Joseph E Bird

Let's talk about reading, writing and the arts.


December 2016

a love story

blame this on my sister, Sarah. she introduced twenty one pilots to me via the fairly innocuous video, Stressed Out. but I’ve been exploring and I’ve discovered that they is off the wall.

so this is my weird musical obsession of the moment. i love the theatrics and all of the facial expressions in the video, but beyond all of that, there’s a tender love story.

sure joe. sure.


“You can be the best songwriter or guitar player in the world, but you have to work at positioning yourself so that you’re in a place where, if the stars line up, if the right man comes along at the right time, you’re on your way.”

Jim Avett – father of Scott and Seth Avett, aka the Avett Brothers

to thine own self be true

“I told the boys early on, play it the way you play it, and if it’s good, if it’s entertaining, then folks will come to hear you. If not, then we’ll sit here on the front porch and entertain ourselves.”

Jim Avett – father of Scott and Seth Avett, aka the Avett Brothers

American Pastoral

“I have to go write my review,” I said.

“Why do you have to write a review?” she asked.

“I don’t have to write a review.”

And then I realized that, yes, I have to. Not that anybody really cares what I, an overfed, long-haired leaping gnome, thinks about a book that’s almost 20 years old. Still, I need to get this out of my system. Let’s call it writer’s therapy.

As I said before, I can’t think of anybody in my circle of friends and family to whom I would recommend this book.  It’s just too much…of everything. And yet, I’m glad I read it. It was good exercise.

“The Swede.”

As if to answer who the book is about, the first sentence leaves no doubt.

It’s about Seymour Levov, aka The Swede, and his seemingly ideal American family set in the time of the Vietnam War. The pivotal event: his daughter blows up a post office as a protest to the war and a man is killed. The daughter goes on the run.

This plot line is slowly dripped (more slowly than my father’s decrepit coffee maker) as the author tells us everything about everybody that dares make an appearance in the novel.

Warning: Never volunteer to be a character in a Philip Roth story. He knows all and tells all.

And this is why I’m glad I read the book. It was one heckuva an exercise in character development. Layer after layer after layer.  After layer, after layer, after layer.  After layer, after layer, after layer, with enough hints at a story to keep you interested. Like the daughter has been missing for five years. And then, three-quarters into the book, he finds her.  Ok, we know the characters pretty well, so now the story is going to pick up.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Everytime something is about to happen, we get more dense paragraphs of exposition. Layer, after layer, after layer.

Then there’s the character Marcia Umanoff, a militant non-conformist whose duty in life is to make people uncomfortable. She’s a thinker and disdains simpletons. She’ll do anything to get under your skin. An elitist. Her actions in the novel are irritating, yet the perfect foil to the perfect world of the perfect Seymour Levov. I’m not giving away much to tell you that his world is not as perfect as it seems. Marcia Umanoff represents reality.

So here comes Joe Bird, a simple man (with a simple name) taking on a highly-acclaimed Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Because he concludes that the book will not be in his top ten of all time, an elitist might conclude that the allegory and symbolism and sheer depth of the narrative might be too much for such a simple man. The elitist may be right.

Page 413: “These deep thinkers were the only people he could not stand to be around for long, these people who’d never manufactured anything or seen anything manufactured, who did not know what things were made of or how a company worked, who, aside from a house or a car, had never sold anything and didn’t know how to sell anything, who’d never hired a worker, fired a worker, trained a worker, been fleeced by a worker – people who knew nothing of the intricacies or the risks of building a business or running a factory but who nonetheless imagined that they knew everything worth knowing.”

Yeah. It’s like that.



rock n roll, St. Albans style.

Scatting across the internet tonight and came across this:

It’s the record that comes to mind whenever I open the file to work on my story, “Heather”.  My mother’s cousin (also my cousin, of course, but I never know when to use second cousin, once-removed, etc.), Joey Clatworthy, was a member of the St. Albans band the Mojos, who later changed their name to the Muffetts, back in the 1960s. Fellow St. Albans writer Larry Ellis was a young DJ around the same time. I wonder if he remembers spinning their 45 at WKLC.

whisper hello (a love song)

a glance of the eye, the innocent look
the curl of your lips, was all that it took
we talked without words, there was so much to say
my world went to sleep, when you went away

the hollow of lonely
it shakes me with fear
i whisper hello
but nobody’s here

the care in your heart, always ready to share
you left me so humbled, my sins so aware
to witness your goodness, i now realize
it’s what i should live for, to be good in your eyes

i long for your warmth
and to kiss your sweet tears
i whisper hello
but nobody’s here

the devil he tempts, the weak ones to test
he knows how to charm, my lust is impressed
my life is now stained, there’s nothing to do
but beg your forgiveness, your judgment is true

to touch your soft skin
and hold you so dear
i whisper hello
but nobody’s here

the sound of your voice, echoes soft in my mind
i wish i could see you, for all others i’m blind
our love was so fleeting, and me, i’m to blame
i dream of the light, and live with my shame

please laugh for me honey
and bring joy to my ear
i whisper hello
but nobody’s here

copyright 2016, joseph e bird

author’s note: this is not autobiographical and i’m not depressed or missing anyone. i’ve been listening to a lot of “love gone wrong” songs lately and this is my contribution to the genre.

Guitars and Cadillacs

And hillbilly music, of course.

Two of my favorite things collided yesterday.  Terry Gross, host of NPR’s Fresh Air, had as her guest Dwight Yoakam.  Those who know me will remember the country music jag I went on a few years ago, spearheaded by Dwight’s breakout album, Guitars and Cadillacs.  I’ve always liked his music, even though I’ve expanded my musical tastes.  He’s got a new album out where he plays his old hits in bluegrass style. That’s why he was on Fresh Air. If you have a few minutes, click the link below and find the Play button for the segment.  Even if you’re not a country fan, I think you’ll enjoy it. I wouldn’t steer you wrong.

Dwight Yoakam on Fresh Air

And then check out this video from the funeral of his Bakersfield mentor, Mr. Buck Owens.

How to win a Pulitzer.

I recently came across a short piece written by Joe Bunting that I found on Jane Friedman’s website, 8 Techniques to Win You a Pulitzer. I won’t go into the details (click the link for the explanation) but here they are:

1. Write long sentences.
2. Write short sentences.
3. Be lyrical.
4. Make an allusion to the Bible, or Moby Dick, or Milton.
5. Use an eponym to name your characters.
6. Be specific.
7. Write a story within a story (or a story within a story within a story).
8. Have a wide scope.

As I’m making my way through Philip Roth’s American Pastoral, I see the first technique over and over. In this example, The Swede, the book’s tortured soul, is wrestling with what he should have done, didn’t do, did do, might have done – the kind of endless hand-wringing that we all know too well. He just does it one long sentence.

“But instead he had driven directly home from the office and, because he could never calculate a decision free of its emotional impact on those who claimed his love; because seeing them suffer was his greatest hardship; because ignoring their importuning and defying expectations, even when they would not argue reasonably or to the point, seemed to him an illegitimate use of his superior strength; because he could not disillusion anyone about the kind of selfless son, husband, and father he was; because he had come so highly recommended to everyone, he sat across from Dawn at the kitchen table, watching her deliver a long, sob-wracked, half demented speech, a plea to tell nothing to the FBI.”

That’s one long sentence, complete with semicolons and everything. Technique No. 2 should be easier to master.

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