The Best of the Best Writing Tips: #3. Burn Pendants in Pale Fire.

One of my favorite quotes from any writer, ever, is this one by Vladimir Nabokov:

“Burn pendants in pale fire. Accept no fashions. Be your own fashion. Do not rely on earlier triumphs. Be new at each appearance.”

I don’t even know where to start.

Of course, this is darn-tooting good advice for writers. Come to think of it, it’s perfect for anything.

But let’s stick to writing for now. In my daily job, it’s easy for me to get sucked into a routine in the style of my writing. Recently, I was writing a press release, about an annual event. I took a look at the previous year’s event to see what I had said. Maybe that was a mistake. I was tempted to simply update the language. Instead of using the word “iconic” to describe the hotel where this event would take place, I wanted to use “historic.” Instead of writing, “honor” the recipient of an award, “I wanted to write, “pay homage” for this year’s recipient.

Had Nabokov been in the room, he would have slapped my hands off of the keyboard and pushed me out of my chair. Actually, he may have asked me what was that contraption of a typewriter, but let’s save that for a story about time travel.

Think about the last time you read something that took your breath away with its power and beauty. It doesn’t happen often. As a writer, it’s damn hard to achieve.

Still. . . we have to try. We can’t fall into traps of go-to words and phrases, or updating last year’s press release, or speech, or whatever it might be. Actors who are doing remakes of  a movie will often say they did not watch the original version. They want to be fresh.

Look at your work. Notice the similarities, notice your habits. Now kill them.

Then there are these two gems from Nabokov’s quote: Accept your own fashions. Be your own fashion.

This is a mistake young writer’s make; well, it’s a mistake I made as a young writer. I would read Eudora Welty and sit down and try to write in a way that made me feel like her writing had made me feel. Too often, I ended up being a bad copy of the great writer.

Writing isn’t easy, whether you are writing fiction, or an article, or a business letter. If it were easy, the world would be full of Nabokovs. Like a fingerprint,  a writer’s voice is unique from any  one else. Find your style, then be your own fashion, and be new at each appearance.

If we can somehow manage all the good advice found in Nabokov’s quote, then we’re doing okay.

The Best of the Best Writing Tips: #2

“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” Elmore Leonard.

imagesThat pretty much says it all, doesn’t it? If you have ever been in a writers group, you know this syndrome. The writer who is in love with polysyllables for the sake of sounding smart, or the one who never met a metaphor she didn’t like–or worse, a writer in love with both unnecessary polysyllables and provides overdoses of metaphors.

KISS was created for a reason.

Mr. Leonard meant more than just keeping it simple, though. He doesn’t merely want his writing to sound truthful and authentic, he wants it to be truthful and authentic.

His tip is closely tied to another piece of advice: Write from the heart. But that’s  another post for another day.

Re-read what you write. Marcel Proust read his words aloud. It’s a tried and true tip. Another take on this comes from Oscar Wilde: Kill your darlings.

In case there is any doubt, he was referring to words.

The Best of the Best Writing Tips: # 1

Audacious Ink wants every one to be a more audacious writer. That’s a BHAG goal, so in the very least, AI would like for every one to be a better writer with a few tried and true tips from the Greats, like Mark Twain, William Faulkner and Eudora Welty, among others. With that, Writing Tip #1:

Write tight and eliminate unnecessary words. The previous sentence could have been even stronger had I just written, “Write tight,” but I have a hard time with writing tip #1, so I had to add that last part. Writer, heal thyself.

Think about your readers. Avoid content that is dull and isn’t useful . Or take this audacious tip from Mark Twain:

Substitute “damn” every time you’re inclined to write “very;” your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.

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My Week with Bruce: part 4

Spending my Honeymoon with the Boss

Bruce lookin 2The words I am about to write may come back to haunt me. I might jinx myself, yet. . . it’s something to brag about if you are a proud member of E Street Nation. Here goes: every single time I have tried to get into the pit, I’ve succeeded. Maybe Greg is my lucky charm; he, too, is batting 100% and has been to a couple of shows without me.

Bruce say it

If Springsteen recognizes me as a frequent fan at his West Coast shows, he probably thinks of me as the annoying petite blonde who is always grabbing at him. At his shows, I’m the real life version of the grasping hands some people have in nightmares.

Bruce Feet

I’m standing behind his ankles in this shot. What you don’t see is that just seconds earlier, I reached out and touched the back of his shins. Yeah. I know. I know. By the way, his jeans were soaked through. That’s how hard he performs–and it was only the third song of the night.

Because Glendale, AZ was the last show of the US leg of his 2012, I saw some old friends– a lot of the Springsteen faithful had travelled from the East Coast. There was much talk in the pit of Sandy (the horrible storm, not the song), the band’s lineup on this tour, highlights from the tour . . . and something else. I kept running into hardcore fans who talked of other fans, fans more hardcore than they. It seems to be a thing at Springsteen shows. Who is the most hardcore? No one is bold enough to claim the title, but I met a number of people who all knew other people who fit the bill. Springsteen fans, if nothing else, are generous to their brothers and sisters.


Why am I talking so much about the fans in this recap? Because after seeing Springsteen for countless shows, and talking the usual talk about the joy his concert brings, what the songs have meant to me over the years, how this is the music that matters most, or what a great performance the concert was, this show really hit home with me on one fact: the fans are part of the magic that happens at a Springsteen concert. I said I saw old friends there. They were people I met at other Springsteen shows, either in the pit, or in a bar after the show, or in line for the show, or at the concession stand. . . you get the idea. A couple of them were names I had learned (and remembered) and a couple of them were just people you talk to briefly, but have an immediate and strong connection with over Springsteen. When you go to the shows a lot, you see the same faces over and over.

FULL Band ArizonaAs for the actual show, it was magic and joy. What can I tell you that you haven’t read in another review? Every show that Springsteen puts on is amazing. It is better than anything anyone else can do. He was put on this earth to sing these songs and give turbo-charged performances.

A few notes: Clarence’s son Jared came out on the stage during “Tenth Avenue Freezeout.” Some stupid girl jumped on the ramp where Springsteen stood during the tribute and he had to shew her off the stage. She violated the unspoken code. Springsteen fans may grab at him (guilty!) but we never jump on the stage unless invited, and we never jump on the stage during a tribute to Clarence. It nearly ruined the poignancy of the moment for Jared, Clarence’s son. At the end of the song, Jake gave him a big hug, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the pit.

Here’s the setlist of that magical, last evening. See you in 2013, Springsteen. Hopefully, I’ll be the girl in the pit grabbing (respectfully) at your ankles.

1.Surpise, Surprise (acoustic, tour premiere)
2. No Surrender
3. I’m A Rocker
4. Hungry Heart
5. Prove It All Night (with 1978 Intro)
6. Trapped
7. Lost In The Flood
8. We Take Care Of Our Own
9. Wrecking Ball
10. Death To My Hometown
11. My City Of Ruins
12. Be True (sign request)
13. Light Of Day (sign request)
14. Darlington County
15. Shackled And Drawn
16. Waitin’ On A Sunny Day
17. Apollo Medley (dedicated to Sam Moore; Sam sings a few lines of the song)
18. The Rising
19. Badlands
20. Thunder Road

Encores:
21. Incident On 57th Street (solo piano)
22. Born To Run
23. Dancing in the Dark
24. Santa Claus is Coming to Town (with Garland Jeffreys)
*25. Tenth Avenue Freeze-out (with Clarence Clemons’ son Jared on percussion)

My Week with Bruce Part 3

Crowd Surfing With Ghosts

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There were many highlights from the show. The sad thing is that most are locked away in my memory and there are no photos or video to share. We had our iPhone, but there comes a point in a concert when you can either record what you are seeing–knowing it won’t adequately capture what you are witnessing–or you can be in the  present and watch, and promise yourself you will not forget one second of the show.

One highlight that I think everyone in Anaheim would agree on is when Bruce sang “My City of Ruins.” The song was, as Springsteen said, “From our Ghosts to your ghosts.”

“Are we missing anybody tonight?” He asked. And we roared, yes, yes we are. We are missing Danny Federici, and Clarence Clemons in the band, and we are missing people dear to our own lives.

“Are we missing anybody tonight?” He asked again, this time a little more pointedly. Again, we roared “yes.” A Springsteen show is very interactive. The Boss likes to talk, and he wants to know we are listening.

Springsteen doesn’t get enough credit for this: he’s very theatrical. I mean this in the best way. He understands that when you stand on a stage, backed by powerful music and a powerful message, that timing, phrasing, a look, a gesture, become all the more important. “My City of Ruins,” has become a centerpiece in the show on this tour, starting at the Apollo Theater back in March when he first introduced. I listened live on Sirius Radio, and when I heard him do it the first time, it struck me with a thunder that moved me to tears. Here, all these months later, he’s tweaked the words, tweaked how and what he says, but the message is still the same and still as powerful. We all have ghosts; we share that.

To write about this moment would leave someone thinking this concert was sad and heavy, though. Springsteen’s shows weave through a gamut of emotions, from angry to sad, and to joyous. And speaking of joyous, here’s a video my husband took at the show of Bruce crowd surfing over our head. We had to have some record of this remarkable night.

 

 

My Week with Bruce, part 2

Angry White Men?

ImageIf you had asked me right after Springsteen’s December 6th Anaheim show to sum up the performance in one word, I would have said “exuberant.” Then I read the reviews the next morning, and everyone was talking about how “angry” the show was. The reviews I read attributed it to Tom Morello and Mike Ness, the guest stars of the evening. The guys gave added energy to the aging E Street Band, but their very presence, according to these reviews, left us with a more angry Springsteen, though it was a reference to the theme of the evening, not the actual emotion coming from the artist himself.

It wasn’t till I was in Phoenix and saw that show that I could see this more clearly. The joy I felt in Anaheim, was no doubt, the joy I felt seeing my favorite band, up close and personal in the pit. Still, I think it is a stretch to call the show angry, and to be honest, I really didn’t think in terms of a “theme” while I was watching the concert.

I see now, though, that you can’t have a show featuring “This Depression,” and “Ghost of Tom Joad,” much less one of my all-time favorites, “Adam Raised a Cain,” without feeling some anger slicing through the lyrics.

Then there were “Spirit in the Night,” and “E Street Shuffle.” Those are songs of Springsteen’s youth, and our youth. It’s easier to feel a bit grumpy now, whether it’s because we are beaten down by the economy or just beaten down by the years we’ve added to our lives. There has always been anger in Springsteen’s songs, which is one reason the faithful fans love him. He expresses the anger we feel when our lives have not gone as hoped. The other reason we love him, though, is the happiness and hope just at the perimeter of so many of those songs.

In fact, as mentioned in the last post, the show opened with “Land of Hope and Dreams.” Sure, it was a nod to Disneyland being down the street, but the song sort of sums up all the other songs and characters Springsteen has created. They are all about surviving in, or maybe escaping to, the place where dreams are made of.

Morello wasn’t just a guest. When the band walked out onstage, they walked out with him. No one was surprised that he was there, we were all a bit surprised to see him walk out like he was part of the band. This promptly started a rumor that if Steven or Nils, who are both getting on up there in the years, left the band, would Tommy join? Would Tommy replace Steven when the actor goes on to tape season 2 of Lillehammer? Really, I think it is nothing more than Morello performed on “Wrecking Ball,” so here they were in his hometown and it seemed only polite to bring him along for the ride.

If you want a blow-by-blow review of the show, read this one from Backstreets. If you want my review of the show, here’s what mattered to me: Bruce stopped right in front of us on the ramp and sang right to us four times. I touched his ankle and his calves, like a crazed fan would, I reveled in the feel of his drenched jeans, and I helped him as he crowd surfed over us. I helped Bruce Springsteen in a small way. Fitting, as his music has helped me numerous times.

Here’s the setlist, along with some of my commentary:

Land of Hope and Dreams (with Tom Morello)
Adam Raised a Cain
Streets of Fire–Yeah, maybe this was an angry show with this song following “Adam Raised a Cain.”
Hungry Heart –I touched Bruce and he sang right to me! Then he fell backwards on us to crowd surf. I held him by the ankle and looked up just to see his crotch right smack over my face. I resisted.
We Take Care of Our Own
Wrecking Ball
Death to My Hometown (with Tom Morello)
My City of Ruins
Spirit in the Night
The E Street Shuffle–It was great hearing this song
Long Time Coming (solo acoustic)–he chose this sign over our inspired, “Burning Love.” But evidently on this leg, unlike others, he was not doing covers. Ooops.
Reason to Believe
This Depression (with Tom Morello)
Darkness on the Edge of Town
Bad Luck (with Mike Ness)
Because the Night
Darlington County–Bruce said, “Road Trip,” and brought Nils out the ramp. Nils looked like he’d rather be anywhere else other than a thin strip of ramp where crazed fans (like me) could reach out and grab him. Poor Nils.
Shackled and Drawn
Waitin’ on a Sunny Day–The happy song that makes his fans angry, because not many of them like it…yet he keeps on singing it!
Raise Your Hand–More of me touching Bruce
The Ghost of Tom Joad (with Tom Morello)
Badlands (with Tom Morello)–My anthem. I loved that Tom  Morello played on this. It was just perfect.
Thunder Road
* * *
Jungleland
Born to Run
Dancing in the Dark
Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town–He told everyone wearing Santa hats to get on the ramp and dance. They did.
Tenth Avenue Freeze-out (with Tom Morello)–I touched Bruce again and I think by this point, he was sick of my hands and considered me a pervert.

My Week With Bruce

Part 1
The ePITome of the happiest place on Earth.

The Pit and BeyondThere is not an inch of my body that is not sore. There is not a cell in my being that is not exhausted. This is not a complaint. This is the morning-after effect of a person who has spent the previous evening in a prime spot in the pit of a Springsteen concert.

This week, my husband, Greg, and I did something we always wanted to do, and that was follow our Rock and Roll hero from one city to the next. More hard-core fans than the two of us have managed to do this dozens, if not hundreds, of times. While we are dedicated fans, hard core even, we are either not wealthy enough, too frugal or too lazy to travel city to city for Bruce. So we watch him live on the Ustreams that the more robust fans post, or follow #Springsteen on Twitter for a tweet by tweet update of the set list.  But this week, we managed a two-city trip, and drove to Anaheim, CA for his December 4th concert, then flew to Phoenix for the last show of his 2012 US tour.

The stars aligned and blessed us for both shows this week. We tried twice to get in the pit, and twice we succeeded. For the uninitiated, the pit is the area in front of the stage where anywhere from about 300 to 500 fans stand to see Springsteen and the E Street Band do the magical, musical voodoo they do better than anyone. To get in the pit, the fans arrive hours before show time,  line up to get numbered wristbands, and hope that their number is picked in a lottery. It’s like Hunger Games without death and with a big, emotional payoff.

If we sound like geeks, then get this: This is how we choose to spend our honeymoon. We even made poster board signs, requesting “Burning Love” in Anaheim, and “Drive All Night,” in Phoenix, and on both signs, we wrote “For our Honeymoon.” We were close enough that Springsteen got a look at both signs, but, being The Boss, had different ideas about which songs requests he wanted to play that evening.

It didn’t matter. When Springsteen took the stage in Anaheim, he asked in a sing-song, part-gospel, part musical-emcee greeting, “Gooood evening Anaheim! Are you ready to be transformed?” And, all of us, every person in the pit and in the seats, cried back, “YESSSSSSS.” By the end of the evening, many of us were–and those that weren’t? They were in seats, up high, away from the Pit.

To fully experience a Springsteen concert, you have to be in The Pit. It is the congregation. It’s wear you receive the Spirit in the Night feeling that you can only get from being strategically located at a Springsteen concert. A good rock concert can leave you happy for days. A great Springsteen performance can energize your soul. Yep, it can transform you; albeit, temporarily, until the normal drags of life start tugging and pulling again, and then, the only cure is, for someone like me, at least, another Springsteen show seen from the pit.

The pit is also the place where you meet friends and enemies. The enemies are the people who block your view. At 5’1 (after a lot of yoga and stretching) in my bare feet, tall people are my enemy. At my height, I have a lot of enemies in the pit. So I befriend them. A man who had to be 9’0 feet tall even though he was probably actually 6’5 stood smack in front of us before the show started. We had strategically planted ourselves dead center in front of the ramp, where Bruce walks out to sing a few songs. Giant guy, as Greg and I had started to secretly call him, stood between us and the center stage. There was no way I’d see–or Greg as pit people naturally move in their spot, whether dancing or trying to get a better view.

So I tapped the guy  on the arm. “Would you snap our photo, please?” Greg looked at me as I handed my iPhone to Giant Guy. He snapped our photo and we held up our Anaheim sign: “Burning Love for our honeymoon.” Giant guy handed my phone back, and we struck up a conversation. I learned his wife was my height, and didn’t like coming to shows because she, too, considered the tall folks of the world her enemy.

Hug a short person. We need it, especially if we love Springsteen.

Giant Guy became our friend and seemed determined all evening to never, ever, not even for a second, get in the way of our view. To the left of us was a friendly couple, to the right of us were two women. The women were chatty and through them, we got alerts on celebs in the audience, and even in the pit. Rob and Chad Lowe were braving the pit, and fans were polite enough not to bug them too much, though the brothers amiably posed for photos. We thought we saw Joel McHale, but none of the reviews of the show mentioned him among the many celebrities listed.

Around 8:00, the stadium was nearly full and the aisles were jammed with late comers getting to their seats. The hum and buzz of the audience was getting louder, and the excitement was building. It’s like any concert. In the pit, though, people seemed anxious. In part because they knew they were about to see their favorite musical artists, and honestly, the other part was because most of us had been standing since 4:30, if not earlier, having lined up to be one of the winning numbers that got to be right here. We knew we had three more hours, at least, of standing and dancing. At 8:25, the lights went out, and the audience roared. The time had come. We were ten minutes away from the happiest place on Earth, Disneyland, but the location had moved for one night only.It was fitting then, that as the band came out onto the stage, and the roar of the audience turned from loud to thunderous, Bruce and the E Street Band launched into “Land of Hope and Dreams” . . .