Write-a-thon, Day 14: Almost cut my hair

Posted: July 6, 2013 in music, Record reviews, Writing
Tags: , , , ,

OK chief

I get a progress report each week on the current Clarion West workshop and this week’s instructor:

“It’s week two of the writing part of the Write-a-thon for 345 writers all over the world and week two of the six-week workshop for 18 writers in Seattle. This week, Neil Gaiman went flat out, energized the students, read them bedtime stories, and took them to the movies. We all hope he gets a nap soon.”

Movies? Bedtime stories? I don’t remember any of that at my Clarion! At my Clarion, the big event during week two was they finally gave us pencils and paper. Until then we had to open a vein and use our fingers to write on the wall.

Would you know we’re riding on the Marrakesh Express?
Oh did I get a great book on my birthday: Slow Train to Yesterday by Archie Robertson (1945). What I love about this book is not the stuff about trains but about the U.S. home front during World War II. After Pearl Harbor, gasoline was rationed, and people had to turn to trains for transportation. Because it was often impossible to get a ticket on the mainline passenger trains, which were packed with soldiers, civilians turned to the wheezy old short-line railroads.

Our view of the past is monolithic. Most of us would probably assume that everyone in 1942 was familiar with train travel. Not so – Robertson, in his travels, keeps finding fellow passengers who had never been on a train. They were only there because they couldn’t gas up their cars.

Robertson is not the greatest writer around, but he fires off the occasional le mot juste. He observes a dinky old locomotive, at the appointed hour, “shaking itself like a dog coming out of the rain” and rolling down the track. He describes a 30-mile rural railroad as “a backwoodsman’s train with less polish and more spit.”

Helplessly hoping
This afternoon I went back and fattened up some existing chapters. That was satisfying but it’s not pushing me forward. I sense I’m hesitating because I have a difficult scene coming at me. I’m stalling for time, but frankly, I don’t have that kind of time. I’ll try to floor it tomorrow.

Random Pick of the Day
Crosby, Stills & Nash, Crosby, Stills & Nash (1969)
In junior high I loved this album so much that I dressed every day like the effortlessly cool, laid-back boys on the cover. Listening to it now, I became impatient over the course of the first three tracks. In fact, I wanted to run those boys over with a cement mixer. But I fell in love again with the fourth track, “You Don’t Have to Cry,” and believe me, I am not the kind of listener who rolls over just because you sing like angels.

“Pre-Road Downs” is so good, it foreshadows Paul Simon’s solo career. By the time I got to “Wooden Ships” I was impressed by the melodic hard rock and suddenly understood a) why Jimi Hendrix had so much respect for this band, and b) the incredible musicianship on display here. “Long Time Gone” and the closer, “49 Bye-Byes,” sealed the deal for me.

It’s difficult to listen to famous albums you’ve heard a billion times and get anything new out of them. You have to peel back the layers of history and nostalgia and the discarded skins of your former self. Some of the songs in this lineup make me cringe – for example, the soporific “Lady of the Island” (“The brownness of your body in the fire glow/Except the places where the sun refused to go”). But this is, after all, an aural snapshot of its time. I wouldn’t want to read a transcript of my dialog from any day in junior high.

Crosby, Stills & Nash may be the first mature rock album. Whether that’s good or bad is beyond me.

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