If you read the last post on Bill’s Blog–“Books Before The Inherited Heart”–you may well think I’ve exhausted my store of testimonials and have nothing of worth left to include under the actual “Testimonials” category–but that’s not the case, because (ho ho) there’s “plenty more where that came from” (as folks say). As I said in the “Sound Check/Getting Started” section, I’ve removed or taken off that broad-brim hat, or bushel, I once wore (hoping to remain “humble” in its shade) and, having decided to let more than just a little light shine, I’ll try to undertake “full disclosure” of whatever resources, external and internal, I may possess.
What I left out of the previous post are some gracious words I managed to gather from writers I truly respect, testimonials or “blurbs” for The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir. I do have a few more commentaries on the other books–the “jazz” books–but I’ll save those for a future post.
On Tuesday, July 23, 2013, our local paper, The Herald, ran a headline that read: “It’s a boy! UK’s Kate gives birth to royal heir.” This morning, I had an appointment with Patricia Hamilton of Park Place Publications (who published The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir, and also the comic novel Trek: LIps, Sunny, Pecker and Me–and who’s assisted me enormously on setting up this blog). Arriving at her office, feeling my oats with regard to the progress we’ve made (still very much trial and error on my part) meeting “high tech” demands necessary to get Bill’s Blog off the ground, I said, “Did you see the headlines in this morning’s Herald?”–and before she could think back to the day’s actual fare (“New delay for water plans,” focused on a serious local issue, plus “Sharing a Moment,” with a picture of the Pope kissing a child on his South America visit), I recited, “Bigger and better than news of Kate’s baby: fourth entry is posted on Bill’s Blog!”
I don’t think it hurts, and actually feels quite good, to get carried away like that on occasion (William Blake’s “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom,” “Exuberance is Beauty,” and “The pride of the peacock is the glory of God.”), for you know there’ll always be something close at hand to bring you back “down” to earth again. And there has been for me.
Not everything has proved to be a roaring success so far. When I fist came out from under my bushel (to let my little light shine), I worked up the nerve to do something friends, for years, have been telling me I should do (because they felt our work was compatible): contact Garrison Keillor and send him my “stuff,” which I did, by way of a “contact” friend and poet Robert Sward of Santa Cruz suggested (Robert’s work has been read on Keillor’s morning Writer’s Almanac radio show). I wrote a cover letter and sent both The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir and the Love Letters of Lynchburg CD I’ve mentioned on this blog. A couple of weeks went by and I assumed (as I had in the past, the reason I’d never followed through on the suggestion from friends and well-wishers before) that my “stuff” was either peacefully adrift in some “Show Biz” limbo, or had ended up in a trash bin–but then, out of the blue, I received a kindly “personal” (addressed to me, and not just “Occupant” or “To Whom It May Concern”) e-mail letter stating that both book and CD had been “placed in Mr. Keillor’s office,” and that If he should select anything from what I sent, they would contact me for “obtaining the permission rights.”
I never heard from Prairie Home Companion or Writer’s Almanac again, but it was a thrill to think that–aside from the encouragement of friends and well-wishers and the fact that my acquaintance with Garrison Keillor went “way back,” back to when I used both Happy to Be Here and Lake Wobegon Days in a course in American Humor and Comedy I taught for eight years at Monterey Peninsula College–he just might have taken a cursory look at the book or a quick listen to the CD.
I also contacted a writer whom I’d accompanied on piano while he sang blues at the Foothill Writers Conference, when we both were guest faculty members there: Alan Cheuse, who’s been reviewing books on NPR’s All Things Considered since the 1980s (about the time I met him). I wrote Alan about The Inherited Heart and its spinoff, the Love Letters of Lynchburg CD, and he responded immediately, saying he found the joint project “lovely,” and said that, if I sent him copies (which I did), he would pass word of their existence on to his producers–but once again, that’s the last I heard.
Close maybe, but no cigar. “One never knows, do one?” as Fats Waller used to sing. I might have been inclined to sing some blues myself over what failed to pan out (my favorite stanza is one Jimmy Witherspoon came up with: “If fish can love in water, moles love underground;/ If fish can love in water, moles love underground;/ If rats can love in a garbage can/Woman, you better not let me down!”), but I recalled that Dick Maxwell, who initiated and then successfully ran the Foothill Writers Conference for years, and taught creative writing at the college, used to pass out, on the first day of class, a T-shirt to each of his students that read: “No Disclaimers”–so I am trying (along with learning everything there is to learn about this Brave New World of digital self-presentation and interaction) to adopt an unapologetic attitude as well.
As writers, it seems we need to remember that, in baseball, if a batter gets a hit three out of ten balls pitched to him, he’s doing fine. And a neural surgeon: three out of ten successful operations? Well, odds for success obviously vary for each occupation–so I won’t try to figure out what they come down to for writers.
I do have, by way of compensation, a number of responses to The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir–testimonials from writers I respect very much–so here’s that book again, along with some photos that can be found in it: my mother at age twenty, with her Eton Crop hairdo, this photo taken when she attended Katherine Gibbs Secretarial School in New York City and won a “1st Prize” gold medal for speed typing; my father at age fourteen, looking as if he were in his mid-twenties, having gone to work on Arkansas road crews at age thirteen, after his father died; my grandfather (my dad’s dad) at age sixteen, who joined the Confederate Army at fourteen, was shot and thought dead at Cumberland Church two days before Appomattox, but survived to manufacture my father at age fifty-seven; my maternal grandfather, a “Yankee” surgeon in the 18th N.Y.V. Cavalry; and me at age nineteen, when I took off from Detroit on my own to attend Pratt Institute, an art school in Brooklyn.
“Like the family it celebrates, The Inherited Heart is a bold and fascinating book. William Minor is a charming and endlessly generous chronicler, and his love for these ghosts from his past is truly contagious. Every page is an irresistible trip back in time.”–Christopher Hebert, author of The Boiling Season
“What makes Bill Minor’s memoir a page-turner is its steady, authentic wisdom. Minor’s narrative is guided by an aesthetic of experience, in which peril and risk inform the maturing self. Raised in what he calls lovingly ‘a house of metaphor,’ Minor skillfully combines the hard-knocks world of boxing with the ‘robbed-time’ effects of jazz, to tease euphoria and joy out of pain and loss. This book is a shining gift to a culture adrift in affect and hungry for meaning.”–Dustin Beall Smith, author of Key Grip
“When one reads a book by Bill Minor, the stories themselves are as colorful and fascinating as the way he writes. His command of the English language mixes together the universal with the esoteric, the witty with the insightful. The author’s storytelling in The Inherited Heart is a consistent delight, filled with original personalities, surprising twists and turns, and humanity. His tales about growing up and discovering and savoring the mysteries of life are so detailed and vivid that they are well worth reading several times.”–Scott Yanow, author of ten books on jazz including The Jazz Singers, Jazz On Film and Jazz On Record 1917-76
“Bill Minor is a writer, teacher, musician, poet, and producer. He brings all of this to The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir. He bravely explores the good and bad of over 400 years of family history – one ancestor who may have captained a ship that carried slaves, and another who fought for their emancipation—and he is also humble. That his family knew Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, General Ulysses Grant, Mark Twain and Walt Whitman gets buried beneath his determination to tell the whole story … In some ways this book speaks with two voices: one to people like me who are fascinated with the sweep of history seen through the eyes of the everyman who happens to be close to the events that shape history. The other voice speaks to his children and their children and their children yet unborn. This voice waits patiently to be discovered many decades from now. For these generations of his family yet to come, finding this book will be discovering a treasure. To them I say – your ancestor William Minor was a very nice man, a great artist, and funny … He comes by his humor honestly and academically (he taught a college course on American Humor and Comedy for eight years). Describing his mother: ‘Our favorite Dorothyism, however, is her response to a visitor who, when my father was quite advanced in years, praised him for not looking his age, saying that my father had very few wrinkles on his face. My mother thought about this for awhile, then said, ‘That’s because he never uses his face”‘ … What a complete pleasure it was to read this book and experience the breadth of a great American family.”–Robert Danziger, author of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Energy Independence
“Deny it as one may, our hearts are part and parcel of our lineage. As Bill’s title suggests, the emphasis here is on heart and how one is formed by ‘ghosts,’ one’s brethren who, over time, one learns to acknowledge and affirm if not embrace. At once a memoir and a meditation, The Inherited Heart traces Bill Minor’s family history back to 17th Century America, and the author, distinguished poet, painter, musician and storyteller, does justice to a cast of characters that includes Thomas Trowbridge (b. 1590, ‘the first of his family to come to America’) and his descendants. This is a wonderfully rich, deeply moving and evocative family saga–one of the most insightful and humorous I have read.”–Robert Sward, author of New & Selected Poems, 1957-2011
“In a not-so-dark or smoky lounge, a white-haired and bearded, hipster-looking pianist belted out stories as glorious as the sounds bouncing from the keys. After reading Bill Minor’s The Inherited Heart, I discovered it wasn’t the beer we’d been drinking that had done the talking. In this memoir, Minor reveals succulent and surprising strings of history by weaving a colorful and intricate tapestry of his past.”–Dan Linehan, author and poet
“William Minor’s The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir is a candid look at one man’s individual journey through nearly eight decades of life. Using historical documents, ancestral correspondence, and numerous photographs, it also draws upon his family’s collective journey through 400 years of United States history … The Inherited Heart goes beyond autobiography or history. Like life itself, it’s serious, raucous, reflective, dramatic, and often hilarious … Minor’s background is as impressive as it is eclectic: professional jazz musician from the age of sixteen, amateur boxer, artist, poet, novelist, college teacher, and chronicler of jazz on three continents … In the opening paragraph of his preface, he lays out his goal: ‘When I was seventeen years old I was, aside from St Paul, the most serious human being ever to walk the face of the earth. When I was seven years old, I was a precocious clown, entertaining my family at dinner with imitations of Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny and material I stole from Milton Berle’s Joke Book. I am now of somewhat advanced age and attempting to reconcile not only these two discordant elements in my life–solemnity and playfulness–but others as well’ … Writing in an engaging, highly readable style–one that’s always informed by warmth, humor, and intelligence–Minor succeeds admirably. The Inherited Heart comes from an open heart, and it tells not only a great American story but a great human story as well.”–Sterling Johnson, Author of Dangerous Knaves.
The joys and sorrows of writing books are not just confined to the books themselves–and occasionally a joy will arrive that had not been anticipated. I mentioned–in a previous blog (“Bill Has a New Book Out!”)–the CD, Love Letters of Lynchburg, I recorded for the Historic Sandusky Foundation in Virginia, a script for two voices and original music I composed as a spinoff from chapters in the book (http://www.historicsandusky.org/shop.htm) . A similar spinoff or side effect took place when, sixteen years after Monterey Jazz Festival: Forty Legendary Years was published, I was hired to provide copy for an amazing project, a collaboration between the Monterey Jazz Festival and Monterey/Salinas Transit: three JAZZ BUS lines that feature bright orange vehicles decorated with lively “jazz” designs, thirty-three handsome shelters (I provided copy for 28 of them, and the Festival’s graphic artist, Phil Wellman, supplied fine historic photos)—and, an added touch: if you have a “smart phone,” you can make a connection with a bar code and listen to music from that year (each shelter represents a different year of the Festival) while waiting for your bus! Talk about State of the Art ways to get word out about a worthwhile “product” (both Festival and the transit system!). Here’s a photo of one of the buses, one of the shelters, and one of me standing beside 1963—a “very good year,” with Jack Teagarden, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, and Dave Brubeck all on hand to perform!
And speaking of music … the next post will be devoted exclusively to that!