John Adams – ‘Nixon In China’

Year: 1987

In 1972, President Richard Nixon traveled to China to meet with Mao Zedong in an effort to strengthen relations between the two countries in the later years of the Vietnam War. It was one of the most important diplomatic moments of the 20th century, and it’s the visit that would have defined Nixon if Watergate never happened. It’s the kind of real life epic that could only be captured in an opera.

At least that’s what John Adams thought in 1983 when he began writing the score to his first opera to Alice Goodman’s libretto and Mark Morris’ choreography. Adams wrote the opera by the encouragement of stage director Peter Sellars, who saw the complexities of Nixon’s visit; it could have been an election ploy, a genuine diplomatic mission, or both. However, Adams and Sellars did not want to create another bland satire poking at the easy target of Nixon, an awkward power-hungry stiff who is perhaps the easiest American President to make fun of. The goal of the opera was to explore the humans on both sides of the meeting and to capture the historical moment from those who were actually there. Even the title Nixon in China invokes some involuntary humor – can you imagine Richard Nixon walking around in China? Adams understands what he’s going up against in his attempt to humanize Nixon, and the play’s success is how he often gets close to his goal.

The main characters are Nixon and his wife Pat, Mao Zedong and his wife Jiang Qing (Madame Mao), and the two advisors of each leader, Henry Kissinger and Zhou Enlai. The opera is divided into three acts: Act One details the first night of the visit and the initial meetings between Nixon and Mao, Act Two follows Pat around rural China and exploring everyday Chinese life, and Act Three describes Nixon’s last night in China and everyone’s mixed feelings on the success of the visit.

Nixon in China has always been more influential than acclaimed – its initial reviews were mixed – but over the years it has earned its position as one of America’s most important operas. It is more famous for its existence than its success as an emotional engaging piece of music; few operas are based on a media event that was televised all around the world. Though the opera takes place in China, Adams’ score borrows almost entirely from Philip Glass’ minimalist style and rarely takes on any Oriental influence. That’s where Goodman’s libretto comes in, which is written in rhymed and metered couplets inspired by traditional Chinese poetry and theater.

American operas may not be as established or as grand as its European siblings, but Nixon in China was, and still is, a groundbreaking attempt at turning an old and inaccessible musical style into something modern and, dare I say, relatable? Also, does anyone think the beginning of the opera sounds like Elliott Smith?

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Elliott Smith – “Bottle Up And Explode!”

Year: 1998

Album: XO

If Figure 8 was Elliott Smith’s LA album, then XO was his New York album. These songs were recorded after Elliott’s brief stink in Brooklyn and were inspired by his many nights hanging out and writing in the Luna Lounge club in the Lower East Side. “Bottle Up And Explode!” is also the sound of rainy Manhattan as you’re walking the streets late morning and feeling calm and overwhelmed by the skyscrapers around and above you.

What a sad, beautiful song.

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Playlist: 20 Songs For December 2014

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This month’s playlist comes a little earlier than usual, since I will be away from my computer from Christmas till New Years.

Here are my 20 songs for December 2014:

1. Mad Season – “River Of Deceit”

2. J Mascis – “Me Again”

3. Galaxie 500 – “Decomposing Trees”

4. Eels – “It’s A Motherfucker”

5. Jake Bugg – “Broken”

6. Elliott Smith – “Everything Reminds Me Of Her”

7. Buena Vista Social Club – “Chan Chan”

8. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – “Into My Arms”

9. Bikespeed Champion – “Overgrown”

10. Intimate Stranger – “Imaginary Conversation #1”

11. Ryan Adams – “By The Way”

12. Sunny Day Real Estate – “Seven”

13. Beyoncé – “Blow”

14. Vulfpeck – “Fugue State”

15. Goldfrapp – “Strict Machine”

16. Spoon – “Out Go the Lights”

17. The Libertines – “Can’t Stand Me Now”

18. D-Angelo & The Vanguard – “The Charade”

19. Guillemots – “Little Bear”

20. Aimee Mann – “Wise Up”

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Playlist: Zach Braff’s iPod

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This new playlist combines many of the songs from the Garden State and Scrubs soundtracks in addition to some other songs that I think match Braff’s great range of taste in music. There are also some songs on here from his new movie Wish I Was Here released in limited release July 18th.

 

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Playlist: 20 Songs For October 2013 (Happy Halloween!)

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Happy Halloween everyone! This month’s playlist includes new music from Haim, Danny Brown, Pearl Jam, Dismemberment Plan, Fall Out Boy, and Arcade Fire. I also pay tribute to Lou Reed, and I threw in a special halloween song from Ryan Adams.

Here are my 20 songs for October 2013.

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Playlist: 20 Songs For June 2013 (Via Spotify)

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With the exception of Yeezus, most of my June was spent going through bits of past ambient pop that I’ve grown to appreciate. Whether it’s IDM from the 90s (Aphex Twin), early 2000s indie-rock (Broken Social Scene), or the very recent dance pop from overseas (Disclosure), I was so into this music that I was almost tempted to go out and buy a mini controller. Almost. But of course there was plenty of other great non-electronic music to be heard this past month.

Here are my 20 songs for June 2013.

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Playlist: 15 Songs For August 2012 (Via Spotify) – Special Folk Edition!

This month has a special edition of 15 Songs via Spotify. All of August I was on a folk kick that I’m still on. This playlist is a mix of all the great folk songs, both old and new, that I’ve been playing all month (Yes, there will be Bob Dylan).

Here are my 15 songs for August 2012.

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