John Adams

by Barry Drogin

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Dear Mr. Ellis:

I can't remember when I have written a fan letter --- as a one-time music and theatre critic, I have written laudatory reviews, and I certainly have ample evidence of, as you would put it, "contrarian" letters to all sorts of people, newspapers and book authors (and there will be a contrarian element here, too) --- but I must tell you how much I have enjoyed your "Passionate Sage," about the retirement and placement of John Adams in American history and political thought. Having just finished it, I feel like reading it again, perhaps marking it up, persuading my fiancee to peruse it, recommending it to friends, and so on. Of course, it is John Adams, not your prose, that I am in love with, but I have you to thank for presenting him so concisely and intriguingly.

I am amazed, and here I am getting a wee bit contrarian, that you are much concerned in the book with the emerging mythologies of John Adams in popular culture, and yet you fail to mention what must be his strongest image to the most people today --- not the PBS series, "The Adams Chronicles," but the musical (and film) "1776." Since the film is annually trotted out on television on or about July 4th, certainly it has reached a wider audience than the lengthy PBS series.

Permanently enshrined in Volume One of "Great Musicals of the American Theatre," surely it is not just my personal preference which holds the musical in such high esteem. And in it, Adams is the star: Franklin is comic relief, Jefferson is largely silent, Washington is off- stage, Dickinson is the villain, but Adams is the protagonist, obnoxious and disliked, argumentative and desparate, egotistical and frustrated by politics --- as you paint him in your book, but also the star of a Broadway musical, the love interest (in letters to Abigail), center stage fighting the Congress to vote for independence. It was a pleasure to see how some of the lyrics in the show were adapted from their original sources ("Soon, madame, we shall walk in Cupid's grove together...", "I see Fireworks! I see the Pageant and Pomp and Parade!"). I must assume that you are simply unaware of the show's existence.

Of my rather extensive knowledge of musical theatre, the character of John Adams has always been the one representation closest to my own heart, and this is what led me to purchase your book after reading the review in the Times. Now I have sought out more Adams literature, namely, "The Book of Abigail and John," presenting their correspondence. Obviously, historians are more interested in the Continental Congress, his Presidency, his correspondence with Jefferson, his political writings --- being of a more spiritual bent, I am curious also about his family life and marital relationship, and this serves that purpose well.

Not meaning to bother you, I am nevertheless moved to send you, with my compliments, a copy of my book, "Cassandra's Curse: Writings No One Wants to Read." It would be perfectly in your rights to agree with this assessment and not want to read it, but it will explain to you somewhat why I have found the character and thought of Mr. Adams so inspiring and encouraging. Perhaps, if something comes of my life, 250 years from now I will be lucky enough to have someone write as sympathetically and complimentary about my own ornery disposition as you have written about dear Mr. Adams.

Thank you, once again.

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Last Updated: August 4, 2007