A to Z Theme 2016

For my 2016 A to Z theme I used a meme that I ran across on the blog of Bridget Straub who first saw it on the blog of Paula Acton. This meme is a natural for me to use on my memoir blog. It's an A to Z concept and it's about me. No research and nothing complicated. I'm given twenty six questions or topics to discuss that are about me.

In April I kept my posts short and uncomplicated. In the midst of it all you might learn a few things about me that you didn't previously know.

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)?

Saturday, February 7, 2015


Weird City
Weird City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

        To be called a weirdo is not something to which most of us aspire.  When I was a kid I didn't necessarily think of myself as a weirdo nor did I want to be thought of as one.  But I really didn't think that much about it either.   After all, I was just a kid and being weird is often synonymous with being a kid.  Kids are mostly in their own world of imagination and from the standpoint of an adult they might seem a bit la-la--you know--out there so to speak.   Adults expect silliness and naiveté from children. I delivered on a regular basis.

       There were plenty of other kids whom I thought were a bit odd, but I didn't usually count myself in that category. Oh, there were those times when I reveled in doing weird things. But that's when I was on a mission of strangeness. Whether it was to annoy, shock, amuse, or for whatever other reason, when I was trying to be weird, I was happy if I fulfilled that mission which I had initially set out to do.

      For the most part though I was a normal child. I made decent grades and the teachers always had good reports to send home about me. That's mostly been me even into adulthood. Employers liked me and I always got promotions. I've typically had good relationships with people--other than certain people who were really weird in kind of a bad way.

        And yet I see myself as a bit on the weird side.   Not wacky weird or scary or like some kind of a pervert or anything like that.  My neighbors and people who I encounter in public probably rarely give me a second look because I appear to be so damn normal.  When I'm in Walmart no one would ever think to take a picture of me to post on the internet because I look so--well--normal.   That's me--Mr. Normal Average Guy.

         It's some of my tastes I guess that put me out there some.  I like classical music, seventies rock, and jazz influenced pop music from the 20's and 30's.  My interest in films is eclectic though I have a strong interest in the films of Fellini, David Lynch, and old film noir.  I often read things that most people I know don't read.  Give me a thin crust pizza with onions, jalapenos, and anchovies and I'm in food heaven.

         I'm not saying that I'm the only one in the world who likes the things I like, but often I feel in a distinct minority regarding my tastes.  Some people think I'm weird because of what I like.  Or they at least think I like odd things.  I know there are plenty of people who do like what I like but I rarely seem to encounter them.  My tastes don't bother me, but often I have no one with whom to share what I like.  I never have anyone to discuss Fellini movies with me.  When my pizza arrives you can bet that I'll likely be the only one eating it if I've ordered my favorite.

         Being different is fine with me.   I've not only gotten used to it, but I'm a bit proud of it.  A lifetime of being a bit of a weirdo is something that one usually can adapt to.   After all, we're all just a bit daft in our own ways.  Aren't we?   Well, don't just stare at me like I'm weird or something.  Come on and admit it:  You're a bit of a weirdo too--in one way or another.

          I think its kind of the human condition.

         Do you think you're weird?   What do you think comprises "weirdness"?    Who are some weirdos that you have known?