected everything. In my college hymnology class, Mr. Brunner would lean forward and say, “Now here’s the thing to remember about Louis Bourgeois…,” and while you didn’t know one thing about Louis Bourgeois let alone the thing about Louis Bourgeois, you were sure not going to leave that room without learning, no matter what, something about Louis Bourgeois, so you leaned forward, too. And in the 4th Grade, Mrs. Johansen knew everything about archeology and sentence structure and the Marianas Trench and it was not only not embarrassing to know all that, it was also very, very cool to know all that. And you began to realize that it was okay to love stuff.
John Adams is not only one of the most successful living composers of concert music in the world, but he has written this book, Hallelujah Junction, that tells us how he became that. It seems to me that if you want to know anything about music from this century and the last, from someone who is not only wonderful at creating music—which you know from Dr. Atomic or Short Ride in a Fast Machine or Nixon in China or the Pulitzer-winning On the Transmigration of Souls—but who also has wonderfully big, juicy opinions about music and composers, then you have to read this book. When you listen to his works, one thing is blazingly clear: this is a man who is totally, head-over-heels in love with music.
Alex Ross writes for The New Yorker and can tell you about Stravinsky and Bo Diddley and probably the Marianas Trench in the same sentence in such a manner that you say (1) of course!, and (2) why didn’t I think of that? Great writers are like that. He knows everything, it’s very, very cool, and he’s won big awards from other writers and the MacArthur Foundation and has written The Rest is Noise, which is the story of the 20th century, in music, and which you also have to read. And Mr. Ross is going to interview Mr. Adams for us.
This is the point where I’m supposed to remind you about cell phones, but I have two suggestions. You can take them out and turn them off now of course, or, you can call a loved one in the next 30 seconds, and tell that person that you are about to hear two of the most interesting men in America today talk to each other about…well, you don’t know what they’re going to talk about, it doesn’t matter what they’re going to talk about, because it will all be very interesting because they are very interesting and that you can’t believe how lucky you are and you’ll be able to ask them questions and afterward they’re going to sign your books but you’ll have to talk all about it later because your time is up and now you have to turn your cell phone off.
Which means that I only have time to tell you of the great pleasure I now have of introducing to you John Adams and Alex Ross.
You can listen to the interview here.