Composing an American Life
by John Adams. Release date: October 1, 2008 by Farrar Straus & Giroux, New York. UK edition published by Faber Books Ltd. 320 pages.
A book unlike anything ever written by a composer, part memoir and part description of the creative process, Hallelujah Junction is an absorbing journey through the musical landscape of the life and times of John Adams, one of today’s most admired and oft-performed composers.
Adams traces his musical lineage back to the era of the swing bands and to his grandfather’s New Hampshire dance hall, where his clarinettist father met his jazz singer mother and eloped to marry and eke out a meagre living during the Great Depression. He evokes his own musical childhood in vivid detail, his New England boyhood with its marching bands and small town orchestras, and he details his cross-continental journey to California, describing his gradual evolution into the one of the most important figures in American musical culture—the composer of operas such as Nixon in China, The Death of Klinghoffer and Doctor Atomic and a master of large-scale orchestral forms.
Hallelujah Junction is not only a deeply personal memoir, but also a first-hand encounter with the many emblematic themes and personalities that constitute our current musical life. Here you will find cogent, incisive and often very witty commentaries on people and events ranging from Richard Nixon and Allen Ginsberg to the Beatles, Leonard Bernstein, Duke Ellington, John Cage, Steve Reich and Frank Zappa.
Praise for Hallelujah Junction
“An American artist’s Wanderjahre for our time … John Adams is a superb writer … he articulates the capacity for wonder that can make his music matter…”
– Joseph Horowitz, Times Literary Supplement
“Stands with books by Hector Berlioz and Louis Armstrong among the most readably incisive autobiographies of major musical figures.”
– David Hadju, The New York Times Book Review
“No book I know of better captures the thrill of a moment of artistic freedom and innovation.… this is a book that any aspiring artist, in any medium, should read as a kind of how-to guide to achieving artistic success without losing integrity, something that seems to many young artists today nearly impossible. In fact, it is a book for anyone who wants to create something – including a self.”
– David Rollow, The Boston Globe
“John Adams is the voice of America… “Hallelujah Junction” offers the voice of America straight from the horse’s mouth, and to read something so intelligent, reasoned and caring sure feels good these days.”
– Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times
A New York Times Most Notable Book of the Year
Northern California Book Award for Creative Nonfiction, 2009