I’m sitting here holding a finished copy of the book and feeling a gamut of emotions. Fortunately, pleasure predominates—it just plain feels good in my hands (take that, Kindle!). The process of making a book, as I’ve said elsewhere, is a group effort, and the Counterpoint folks came through like champs. Charlie Winton did a great job of editing it, rearranging some chronology to make a better story. Kelly Winton, the production manager, found a beautiful cover and many historical pictures to go along with contemporary shots from Susana Millman and wonderful Dylan and Baez shots from Dick Waterman. It feels solid and worthy – whew (I’ve known a few writers who wanted to slit their wrists when they actually saw the finished book)!
Not to melt down on you, but there are other emotions – not sad ones, but not simple joy, either. Writing a book, to state the obvious, is a journey. You start with an idea, work hard at research, go through lots of doubt, eventually start writing, work some more, doubt some more, and if you’re incredibly lucky, have a good agent (Thanks, Sarah!) who helps you find a publisher. And then lots more work…a pattern seems to be emerging.
But this book’s a bit different in that the other two had inherent and defined story lines. The first covered one individual with his friends, the second a group and their many, many friends. But On Highway 61 started with a question, and for the longest time I didn’t pretend to have an answer. Eventually I arrived at the basic “plot line” of the book, which is the ongoing relationship between mainstream (i.e., white) America and African American music…
But before I got to the plot line, I did an enormous amount of research—I jokingly said that I’d returned to graduate school, except this time I was running the program. As I traced what had developed in the history department since I’d left, I concluded that a) I’d been wise to depart because b) I disagreed with the approach of much of the cultural history now being written—quite a lot seemed to me to be forcing the story to fit a preconceived ideological framework. That’s not my style. That argument was originally going to be part of the book.
I also wanted to explore a second realm. I took two research trips down Highway 61 and really wanted to discuss place – that is, the relationship between certain artistic works (songs by Charley Patton, for instance; Huckleberry Finn for another instance) and the places they came from—Patton’s Mississippi Delta, and Mark Twain’s Hannibal, Missouri (and also Elmira, NY, where he wrote it).
Well, On Highway 61 comes in at 430 pages, which is to say it ain’t short. It’s quite literally half the size of the original draft, in which I tried to do those two other major things along with what has survived. I’m confident that it’s better for the editing, but I’m still aware of all these other possibilities that I had to let go. So there’s a certain minor set of regrets, a slightly wistful awareness of what the book doesn’t do, as well as it what it does. It’s complex.
Publication day is now about three weeks away…I’ll be going out on my first lecture even sooner. Stay tuned!
Here’s some additional information and new dates:
More info on Litquake:
Litquake: Rock’n’Soul Circus: A Cavalcade of Stars
also about the Litquake event, for you FB fiends….
Facebook: Rock’n’Soul Circus: A Cavalcade of Stars
10/26/14, “The Golden Road,” on the Grateful Dead Channel at Sirius/XM, 3pm-5pm EST
10/29/14, The Loft Bar at The Hamilton, 600 14th St. NW, Washington, DC 20005, 5:30-7:30 pm
See All Appearances