Moment of Geek
(Transcript of television appearance)
Rachel Maddow of The Rachel Maddow Show
September 11, 2009
MADDOW: There‘s plenty of popular art about politics from rappers like Eminem criticizing George W. Bush to street artists like Shepard Fairey, extolling Barack Obama. Far less common, though, is high art derived from American politics.
And that is tonight‘s “Moment of Geek.” We came across one example of high political art a few weeks ago. That was the “Gonzales Cantata,” an opera composed of the transcripts from Alberto Gonzales‘ testimony to the Senate and his resignation in 2007.
ALBERTO GONZALES, FORMER UNITED STATES ATTORNEY GENERAL: I do not recall. I don‘t recall the conversation. I don‘t recall whether I was present. I suspect that I probably was. I don‘t recall. I don‘t recall. I don‘t recall.
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MADDOW: The young composer behind that masterful aria, 29-year-old Melissa Dunphy, lists among her musical influences the composers John Adams and Phil Klein, both of whom have used politics to make high art of their own.
In 1987, John Adams composed an opera called “Nixon in China” portraying President Nixon‘s 1972 peacemaking trip to China, complete with an Air Force One on stage.
MADDOW: It was very pleasant. Back in 2004, Phil Klein released a trilogy of Rumsfeld songs making music from the inadvertent poetry of Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Like Rumsfeld‘s most famous assertions that were made when reporters asked questions about the links between Iraq‘s alleged WMDs and terrorism.
We took the liberty of splicing Klein‘s music to the original sound bites of Mr. Rumsfeld.
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DONALD RUMSFELD, FORMER UNITED STATES DEFENSE SECRETARY: As we know, there are known knowns. There are things we know we know. There are no unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we now know we don‘t know. There are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don‘t know we don‘t know. And each year we discover a few more of those unknown unknowns. And it sounds like a riddle.
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MADDOW: Still inscrutable, even six years later, but brilliant. That‘s tonight‘s “Moment of Geek,” low politics and high art. We put links to Phil Klein‘s songs, John Adams opera, and Melissa Dunphy‘s cantata on our Web site “Rachel.MSNBC.com.” We‘ll be right back.