To begin with, OGIC and I–as well as artsjournal.com in general, including its associated blogs–have been suffering from a severe case of circumstances beyond our control. For reasons not yet explained to me, and which I probably won’t understand once they’ve been explained, none of us has been able to post anything for the past couple of days. (You already knew this if you looked at the main artsjournal.com page, on which Doug McLennan, our fearless leader and host, was able to inscribe a due-to-technical-difficulties notice just before the electronic ceiling caved in.) Hence our collective silence.
OGIC and I both had unposted items in the pipeline when the lights went out, and they are now available for your delectation, along with my postings for today. Our Girl just left town, and I’m not sure when she’s coming back, but we’re hoping to be in touch by way of that delightfully old-fashioned communications device known as the telephone, and one or the other of us will fill you in thereafter on the details of her impending return to the blogosphere.
As for me, I remain strapped to my desk in New York, but this is the first time since very early Tuesday morning that I’ve been able to write and post anything longer than an almanac entry. The reason for my absence is, if I do say so myself, pretty sensational: I’ve finished the first chapter of Hotter Than That: A Life of Louis Armstrong. It’s an 8,300-word “prologue” in which I begin by jumping boldly into the middle of Armstrong’s life, describing in detail his 1956 debut with the New York Philharmonic, a one-nighter that ended up being a turning point in his career. That story told, I devote the rest of the chapter to a scene-setting sketch of Armstrong’s personality and historic significance. Readers of The Skeptic will recognize this narrative tactic–I did the same thing with H.L. Mencken in the first chapter–and since it seemed to work well there, I decided to start Hotter Than That in a similar manner.
Eighty-three hundred words: that’s not much compared to the hundred-thousand-word whole, but it’s a hell of a lot more than nothing, which is what I started with three weeks ago. To put it in a happier-sounding way, I’ve written one-tenth of Hotter Than That. Either way, I feel incredibly excited, not to mention exhausted, since I wrote and edited most of those 8,300 words very late at night (I was up until five Tuesday morning finishing the first draft). I’m on the scoreboard at last, and I like what I’ve written so far.
I wish I could open a bottle of champagne and take the rest of the week off, but that isn’t going to happen. Not only do I have to go to two more Broadway previews between now and Sunday, but on Monday I board the Acela Express for Washington to attend my first meeting of the National Council on the Arts, and I won’t be back in New York until next Saturday afternoon. I’m going to bring my iBook with me, and I plan to spend as much of my spare time as possible working on the next chapter. I doubt I’ll be able to do anything more than edit what I’ve already written, though, so my hope is to get a preliminary draft of the first half of the chapter down on paper, so to speak, before I hit the road on Monday. For this reason, I haven’t done a whole lot of celebrating, unless you call going to see Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? a celebration. (Exorcism is more like it.) Instead, I took a shower and treated myself to an unhurried lunch, then returned to my desk and started describing New Orleans in 1901. Like Crash Davis says in Bull Durham, the moment’s over.
Well, not quite over. I e-mailed a copy of the first chapter to my brother in Missouri, and he in turn is printing it out on paper so that my computer-unfriendly mother can read it. In addition, I sent copies to OGIC and a couple of other close friends, and I trust they’ll respond with an inspiring combination of lavish praise and helpful suggestions.
As for you folks out there in the ‘sphere, you’re going to be hearing a lot more about Hotter Than That in the course of the next couple of years, so I won’t hose you down any more today. I will, however, share with you a freshly written snippet of the prologue. I hope you like it:
Louis Armstrong’s pride was ever and always visible in his glowing smile. You can see it, for example, in a photo taken in 1968 when he met Pope Paul VI at the Vatican, in which a glint of delight can be seen on the pope’s tired, worn face. As for Armstrong, he looks blissful. Perhaps he was marveling that a bastard child born in a back alley, one whose mother had mad his school lunches from the pickings of white people’s garbage, should have grown up to meet two popes, chat with Ed Murrow, make movies with Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, share a stage with Leonard Bernstein, and be recognized in every corner of the earth. Music had brought him all these things, and something more: in return for a lifetime of unswerving dedication, he knew true happiness, and shared it with his fellow men. He might well have told them, with Constantin Brancusi, that “it is pure joy that I offer you.” Like other self-made men, it sometimes slipped his mind that his success was due not merely to work and pluck but also to the talent with which he had been born, but he never forgot, not for a moment, that his painstaking mastery of that inchoate talent gave him access to a pleasure so transcendent that all else paled next to it. He said more than once that his music was more important than anything, even his marriages. “When I pick up that horn,” he explained, “that’s all. The world’s behind me, and I don’t concentrate on nothin’ but it….That my livin’ and my life. I love them notes. That why I try to make ’em right. See?”
And now…back to work.