Tag Archives: literature

Bob Dylan, Rejected

bob_dylan_-_bob_dylanIt was a Sunday afternoon at a University of Virginia fraternity house located in a cluster of frat houses that overlooked an intramural field depression known as “Mad Bowl” when I met Bob Dylan and witnessed him rejected as a folk singer and song writer.

The year was 1961, and Dylan had been brought to the fraternity house by folk singer, folklorist, and mentor Paul Clayton who had friends there. Clayton was a UVA grad with a master’s degree in folklore. Since the mid-1950s, Clayton had traveled the Southern Appalachian Highlands in search of traditional folksongs that were in danger of extinction. As a scholar and archivist, he recorded these treasures on site and then sang many of them himself on 21 albums released between 1954 and 1965. In folk music circles from New York City to Los Angeles, Paul Clayton was a prominent figure in the folk music revival of the 1950s and 1960s.

paul-claytonClayton’s purpose on that Sunday afternoon was to have newcomer Bob Dylan and recorded folk singer Carolyn Hester sing a few songs as a measure of their live performance abilities. It was easy to pull the frat boys away from the ball game on television once they got an introduction to Carolyn Hester. She was 24 years old at the time and Hollywood gorgeous. Hester had already released two albums and was being compared to folk music star Joan Baez. Clayton was helping her with her live performance guitar playing, which was weak at the time. Hester stood against the living room wall and performed two unremembered songs. Her singing was strong and beautiful, but she missed some chords in the accompaniment.

Clayton then encouraged the shy, downcast, tousle headed, disheveled 20-year-old Bob Dylan to uncase his guitar and sing a couple of his original songs. Perhaps in over 50 years of retrospect it is wishful thinking, but I swear that one of the songs that he performed was “Blowin’ in the Wind.”  Although Dylan would become “the voice of his generation,” his singing voice has been described as, “raw, seemingly untrained, and frankly a nasal voice” by Joyce Carol Oates among others. Dylan was also accused of imitating Woody Guthrie’s earthy vocal mannerisms which were also termed “iconoclastic baying.”

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Mad Bowl, UVA

The frat boys that Sunday found Dylan’s singing to be both incomprehensible and downright irritating.  Someone turned the television set back on to the ball game, and there were insincere smiles and gestures that communicated to the performers that their leave taking was in order. Clayton’s fraternity friend made an awkward apology as the three folk singers exited the scene of their embarrassment.

Soon after the fraternity house debacle, Carolyn Hestercarolyn-hester invited Bob Dylan to play harmonica on sessions for her third album at Columbia Records.  At a rehearsal session, Dylan met celebrated record producer John Hammond who signed him to a recording contract. Dylan’s first album on Columbia Records was released on March 19, 1962. The album made a great impression in the folk music community, but it was not commercially successful.

the-freewheelin-bob-dylan

Dylan’s second album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, released in May 1963, however, featured “Blowin’ in the Wind” as its first cut. If Dylan could not make his songs famous, then cover groups like Peter, Paul and Mary, The Byrds, Sonny and Cher, The Hollies, and many others could. The Beatles themselves reported listening to the Freewheelin’ album until they wore it out.

Since being rejected by the UVA frat boys in 1961, Bob Dylan has sold more than 100 million records. No songwriter, past or present, has received so many awards and honors.  A partial list includes The Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (1991), The Kennedy Center Honor (1997), an Academy Award Oscar for Best Song (2001), the Pulitzer Prize (2008), the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2012), and the Nobel Prize for Literature (2016).

There are perhaps a dozen men now into their 70s who may remember Bob Dylan from their fraternity house encounter in 1961. Fortunately, their rejection of the young artist did not kill his creative spirit. What if they had encouraged him? No telling to what heights he might have risen then.

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First the Path, Then the Companion

      In our dialog with other writers, we met D. Jean Quarles and traded some observations about the writing lifestyle.  Jean’s networking with additional writers generated a collection of observations, lessons, and confessions that she thought appropriate to share.  And thus, through Jean’s vision and effort, evolved an anthology that became the book, The Write Balance: Journaling The Writer’s Life now available as an Amazon download.

My short contribution is titled First the Path, Then the Companion.  The piece contains the kind of advice that an older writer might give to a younger one.  The first college professor who told me that I had the potential to be a literary artist tried to warn me about the detours to art that romance constructs.

Here then is my contribution to The Write Balance.  You might want to download the entire book to see what other writers advise.

Monty at the proverbial writing table

“After you have made the life-altering decision to travel in the direction of the literary arts, the next crucial decision is who will go with you as spouse or companion.  Do not put the second before the first, or you will create constant conflict instead of literature.

My second wife understood my passion to write, and she thus became
the great facilitator for a very productive writing period that did not depend on commercial success.  As my partner, copy editor, researcher, and manuscript preparer, we were able to produce novels, non-fiction books including a long two-subject biography, and libretti for an oratorio and two grand operas over a period now spanning 29 years.

First book in the Booker Series

Meanwhile, we operated a seasonal manufacturing and retail business to support ourselves and our three, now college graduated, daughters.

During those years, I wrote full-time six months and then worked seven days a week for six months in the business.  With the girls married, we sold the business in 1992 and have devoted ourselves full-time to the literature ever since.

Second book in the Booker Series

We count our satisfaction with lives lived in the dedicated pursuit of art not on published success, but rather by the manner in which we have remained faithful to whatever literary work was inspired for us to do.  We honored whatever talent we had in the completion of more than 50 major literary works. We fulfilled and continue to fulfill the will-to-art that provides meaning and purpose to our life together.

Monty with his wife Pat

As a genetically mandated writer, first commit to that path, and then find the very special someone who agrees to go that way with you.”

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George Garrett: Mentor to a Thousand Writers Like Me

George Garrett as seen by artist Steve Goldsworthy

When George Garrett arrived at the University of Virginia in the spring of 1962 and scheduled a creative writing class, I had lost my academic scholarship and my plan to go to medical school.  Two years of illness after surgery to save my right leg and an undiagnosed case of mononucleosis had left me in a perpetual state of fatigue.  No one can pass Organic Chemistry in that condition.

The only encouraging event in that disastrous second academic year was my term paper for the course in American Literature.  I rejected the topics suggested in the syllabus and asked the professor, Rex Worthington, if I could improve on Ernest Hemingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises by writing an additional final chapter.  He attempted to dissuade me by saying, “If you pull it off, it’s an A.  If not, it’s an F.”  The paper was judged an A, and Rex told me that I was the first potential novelist that he had ever seen in his classroom.  So the following term, when George Garrett was holding interviews for admission to his creative writing class, I signed up.

When my fifteen minutes arrived, I entered George’s office on the fifth floor of New Cabell Hall with nothing to show but the faux Hemingway chapter.  We never got to it but somehow fell into telling each other boxing stories—me as a former would-be Golden Gloves fighter and George, who had been a semi-pro club boxer during his undergraduate days at Princeton.  Then there came a knock at his office door.  Another student applicant was waiting.  George apologized that he had to interrupt our conversation, and I made it to the door before it dawned on me that we had never talked about my writing.  I turned back to him with the begging question, “Am I in?”  His response was the most generous laugh I had ever heard.  “Are you kidding?” he said.  “Of course you are.”

Coming into George’s circle as a student and friend altered the direction of my life and set me on a course to produce over fifty major works of literature.  George was the master of inclusivity when other literary lights tended to form exclusive intellectual clubs.  It has been documented by R.H.W. Dillard and many others that George Garrett is “a widely beloved and revered figure.”  As a literary artist, George never repeated himself in a breadth of talent that seemed to befuddle critics who could not conveniently classify him.  In 11 novels, 8 short-story collections, 8 poetry collections, and 8 non-fiction books, George Garrett proved himself to be one of the best writers of his generation and an enduring resource to all who follow.

 In 1963, as a writing class project, George edited New Writing from Virginia, a small-volume anthology with an Afterword by Richard Wilbur, that was the first book publication for more than a handful of writers who went on to have notable literary careers.  I became the principal agent for the details of the publication.  I remember that Henry Taylor and I went to tea at an extravagant horse farm estate outside of Charlottesville to solicit funding for the project.  George, I guess, bore the costs of whatever we failed to raise.  When New Writing from Virginia was published, Bob Friedman (who went on to have a significant career as a publisher) and I presented copies to University President Edgar Finley Shannon, and an official photo was taken.  Copies of New Writing from Virginia are now valuable collector items.

 The story of how George employed Henry Taylor and me as audience shills for readings by William Faulkner is told in an earlier blog posting.  George later assured the publication of Henry Taylor’s first book of poems, The Horse Show at Midnight in 1966 by withdrawing an already accepted manuscript of his own poems when the LSU Press had room for only one more book that year.  In 1986, Henry won the Pulitzer Prize for his poems in The Flying Change, also published by the LSU Press.

 Each of us who had the benefit of mentoring by George Garrett has favorite stories to tell; and in 2003, a three-day literary festival was held at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville to celebrate the man and his literature.  I was there as a witness, and afterwards I wrote a reflective piece that I want to share as my tribute to George Garrett who died at the age of 78 in May 2008.  The David M. Rubenstein Library at Duke University houses the most extensive collection of Garrett’s manuscripts and letters.

 

THE PURPOSE OF GEORGE GARRETT

Literature is a high expression of the Divine attempting to know itself.  For life to know itself, to have awareness of itself, the mind was evolved into being.  The fine arts are thus the expressions of priests devoted to the recognition of the spiritual connections in all life forms.  The seeming obsession is that artists are laboring desperately to know themselves, and that they are willing to make great material sacrifices in these acts of discovery.

 Among those who are biologically driven to do this work of understanding, a precious few achieve the insights for which they were intended; and if we, the greater body of humanity, chance upon them, we are enriched and made more able to do the work for which we are intended.  This is the Divine plan—that we serve each other in the experience of living.

 George Garrett serves us, the cognizant humanity, in an exceptional body of work that elevates our awareness of what it means to live, to observe, to care, and to act with compassion.  Great literature should instruct us in the virtues of compassionate awareness and alter us to a better service of our hearts and minds.  We can ask no more of any co-creator of our universe except that he or she enlighten us to the nature of our own being, and it is for this personal, uniquely meaningful sharing of insight that we owe our respect, our gratitude, and the return of a loving embrace.  For great literature does indeed embrace us like a true, unselfish friend.  In more ways than all the books he has authored, George Garrett is our true friend, our mentor of self-awareness, our spirit guide; and with great courage, he has fulfilled the gift of his talent, met the requirements of Destiny, and achieved everything that any human being and artist should aspire to:  the reciprocal love of family and friends and the genuine respect of peers and readers.

George Garrett causes us to have the realization that service to our common humanity is still the best work of life.  On three days in early October of 2003, a festival was held to celebrate George Garrett, and it was like a tent revival meeting where no souls were lost, and the congregation went out—all of us—into the crisp Knoxville night joyfully happy and convinced of our mutual salvation.  Thank you, George.

 

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