New Edition and New Additions
With the paperback release of Change of Seasons a week away, I sit at my computer, trying to figure out what to include in upcoming book club posts that will explore the new bonus chapter authors John Oates and Chris Epting included in the updated paperback edition. For more than a year, I've paged through the first edition backwards and forwards, listened to decades of music, searched the internet, old newspapers, files, etc. - all to discover little details and added dimensions that have bonded me to the wonderfully told stories of Oates' musical life. It has been like my personal meditation for the soul - a project that stretched my imagination, taught me about things I never knew I would care so much about (like the history of American popular music!), and led me to a community of other like-minded folks to share in the discovery. Learning something new and making "friends" after 50 - those are pretty nice surprises on their own. But I didn't realize, until getting a copy of the new paperback, that somewhere along the way, Change of Seasons has become part of my personal story, and I, in turn, have become a tiny part of John's story. It's crazy to even write that, and yet it's literally staring at me in the face!
The newest chapter of Change of Seasons, The Guild, starts off with an anecdote about me and how, thanks to Oates' co-writer Chris Epting, I helped John Oates find a long lost treasured guitar - the Guild F-30 that belonged to his hero Mississippi John Hurt. The anecdote is an introduction to this bonus chapter which serves as a kind of epilogue to the first edition hardcover version of the memoir. The reader gets a peek at alternate endings for the book and a preview of where a "book two" might be headed. Of course, in top "book club" form, I have lots of artifacts to go along with the guitar discovery. In fact, I wrote a little story about it, from my perspective, back when it happened. And I already have "finds" that will make nice posts for the other anecdotes in the chapter. Still, The Guild was calling me to discover more.
When I first read the new chapter, naturally, the disbelief and excitement of seeing it in print completely took over. I doubt I will EVER be able to open this book and not be thrilled to see my name and the book club project indelibly stamped on the pages of this tome that I have studied so fervently. And yet, even with all the excitement and amazement, I also felt right away that there was something more in this chapter to take away - but I wasn't able to grasp it at first. So I've read it several times, looking for a message that my gut was telling me laid somewhere between or beyond the lines.
The Gift of Story
I think I found it.
I'm not sure my discovery is what the writers intended, but I guess that's the beauty of storytelling (and songwriting). Each person receives and interprets a message that is uniquely theirs. Here's the passage from The Guild that pulled me in:
And the magical part of it was that the book you now hold in your hands was actually responsible for the guitar finding its way back to me. Sometimes you can't explain these things. Call it divine...call it cosmic...sometimes you have to open your heart to forces greater than yourself. Now when I open the case, it smells like the past, as though the essence of another life is passing through me, and when I pick up that guitar, I hold it like a prayer book. I will treasure it for the rest of my life and I'm deeply thankful to Tracey for tracking it down.
So here's my "ah-ha!" The wonder is not just the incredible luck of finding of a guitar, or the implausibility that I'd end up included in a chapter of John Oates' memoir. Believe it or not, there's deeper treasure here. The true wonder is the book itself and the gift of story.
Motivated by his own love and knowledge about the power of story, Chris Epting convinced John Oates to write the memoir - to document and find the threads that connect the stories in Oates' journals and memories, and to discover the "throughlines" in his lifelong musical journey. As an accomplished writer, my guess is that Chris has an unusually keen awareness that stories make sense of our layered and complex lives. They give us a beginning, middle and end, reference points to measure our growth and the distances we've traveled. Stories act like mirrors and maps....reflecting where we've been and influencing where we are headed.
In recent interviews, John has said that Change of Seasons and his new album, Arkansas, are somehow connected. One of the wonderful outgrowths of writing the book is that the process led Oates to create the album "he's always wanted to make". Revisiting and writing the stories of his life illuminated John's path to Arkansas and then in a parallel and magical way, that light spilled over to me. It lit the path that led me to the Guild guitar - and also shed new light on my own path.
Change of Seasons has been like my "prayer book". It has led me to think about and reflect on my own story. And then it inspired me to start writing it down, reflecting on beginning, middle and end, on meaning, on where my story is headed. Writing your stories down may lead you to things you didn't know you knew or wanted. I so admire Chris Epting who spends his time and makes his living storytelling. And of course, I love the songwriter and the author in John Oates. Through their storytelling, I found out I don't have to have the talent of an Oates or Epting to discover the joy of story. I look back and realize that when I was young, I wrote all the time - letters to friends, journals, and other reflections. Unfortunately, the habit was lost along the way building a career and a family. But now, as a result of this whole fan girl adventure, I've promised myself to spend more time writing down the stories of my life..for myself, for those in this life with me, and for my son who can add to those stories when I'm gone. I've come to realize - the stories are everything - because they will no doubt lead you to more stories to live, share and discover. That's my prayer.
So to all my book club friends....What's your story? Write a new chapter and see where it will lead....!