Dayton, Ohio in 1910 When Loren Berry Arrived
The need to write biographies is a strange thing in my life that maybe needs examining. Or maybe not. I think the first story I wrote that I can remember was a short biography about this rabbit gunslinger. It was the only time I can recall that I willingly stayed after school to do something. It was the third grade and we had just moved from California to Ohio.
Years’ later, when I was thirty-two, I wrote a biography of someone I had gained a lot of respect for, John Coltrane with my biography Spirit Catcher. The book was written by me going through his life on recordings in a chronological method, hearing all of the pieces for the first time and writing about them. Somewhat like an embedded journalist. I really didn’t know much about Trane since I came to him through the music of McCoy Tyner and album Inner Voices of 1978.
The published book won the Best Biography of 1997 Award from the Small Press Association.
After my father passed away in 1993, I decided to write a biography on his life. The manuscript titled Distant Hero and has not been published.
Another biography project began to form around the brothers who founded the desert town of Palm Desert, California. Where my parents lived for forty-five years. The piece Palm Desert History is a basic history of the town of Palm Desert with the help of my wonderful friends at the Palm Desert Historical Society. Yet the history of the town is given a soul and a personality and a heart and spirit and embodied in the lives of Randall and Cliff Henderson. The Henderson Brothers.
Are we writing a history of a town? Or, are we writing the history of the battles between two brothers in the discovery of one of the nation’s greatest desert communities? It’s a good question and one that I haven’t been able to answer. But haven’t towns always been the symbols for particular founding men or women of the town? Can one write the history of a place (a town, a city) without writing a history of a person?
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While living in the desert from 2012 to October of 2015, I developed a project based around the life of the famous early cowboy tv-star, William Boyd or known on tv as Hopalong Cassidy. I wrote a short biography piece called The Black Knight about the life of William Boyd. Again, never published.
After this piece, I wrote a screenplay based on it titled The Once & Future Cowboy. It is based on the premise that the old tv-star Hoppy is forced to go into an HOA in the desert. The legendary old star is forced to sell his ranch property and his black and white home in Palm Desert. His manager has made bad investments for him and he no longer gets royalties from the toy companies or the networks. The screenplay is being submitted to some contests right now but not much else.
Sometime while living in the desert, I think around 2012, I got interested in putting together a chronological time-line of my old high school teacher Ray Alf’s life. I worked closed with my co-author on this project, Dr. Don Lofgren, who is Directory of the Ray Alf Museum and a teacher at my old school. The project called (for now) The Ray Alf Biography (other titles Praise the Day! or A Moment in Time) is completed as much as my outline is concerned. My co-author Don is taking a Sabbatical soon and wants to write his part of the biography during this time. It moves ahead at its own speed and I need to let it move ahead for a while.
During my desert years I created an outline biography for the life of the famous nutritionisit Dr. Campbell who authored the legendary book China Syndrome, the greatest medical survey/text in the history of medicine that led to new theories on meat and dairy products. It is a story of one man’s battle against that governmental agency called the FDA. The outline I created with the fantastic input from Dr. Campbell himself is titled Nutrition Pioneer and is only published on our website (like the rest of the words lists here). This is another project on hold with other projects simply crowding it back into the back of my projects.
As the projects mentioned above sit on my computer screen in various “island” files on the computer screen, the love for writing biography clashes against my other writing interests such as screenplays and non-fiction, philosophical works (like my Symbolism of Place and Symbolism of Popular Culture and Media Nations.) Much thanks to my great Canadian friend Eric McLuhan and the wonderful visit we had in 2003 in Toronto that inspired and encouraged Media Nations.
There seems some sort of “in-fighting” within this particular subgenre of my writing interests. Particular biographies seem to battle other biographies to get their particular biography the most time in front of the author of the big story. The story all us characters are in.
But then, my interest in writing biographies is confronted by the return of that cyclic muse into my life. The muse of music of course. Returning again , after her usual five or six year absence. I have been ready for the music muse coming back. I’ve sold all my old music equipment and got everything whittled down to a Korg Kross keyboard and the Alesis Micron and the Korg Micro-Sampler and the Tascam Neo 2488 PortaStudio. The only additional thing I want to add is the voice harmonizer DigiTech I kept. So, the survivors of my old music machine purge.
I decide to keep the Korg Sampler because I have never understood sampling but want to learn. And, I hear this is the little powerhouse to learn on. The programmed samples made on the little keyboard of mini-keys is amazing. Hard to believe the sounds were created on this little machine. But then the concept of sampling (recording sounds from the outside into a machine) to create music patterns is what this small little Korg is all about.
The whole idea of sampling is hard to grasp by the Baby Boom generation. My generation. That’s maybe why I have such a hard time understanding what it does and what it is.
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In the midst of all these other biographies, floating around the “bay” of my mind, there has been the biography of my grandfather, steadily moving forward in the middle of all the other biographies.
It’s hard to peg when I first decided that I needed to undertake the telling of my grandfather’s story. Not that mine would be best. Rather the stories written by some local journalists simply didn’t really tell his overall story. Not from my perspective. I had to write his story myself. Write against the popular legend that the other journalists of his life had created.
I had some thoughts about how I might want to attempt to tell my grandfather’s story. That is, from the perspective of a narrator and a particular genre of fiction and/or non-fiction. Luckily I was fortunate enough to come across a few incredible books during this period creating the ideas for my grandfather’s life story.
One was the re-reading of DL Doctorow’s brilliant Ragtime. I’ve never really decided whether Doctorow is our greatest novelist or greatest historian. Perhaps they should be the same thing?
And, during this “incubatory” period of my grandfather’s biography ideas, I came across the brilliant short book by (then) the world’s oldest living, legendary, author. Herman Wouk who wrote a book called The Lawgiver. Wouk wrote this book after his wife passed away and he was living by himself in Palm Springs at the same time I was out there.
I’ve read much on Postmodernism and philosophies of communication today. But nothing comes close to the importance of this novel of Wouk. It is a hilarious novel told from that strange narrative perspective where the author simply presents pieces of so called “evidence” in the form of documents as parts of the story of the book.
The novel concerns a number of letters and emails between a famous old author and the producers of a Hollywood film attempting to exploit the life of Moses. The entire story is presented in a series of letters and emails (all wearing their original letterhead logos). The author has stayed out of this by suggesting that the evidentiary pieces in the story come from other parties. The author (Wouk argues in this brilliant work) today simply assembles, or re-assembles, already created “samples” or evidentiary documents informing the mystery of the story the author is telling.
Here, the ultimate author is Herman Wouk, that crafty old hundred-year-old resident of Palm Springs. He attempts to hide behind the brilliant illusions of other characters that he has created. But someone like Herman needs to be praised and respected. We should all be grateful that he has provided something like The Lawgiver during his final years. As an unusually brilliant admonition to all of us. I the powerful form of a powerful comedy.
See The Lawgiver on Amazon.
In writing The Lawgiver, a hundred-year-old author has suggested an alternative way of viewing the world of 2016 than constructed in popular culture. It is perhaps the ultimate postmodern way of viewing and creating art. It is a method of creation based more on sampling reality and replaying it than in creating reality.
There was that feeling, that philosophy, that the great pieces of music were already out there. Floating around. Simply waiting to be discovered. Like that pretty blond girl from Iowa who has just arrived in West Hollywood.
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So, this was in the background when I started putting down an outline of the years in my grandfather’s life. As his life became more and more successful, the more and more it was documented by the popular press of the day.
The book on his life written by the journalist was like this. A collection of stories that appeared in print. Strung together to create some form of a “picture” of Loren M. Berry.
One of my cousins gave me the manuscript sometime in the 80s. I wasn’t that impressed with it. Written by a local journalist, it seemed more as a matter of something a journalist might do in this area rather than something she wanted to do.
I pondered the idea for a while whether the great biographies in the world are created mostly by those who want to create great biographies. I call this type of person, this author included, “apprentices” to those who have created a new way for writing history and fiction.
The PDF on our site represents something that I am very proud of. It is unfinished so far but as I hope the reader can see, an effort at creating a new type of family biography. Here, one of the grandsons of a legendary businessman and creator of an entire industry ponders the best way to tell his grandfather’s story.
The chapters are somewhat like those documents presented in Wouk’s brilliant The Lawgiver. They really want to serve more as documents or pieces of evidence than arguments or creations of the author. This is all while the story of my grandfather has been pushed to the back as my interest in music comes back.
(In progress …)