Monday, December 29, 2008


I have been reading composer John Adams' autobiography Hallelujah Junction sporadically throughout vacation. I thought this would be a perfect vacation book though I doubt such a thing truly exists unless you go on vacation alone to a place where you know no one, and still... not to be all Dad/rule-y about it but we didn't come all this way and spend all this money to read. Anyway, it did turn out to be a perfect vacation book for the parts I've read so far - quickly, sweet, funny and occasionally politely alarming. I have just gotten to the part where he is talking about his professional relationship with conductor Edo De Waart and how he had an epiphany listening to Wagner - He cares! is what he stumbled on listening to the grand opera master's twisting harmonies. It was at this point that Adams started caring about what he was doing, putting the experimentation and rashness of his younger student years aside to embrace his love and delicacy with orchestral music.

Adams' account of his early years is engaging, but truthfully, as he's gaining confidence on his timeline as a composer, I'm starting to lose interest in what he has to say about it, but maybe because as we get better at something, we spend less time concerned with the dull lead-up's, we attain a transparency that we so stridently sought. I obviously don't have that transparency yet since I am talking about it now but this vacation has been a bit of a recharge, a honing of my blade, step in the right direction, whatever. I feel I can see things a little better now having just driven across the mountains and desert and plains and swamps in such a continuous but morphing stream.

The landscape felt through-composed, a term implying that each line in a song has its own music fitting to its meaning or lyric quality. Each vista was stunning in its own way, whether staggering in its drama like the Roadrunner and Coyote pile of rocks in Arizona or humbling like the infinite plane in west Texas. Even the highway tangles of Houston and Los Angeles had their own charm, but that was probably because my wife was thankfully driving. The destination of family, beach cliffs and perfect burritos in central coast California were worth the trip but it was going itself that provided the crowbar, which is how it always is with vacation. I'm so glad we drove - I think flying would have been equally as psychologically taxing, and we got the trade-up of the grind of the road over the butting-heads with procedure at the airport.

So short of making dull resolutions, promises that no one intends to keep and then for what if you do?, I feel compelled, like the orchestra tasking through Adams' polite, grand, breathless ventures. I feel compelled like a rented car on cruise control pushing across some godforsaken hardscrabble county placed out in the impossible American West, like the spinning of the dial on satellite radio hoping we land on an INXS song we haven't already heard fifteen times.

Speaking of satellite radio, it is a place devoid of subtlety, quick to underscore the crushing repetition of life that epiphanous musings like this choose to ignore. There is no sense of discovery in it, causing you to rifle through the Everything for something at least familiar or momentarily compatible, and it probably a more accurate depiction of life than rhapsodizing about car trips, but fuck it, I am still on vacation even though we got home this morning. Here is the satellite radio 5-song rock block that was our trip.

INXS - "Don't Change" (my vote for the theme song)

The Cult - "She Sells Sanctuary" (the winner out of sheer times we heard it at poignant moments, like at sunrise or in the desert)

Peter Schilling - "Major Tom" (my wife's vote, especially with a giant field of wind turbines slowly tumbling all around us as we heard it)

The Buggles - "Video Killed the Radio Star" (my daughter's new jam)

Guns N' Roses - "Patience" (because, perhaps even more than love, all we need is just a little of it, and it was dutifully exhibited by everyone involved on this trip. That, and whistling.)

John Adams - Harmonieleher (lala)
John Adams - The Chairman Dances (lala)

1 comment:

  1. check out the newer generations neo-classical work by Jóhann Jóhannsson - Fordlandia, achingly beautiful: