It’s 1976, the American Bicentennial year, and a California family sets out on a patriotic pilgrimage to Detroit, birthplace to the parents who want their teenage sons to see “real” American cars before they become extinct. Full of antic adventures, the trip to Detroit is a disaster. On the return journey the family joins the Jarvis Spindelshank Overland Trail Re-enactment Party–a group celebrating, and imitating, one of the original journeys on the Oregon Trail. This leg of the Bicentennial trek leads to further comic adventures with heightened drama: a simulated cholera epidemic, an Indian attack, and a buffalo hunt–plus a surprise ending. William Minor’s highly entertaining fact-based novel is intended for all audiences who love their families, American history and folklore, earthy humor, zany but charming storytelling, and just plain fun. Minor’s literary craftsmanship and fine sense of the absurd have been compared to that of Mark Twain and Peter De Vries, and in this work–the satire of which may be even more relevant today than it was in 1976–Minor’s bright, playful and purposeful prose, without making fun of anyone, has fun with just about everything and everyone American.
The “troupe” or trio with whom I’ve been giving readings (with musical backing) from The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir–Jaqui Hope, vocals, Heath Proskin, bass, and me on piano–will be offering a third but revised and refined performance of that program on Saturday, August 24, 7:30, at the Museum of Monterey (5 Custom House Plaza, Monterey, California). For this presentation, we plan to take the “best” of the two previous book launch events and add new material (music I’ve written recently and new poems), so that the program will be “fresh.” A tentative title is: “The Best of The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir and New Poems Set to Music, Featuring Vocalist Jaqui Hope, Bassist Heath Proskin, and Bill Minor on Piano and Reading from His Work.”
The general intent of what we present remains the same as what we did before: to offer a musical presentation of playful and purposeful prose (and poems), lyric passages laced with original music and songs (standards) from the era depicted in The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir—the music adding a dimension to and enhancing the words.
More details regarding this upcoming event will be posted soon.
Also, throughout the month of August, Joanna Martin and Lalo Alvarez will offer–on their Santa Cruz Poetry Box TV program–the “Reading with Live Music” event they filmed at Old Capitol Books in Monterey on April 6. The performance will be presented, several times, on CTV (Community Television of Santa Cruz County)–Channel 27 in Santa Cruz and also as Live stream video online: www.communitytv.org/ctv3.
A full schedule for this screening will be posted as soon as I have it. Stay tuned!
I’ve been making music, professionally, longer than I’ve been writing–for sixty-one years in fact, so I think I’ll just jump right into this post (the way I might a tune once its been called for at a gig) and show you and tell you about the three CDs I’ve recorded so far–although all of these came about when I’d been writing for some time and hoped to match my own words with my own music as best I could.
Bill Minor & Friends: For Women Missing or Dead, Poems Set to Music; Kanpai Records, 2002
After I published the book For Women Missing or Dead, I recognized that this cycle of short, lyric pieces (fifty-six poems in all) were well suited for a musical setting (they felt a bit like late night “blues” pieces), but it took me twenty-three years to get around to writing that music. I didn’t want merely to provide a musical ambiance behind the words, but compose O-honest-to-God songs (a la George Gershwin and Cole Porter–to suggest some good company)–and after I’d done so with about twenty-one of the poems, I selected fourteen I wished to record, and then did so.
Although I had the best company I could ask for on the recording, some of the finest musicians I know (Nancy Raven, vocals; Elise Rotchford, vocals; Karl Dobbratz, guitar; Richard Mayer, flute; Joe Gallo, clarinet; Andy Weis, drums) and the recording was made at Roger Eddy’s excellent studio (Roger himself a superb saxophonist who provided a solo on one song), listening to the CD now, it seems very “homegrown,” very much a “demo,” which it was really intended to be. I mentioned in a previous section of this blog that I’d hoped that other performers might like the songs and perform them themselves–which didn’t happen. I’d been doing quite a bit of composing when the recording was made, but hadn’t played piano in public for some time, so many of the piano riffs make me cringe now (No chops!). I pleaded, as did the great Tadd Dameron (more grand company!) that I simply played “composer’s piano,” but as my friend Dick Maxwell always said (actually passing out T-shirts on the first day of his creative writing classes with the words inscribed on them), “NO DISCLAIMERS!” By the way, I still like the songs themselves. Anyone care to sing them? The CD is not offered online, but I’ll be happy to print a copy for you–whenever you want (Let me know at: email@example.com)
One of the songs I am quite proud of (“I Cried of Course”; Elise Rotchford, vocal; me on piano) was featured on an animated film my son Stephen put together–a film accepted for the site Poems that Go. It can be found now on my website, in the menu “Music” section: http://www.bminor.org/launch.html
Mortality Suite: Poems & Music, Bill Minor; Kanpai Records, 2008
In June, 2005, my good friend, poet Robert Sward, brought J.J. Webb to the house. J.J. was a former head of web development at Stanford University Business School, and a poet with a long history of internet editing. He had recently set up, on a site he called Beau Blue Presents, an internet broadside: Robert’s own “My Rosy Cross Father,” poems that included Mp3 sound (Robert reading), text, and graphics. J.J. asked if I would be willing to contribute eight poems for his next Beau Blue Presents venture and, because I also play piano and had composed a bit, he requested original music to accompany the spoken word presentations. I was also originally trained as a visual artist, so J.J., an artist himself, immediately went to work, going about the house and through my studio, gathering pieces of mine he felt would provide further “accompaniment,” or suitable counterpart, to the poems. When my portion was posted on Beau Blue Presents, it was called Bill Minor’s Mortality Suite: A Broadside of Jazz Riffs: http://jjwebb.ihwy.com/mortalitysuite.
Later, J.J. Webb would branch out into Flash Animation for another series called Blue’s Cruzio Cafe, and I contributed a poem, “Dreaming Sandra Bullock,” accompanied by a “cartoon” of me reciting the poem (something both fascinating and a bit scary, like watching yourself on old 8 mm films). This series has gone on to prove quite popular, cited by The Philadelphia Inquirer as one of the most innovative approaches to poetry online: http://members.cruzio.com/~cafe/greenroom.html.
After Bill Minor’s Mortality Suite appeared on J.J.’s site, I dreamed of adding to that material and presenting it as a spoken word CD (with music), and thanks to another good friend, bassist Heath Proskin (who joined me on four additional “numbers,” and also helped mix and master the CD), recording engineer Steve Mortensen, and Karl Dobbratz at Good Brother Sound, that dream came true. Once again I enjoyed the first-rate assistance of vocalists Nancy Raven and Elise Rotchford, instrumentalists Richard Mayer (flute), Karl Dobbratz (guitar), and Andy Weis (drums). And once again, Roger Eddy was responsible for recording three of the tracks. And once again, copies of this CD are available if you contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Love Letters of Lynchburg: Voice Script and Original Music by Bill Minor; Historic Sandusky Foundation, 2010
This CD came about while I was working on The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir. While doing research on my father’s family, which goes back to 17th Century Middlesex County, Virginia, I discovered Charles Minor Blackford, my great-grandfather’s first cousin’s son, and his remarkable wife Susan. They carried on an extraordinary correspondence throughout the Civil War. I wrote three chapters on them for the memoir and then, having made two trips to the University of Virginia Special Collections Library in Charlottesville to do further research, I made the acquaintance of Gregory Starbuck, Executive Director of the Historic Sandusky Foundation in Lynchburg. Greg was completing a compilation CD called Lynchburg Melodies: History of the Hill City in Song, and when I gave him a copy of my own CD Mortality Suite, and we discussed Charles and Susan (he even took me on a tour of their former home in Lynchburg), he suggested I prepare a script based on their letters, the exchange to be read by two actors-and that I also compose an original score of music to accompany the readings.
The possibility of undertaking such a project as a commissioned piece was exciting, and I immediately started to work on the score, having asked two excellent musicians I’d been working with in California, bassist Heath Proskin, and flutist Richard Mayer, if they would be willing to participate in a recording project. I also approached two fine local actors: Taelen Thomas, whom I’d seen in splendid one man shows as everyone from John Steinbeck, Mark Twain, Jack London, Daniel Boone and Teddy Roosevelt to Leonardo da Vinci (I knew he’d be just right for Charles Minor Blackford), and Kathryn Petruccelli, whom I’d seen perform as Una Jeffers, wife of poet Robinson Jeffers. With her spirited, spunky nature, her wit and intelligence and compassion, I knew she would become Susan-and she did. Everyone agreed to contribute their considerable skills to the project. I completed the music, and once again we recorded the CD at Roger Eddy’s studio. And as he has so often done, my son Steve (who designed and set up my website: www.bminor.org) came through with a handsome design for the cover.
I shaped the eleven page script from the Warwick House (1996) two volume Memoirs of Life In and Out of the Army of Virginia During the War Between the States, source of the letters along
with the Charles Scribner’s Sons (1947) abridged edition Letters from Lee s Army … We have presented four live performances of this work in the Monterey Bay Area, with Taelen Thomas as Charles Minor Blackford, Kitty Petruccelli and Marlie Avant as Susan, and instrumentalists Heath Proskin (bass), Richard Mayer and Kenny Stahl (flute), and myself on piano. At the recent “Book Launch” events for The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir, vocalist Jaqui Hope, who is also a fine actor, plays Susan to my Charles Minor Blackford. The CD is available at: http://www.historicsandusky.org./shop.htm.
In a previous post (“Bill Has a New Book Out!”), I also mentioned that a major breakthrough for me with regard to the Brave New World of digital promotion came when I began to post some of my music on YouTube–that in that area I had become a True Believer. I’d like to offer four of those efforts here: the first with a group I had called The Something Cool Trio (Heath Proskin, bass; Jenn Schaaf, drums, me on piano) playing “Ain’t Misbehavin'” at a venue called The Alternative Café; the second Richard Mayer and I playing “Lover Man” for a Wave Street Studios televised tribute to Kalisa Moore, “The Queen of Cannery Row” and proprietor of La Ida Café; the third a video of Jaqui Hope singing “You Go to My Head” (I’m providing piano accompaniment) at an opening at The Pacific Grove Art Center in Pacific Grove, California, and the last offers me reading a prose poem, “Q-Tips,” with Heath Proskin and Richard Mayer at a MHCAN (Mental Health Client Action Network) benefit in Santa Cruz.
Bill Minor Something Cool Trio at Alternative Café–Ain’t Misbehavin’: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CjAd39hlIWE
Bill Minor and Richard Mayer–Lover Man: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SUdX8RlW_0w
Jaqui Hope and Bill Minor at the Pacific Grove Art Center–You Go to My Head: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eT_IHYMbqxo
Bill MInor, Heath Proskin, Richard Mayer–Q-tips:ihttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PU6gcncnm2k
I’ll close out this post with another project I worked on for the Monterey Jazz Festival, and a DVD made when we presented a program at Wave Street Studios that combined work from a book, Trek: Lips, Sunny, Pecker and Me (with passages set to original music) and the Mortality Suite CD.
Monterey Jazz Festival: 40 Legendary Years, VHS and DVD, Warner Bros., 1998
Although Scott Yanow, in his book Jazz on Film, wrote, with regard to this documentary that “came out at the time of the Monterey Jazz Festival’s 40th birthday,” that the “narrative, written by Bill Minor, is excellent and sums up the festival well,” he added that “one does get frustrated at the lack of music”–and a number of people who purchased the DVD (I think the VHS, which came out first, did OK) were not just frustrated but pissed off, led astray by photos of Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles, Billie Holiday, Dave Brubeck, and Miles Davis on the cover and thinking they would see and hear sumptuous live performances by each, which wasn’t the case. Josh Redman and Patrice Rushen were hosts for what was intended to be a sort of “grass roots” documentary on how the festival got started, its founders (Jimmy Lyons and Ralph Gleason), its “mom and pop store” origin, the stage hands and behind-the-scenes folks who gave of themselves–and still give–for its continuance, the jazz education program (I’m still proud of this section), etc.–and there is music provided by Toshiko Akiyoshi, Etta James, and Gerald Wilson–although it remains, as Yanow pointed out, “secondary to the talking,” However, for my money, the tales stage manager Paul Vieregge had to tell about Miles and Monk are worth the price of admission.
I enjoyed working on the film (initially I just provided bios for the performers to be interviewed, but after the latter was done, I was given a book of transcriptions as thick as the Bible, Old and New Testaments, and told to “make a story out of it all,” which I tried to do. It was a treat to work with Director Willy Harper–and Clint Eastwood was Executive Producer of the film.
Bill Minor Recorded Live at the Wave Street Studios October 26th 2008, DVD
This was a great night I’m happy to have a “live” record of. Actor Taelen Thomas (who was featured on the Love Letters of Lynchburg CD) read portions of work from Trek: Lips, Sunny, Pecker and Me, and poems from the Mortality Suite CD, backed by original music I composed performed by Heath Proskin (bass), Richard Mayer (flute) and me on piano. We had a full house, very appreciative, and it’s a thrill to be able to sit back and witness an experience you were intensely involved in–to watch and hear it now as if you were just a member of the audience! The show was streamed live and can still be seen as it unfolds at: http://livenetworks.tv/?p=149L
I have a chapter called “Uncles” in The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir that tells some of the story of the “totally musical family” I grew up in, but we’ve had quite a bit of music here already, so I’ll save that story for another post.
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!
Before I published The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir (and sought fully up to date means to promote and market it), I had published ten other books of my own–five through trade and university presses; one, the comic novel I mentioned previously, through Park Place Publications; and four through an independent press my wife and I ran for eleven years, Betty’s Soup Shop Press. Betty makes great soup and I had dreams of a small restaurant down the coast, just past Big Sur, replete with Greek blue and white oilcloth tabletops, a cozy candlelit place where I could play piano on Thursday through Saturday nights–but for some strange reason Betty was not at all inclined to prepare soup on a daily basis for a hundred or more folks, so we settled for a press—and all that entails.
Here are my other books:
Jazz Journeys to Japan: The Heart Within; University of Michigan Press, 2004
“Part music history, part cultural meditation, part travel narrative, Jazz Journeys to Japan is the first book to address the experiences of individual Japanese jazz musicians—greats such as Toshiko Akiyoshi, Masahiko Satoh, Makoto Ozone, and Yosuke Yamashita. Author William Minor navigates the converging streams of Western music and Eastern tradition, revealing through interviews with musicians, critics, and producers the unique synthesis that results from this union. And, turning conventional wisdom on its ear, he disproves the widely held notion that Japanese jazz artists don’t “swing.” Along the way, we experience Minor’s growing appreciation of Japanese culture, which mirrors his subjects’ discovery of American jazz.”
“Bill Minor has long been a highly respected observer of the jazz scene and one of its most literate journalists. In Jazz Journeys to Japan, he casts light on the much-neglected Japanese jazz scene and is not only quite informative, but very witty.” —Scott Yanow, author of Trumpet Kings and Jazz On Record
“With an eye and an ear for detail and a poet’s passion, William Minor commits himself to meticulously leaving no stone unturned in his journey to understand the jazz heart within Japan. In his first-person exploration teeming with personal anecdotes and enlightening interviews, Bill engages the reader immediately with ‘scherzando’ (playful) reverence.” —Dan Ouellette, music critic, Billboard and DownBeat
“Jazz has been deeply rooted in the soil of the mysterious country of Zen, haiku, and Bushido for three quarters of a century, but not until Jazz Journeys to Japan has a book shed light on the Japanese jazz scene of today.” —Masahiko Satoh, pianist, composer, arranger
“Minor has done a very good, and long-overdue, job of putting to rest the mythology of the ‘vapid’ and unswinging Japanese jazz artist. Reading his description of these musicians in action, I kept hearing the music jump off the page. He confirmed that these cats can swing!” —W. Royal Stokes, author of Living the Jazz Life and Swing Era New York
“Today the Monterey Jazz Festival, the dream of radio man Jimmy Lyons and San Francisco Chronicle columnist Ralph J. Gleason, is synonymous with the finest music the world of jazz has to offer. Scores of performers. The known. The unknown. Three September days full of sound emanating from the California town John Steinbeck called “a poem … a habit, a nostalgia, a dream.” And while today’s Festival is a dream-come-true for any jazz lover, its history is rich with drama, humor, catastrophe and success, a collage of emotion, compromise and risk-taking. And in these pages, every aspect jumps off the page in words and glorious black-and-white photographs. A special four-color gatefold features selected Monterey Jazz posters … In Monterey Jazz Festival: Forty Legendary Years, jazz journalist William Minor tells the story of the oldest, continuously performed jazz gathering in the world, the story of forty weekends of jazz that welcomed the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck, Gerry Mulligan, Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, Carmen McRae, Janis Joplin, Herbie Hancock, Wynton Marsalis and Joshua Redman … Photographer and photo editor Bill Wishner has collected more than one hundred fifty rare images of the performers and performances that have highlighted the Festival over nearly half a century. Monterey Jazz Festival: Forty Legendary Years includes a complete listing of all musicians who have performed on the Monterey stages from 1958 to 1997. This is the definitive history of the Festival that defines jazz.”
“As you turn the pages of this book, you’ll feel the celebration in jazz at Monterey.” — Clint Eastwood; “A good read and a valuable resource”–JazzTimes; “Monterey Jazz Festival chronicles the heady experience of launching a jazz festival of international stature.”–Dave Brubeck; “When it comes to the definitive story of a defining event in American history, you can’t beat Monterey Jazz Festival: Forty Legendary Years–Patricia Holt (San Francisco Chronicle), “An informative and lively narrative, full of amusing anecdotes and thoughtful analysis”–Paul de Barros (DownBeat); “This is such a thorough accounting of jazz in Monterey that even Minor’s photo captions are vignettes in themselves … if his previous work, Unzipped Souls, alerted us to a fresh talent, his latest, Monterey Jazz Festival: Forty Legendary Years, easily places Minor among the top jazz critics and writers in the U.s.“–Ray A. March
Unzipped Souls: A Jazz Journey Through the Soviet Union; Temple University Press, 1995
“William Minor, taking the reader on a tour of the Soviet jazz circuit in the twilight of communism, personalizes the phenomenon with accounts he gathered from folks who, in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, both participated in carrying off this cultural coup and continue to perpetuate the jazz idiom … a timely and truly astonishing tale, and, in the author’s lucid prose, a charming one as well.”
—W. Royal Stokes, editor of Jazz Notes
“Across 9,000 kilometers and six republics of the former Soviet Union, William Minor embarked on a “jazz journey” to observe the development of contemporary Russian jazz, as it responded to abundance of cultural changes … A jazz writer and musician himself, Minor sat in on private performances and went backstage at several major festivals, witnessing first-hand the artistic release and creativity of Russian musicians. Throughout his travels, the author interviewed musicians, critics, and fans, and reproduces in his book an intimate sense of their aspirations, struggles, successes; they tell of shared resources, networks, and inventive forums for playing and exchanging information … Minor’s impressions and experiences are a valuable behind-the-scenes look the country and the culture just before the collapse of the communist state.”
“Outside of S. Frederick Starr or Bill Minor, who’ve written about jazz in Russia, no American has written extensively about a foreign jazz scene.” Kevin Whitehead, New Dutch Swing
Trek: Lips, Sunny, Pecker and Me; Park Place Publications, 2007
“It’s 1976, the American Bicentennial year, and a California family sets out on a patriotic pilgrimage to Detroit, birthplace to the parents who want their teenage sons to see “real” American cars before they become extinct. Full of antic adventures, the trip to Detroit is a disaster. On the return journey the family joins the Jarvis Spindelshank Overland Trail Re-enactment Party–a group celebrating, and imitating, one of the original journeys on the Oregon Trail. This leg of the Bicentennial trek leads to further comic adventures with heightened drama: a simulated cholera epidemic, an Indian attack, and a buffalo hunt–plus a surprise ending. William Minor’s highly entertaining fact-based novel is intended for all audiences who love their families, American history and folklore, earthy humor, zany but charming storytelling, and just plain fun. Minor’s literary craftsmanship and fine sense of the absurd have been compared to that of Mark Twain and Peter De Vries, and in this work–the satire of which may be even more relevant today than it was in 1976–Minor’s bright, playful and purposeful prose, without making fun of anyone, has fun with just about everything and everyone American.”
“Think Kerouac’s On the Road with National Lampoon vacation warrior Chevy Chase at the wheel and the calamitous cast from Little Miss Sunshine tumbling in for the ride. Minor details the misadventures of the Moker family as they set off to see America during the bicentennial year of 1976, only to discover not its beauty and majesty, but chaos, clutter and an odd cast of characters who drive off cliffs with parade floats, blow up bologna and shoot plastic deer off the lawns of a motel. Written with colorful dialogue and steeped in cultural import, Mr. Minor’s page-turner trek is indeed a true road trip of the absurd.” Dan Ouellette (The Volkswagen Bug Book, DownBeat, Billboard) –Dan Ouellette
“Bill Minor’s TREK is that rare thing in fiction these days, Twain-style, laugh-out-loud funny, tall-tale storytelling. It has that ‘What the hell is this?’ quality. ‘My God,’ one asks oneself, ‘Can he really carry this off?’ Yes, yes, yes… Read it, read it, friend, and see.” –Robert Sward (A Much-Married Man and Rosicrucian in the Basement)
“Two Thumbs Up! William Minor’s loopy Bicentennial road novel, is a real trip. Independence Day death tallies. Hunters shooting plastic deer. The East, then West, then East, again, hitchhiker. Hypothetical double features. The State of Utah float made entirely of butter. Absurd. Quirky. Off beat. Over the top. Below the belt. I’ve never in my life read anything like it–there IS nothing like it.” –Rick Carroll (IZ Voice of the People)
Some Grand Dust; Chatoyant,2002
“William Minor had been married (to the same woman!) for thirty-eight years when he started his collection of short pieces entitled Our Peasant Life. Minor spares neither wit nor compassion when he explores marriage, love, household, family, and neighbors in this charming work … In Moker, Minor turns his life around, imagining that he hadn’t pursued the woman he would love the rest of his life, or the passion for music that has kept him focused. His alter ego, Moker, pads about an empty apartment in bare feet, divorced (he didn’t find the right woman!), imagines a daughter he never had, and finds peace through acceptance and humor … Minor’s skillfully crafted poems weave a story of life, longing, and loving in the years beyond youth. Some Grand Dust is an extraordinary portrait of ordinary lives.”
“This is an honest, warm, and beautifully written tribute to the survival of love, no matter what. A book to treasure and pass on to your friends.” — Molly Giles
“I’ve enjoyed reading William Minor’s poems for nearly 40 years. His memoir of a marriage is honest and touching. His imagined “other life”–the second part of the book–is equally engaging, also embracing marriage: “my metaphor.” — Carolyn Kizer
“In recent American literature, there is nothing at all like this somber, rollicking, double-headed chronicle of one set of linked lives.”–Al Young
“These are superbly crafted verses of life, longing, loving, family, and neighbors — both real and imagined.–Midwest Book Review
“Moker is marvelous, a real character and lives beyond the author’s shadow persona. ‘Some Grand Dust’ makes marriage into a formidable metaphor that challenges every new couple to love beyond the usual sentimental films and advertisements. This is a book that will have a life of its own as it breaks through pain and reflection into the sunlight of praise and hope. Perhaps something could be arranged so it’s passed out at every wedding so that newlyweds can become aware of the depth of experience that is really involved in a true marriage.”–James Schevill
“In the two long sequences that make up Some Grand Dust, Bill Minor’s usual passion and directness are infused first with a nuanced tenderness when he reflects on his wife of 38 years, and second with a meditative wit when he examines an aging man’s thoughts about life. The result is a book of sensitivity and depth that, along with Minor’s exuberance for the things of this world, make Some Grand Dust grand reading not to be missed.”—Morton Marcus
“Some Grand Dust, although it makes no such claims, is a primer on how, despite our “pure pride and pettiness of spirit,” to make every day of our lives a celebration. And it does so with some really fine poetry.”–Elliot Ruchowitz-Roberts
“In the first series of poems from Some Grand Dust, noted author, poet, musician and artist Bill Minor takes love poetry to a new level. The poetry becomes a series of tender musings on his long marriage to his wife, captures the real essence of a loving relationship, one in which the day to day becomes a celebration. Each word is carefully chosen, and the poems have a quiet strength that become more vibrant with each reading. The second half of the book comes from the voice of the author’s alter-ego, and has a freshness and subtle humor that are delightful to read again and again. This is, quite simply, poetry as it should be written.”–Rhonda Lawson
“Opening with a series of forty-two short prose poems, passionate vignettes, William Minor steps outside himself and ‘sees’ how and why he has come to stand where he does. ‘What is marriage?’ the poet asks. ‘What exactly does it mean to be ‘husband’ or ‘wife’?’ At once humorous, plainspoken and romantic, the poems celebrate thirty-eight years of marriage, mark and offer praise to the poet’s wife, his muse, his ever-faithful, wonderfully wise ‘snoring goddess…my all-too-human myth’ … ‘The real miracle in life,’ he writes, ‘is having the courage to be perfectly, and I mean perfectly, ordinary.’ … All praise to Bill Minor! Our Peasant Life is the work of an eminently sane and courageous man.”–Robert Sward
Poet Santa Cruz: Number 4; Jazz Press, 1986
“Like his hero, the Warsaw-born Osip Mandelstam, whose rich and rhythmic poetry enjoyed a devoted following in the USSR during the pre-Stalinist era, William Minor believes that poetry is play. ‘We play pianos, we play poems,’ he reminds us. ‘Just think: the same keyboard produces Teddy Wilson, Bud Powell and Bill Evans. An identical set of keys and ten fingers–but such variety of sound !’ … By way of explaining his own artistic versatility, Minor has sometimes talked about having grown up in Detroit around what he calls ‘a houseful of musical hustlers: clarinetists, accordion players, tap dancers, all kinds; all of them auditioning, always off to play this party or that wedding’ … I’ve sat up deep into the night listening to this man knock out spirited, danceable renditions of all the pop and jazz and country standards on piano, grinning the way he must’ve when a trio he headed had the gig at the 456 Club in Brooklyn back in the 1950s … Minor’s love of jazz, particularly swing and bebop, and every manner of keyboard and guitar music is, so to speak, his own brand of religious fundamentalism. But whatever you happen to pick up on or walk in on of Minor’s–whether it be a poem, a short story, a novel, a play, a drawing, a print, a painting, a piano vamp on ‘Lulu’s Back In Town,’ or a hot guitar break on some Hank Williams number–you can bet even money that the thing will be recognizable at once as what it’s supposed to be, that it will touch the heart, and that it’ll swing; that is, it’ll be fun … William Minor is the real thing: a liver of poetry who just happens to like writing the stuff, too. His work is as first-rate as he is one of a kind. And what is especially wonderful about reading it is that you know you’re in the hands of a congenital enjoyer of life who wants to share the way his world looks and sounds and feels and tastes, yet without ever trying to prove anything … Minor celebrates seemingly simple or casual events: kite-flying with his son, a beach scene near his home in Pacific Grove, a visit to the doctor, listening to Mozart on a crappy phonograph while waiting for his wife to get home from Jazzercise class, seeing a statue of that old goat Pan in a Greek museum. And shining from the center of it all is love; an oblational love, as Minor might term it, but love all the same in all its agelessness.”—AI Young
Natural Counterpoint: Poems by Paul Oehler and William MInor; Betty’s Soup Shop Press, 1985
“This book is unique in that each author has set his ego aside, temporarily, and truly collaborated on a collection of poetry. Poems are grouped under four headings: First Person, The Outside, Cranial and Other People. The author of each poem is designated on the title page of each section, yet remains anonymous within-in the-spirit of those Vagantes, troubadours, scops, and wandering scholars who placed the content of their poems and the poems themselves above self in the Middle Ages, a time not all that much unlike our own.”
See “On the Nature of Literary Friendship: Paul Oehler, by William Minor” in Writers Friendship, edited and compiled by Robert Sward: http://webdelsol.com/f-friendship.htm
Goat Pan: Poems by William Minor; Betty’s Soup Shop Press, 1984
“From November, 1978, to July, 1979, my wife and I lived in Greece- on the islands of Crete and Paros, with excursions to Cos, Rhodes, Naxos, Delos, Delphi, Thera and Olympia. When we first arrived in Athens we discovered a rare statue of Pan in the National Archaeological Museum. No horns, no hoofs. He even lacked hands, but only through a flaw in duration. He was just a fat, squat, middle-aged man: antic, irreverent, fun loving, frisky, constantly inventive. And he became our presiding spirit in that country … Actuality ends there. The ‘I’ of these poems is not I, who felt very much at home in Greece. The speaker is a slightly troubled American, awe struck, confused by the subtle and sometimes violent fusion of spirituality and ‘sensuous strife,’ of stark reverence and naked dance. The poems contain the sometimes comic adventures and responses of an American tourist attempting to cope with a land older, wiser, wilder, richer than himself … And, of course, the poems contain much homage to my favorite god- person, Pan.”
Like Goat Pan, which was “lavishly illustrated by the author” (laser-scanned full color paintings, half-tone drawings, and woodcut prints), the following two books contained as much art work (and photos in the case of For Women Missing or Dead) as poetry–although I was having trouble at the time convincing publishers that this was a plausible way to go or “do business.” When I would submit my poems to journals along with woodcut prints I regarded as counterparts (not just “illustrations”), editors would say, “We like the poems, but we aren’t interested in the prints” (which generally meant they couldn’t afford to reproduce them); and visual artists would say, “Nice prints, but do I have to read all this crap?”
Again, fortunately, the world has changed, and looking back, I’m proud of these little books and pleased that I stuck to my guns in the midst of opposition. My wife and I (Betty’s Soup Shop Press) published Goat Pan, For Women Missing or Dead, and Pacific Grove—the latter in an unusual horizontal format (that fit the art work). For Women Missing or Dead was innovative in that, having been married to Betty for twenty years, I found myself still carrying some old girlfriends around in my head–so I exorcised them by including their photos in the book, an act of daring that one poet, Gary Soto, told me he’d always wanted to do but didn’t feel a publisher would go for it.
For Women Missing or Dead: Poem/Prints, Betty’s Soup shop Press, 1977
I always “heard” the poems from For Women Missing or Dead as late night blues “tunes,” so years later I set them to music: O-honest-to-God songs (not just words with a musical ambiance behind them). I posted twelve of these songs in the “Music” section of my website (www.bminor.org), short audio samples, crude “homegrown” demo versions I hoped might attract the attention of performers who’d want to sing them–but that didn’t happen. So on occasion I sing them myself, and two of these songs were included on a site J.J. Webb, a former head of web development at Stanford University Business School and a poet with a long history of internet editing, set up for me–Bill Minor’s Mortality Suite: A Broadside of Jazz Riffs–on his Beau Blue Presents series that included MP3 readings, and in my case, original music and art work: http://jjwebb.ihwy.com/mortalitysuite/. I’ll discuss this interesting venture–and a CD I produced as a spinoff (or “expansion” of this work), Mortality Suite–in a future blog.
Pacific Grove: poems/drawings/woodcuts/prose by William Minor, Betty’s Soup Shop Press, 1974
I published this book a year before the town, founded in 1875 as a Methodist gate enclosed retreat–often referred to as “one of the last hometowns in America,” as well as the “Butterfly Capitol of California”–was preparing to celebrate its centennial. Betty and I had arrived in 1971, when I took a job teaching English at Monterey Peninsula College, and I assembled a number of poems, prose pieces, drawings and woodcut prints as a book that ended: “As for myself, I walk through this village dispensing stories and songs and poems, but I am not the only bard. My stuff is well received, though no one sees fit to praise me for it. I am one of those necessary happy mad persons who pays taxes and dues but forgets how much … What we use seems sufficient ground for our own two feet. I like it here … This is the first place in my life I do not wish to move from: Pacific Grove.”
Ironically, I sold all 450 copies we printed in just a few months. People bought the book thinking it was a reliable “history” of the town, and, unfortunately, I could well imagine their surprise and displeasure when they got home and discovered it was just my own happy mad wild surreal romp with words. After five brutal winters teaching in Wisconsin, I was so content to be where I was!
I think it’s one of the few times in my life when I came up with the right thing at just the right time (as far as writing went) and this solely by accident. I just hope those people who purchased the book were willing to accept “We trouble no one with what we know, not enamel birds or tire-gray seals. We have few skills, but those we have are fully possessed. We make bean bag chairs and music” in place an actual history of the town.
The Anthology of Monterey Bay Poets 2004; Edited by Ryan Masters, Introduction by William Minor; Chatoyant, 2004
I’ll toss this book in here because I like it, and when Pacific Grove Poet-in-Residence Ryan Masters assembled it (and included a poem of my own), he asked me to write an intro, which I did.
“The ANTHOLOGY OF MONTEREY BAY POETS 2004 contains poems by nearly 100 poets residing in the Monterey Bay Area … Monterey Bay, California, is a refuge for wildlife both common and rare. This anthology collects the work of the rarest, or perhaps the wildest, of life in the region — its poets. Drawing from the rich natural and human environment that surrounds their creators, the poems collected in this volume create a vivid postcard of life in this artistically vibrant region.” (Description on Chatoyant site)
“The anthology is terrific…Individual poems demand appreciation — yet the collective success exceeds any one poem’s strength. Congratulations on a nicely balanced collection.” Dana Gioia Poet/Chairman, NEA
Following through on “Sound Check/Getting Started,” I’m that guy who’s been writing for fifty-two years and began to play jazz piano when he was sixteen, but I was also trained as a visual artist (Pratt Institute and U.C.-Berkeley), and I exhibited woodcut prints and paintings at the San Francisco Museum of Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the Smithsonian Institution: mostly woodcut prints that incorporated the text of Russian, Modern Greek, and Japanese poetry–which I also translated.
Attracted by the “multimedia” work of William Blake, e.e. cummings, Kenneth Patchen and Shiko Munakata (and the voice of Dylan Thomas), I began to write poetry as a graduate student in Language Arts at San Francisco State in 1963, and produced my first book containing poems and woodcut prints, Pacific Grove, in 1974. I have, since that time, published five more books of poetry: the latest Some Grand Dust (Chatoyant Press), for which I was a finalist for the Benjamin Franklin Award–but I’ll save word of that book and other work for the section called “Other Books.”
For now, and because–in keeping with what I said in “Sound Check; Getting Started”–I intend to make use of nearly every approach I can (text, photos, audio, video), I’ll show you what I look like, a modest backyard photo taken by my friend and former student Milo Martin–and recent enough not to be a touched-up affair acquired years ago in a previous incarnation. And I’ll also toss in a photo (by David Royal) of the group I now make music with: vocalist Jaqui Hope, bassist Heath Proskin, and myself—taken in Washington Park, just half a block up the street from where I live in Pacific Grove, California.
Perhaps an even better way to let you into my life is to post an interview (YouTube “Bill Minor-The Inherited Heart Interview”) that host Mark Baer conducted when The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir came out, one that was presented on his ampmedia “Your Town” TV show–a talk in which we discussed everything from growing up in a “totally musical family,” a book I wrote on the Monterey Jazz Festival (Monterey Jazz Festival: Forty Legendary Years), Clint Eastwood, a commissioned CD called Love Letters of Lynchburg (a spinoff from The Inherited Heart), and poets I admire.
Before I get to particulars about learning new ways to make meaningful work better known today, I would like to say a bit more about my own interest in and “conversion” to those means–because I feel this is an experience I share with many people, young and old, as I said before. I’ll confess that, because of temperament and not just age, I–up until now–had resisted or avoided many online networking sources available, regarding some of the procedures they entailed as indignities. For some time, I’d been made painfully aware that I was not just months or even a year (or two) behind on e-mail replies to family and friends, so I decided I didn’t need any more “interaction” with folks than I’d been able to manage (or mismanage), did not need to get any more “relational” than I already was. Consequently, I would turn down even a close friend’s request to be their “friend” on Facebook or Linkedin, pleading lack of free time.
I’ve always regarded friendship as a sacred matter (not an “institution”), a condition that came about naturally, spontaneously, and often accidentally, but once set in motion, a state that would span a lifetime. Consequently, when it came to my own work, I found the thought of having to choose “friends” formally and “officially” and asking them to represent themselves that way (especially for the purpose of selling my own books) appalling. However, I also woke up one day–after having represented other writers, formally and officially, as a National Writers Union book contract advisor for ten years (voluntary work I enjoyed much and found rewarding)–woke up to the fact that the world of publishing had been stood on its head and that much (if not most) of what I’d once known was no longer in effect –that a “Brave New World” had arrived and, although totally “new to thee” (as “civilized” people were to Miranda in The Tempest), I’d better get with it and learn it, or get totally “left out.”
In Bill’s Blog, I hope to tell the tale of this conversion–this secular “redemption”–by way of examples from my own experience–focused on the Inherited Heart: An American Memoir, but also other books I’ve published and music I’ve made (the discovery of the joys of YouTube for one!). The journey from skepticism and concern that I might get gorged by an information glut (an infusion of “infotoxins”) to solid belief in the benefits of a revolutionary “State of the Art” approach (with its nutritional value: a healthy new means of getting “word out”) has truly been a “trip” –and discovering what’s available today has turned out to be an adventure, in and of itself!
I’d like to close out this portion of “About” with a coda referring to the panoramic photograph that tops Bill’s Blog. When my wife Betty and I started what’s now been a fifty-six year marriage, we were twenty-one and lived for a summer in The Garden of Eden, in what I call a “shack” and she calls a “cabin” on an open spot on the Wailua River in Kauai. We were surrounded by mangos, papaya, bananas, with crayfish in the river, subsistent no electricity living, but “city kids,” we didn’t really have a clue as to what to do with it all. While my beautiful young wife scythed down grass in front of our shack/cabin, I sat under a lanai and wrote stories about having been beat up in the subways of Brooklyn! The photo shows the bend in the river (on the left) where we lived, half a mile up from the Pacific Ocean, which we reached by canoe. And yes, the photo does do full justice to the sunrise, the landscape, and the river–that timeless adventure!
I love a statement I found attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi: “I wish to be known all over Europe for my humility.” Throughout my time as a writer and musician, I’ve tried to harbor a similar inclination, a sort of quiet pride in what I’ve done, but I am also well aware that, as far back as 1959, author Norman Mailer espoused, when it came to calling attention to one’s own work, what is a more efficacious attitude. He published Advertisements for Myself—and set the tone for a future we are all a part of now. So here’s Bill’s Blog.
I’ve been writing seriously for fifty-two years and playing jazz piano, professionally, since the age of sixteen, and the latter activity has led me to value spontaneity and improvisation far more than a calculated approach to anything. This preference has carried over into my writing as well (even though I revise or re-write like crazy!). I therefore intend to make this blog as accessible, congenial, comfortable as I can (a place folks just might want to drop in on the way they “drop by” someone’s house)—although I do have two solid reasons for undertaking a blog:
(1) I have a new book out—six years of work I am so quietly proud of that I don’t mind making some noise about it now: a book called The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir. I’d like to let as many people know about this book and where it’s available as I can.
(2) Also: in a casual, perhaps even “chatty” way (thus: no fancy title of intention, just “Bill’s Blog”), I’d like to tell a story of, I feel, universal interest, one above and beyond self-concern: the story of a seventy-seven year old writer who, having exhausted traditional means of “self-presentation” he’d been familiar with for fifty-two years (and slowly watching them grow “out-of-date”) has been teaching himself–with much help from family and friends (young and old)–the most recent means of making not just a book but anything of value better known–a road, a “conversion,” that has not been easy, but one that many of you (young and old) are familiar with: learning the Brave New World of digital self-presentation and interaction.
I’ll tell some of that story in the next section–“About”–but let me wrap up this one by mentioning something my father said to me when I was quite young. He was a man who is well represented in The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir, a genuine raconteur, a fine storyteller who came north to Detroit from Arkansas in 1931, a man who loved to dance and did so with a wry smile on his face, performing his first-rate soft-shoe on tiles in front of our living room fireplace while I played “Tea for Two” on the piano (“Play the ditty, Bill!”), a man who made it possible for me to grow up in a house of metaphor. If someone was ineffectual, my father would claim he was “a one-legged man in a kicking contest”; if unscrupulous, “so crooked he could curl up in a corkscrew and sleep with great repose.” But what I remember for the purpose of this introduction are words I thought, at the time, originated with him but which turned out to be strictly Biblical: “Don’t hide your light under a bushel.”
That bushel has been lifted, thanks to St. Francis of Assisi, Norman Mailer, and my father. I hope you enjoy–and will respond to!–these first results.