I love hearing from readers of Six Innings, maybe because it’s the kind of book that I would have read as a boy that age. I feel a connection to those guys.
Oh my, time flies. It looks like your letter was set aside for a while. I hope you are not to upset with me for the delay.
I was glad to read how you found the book, Six Innings, in the library, just picked it up and figured, Why not? Nice that you compared it to a rollercoaster ride, that’s a strong image and, I think, an appropriate one. A good book should bring you up and down, have slow parts and fast parts, wicked turns and gentle pauses. It should take you on a ride.
As a writer, I’ve often thought of my readers as passengers on a rollercoaster. They pick up the book, strap into the seat, and it’s my job to take them on a satisfying ride – and safely back again.
I don’t know, however, that the book had a point, per say. I think you get out of it what you get out of it, and it’s different for every reader. I didn’t really have a message in this one, though I did want to honor the friendship between Sam and Mike, as well as pay tribute to the game I love.
As usual with this blog, the reaction was immediate. Very quickly, nothing happened. I waited a while longer, and nothing happened all over again.
Obviously, it was time for a retraction. I’m sorry, Dolly. Sometimes my inner wiseguy gets the better of me. And yes, that sound you hear is my wife nodding in agreement.
After a comment from a friend-in-reading, I spent a few minutes researching the Dolly Parton Imagination Library. In short, it’s a wonderful charitable work, first launched in 1996, dedicated to bringing books and children together.
Lastly, a confession: I own a few Dolly Parton CDs. I admire when she gets serious about her bluegrass roots, and can easily recommend “Little Sparrow” and “The Grass Is Blue.” Underneath the manufactured pop image, there’s a genuine musician and, I’m sure, a good woman working to make the world a better place. Here’s Dolly singing “Mountain Angel.”
This is a warning, folks. On June 30th at 7:00 PM a rugged band of children’s and YA authors will be gathering at the Barnes & Noble bookstore at Colonie Center in Colonie, NY.
That’s right, it’s time for theSummer Reading Kickoff Bookfair Spectacular . . . celebrating (wait for it) the Dolly Parton Imagination Library! Because when it comes to Dolly, the first two things anyone thinks of are reading and, erm, I forget the second thing.
So, hey, let’s put the focus on reading this summer. Bring your young readers to pick up their free Barnes & Noble Summer Reading Journal to earn a FREE BOOK and the chance to WIN A NOOK COLOR. Authors will be standing by — sitting, hopefully, on cushy chairs, under a tasteful arrangement of palm fronds — happy to autograph books. Any books.
Check out this list of authors I think will be there . . .
Julia DeVillers * Aimee Ferris * Rose Kent * Jackie Morse Kessler
Sarah Darer Littman * Eric Luper * James Preller * Jennifer Roy
Neva Ren Suma * Shari Maurer * Kristen Darbyshire
Honestly, this is an awesome gathering of new voices, talented people. And, um, me, dragging along hoary old Jigsaw Jones, first published 13 years ago and still in second grade. I don’t know many real YA authors — they scare me a little — what? no fuzzy ducks? at all? – and yet I’ll be joining their ranks soon, come Spring 2012, when we crush the world with Before You Go, my first book that includes the word “beer.” Anyway, please join us at Barnes & Noble. Should be a real good time together.
The event kicks off the annual national Summer Reading Program which rewards children, grades K-6, who read any eight books, record them in their free Summer Reading Journal, and bring the completed Journal to any Barnes & Noble store until September 6, 2011 for a FREE BOOK. The evening program is sponsored by the Junior League of Albany, with a portion of sales benefiting the Dolly Parton Imagination Library. Why Dolly Parton? Don’t ask; I just work here.
Details: Thursday, June 30, 7:00 PM –> who knows! Where: Colonie Centre, Albany, NY. 518-438-1728.
Thanks for your letter. I’m sorry for the delay in my reply. Despite my best efforts, every year I seem to reach a point when I get hopelessly behind in my fan mail. I guess my goal of “keeping it real” isn’t the most efficient approach. I once printed up cards that I’d sign and send, but it felt too phony, like I was working in a factory rather than responding to a real person.
I can’t believe you played in a State Championship game! Wow, that must have been an exciting experience. I know a few players I’ve coached who would throw up before big games, that crazy mixture of emotions, fear and nervousness and over-the-moon excitement. I hope you played well (and avoided hurling).
“Play ball,” yes, that’s what it’s all about. Just going out there, playing a game you love, and giving it your best, win or lose. The idea, I think, has been with me all my life. I grew up loving baseball, and still vividly remember Little League games from my childhood. As an adult, I’ve coached my three children in Little League, Travel, and All-Stars. I also spent seven years coaching a men’s hardball team. Coached more than 500 games, easy. Baseball offers up a world that I know. Also, I’ve read a ton of books about the sport, so it felt like a dream come true to contribute something to the bookshelf in my office that’s dedicated to baseball. There I am, next to writers like Roger Angell, Daniel Okrent, Bill James, Roger Kahn, Charles Alexander, Lawrence Ritter, Arnold Hano, Mark Harris, and many more. All of us pulling on the same oar.
Since you asked: You might enjoy my book, Bystander. It’s pretty much written at the same level as Six Innings, and is set in a middle school. Click here for more information.
I recently finished reading the Keith Richards biography, Life, which I largely enjoyed. It’s not a great book, huge gaps, not particularly well organized or written, and it suffers from a classic case of the unreliable narrator (this is Keith Richards, after all), but entertaining nonetheless. For me, born in 1961, the youngest of seven, those great Rolling Stones albums are woven into my earliest memories. My brothers had the original, gate-fold 3D cover of Satanic Majesty’s Last Request, the actual zipper cover for Sticky Fingers, and so on. I shared a bedroom wall with my brother, Neal, twelve years my senior, and I can vividly recall his two favorites seeping into my sleep: Dylan and the Stones, endlessly. I grew up listening to Keith and all these years later still find new things to appreciate.
The best outcome from reading Life was that it inspired me to pull out the old disks, and in particular, search out the rare songs when Keith sang lead. There aren’t that many, and I missed some of them, because I skipped much of their post-1983 output. But in doing so, bypassed some gems.
These past weeks I’m obsessed with Keith as a lead singer, on minor songs like “This Place Is Empty,” “The Worst,” “Slipping Away,” and “How Can I Stop,” not to mention classics like “Happy,” “Little T&A,” “Before They Make Me Run,” and my personal favorite, “You Got the Silver.” Despite its limitations, I respond to a quality in his voice, the looseness of his delivery, the bittersweet delicacy, the soul, the undeniable fact that it’s Keith in all his low-slung glory, guitar practically at his knees. It’s so uncommercial, such an American Idol fail. Say what you want about the man, the drugs and the stupidity, but he’s always been the genuine article, committed to the music. As much as it’s possible to say about any one man, you can say it about Keith Richards: He is rock and roll. Seriously, who else in the history of rock embodies the authentic spirit more than Keith? Nobody, that’s who.
So I made a mix of Rolling Stones tunes where Keith sang lead vocals, and added in a select few from his first solo disk, Talk Is Cheap. Keith’s second solo effort, Main Offender, also features some great songwriting, but to my ears it’s marred by a regrettable, monotonous, and headache-inducing drum sound. The mix:
1) “All About You,” Emotional Rescue (1980)
This is from around the time I began to lose interest in the Rolling Stones. Or more accurately, stopped expecting greatness from their new albums. Bands like the Clash and the Talking Heads, to name just two, sounded much more vital. The Stones’ time had passed, the incredible run from Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, to Exile on Main St, 1968-72, as good a run as any band ever had. However . . . there are gems on every disk. “All About You,” the album’s melancholy closing track, is certainly one of them. On the recording, that’s Bobby Keys on saxophone, Charlie Watts on drums. Reportedly Keith played everything else himself, bass, guitar, piano.
2) “The Worst,” Voodoo Lounge (1994)
Lyric: “Well I said from the first/ I am the worst kind of guy/ for you to be around.” There’s a beautiful fiddle part by Frankie Gavin on the original recording.
3) “Slipping Away,” Steel Wheels/Stripped (1989)
Another slow ballad from Keith in heartfelt mode, this one off the “Steel Wheels” disc. I prefer the relaxed, natural version from the Stripped CD.
4) “You Don’t Have to Mean It,” Bridges to Babylon (1997)
Great line: “You don’t have to mean it/ You just got to say it to me, baby.” A reggae-inflected tune with a rock-steady shuffle, surely reflecting Keith’s years hanging out in Jamaica, jamming with the local talent.
5) “Little T&A,” Tattoo You (1981)
Again, as we often find when Keith sings, this was largely a Richards composition. The lyrics, the vibe: pure Keef.
6) “Locked Away,” Talk Is Cheap (1988)
This great song comes from Keith’s 1988 solo album, Talk Is Cheap, which many reviewers correctly called the best Rolling Stones album in years. Love Keith’s outro here, the short chord slashes, signature and beautiful.
7) “Hurricane,” CD Single (2005)
A rare treat, dug out from the vaults and polished a bit, to benefit the Hurricane Katrina relief effort.
8) “How Can I Stop,” Bridges to Babylon (1997)
From the Bridges disk, remarkable as a CD because it includes (over Mick’s initial protests) three tunes sung by Keith. He wrote with such affection about this song in Life, I had to search it out. Toward the end, the tune morphs into pure jazz, with Charlie Watts providing drum flourishes in conversation with saxophone runs by legend Wayne Shorter. You can hear the band improvising, not quite willing to let the song end. An unusual moment in the Stones discography, nice to hear them stretch in a different direction, with no interest whatsoever in making arena rock. This tune closes the disk.
9) “This Place Is Empty,” A Bigger Bang (2005)
This is pure Keith, nothing particularly great, supposedly written on his couch while at home in his empty house in Connecticut. That’s right: Keith in Connecticut. The mind boggles. That’s Don Was on piano on the original recording. Sings Keith to his wife, Patti Hansen: “Come on, simmer down/ And treat me sweet and cool/ At least by now you have learned/ How to love a fool.”
10) “You Got the Silver,” Let It Bleed (1969)
This song represents the first time Keith had solo vocal chores (though he previously shared lead with Mick on a couple of other tracks, “Salt of the Earth,” “Something Happened to Me Yesterday,” and “Connection”). Checking my iPod, this is the Stones song I’ve listened to the most over the past five years. It just kills me, I can’t explain it, beyond the pure authenticity I feel in Keith’s delivery: “Hey babe, you got my soul/ You the silver, you got the gold.” The guitar playing, of course, is understated and perfect. Nice accompaniment from Ronnie Wood in this live version, almost 40 years later.
11) “Before They Make Me Run,” Some Girls (1978)
If Keith has a theme song, this might be it. Off Some Girls in 1978, the last, hands-down great Rolling Stones disk. The Stones effortlessly absorbed the punk attitude — perhaps because they helped invent it — and you can hear it in songs like “Shattered” and “When the Whip Comes Down.” As usual, it seems that Keith gets the vocal nod when the lyrics speak directly to his life, or closely reflect his experiences; that is, lyrics that just don’t fit Mick. Impressively, these punk-inspired songs sit comfortably beside disco (“Miss You”), country (“Far Away Eyes”), or the roughed-up cover of the Temptations soul classic, “Imagination.” At a time when classic rock bands were widely considered no longer relevant, this disk proved that some dinosaurs still lived.
12) “Losing My Touch,” Forty Licks (2002)
Keith seems to specialize in album-closing tracks, and this one concluded the 40-song retrospective, Forty Licks, which included four new tracks: “Losing My Touch,” “Stealing My Heart,” “Keys to Your Heart,” and “Don’t Stop.” After 1985 or so, the Stones tended to be at their absolute worst when they were shooting for the next big radio hit — all bluster and desperation — and those were never, ever Keith songs. This one wasn’t aimed for the airwaves, just the heart.
13) “You Don’t Move Me,” Talk Is Cheap (1988)
A ton has been written about this song, viewed as Keith’s response to Mick’s efforts to distance himself from the band. At the time, Mick was attempting to launch a solo career, and had refused to tour for the Dirty Work CD. So an outraged Keith made his own solo album, featuring this song, which included these killer couplets aimed at Mick: “It’s no longer funny/ It’s bigger than money,” and “You lost the feeling/ Not so appealing.”
14) “Coming Down Again,” Goats Head Soup (1973).
A Keith song about the early days of his messy relationship with Anita Pallenberg, who had been living with bandmate Brian Jones: “Slipped my tongue into someone else’s pie,” or so the song goes. That’s the great, great Nicky Hopkins on piano, really an unsung hero from Exile days, and a great musician. It’s notable that Keith uses the Wah-Wah Pedal on this track, because typically he’s not a guitarist who used many effects. Generally for him, it’s about chords and rhythm and riffs, no frivolity, no blistering heroics, no studio trickery, and sound is almost always a function of plugging the right guitar into the right amplifier. Reportedly this song has never been played live on a Stones tour.
15) “Rockawhile,” Talk Is Cheap (1988)
Keith keeps the lyrics simple and direct, as usual — he’s not a complicated man, really — and gets help here from the founding members of a couple of legendary bands, Joey Spampinato (bass, NRBQ), and Bernie Worrell (clavinet, Parliament-Funkadelic). Pretty sure that’s Patti Scialfa on backing vocals.
16) “Salt of the Earth,” Beggars Banquet (1968)
This one is almost a cheat, since Keith sings only the first verse, but it’s such a great song: “Let’s drink to the hardworking people, let’s drink to the lonely of birth, let’s drink to the good not the evil, let’s drink to the salt of the earth.”
17) “Happy,” Exile on Main St. (1972)
“Happy” grew out of the chaotic, drug-fueled recording sessions for Exile on Main St., recorded in France at the villa Nellcote. From what I recall from previous reading, Keith just sort of did this one on his own. Mick Jagger wasn’t around at the time, so Keith grabbed producer Jimmy Miller who sat in on drums, sax player Bobby Keys, and laid down the tracks for bass, guitar, and vocals himself. The band tinkered with the tune later, adding musical contributions by Nicky Hopkins, Jim Price, and backing vocals by Mick.
18) “The Nearness of You,” Live Licks (2004)
Written in 1938 by Hoagy Carmichael and Ned Washington, this standard has been recorded by the Glen Miller Orchestra, Dinah Shore, Frank Sinatra, Willie Nelson, Norah Jones, Paul Anka, Barbara Streisand, and many others. It’s a treat to hear Keith get his crooner on. Brilliant and charming. Exceptionally sweet guitar outro on this one, and a great way to end the mix. Thanks for listening, folks. Hope you found a new treasure or two.
Other released Stones songs with Keith on lead vocals not mentioned above:
“Something Happened to Me Yesterday,” alternates with Mick Jagger; “Connection” (co-lead with Jagger), from Beneath the Buttons.
“Memory Motel,” alternates with Jagger, Black and Blue.
“Wanna Hold You,” Undercover.
“Too Rude,” “Sleep Tonight,” Dirty Work.
“Can’t Be Seen,” Steel Wheels.
“Thru and Thru,” Voodoo Lounge.
“Thief in the Night,” Bridges to Babylon.
“Infamy,” A Bigger Bang.
James Preller is a children’s book author of Bystander, Six Innings, the Jigsaw Jones mystery series, and many more books. He likes to imagine Keith Richards reading one of books aloud to his grandchildren. So Keith, if you’re reading this — and I’m sure you are — I’d love to send you a signed copy of A Pirate’s Guide to First Grade, illustrated by Greg Ruth.Call me crazy, butI think you’d like it.
“Arrr! Shiver me timbers, what a slobberin’ moist mornin’!
Me great scurvy dog slurped me kisser when I was tryin’ t’ get me winks!”
Dad was the father of seven children, a veteran of World War II who served in the Pacific. After the war, he graduated from Boston University in two and half years, because why in the world would anybody want to waste another minute in school. There was a life to be lived, a brass ring to grab, things to do. Let’s get on with it.
It was a different time, a different generation.
Dad settled with my mother on Long Island, became an insurance man, started having kids rapid fire in the Catholic fashion, built a business. I was the youngest in the family, the baby. On rare weekend days I’d tag along when my father needed to pop into his rented office on Wantagh Avenue for an hour or two. We never specialized in father-and-son type stuff, whatever that was, and I’m sure the word bonding did not apply to relationships back in those days, only glue, but I do recall those trips to his office. Dad’s place of business offered that most wondrous of commodities, office supplies — electric typewriters, staplers, a copier, boxes of paper clips and, best of all, tracing paper.
I marveled at its magical properties. Dad didn’t part with his supply easily, that stuff cost money, so I was thrilled and grateful whenever he brought a stack home. Those are nice memories for me, a lifetime away. I sometimes wonder: Whatever happened to that kid? That boy with the tracing paper? Where’d he go?
From around that time, somewhere in the mid 60’s, another day presses forward for attention. One spring morning we set off together — in the hazy gauze of remembrance, just me and dad — to a farm somewhere. Because dad knew a guy, a customer who had a stable and a few horses. He possessed, in others words, shit to spare. And the price was right.
I must have been about five or six years old at the time, no older. We got to the farm, out east on Long Island probably, and I stood around while my father chatted with the owner of the place. Maybe I looked into the stable, fearfully eyed the horses. Did I want to feed one of them an apple? No, I did not. I was shy, watchful and quiet. Eventually my dad keyed open the car truck, borrowed a shovel, and filled it to the brim with horse manure. I stood by, mystified, awestruck. Trunk full, steam rising, we headed back home, where I watched my father spread the still semi-moist shit around the front lawn. It was good for the grass, he explained. Nature’s fertilizer.
My older brothers and sisters recall those times with profound mortification. Imagine the embarrassment they felt, the acute stabbing horror, especially those of a certain age, when the opinion of one’s peers meant only everything. I can’t say this plainly enough: My brothers hated it when dad spread horse shit on the front lawn — even worse, on hot days it smelled like holy hell, the stink filling your nostrils — and yet my father performed the same ritual every year.
And here’s the thing about my dad, really the essential memory of him. He didn’t care. Alan J. Preller simply did not give a hoot what anybody thought. He never did. He embarrassed us, he ticked off people, annoyed relatives, said what he thought and did what he did. Dad lived on his own terms, remarkably indifferent to opinion. And if that made him impossible at times, well, so be it. He wasn’t trying to please anybody.
My father passed away a few years back, coincidentally enough while spreading fertilizer out on the front lawn in Southampton, where he retired. He had moved beyond horse manure by then, thank God, nowadays they’d hang you in Southampton for that, but there was still no way he was going to push around one of those crummy lawn spreaders. No, dad preferred a Maxwell House coffee can, dipping it into a big bag of fertilizer, sprinkling it imprecisely across the yard with a grand sweep of his arm. And to be honest, it’s more fun that way. Believe me, I know.
There he was out on the lawn, doing what he always did, and that’s when his heart gave out, when he fell, when my father left us.
These days, when I’m particularly infuriating — insensitive, implacable, impossible — my exasperated wife, Lisa, will proclaim that I’m becoming just like my father. I won’t listen to anyone, I’ll just do whatever I want. And as I age, it only gets worse. That’s her complaint. The funny thing is, I always hear it as a compliment.
Happy Father’s Day, folks. A good day to pull some weeds, mow the lawn, tend the garden and then, like my father often did, wander into the kitchen, reach into the bottom cabinet where he kept the bottle of Dewar’s, and announce, “It’s five o’clock somewhere.”
Thanks for writing. I’ve never been to Iowa. It’s exciting to get a letter all the way from there.
Does it really look like this?
I was impressed by your comments about Jigsaw Jones — and thrilled that my books inspired you to observe more when you go places. In that way, writers and detectives (and scientists, for that matter!) are similar. It’s important for us all to stop, see, and listen. It’s how we appreciate this beautiful world, full of such amazing sights and people. The more you see, the more you realize how great it is to be alive.
Thanks for your well-written note, Lucas. Have a great summer!
P.S. Thanks for enclosing the Self-Addressed, Stamped Envelope. Very thoughtful of you.
It does not hurt that I have been a big Eno fan since the 70’s.
Read the opening quote from McDowell’s piece and you’ll see why it grabbed my attention . . .
Current neuroscience research confirms what creatives intuitively know about being innovative: that it usually happens in the shower. After focusing intently on a project or problem, the brain needs to fully disengage and relax in order for a “Eureka!” moment to arise. It’s often the mundane activities like taking a shower, driving, or taking a walk that lure great ideas to the surface. Composer Steve Reich, for instance, would ride the subway around New York when he was stuck.
The difficulty of always feeling that you ought to be doing something is that you tend to undervalue the times when you’re apparently doing nothing, and those are very important times. It’s the equivalent of the dream time, in your daily life, times when things get sorted out and reshuffled. If you’re constantly awake work-wise you don’t allow that to happen. One of the reasons I have to take distinct breaks when I work is to allow the momentum of a particular direction to run down, so that another one can establish itself.
The 99% piece references a July, 2008 article that I recall reading in The New Yorker, written by Jonah Lehrer, in which he investigates the nature of ideas, “The Eureeka Hunt.” Lehrer brought joy to procrastinators everywhere when he opined:
The relaxation phase is crucial. That’s why so many insights happen during warm showers. … One of the surprising lessons of this research is that trying to force an insight can actually prevent the insight.
Always an intellectual with a lively mind, Brian Eno, along with Peter Schmidt, developed a deck of cards in the 1970’s called Oblique Strategies, a series of prompts intended to help push people through periods of creative block. Now the Strategies are available for FREE on your iPhone or iTouch — just click here.
To close, here’s a cool fan video of Eno’s beautiful “By This River,” taken from the disk, Before and After Science. The album, by the way, has very distinct sides to it — something that’s lost in today’s CD era. For Side 1, Eno delivers traditional pop structures. But Side 2 plays like a series of dream songs, lullabies, hinting at the ambient sounds he’ll explore more fully on later disks.
Exciting events are happening this Saturday at the Eric Carle Museum in Amherst, MA, featuring presentations by Tomie dePaola, Diane deGroat, John Gurney, Astrid Sheckels, and more.
Let’s hear our friend Greg Ruth, illustrator of A Pirate’s Guide to First Grade, tell it. This is quoted from Greg’s recent email:
This coming Saturday, June 4 I will be participating in the Children’s Book Festival at the Eric Carle Museum down in yon Amherst, MA. Come on by and join me and other most excellent children’s book artists such as Roc Goudreau, Linda Graves, John Steven Gurney, Bob Marstall, Astrid Sheckles, David White, Diane DeGroat, Ruth Sanderson and Tomie DePaola as we all hold demostrations, panel discussions and engage in a great bit of fun.
I’ll be featuring process work for A Pirate’s Guide to First Grade all day and participating in a panel discussion on the craft of kid’s lit at 2:30pm, and will have books and a limited selection of sketches from the book on hand super cheap to take home. If you’re in the area or able to migrate, please do stop on by and say hello!