Tuesday, June 24, 2014

"Innovator" Reflections, Part 7

Well, hello there. Thanks for visiting. Okay, by my count I'm owing two more posts to this series and for this one I'm going outside education because I want to reflect on the ways I've "innovated" in other ways, with some poetry, some fiction and some music.

Poetry

If someone had asked me what I wanted to be when I was 17, I probably would have said I wanted to be a poet. I had, after encouragement from my 9th grade English teacher, Mrs. Arfken, done some writing in free verse, sometime with much internal rhyme--which I note in a whole lot of rap these days--and quite possibly very informed by my interest in the popular music of the day. I know I considered performers like Donovan, Simon and Garfunkel, and of course the Beatles, as much masters of lyrics than as musicians. At the wonderfully inspirational Mr. Arfken's behest, I had entered a national poetry competition and had been chosen for inclusion in a publication, "Songs of Youth," a paper, ringbound tome the inclusion of my work in which earned me an intercom announcement over the school public address system one afternoon. I remember it came while I was hammering away on a mechanical typewriter in typing class. The clicking and clacking stopped, the announcement was made, and I felt honored and inspired at the same time. I would be a poet.

Over the years I kept that theme, while playing guitar in a little rock band, dating girls while never really committing to one or the other, and my, again, wonderfully inspirational Mr. Gaines in my senior year held a writers' group one evening a month in his home. Once in college, at UT Knoxville, I thrived in my English course and tried to get an exception to the Junior year level requirement for UT's Creative Writing course and was denied. That's when I lost interest in school. The pompous Professor told my advisor "He has nothing to write about. Tell him to go live life and then come back and ask to be in my class."

That's when I lost interest in school.

During my first year at UT I had innovated a publication, collaborating with a student from my Nashville High School, the poet and painterly artist Creighton Michael, to compile and bring to publication "Druid: An Humanities Magazine." Speaking of pompous, the use of  "an" was intentional, being the grammatically correct usage but the much lesser used. Down to earth magazine creators certainly would have said "A Humanities Magazine." But we were idealistic if nothing else, publishing our own poetry and drawings, gathering about us photographers, interviewers, fiction writers, and graphic artists and literally typing and cutting and pasting up the magazine. We had four issues before we went bust, and we interviewed Senator Al Gore, Dick Gregory, James Dickey, and, yes, Jimi Hendrix. We published black and white images of topless women as ad images. We were rebels, giving the official campus literary magazine such a run for their money that officials met with us and offered to give us that publication. When they would not promise they would not exercise editorial control, we stood up and walked out of the room.

So I did come back for part of a semester my sophomore year at UT, but I dropped out, moving in with friends off-campus, and hounding the school library administration daily for a job shelving books in the Undergraduate Library until they hired me. I worked there for 7 years, marrying and divorcing while writing poetry and submitting to little literary magazines. I had only a couple poems published, both by a rag called the New Infinity Review, out of Chicago, and all that rejection took its toll.

From my divorce, I got three kittens, my acoustic guitar, and my VW bus. That steered me into performing in local bars mainly doing covers of Jackson Browne, John Prine, Jimmy Buffett, and others and beginning to write some songs. I promised myself not to run away from my job as "Supervisory Library Associate" for a year, and after a year I was granted a leave of absence, with a promise I would have a job of some sort with the University upon my return, which never happened. I drove to Alaska with my friend Steve Bettis and took up singing in the thriving whole foods cafe circuit, hooked up with a group called the Dr. Schultz Band, and when they broke up that's when my music innovation kicked in.

I had been songwriting for a good while, playing with a friend named Scott Miller, playing solo, and eventually forming a duo with my then wife, Susan. We called ourselves "Alaskan Summer" and then "Summersong" and had some success, at one point playing for 7 sets a night, 7 nights a week, for 7 months in the holding bar in a tudor-style restaurant called the Abbey. Then the Dr. Schultz band broke up. The guitarist had just had enough of the personal tensions and power plays, I guess, but whatever the reason, the two remaining members bought my suggestion that we form a new band, just me and them, a band which would have something the Dr. Schultz band had little of, no matter what its success, and it was huge in Anchorage and around the state. They had been adopted by the Iditarod "Last Great Race" dogsled competition as their official band, they had played venues around the city to packed audiences. They were adored. But they had only one or two original songs. I had dozens.

So we had a year together, including a stint fundraising for the Iditarod, playing for 5,000 people at the Alaskan State Fair, and culminating in performance before 200 or so audience members at the Showboat Restaurant venue on New Years Eve 1979. From that performance and from others, years later I would digitize recordings from live cassette tapes off our sound board and put together a recording of just my own original songs, with a couple traditional (read "non-copywrite") ones thrown in. It's still available on iTunes and I'm still proud of it. You can listen up there. I never really expected it to go platinum, self-publishing it as I did at CDBaby. But every month or so some Alaskan (most likely) discovers it and I receive a payment to my PayPal account from CDBaby. I recently was shuffling songs on my iPhone while relaxing in a hammock by the lake and "Where I'm Bound" came up. I think that may be my masterpiece. Or maybe it's "Larceny," so beautifully sung by Dana Ward (then Dana Cox), with its rhyming of "window" and "then blow." Ha.

So I was going to talk about fiction but I'm out of time this morning. In a nutshell, I spent a year or so writing what I call "the pretty good American novel." I titled it "Lives" and classified it a "history-mystery." Its such a mashup of conceptions and conceits that I'm not sure that anyone who ever read it, aside from my dear brother-from-another-mother James Morrison, actually understood it. And I may be mistaken there as well. But I wrote it, and I worked very hard to interweave the stories of three humans in three time periods who share a soul and some related fates--one in late 60's Nashville, one in the time and setting of the American Civil War, and one in a post-holocaust dystopian future. I worked very hard never to actually state the underlying thread of reincarnation, perhaps to a fault. Anyway, pounding it out on my little "transportable" Kaypro 2x was an accomplishment, and it's another thing in the world that would not be here if I had not. It worked for me, and after several rewrites and reformats I self-published it at Lulu.com back in 2004 (I think). It's still available there, and available in ebook format, if you really are adventurous. I think it's sold like 3 copies over the decade, woo-hooo.

Let's get to work. I hope to see everyone who can make it at my webinar at EdWeb.net on Thursday at 4pm EDT. Here's a link to register. And thanks to T.H.E. Journal again! All this reflection has been good for me. Thursday I'll be sharing our good work at MNPS Virtual School, perhaps a product that I'm most proud of helping to innovate. All this other stuff is just what happens when a guy who has not much of a clue just can't stop "making."

I'm hitting Publish and I'll come back and edit. I may have made some horrible typos so I'll fix those later today.


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