Mr. Bojangles, a melancholy song from years past. I didn’t know the story was true. It is said that Jerry Jeff Walker, the writer of the song, met a homeless street performer in New Orleans when they were both locked up in the parish jail. The street performer used the name Mr. Bojangles to keep his true identity from the police. While in lock-up, they talked, of course, and by and by, Mr. Bojangles told the sad story of his dog who had traveled around the country with him for years, but at some point, had died. They asked Bojangles for something to lighten the mood, so he danced for them. One of my internet friends, Alpha Whisky Foxtrot, recently suggested a Spanish Guitar station on Pandora, and while listening, I discovered this gem by David Bromberg. Maybe the best version of Mr. Bojangles ever. Enjoy.
I’m reading and writing and thinking today. Here’s what’s on my mind:
Much is made of the need to hook the reader with the first line. Consider these first lines from well-respected authors.
“At twenty-four the ambassador’s daughter slept badly through the warm, unsurprising nights.”
“All this happened, more or less.”
“On the first day of my teaching career, I was almost fired for eating the sandwich of a high school boy.”
Any of these hook you?
The first one is from Salman Rushdie (or Sal Bass, as he was known on Seinfeld). The book is Shalimar the Clown. I wasn’t all that knocked out by the opening line. The rest of the book follows the same tone.
The second is from Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five. This is an oft-quoted example of a good first line, but really, the first paragraph is important for the hook. Here it is:
“All of this happened, more or less. The war parts, anyway, are pretty much true. One guy I knew really was shot in Dresden for taking a teapot that wasn’t his. Another guy I knew really did threaten to have his personal enemies killed by hired gunmen after the war. And so on. I’ve changed all the names.”
Not only do you get a sense of what the book is all about, you get a big dose of that acerbic Vonnegut voice.
The third “first line” is by Frank McCourt, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author who gave us Angela’s Ashes. This is from his later memoir, Teacher Man. What a story-teller, McCourt was. He gets right into it, when, on his first day as a New York school teacher in 1958, Petey throws his baloney sandwich at Andy. The first line tells you what happens to the sandwich, but you need to have McCourt tell you the whole story. He’s the kind of guy you’d want to have over for dinner. Well, not now, with him being dead and all. But you know what I mean.
Chapter 17 of Teacher Man ends with:
“Someone calls, Hey, Mr. McCourt, you should write a book.”
Here’s Chapter 18, the last chapter of the book, in its entirety:
We should talk about endings some day. They’re probably more important than beginnings. Kind of a chicken and egg conundrum.
That is all. Go back to your ball game or cooking show or beach (if you’re lucky enough to live in southern California).