Saturday, March 28, 2015

Are You Ready for the April Challenge?

      By now you've undoubtedly seen the badge logo depicted above and read the buzz on many blogs about this upcoming Blogging from A to Z April Challenge.   If you'd like to know more about it then click the link in the preceding sentence to get details and find the Linky List.   We'd like to see a record-breaking number of sign-ups including you.  If you've never participated before then you ought to give it a try at least once.  It's far easier and less time consuming than you might think it is.

      For those of you who have already stated that you're not going to do it this year, well, we'd like to see you change your mind about that.  There's still time to go to the A to Z Blog and add your blog link to the list.  If you're worried about not having your posts done already just let that go and remember: You don't have to write fancy epic posts that are complicated and complex.  They can be short and simple just like my post today.

       You can actually say a lot in just a few words.   Be a part of the 2015 Blogging from A to Z April Challenge.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

A to Z Theme Reveal-- Elements of Memoir

     Since Wrote By Rote is a blog about memoir my Blogging from A to Z April Challenge theme will be accordingly related.  In past years I've used A to Z to tell stories specifically about my own life experiences.  This year I'll take a different approach that might be helpful to you readers who are in the process of writing a memoir or might one day consider doing so.

       My A to Z theme for 2015 will be "The Elements of Memoir".   This could of course cover many things such as the literary devices that make up a memoir.   Those devices such as voice, setting, truth, story, or interpretation are the important mechanics that deliver the memoir effectively to the reader.  However, the technical aspects are not the heart and soul of the memoir--that heart and soul are the elements I want to explore in my A to Z theme.

         In my April series I'll be looking at the types of memoir stories.  What is it that people want to read about?  What is the subject matter that makes a life what it is and unique from the stories of other lives?   We connect and relate to others and it's important to allow the readers to empathize with the stories in our lives.   Our stories should command the attention of the readers while remaining a part of the story of the human experience.

        We each have our own stories to tell to the world.  Often we don't recognize the value of our stories, but those stories have value that attract the interest of others and unless we come to understand those stories we may go through our lives with the thought, "No one would be interested in my life."

          You might be surprised at how interesting your memoir stories actually are and then maybe you will understand their value when you realize that others might enjoy hearing these stories.  My A to Z theme will assess some ideas for you to consider.

           If you'd like to join the fun in April go sign up at Blogging from A to Z Challenge.  You can find other A to Z Themes at  A to Z Theme Reveal.   Lot's of fun coming soon!  Hope you'll be joining us.

          Do you think you have life events worth telling to others?   How do you think the relatively mundane can be made more interesting?   What is a favorite memoir that you have read?


Saturday, March 14, 2015

Living the Hard Life?

I'm Certainly Living a Ragtime Life. 1900 shee...
I'm Certainly Living a Ragtime Life. 1900 sheet music cover
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

        Often when we think of memoirs, we think of people who have had struggles and difficult lives.  The heroic stories of overcoming abuse, addictions, health challenges, and other harrowing situations seem to sell books and get media attention.   But what if you've led a reasonably normal life where little that was really bad happened to you?   Is an easy regular type life worth telling others about?

       My life has been interesting by the standards that many would consider, but it's also been a very good and mostly easy life.  Oh sure, I've had some kind of bad things that have happened in my life, but in retrospect they weren't that bad.  I survived relatively intact with hurts that I've gotten over for the most part.

        Divorce is never a good thing from my point of view and I've had two of them.  I went through some tough times with those divorces, but they were nowhere near as bad as some divorce stories I've heard.  And in the end I think I came out ahead in a better circumstance after each of them.  No harrowing divorce or child custody stories there.

         So what does one do with a good life when telling the memoir story?   With the divorce stories I could dramatize them a bit more than they were, and indeed there were some dramatic story-worthy parts to those.  My life on the road is filled with stories that many might find interesting.   The years of my childhood might be worthy fodder for memoir.   The stories are there.   They always are there in any of our lives.

        The interest factor comes mostly in the telling of the stories.  There have been memoirs that I've read that by all standards should have been fascinating except the storytelling was dull and lifeless.  On the other hand I can think of some memoirs that on the surface did not seem extraordinary, but the telling of the stories was so engaging that the books had my attention throughout.   A poorly written memoir can turn a great life into a lackluster sequence of events while a well told narration can make a trip to the grocery store unique and interesting.

         My good life?  How should I tell it?   A comic approach can be very entertaining, but comedy is not so easy for all of us.   A lighthearted saga filled with hyperbole and fun anecdotes might work well.  Or maybe I should just tell it like it was in my own voice.  

         A good life doesn't have to be a boring life.

         Do you like to read well-written accounts of events that don't seem particularly eventful?   How does a book about suffering and sadness affect you?    Would you rather read about a tragic life or a happy life?

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Should We Forget Our Own Past?

HBLL Family History Library (inside)
HBLL Family History Library (inside) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

       More than a few people I've known have indicated that they'd rather forget their pasts.  When broached on the subject these people might just casually slough it off or even outright reject the notion that anyone might need to know about their personal history.

         Let bygones be bygones, leave sleeping dogs lie, or let's forget about the past are sentiments that many people have expressed while so many of us want to know what happened in days gone by.  Why this disconnect and negativity about personal and family history?   Or even history in general?

           I can recall a time when I would have declared history to be one of my least favorite subjects in school.   And yet I always enjoyed reading books about historical times or seeing movies about events that happened in the past.  A favorite topic that I badgered my parents to tell me about was when they were kids or even things I had done that I had forgotten.   Somewhere along the line I realized that what I was so interested in all had to do with the past and history.  From that point of realization I no longer considered history to be my least favorite subject, but one of my great loves.

          Oh sure, the recall of dates, names, and places could be a bit tedious when tested on them, but these are all details that help to put the stories into proper perspective.   When I think back on my own past I try to accurately put dates on significant events and fill my cast of characters with the actual people with their names.   The places and people of my past tell my story bringing it to a vivid reality.

           A playbook or record of some sort of all of the people who contributed to a life story is probably a good thing to have for anyone who might be considering writing a memoir or life history.  Any epic story needs a cast of players and those characters need faces, personalities, and histories of their own.   Likewise a graphic timeline is a vital tool for visualizing the sequence of events in connection to other life events.  Then let us not forget the importance of geography when a story is related.  We may know the setting of our own story, but many others might not.

          Why is it important to remember the past and tell others about it?   For one thing it can be interesting.  Fiction after all is an imaginary history and if that is interesting to a good many people, then how much more interesting a well told true life story should be.   Also we learn from the stories of others--the successes and triumphs as well as the failures and tragedies.   We can match or model our lives against those who came before; we can avoid the mistakes they made or emulate what they did in order to find ways to make ourselves better.

         I cannot think of any good reason to forget the past.  After all the past is a part of who we are individually as well as who we are as a society.  History can answer many questions about what it is to be human.   The past can reveal some inkling as to where we are going.

         Do you like to think about your own past and that of your family lineage?    Do you think that history is a relevant subject to be taught in school?   What do you think are the most important things that the past can teach us?

Saturday, February 28, 2015

What Memoir Types Interest You Most?

English: Memoirs of the Last Ten Years of the ...
 Memoirs of the Last Ten Years of the Reign of George the Second (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

       Even though I have a blog devoted to memoir and much of my recent writing has been focused on my own life stories, I have not actually read too many memoirs in comparison to the works of fiction that I've read in my lifetime.  Over the years I've read a number of biographies and autobiographies, but works considered strictly memoir have been comparatively fewer.

         Most of the book length memoirs that I've read have been about show business personalities and artistic types such as writers, musicians, and composers.  I've gravitated towards reading about people with whom I share similar interests or lifestyles.  For the most part I've avoided memoirs of politicians, sports figures, or individuals who have dealt with personal struggles or tragedies.

         If I were to say why I've read the memoirs that I have read it would mostly to be to compare my life to others or to read about those who have achieved dreams like I have but in a bigger way.  In retrospect I don't recall most of the memoirs I've read which is par for the course for me.  I don't remember too many of the books I read.

           I'll be announcing my A to Z topic for this blog during the Theme Reveal on March 23rd (I'll actually be posting mine on Saturday March 21st in order to keep my regular posting schedule).  Today to help me with my A to Z posts I'd like some of your thoughts about memoirs.

Which of the following do you look for in a memoir and do you have any examples of memoirs that you've read that fulfilled these for you:

  • Contrast with your own life:  The accomplishments of others whose lives are very different from your own, the experiences of people who have gone through things you know little about, or anything to which you might not easily relate.
  • Comparison to your life:   Live stories about struggles you know something about, places or people you have also known, or experiences you can readily understand because in one way or another you've been there too.
  • Inspirational:   Stories that lift you up, encourage you to face your own struggles, or learning about other lives that can instill positive and life-affirming feelings.
  • Educational:   Gaining further understanding and insight about life experiences of notable people which can enrich your own perception about the world and even your own life.
  • Celebrities or Historically significant people:  This can be someone who we typically follow, someone who intrigues us in a way that we want to know more about them, someone in the news, or any other person that we read about because they are famous.
  • Entertaining:  Fun, relaxing, or escapist memoir literature.   This can cover any of the other categories in this list as we often read for the entertainment value, but also have other reasons for reading what we are reading.

      There are undoubtedly other types of memoir that you might read or reasons that you read memoir.  This genre is one that some read with a passion while others neglect reading for the most part.   Non-fiction can be a highly rewarding category of literature that many readers think of as dry and no fun.  This is certainly not the case.   Truth is not only stranger than fiction, it's also far more fascinating because it's real.

         Do you prefer reading non-fiction or fiction?   Why do you prefer one over the other?  What draws you most to a memoir?   

I am experimenting with using a blog poll--
Please vote:

Saturday, February 21, 2015

From the Cut Out Bins: Frank Sinatra

Nothing But the Best (album)
Nothing But the Best (album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The following is my response to Stephen T. McCarthy at Battle of the Bands.

      My parents had a nice little collection of albums prior to the time I started accumulating my own collection.  When I say little, I'm guessing that they might have had anywhere from 100 to 200 vinyl LP's at any given time.  The life of an album was probably relatively short-lived in our household because to be honest they didn't take the best of care of their records.

        When it came to buying records my father would go to record stores in search of very specific types of albums--invariably any sort of album that had to do with circus, carnival, or something that he construed to have something to do with show business.  He rarely looked for the typical pop albums as far as I can recall and for his specialty albums he would pay the market retail prices.

        On the other hand, my mother usually bought pop albums, hit compilations, or a variety of other albums that she found in the bargain priced bins in places like the supermarket or variety stores.  There were albums by artists such as Francis Bay Orchestra, Perez Prado, Ray Coniff, and many others whose albums somehow wound up being sold at discounted prices.  That's where she must have gotten the Frank Sinatra albums we had in the house prior to 1966.

         Looking on the internet now I can't seem to find any albums with all the songs as I remember them.  I find all the songs I remember, but not on the same album.  If I'm remembering correctly there was one album that consisted of Sinatra's older material such as "That Old Feeling", "Paradise", "The Nearness of You", "Laura" and some others.  Then there was the lusher material from the 50's such as "I Can't Get Started", "Moonlight in Vermont", "Try a Little Tenderness", "I Cover the Waterfront", and others that came from the Billy May/Nelson Riddle albums.  

          I'm thinking that there were some compilations that were available then that are not available now.   On the other hand my memory could be just totally faulty about this, but I'm not positive about this.  The way I played those albums the song line-ups should be etched in my memory, but then that was 50 years ago and a lot of memory could be blended in with all the other albums between then and now.

          Seriously though I played the heck out of those Sinatra albums in my junior high school days. I probably listened to them more than my mother did.  In quiet times when I was alone and in a contemplative mood I'd put on one of the Sinatra albums and immerse myself in the words and music.  Sometimes I'd concoct secret agent movies in my head using the songs in the imaginary soundtrack.  Some of those plots I wrote down and probably still have them somewhere in my old papers.

           At this time I was also listening to a lot of Tijuana Brass, Beach Boys, and Jan & Dean so to lump Sinatra into my adolescent listening schedule was saying a lot about the nature of the guys music.   For me a lot had to do with Sinatra's phrasing.  He sang lyrics with such style that it was almost like a melodic conversation.   He was telling me something in song and waiting for my response.  The sound of the orchestral arrangements didn't hurt either.  I'd always had an appreciation for good arrangements and Sinatra had some of the best behind his vocals.

          No, I can't ever knock Sinatra because he kept me company and enchanted me for many hours of my younger days.   Sinatra was like a cool uncle who made movies that I liked.  I still have a distant memory of going to the theater when I was about 6 years old to see Sinatra's film The Joker Is Wild and hearing the beautiful song "All the Way".  That was one of my favorite songs when I was a kid and it's always haunted me.  That movie made me melancholy whenever I thought back on it.  And I thought Sinatra was the best--even better than Elvis who was all the rage at the time but didn't have the cool urban hip of Sinatra.

        I wish I could find those Sinatra albums that my mother had--the same songs in the same order. I probably have all the songs in the compilations that I currently have in my CD collection, but I want to go back and have that same exact listening experience.   Then again, if I heard it would I remember?

         Did you appreciate Frank Sinatra when you were a kid?   Do you have a favorite Sinatra film?  What music from childhood haunts you the most?

Saturday, February 14, 2015

From the Cutout Bins: 13th Floor Elevators

Finding the Cheap Music

         After the Big K discount store opened on Hall Road in Alcoa, Tennessee, I became a frequent visitor.   Usually I was looking for cheap record albums.  In my mind I can still find my way down the main middle aisle of the store to the record racks on my left.  They were almost dead center in the middle of the store and when I arrived to that point it became the center of my universe for the next half hour or more.

         The stories I could tell about the music that I found in that store.  The cut-out bins featured older albums that were no longer as popular as they had once been, poor selling albums by artists who were well-known, and albums by artists that seemed very obscure--at least to someone like me in this small town.  I knew the hits that I heard on the radio and some of the counter-culture stuff they played on the college radio coming from Knoxville, but since I didn't keep up with the music magazines I didn't know about a lot of artists in the industry.

        Maybe some of these artists in the cut-outs were even obscure to most music fans in the know.  All I know is that some of these recordings piqued my curiosity and I coveted owning more than I could afford.  It's funny to think back on this because the albums were mostly less than a dollar apiece to my recollection.   But I was in college and money was tight.  Every quarter counted.

       Besides the cheap vinyl LP's which were displayed neatly in racks that could be flipped through easily, there were a lesser amount of 8-track cartridges which featured artists that were perhaps even more obscure than those on the record albums.  LP's were my format of preference, but some of the artists on 8-track were only on that format so sometimes I would have to break down to accept the lesser quality of the cartridges.  The biggest advantage to having music on 8-track was that they could be played in the car, but since at the time I didn't own a car that wasn't a big deciding factor for me.

An Intriguing Find

      During one of my visits to the Big K cut-out record department a peculiar sounding 8-track tape caught my eye.  The Easter Everywhere album by the oddly named 13th Floor Elevators was one album that I was not going to let go.  I'd never heard of the group before and there was no information about the group on the generic cardboard sleeve containing a crude looking cartridge that looked as though it could have been manufactured in someone's garage.  The packaging didn't matter as much as the group's name.   With a name like 13th Floor Elevators they had to be interesting.

      As it turned out I wasn't disappointed.  The sound quality was almost as crude as the appearance of the packaging, but the songs were extraordinary.  I was mesmerized by the unique sound of the group from my first listening.  Primitive and raw sounding, the music seemed so alien to me that it might have been dropped to Earth by a passing UFO.

       Actually it was good old rock and roll with a heavy dose of psychedelia.  In some songs the lyrics were fairly standard fare while other songs such as "Slip Inside This House" were mystical and spiritual.  I played the heck out of this tape until every song was seared into my brain.   Eventually I saw some other albums by the group in the record department of the University of Tennessee Bookstore in Knoxville, but my finances made purchasing any of them prohibited and then eventually the few albums they had by the group were gone.  Then after a while my cheap tape cartridge wore out and that was gone as well.  That was in 1972.

A Quest Begins

          I went for over a decade wondering about this mysterious group with the odd name and songs that stayed with me.   Now that I could afford the album I wanted to find a copy, but alas none was to be found anywhere.  That is until some time around 1986 or so when I read a story about a singer/songwriter by the name of Roky Erickson who had been a founding member of the band of my elusive quest--The 13th Floor Elevators.

        Needless to say I was excited by this discovery and now had a name and a hope to go by.   Erickson had released some solo albums and the Elevators' albums were available as imports.  On the road with my touring show at the time, I would typically visit record stores looking for new cassettes to buy.  There was some standard fare that I always looked for:  Anything that I didn't have yet by Bruce Cockburn, Van Morrison, The Good Rats, and now Roky Erickson and The 13th Floor Elevators.   I knew now to also check out the vinyl in addition to the cassettes.  Even though I didn't have any way to play records on the road, I figured that if I had the albums I could transfer them to cassette when I was home on tour breaks.

         It still seemed like a futile quest for the Erickson and Elevators albums.  That is until I got to Texas.  Since Texas was Roky Erickson's home state I started finding the albums for which I had been searching so diligently.  They weren't always cheap either.  Nevertheless I accumulated them and stored them in a safe place in my van, hoping that they wouldn't get warped being closed up in the hot vehicle.  They made it home safely and I now had the music on cassette for me to listen to when I returned to the road.

       In 1990 a resurgence of interest in the songs of Roky Erickson came about with the release of a tribute album dedicated to songs from his solo albums as well as some of the best from the 13th Floor Elevator days.  What a great album!  Artists like ZZ Top, R.E.M., Judybats, Doug Sahm, and many others were showing their love for an artist and a group that had influenced their own music.   For a while I couldn't get enough of this tribute album, Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye, playing it in my van when I was traveling and listening to the CD while at home.

       CD's of the music of the 13th Floor Elevators and Roky Erikson became fairly easy to find so I built up my collection of everything I could find in that format as well as the vinyl and cassettes I already owned.  My thirst for the music was slaked and now I could listen to it anytime I wanted.  For me a quest was ended as a justice of recognition was bestowed on the great Roky Erickson and the group he began in 1965.

       Roky Erickson is still only known by a relatively small group of fans, but his fame is worldwide. The 13th Floor Elevators are unlikely to ever rate induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame though they should be.  However their music remains. You can find them on YouTube in numerous song clips as well as in their complete albums.  Future history might remember them with a greater fondness and commemorate their contributions to rock music, perhaps more so than some artists we now think of as the real behemoths of modern culture.  Then again rock music might eventually fade away into the obscure realm of curious musicologists.  Only time will tell.

You can read my review at Amazon for Easter Everywhere.  If you do visit I'd be much obliged if you clicked on the "Yes" button where they ask if the review was helpful.

Please join me tomorrow February 15th for my Battle of the Bands post at Tossing It Out as I feature a song by the 13th Floor Elevators.  

         Have you ever become so obsessed with something musical or otherwise that you searched high and low for?    Are there any particular music artists that you feel that you need to own everything that was ever released by them?    Do you recall the Kuhn Big K stores (not the Big K Mart stores)?