“In 1964 a pianist with the unusual name of Thelonious Monk appeared on the cover of Time. He was only the fourth jazz musician to be so featured, and unlike his predecessors, Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck, and Duke Ellington, he was unknown to the public at large. Why, then, was he put on the cover of a newsmagazine written for a mass audience of middlebrows? Because he was an eccentric whose peculiarities made for good copy–a ‘mad genius,’ in Time’s words…”
Archives for January 11, 2010
On Saturday afternoon I talked about and signed copies of Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong at the Louis Armstrong House Museum, the modest three-story home in Queens where Armstrong lived with Lucille, his fourth wife, from 1943 until his death in 1971. I’ve been there more than once, but this was the first time I’d paid a visit to the Armstrong house since I started working on Pops in earnest six years ago. Several people who had known the Armstrongs well (including Selma Heraldo, his next-door neighbor) came to hear me speak. So did the great jazz trumpeter Jon Faddis, who brought along a bagful of copies of Pops for me to sign.
It was, needless to say, quite something for me to talk about Armstrong in the basement of his very own home, and to do so after having spent the past six years immersed in his life and work. I can’t think of a better way to have put a cap on my book tour–except it seems that I’m not done yet! The popular success of Pops has caught everyone by surprise (except Mrs. T, who told me so months ago and now delights in reminding me of her uncanny prescience). The biggest surprise of all, of course, is that Pops will debut at #32 on the New York Times‘ extended nonfiction best-seller list for January 17. Who knew? Certainly not me.
I’d expected to wind down my promotional activities on behalf of Pops last week, but instead Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is continuing to schedule radio and TV appearances and newspaper interviews, of which I’ve done so many since my book tour got going last month that I can no longer keep track of them. At the same time I continue to hold down my day job at The Wall Street Journal, which means that I’m hitting the road every weekend to see shows, some in New York and others in Florida, where I’ll be serving for the next month and a half as visiting scholar-in-residence at Rollins College’s Winter Park Institute. Needless to say, I scheduled the latter commitment long before I knew that Pops would take off into the lower reaches of the stratosphere, and so I now have no spare time at all.
What I do have is plenty of fresh Pops-related information to pass along:
• The Biographer’s Craft, an online newsletter for biographers, published this gratifying piece of news in the January issue:
Blake Bailey’s Cheever: A Life (Knopf) was the favorite biography of book critics in 2009, according to a TBC analysis that examined 18 of critics’ year-end lists of best books….Tied for second were T.J. Stiles’s The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt (Knopf) and Brad Gooch’s Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor (Little, Brown). Tied for third place were Terry Teachout’s Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong (Houghton Mifflin) and Linda Gordon’s Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits (Norton).
Not too shabby, huh?
To read the whole thing, go here and scroll down.
• I flew from Orlando to Washington, D.C., last Thursday to tape an interview with BBC World News America that was telecast the same evening. You can watch it by going here. I spent four hectic minutes answering Matt Frei’s rapid-fire questions about Pops, a nerve-racking but exhilarating experience that reminded me of the last scene of Strangers on a Train, in which Farley Granger chases Robert Walker on an out-of-control carousel that explodes. Fortunately, no fatalities were incurred this time around.
• From there I was driven straight to Arlington, where I taped a seven-minute interview with Jeffrey Brown, the arts correspondent of PBS NewsHour, that was posted on “Arts Beat,” the show’s arts blog, over the weekend. You can watch it by going here.
• The next morning I taped an hour-long TV interview with Brian Lamb that will air on C-SPAN’s Q & A some time in the next couple of weeks. It was, as I told Lamb afterward, the best interview I’ve done with anyone about anything. I’ll pass on the air date as soon as it’s set, and once the show has been broadcast, you’ll be able to watch it by going here.
• I’ll be making my first public appearance at Rollins College on Thursday: I’m giving a lecture called “The Truth About Satchmo: Why Louis Armstrong Still Matters” in which I’ll be collaborating with a group of top local jazzmen. For more information, go here. If you live in Winter Park or the Orlando area, come see me talk and get your copy of Pops signed afterward.
• Lest we forget, I had a life before Pops, and Bookpod, a new site that specializes in “audio essays by writers of lasting value,” recently taped an interview with me in which I talk about the experience of moving from a small town to a big city and the effects that it has had on my career. To hear the interview or download it as a podcast, go here.
“There are two reasons why people don’t make good writers: (a) they have nothing to write about, (b) they are not at home with the written word (however fluent they may be in the spoken word). The latter is by far the most potent reason. If you can write, you’ll find something to write about; having something to write about doesn’t make you a writer. Not that there is the slightest obligation to write, moral or social, as far as I can see. I have the deepest admiration and respect for people who can live perfectly well without writing, who get along without this crutch.”
D.J. Enright, Injury Time: A Memoir (courtesy of Anecdotal Evidence)