Archive for January 25, 2010

One Minute Blast of Inspiration

Some days, you find exactly what you need.

“Keep going.”

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Music Video Weekend: “The Dark End of the Street”

I usually begin these things with approximately the same sentence: I’ve been listening to this song all week, and I see no reason to change that pattern now.

“The Dark End of the Street,” written by Chips Moman and Dan Penn, has been covered by many talented musicians, including Ry Cooder, Richard and Linda Thompson, Bruce Springsteen, Eva Cassidy, Linda Rondstadt, Gregg Allman, Elvis Costello, The Eels, Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton, Gary Stewart, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Percy Sledge, Cat Power and more. I love how a song is in no way an immutable object, but a thing that lives and transforms in the breath of each performer; “song” exists somewhere in that shared distance between the musician and the written tune.

Which version is the best? It’s hard to go against Percy Sledge; unfortunately, no quality Youtube renditions exist. At the same time, there’s nothing like the 1967 soul original (#10 on the R&B charts!), as sung by James Carr:

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At the dark end of the street
that is where we always meet
hiding in shadows where we don’t belong
living in darkness, to hide alone

You and me, at the dark end of the street
You and me

I know a time is gonna take it’s toll
we have to pay for the love we stole
It’s a sin and we know it’s wrong
Oh, our love keeps going on strong

Steal away to the dark end of the street
You and me

They gonna find us, they gonna find us
They gonna find us love someday

You and me, at the dark end of the street
You and me

When the daylight all goes around
And by chance we’re both down the town
Please meet, just walk, walk on by
Oh, darling, please don’t you cry

You and me, at the dark end of the street
You and me

Obviously, it’s a cheating song — or more appropriately, “a cheatin’ song” — one of the rich sub-categories in the songwriting tradition. You’ve got everything you need in one troubled broth: darkness, betrayal, lust, and guilt.

I find there’s nothing quite like hearing the song’s author give it a go, even if that person is not technically a great, or even a good, singer. Because technique will forever pale compared to from-the-gut emotion. Check out Dan Penn (co-writer of the tune), accompanied by legendary “road warrior” Spooner Oldham:

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Here a young Ry Cooder lets his slide guitar carry the emotion:

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These examples could go on forever, but let’s conclude with the resurgent Peter Green, blues hero and founding member of Fleetwood Mac, performing the song in late 2009, Hamburg, Germany:

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Okay, has everybody gone to the bathroom? You all strapped in? It’s going to be a long trip.

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The video above, “The Known Universe,” attempts to convey would it looks like to travel across the known universe.

Here’s some background info:

It takes viewers from the Himalayas through our atmosphere and the inky black of space to the afterglow of the Big Bang. Every star, planet, and quasar seen in the film is possible because of the world’s most complete four-dimensional map of the universe, the Digital Universe Atlas that is maintained and updated by astrophysicists at the American Museum of Natural History. The new film, created by the Museum, is part of an exhibition, “Visions of the Cosmos: From the Milky Ocean to an Evolving Universe,” at the Rubin Museum of Art in Manhattan through May 2010.

As my friend said, it will either bore you to tears or blow you away. Make you feel insignificant and meaningless — or inspired to be a part of this elegant, mysterious fabric of life. One thing I do know is I want my kids to see it, and that’s one of the great advantages of this blog. I put on here what I want, and it is automatically archived, so it becomes a diary, a journal, my document. Enjoy the ride.

Fan Mail Wednesday #73

Here’s a quick one . . .

Dear James Preller,
My name is Justin W. and this is my friend Dan S. We are sixth grade boys and we would like to compliment you on your book Six Innings. We  read it for book club and thought it was great. Nando Sanchez was our favorite character. He was so funny. Like the part where his teammates describe him as the outfielder that ate waffles on the bench and in the field. Thanks for making my book club exciting instead of boring like last year. If you could please send two autographs to: Justin W. and Daniel S. at 791 Eisenhower Avenue Bridgewater New Jersey 08807. Also, my friends Joe and Alex would like to say hi (but they don’t need any autographs) Thanks so much!!

From your biggest fans,
Justin and Daniel

I replied:

Justin and Daniel,

Thanks for the compliment; I strive to write books that are not boring. And I really do appreciate it when anyone picks up and actually reads one of my books. I’ve sent along the autographs via snail mail. I have no idea what you’ll do with them. Just don’t let me find ’em on eBay, where I’m sure they’d go for 25 cents a pop. Easy.

Actually, I’m always baffled by anyone who wants my autograph — a firm handshake is so much better. Since in our situation that would be difficult (I’m not Reed Richards), hey, I’ve complied with your request.

As far as Joe and Alex go, tell those guys I don’t want their autographs either! So there.

Thanks, have a great 2010.


Fan Mail Wednesday #72 (Monday Edition)

Forgive my sporadic postings of late, it’s been a hectic time, and deadlines loom. This week I’ll be away for three full days on school visits. Always a positive experience that definitely helps keep the wolf from the door, but it takes me away from my desk job.

Oh yes! Congratulations to Rebecca Stead, winner of the Newbery Medal for When You Reach Me.

This had been the consensus pick of the BlogHive for the past six months, so no surprises there. I don’t read many children’s books a year, but I read and enjoyed this one, and I’m glad to say that I have a signed hardcover copy on my bookshelves. This puts me on a hot streak, because last year the same was true of The Graveyard. So if you want to win a Newbery, you need me to read your book.

Also: I’ve been neglecting my fan mail of late. So let’s see if I can begin to rectify that.

Dear Mr. Preller,

Our names are Claire, Aiden and Julia. We go to Stratford Academy- Honeyspot House in Stratford , Connecticut. In our class, your books are our favorites. We have some ideas of stories that maybe you could write about in your Jigsaw Jones series. Here are some of our ideas:

The Case of the Living Lollipop

The Case of the Magical Mattress

The Case of the Horrible Hair Cut

The Case of the Terrible Teacher

The Case of the Moon Monkey

We have a few questions for you: How do you publish a book? How long does it take to write a book? Do you always have 12 chapters in your books?

Thank you for writing such great books. We look forward to hearing from you!

Your friends,
Claire, Julia and Aiden

I replied:

Dear Claire, Julia, and Aiden:

Thanks for those ideas. As a matter of policy, I’d definitely want to read ANY book about a Moon Monkey — though I’m not sure exactly how to write one. However, the Living Lollipop sounds  gross and sticky. I always say the same thing in these situations: I encourage you to keep these ideas for yourself. Of course, that’s the thing with ideas; they aren’t exactly to be kept, like toy chihuahuas in little purses.

Ideas are like doors: they need to be opened, and the way to do that is to think and write in a spirit of exploration. What happens when you open that door? For example, pick one of those ideas and work on it. Feel free to use Jigsaw or Mila as your characters, or make up your own. Ask yourself: How does it feel to get a horrible haircut? What would it look like? How would the kids in school react? What might a nice friend say? What about someone who wasn’t so nice? Think about it, puzzle over it, and perhaps try to write one small scene. All the while staying alert for new ideas, and new doors, you might encounter along the way.

I usually have two months to write a Jigsaw Jones book. Once I have the idea for a plot — the basic story in my mind — I can write it fairly quickly (in a matter of weeks). But coming up with that idea can often take a long, unhappy time. The Jigsaw Jones books range from 10-13 chapters, and usually come in at around 6,000 words each.

About “publishing,” I think  writers your age should self-publish. I’m a big believer in DIY — Do It Yourself. Write your own stories, add illustrations if you wish, make extra copies, and sell your stories to friends, neighbors, and family (Grandma will buy one every time, guaranteed).

Make your own books. It’s fun. And it’s exactly how I started.

Thanks for writing. Happy Martin Luther King Day!