I haven’t read my book yet. The advance review copy of Wire to Wire sits on my desk glowing sedately, like a night light, only more golden. “It’s not for reading,” I tell people, “it’s just for looking at.” Some of my friends have disregarded this advice and read it anyway.
I guess the reason I haven’t read it yet – in book form, anyway – is that it’s the last step in a long process, and I’m not quite ready to take it. But being near the end has made me think about beginnings, which in this case includes three clippings.
The first is an interview with Dylan from the early 1980s, of which I saved only the last few paragraphs, now on very yellowed newsprint. In it, Dylan says:
“You can only pull out of the times what the times will give you…Everything happened so quick in the ‘60s. There was an electricity in the air. It’s hard to explain – I mean, you didn’t ever want to go to sleep because you didn’t want to miss anything. It wasn’t there in the ‘70s and it ain’t there now.
“If you really want to be an artist and not just be successful, you’ll go and find the electricity. It’s somewhere…”
When I first read this, I was working for the electric utility in Seattle. I dealt with electricity all day long, but it was obviously the wrong kind. I needed to find Dylan’s electricity.
Not too much later, I quit my job, drained my small retirement account, and started writing the book. This explains why I am not retired and living in a big house off Green Lake Park.
The second clipping is from the mid-1970s. My mom sent it to me. She never overtly tried to stop me from hopping trains – knowing her efforts would be futile – but she sent me a news story about some kids who climbed on top of a moving boxcar and got hit by a power line.
I scoffed at this story. Those kids were partying, I told her; they weren't serious freight-riders. But I saved the clip, and it inspired the prologue of Wire to Wire.
I found the third clipping on a sad day. My father had died, and my mom was in poor health. Eventually, and not entirely of her own will, she came out to Oregon to be closer to my sister and me. Our family house in Michigan sat closed up, but essentially as she left it. After a while we had to sell the house, and I flew back to clean it up.
It’s a strange thing to be alone in a house that no one has touched for almost a year, especially if it’s a house you’ve spent a lot of time in with other people around. When I walked in, the floors creaked like ice cracking on a lake.
I made a tour of the house, then sat on the couch. My mom saved newspapers and there was a small stack on the coffee table. A headline on the top one read: “Harsh fate awaits many.”
I sat there and stared at that for a while. It was a dark thought, certainly. And the editors were sugarcoating it with that last word. Many?? What about freaking all?
When I opened the paper up, I saw the article was actually about retirement planning. Harsh fate awaits many who fail to save for the future, was the full headline. But it was too late. The first half of the line had already cast its spell on me.
These days a new clipping is floating carelessly around my desk. Farmers find body surrounded by money, it says. It’s a sad couple of paragraphs about a woman found murdered in Eastern Oregon. My wife noticed it a few days ago and picked it up. “Why are you saving this?” she asked.
I have no idea, was my almost honest answer.
Maybe there’ll be some electricity there.
What about you? What clippings have made your desk their home?
Advance copy of WTW: "Will it glow at night? Will it make a hum? Will it look good with the rest of my furniture? Show me how this thing works," by Cracker.
(Runner-up: "A Day in A Life" -- I read the news today, oh boy. By a new group I just discovered on iTunes. Keep trying, fellas, and maybe someday you'll be the Blog Song of the Day.)