© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.
It's Labor Day Weekend but it seems that my Pepper work never takes a break. It's what centers me and pulls me through each day. There's just so much work to do! I expect that tomorrow will be no different. Maybe that's a true indication that this project is a real labor of love?
I'm excited to report that I'm on the verge of finishing the first half of Pepper's biography. Since my early April lectures in Utah, I've been on fire, much to my surprise. I wasn't expecting to begin writing upon my return home. The thing that I find so gratifying is that the writing has flowed out of me, sometimes effortlessly. Perhaps it was just the right time to start? That's not to say that writing is ever easy. Much like scupture, the craft of writing mandates the continuous polishing until it reaches its final form. Getting ideas out might be fun but editing is always arduous.
It's because of my extensive reading, writing and note-taking over the last couple of years that I've been able to move so quickly in the last five months. In about a month from now -- hopefully in the next blog installment -- I'll be able to report that Pepper's life from 1930-1955 is complete. I'm now at around seventy pages and I expect that I'll be at around 100 pages in a few weeks. That implies around a 200 page biography, then John Vana's musicological analysis will make up Part Two. I expect great things from him!
Chapter 3 of my part has several components. The first section is about Pepper's time in the US Army. Then I discuss his transition to civilian life in 1953-54, with sections on the Blue Bird Inn and the World Stage Theater. What follows that is a three-part history of Detroit, then a short history of Detroit jazz (1928 or so through the late 1940s). The chapter concludes with Pepper's time in Detroit in 1955, including a section on his mother, Klein's, and the West End Hotel.
Once I get the first half done, I'm going to take a break to consider how I want to treat the second half of his life. Pepper hated cliches and I feel that, in respect to him, a chronological narrative is far too predictable. I find it boring too. I've avoided such a rendering thus far by darting around thematically. Yet there's a limit to how much you can move about and not confuse the reader. Some biographical theorists recommend reverse engineering. That is, inventing the ending first, then figuring out how to get there. I didn't need to do that at all because my Prologue in some sense "ruins" the ending. It gives me cover because in it I intentionally divulged the broad strokes of Pepper's life to make a case for why anyone should care to read the book. The Prologue has, in a sense, liberated me to at least consider some kind of experimentation with the narrative.
Yesterday on my two Facebook pages I included an except from the book regarding Pepper and Charlie Parker. Here's two more excerpts from the book:
Pepper’s bunk was at the edge of the camp. Across the street in an empty lot Adams, Kolber and a few of their buddies planted marijuana. “We set up a schedule,” said Kolber. “We marked down everybody’s name to take turns going out. We had a water can and a big hat. We had a schedule made up to water it.” In the early 1950s, smoking marijuana was still somewhat of an arcane activity. In a glorious touch of irony that created more than a few snickers and knowing winks, the guys in Pepper’s platoon would roll a joint and then ask the military police on the base for a light. The MPs had absolutely no idea what was going on.
“Whenever we took physical training, he was beautiful,” said an amused Kolber.
When we had to jump and meet our hands above our head, he would never jump. He said, “Listen, I can play, that’s what I’m here for in this band, to play, and I can’t do all these other things.” He says, “It doesn’t take that much physical energy to strap a baritone sax around your neck.” He told the sergeant that. The officers always used to call him into the office so I never heard too much about what they did. He always came out smiling, smoking a cigarette, saying, “It’s all straight,” and they never bothered him but they did shake him out. He was too well liked. No one could really dislike him because he was an intelligent man, knew what he was talking about, so people didn’t monkey around with him too much. They knew, whatever he did, there was a good reason for doing it and no one really picked on him.