Monday, November 26, 2012

My First Time: Adam Braver

My First Time is a regular feature in which writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers, ranging from their first rejection to the moment of holding their first published book in their hands. Today’s guest is Adam Braver, the author of five novels, most recently Misfit.  His previous works of fiction include Mr. Lincoln's Wars: A Novel in Thirteen Stories, November 22, 1963, Crows over the Wheatfield, and Divine Sarah.  Braver's books have been selected for the Barnes and Noble Discover New Writers program, Borders' Original Voices series, the IndieNext list, and twice for the Book Sense list, as well as having been translated into Italian, Japanese, Turkish, and French.  He is on faculty and writer-in-residence at Roger Williams University, and also regularly works at the New York State Summer Writers Institute.

My First Silence of Open Space

January 1978. For a reason I still don’t understand, Beat poet Michael McClure came to my high school and spoke to us in the library. And for another reason that I don’t understand, I found my fourteen-year-old self chatting with him afterward, picking his brain about literature and writers. His eyes bugged and darted with a combination of restless energy and intense focus. Several times he broke the conversation to say that he had the seen the future the previous night. It had been at Winterland in San Francisco, and this future was the Sex Pistols; McClure was reeling to me about how the world as we know it was gone, upended and given way to this future world. (That it ended up being the Sex Pistols’ final concert—discounting a disingenuous reunion tour two decades later—is worth noting, but beside the point.) As someone who was keenly interested in either the past or the future, perhaps to a fault, I took the cue from McClure, and I soon found myself expanding my musical repertoire, now knee-deep into an era of music that we’d later know as Punk and its tamer cousin, New Wave. So from that morning in the high school library came two important firsts:

1. Cut to October, 1982. Coming down the steps of the Memorial Auditorium in Sacramento, California. My friend Scott Busby and I have just seen the Clash. We’re blown away and amazed. We’re shouting as we walk onto J Street—our ears are stuffed, both from the amplifiers and the cotton that it later took a doctor to flush out. As mesmerized as we’ve been by the Clash (by Joe Strummer’s sneer and prowess, by Mick Jones’ bounce and dockside confidence, and by the sheer wall of volume and disregard for convention), our first instinct, our first reaction, is that we want to do it ourselves. There is nothing subtle about the conversation. No innuendo. No slow deliberations. Or feeling out each other’s perspectives. Our pronouncement is direct and brazen. And it feeds our ongoing discussions of the types we are (we’re the type who . . .); and in this case it’s that we are the types of people who would rather be on the stage than be the types of people who sit and watch the stage. And though it was youthful dogma and hubris, it was also, I suppose, a liberation of sorts—that I could work to live my life as someone who experienced through creating.

2. Not as dramatic, but stemming from the Michael McClure visit, was the introduction to so much new music. It came from all directions, constantly shaping and reshaping my worldview. Much of it has become forgotten and discarded. But some of it still remains immensely meaningful and formative, important in ways that I wouldn’t realize until I’d think about it somewhat methodically years later (actually, although I can barely type this, thirty years later). Today, I’m thinking about the first Talking Heads record, called 77. It wasn’t so much the lyrics (which at the time were attracting the lion’s share of attention among my crowd, with their so-called quirky images and ironic commentary on American suburban life), but it was the simplicity of the music and the arrangements. I suppose that now we would call it minimalism. At that point in my life, I didn’t think about terms, nor did they interest me in the least. Everything was visceral. The songs and arrangements on that album had both a power and a space that combined in ways that I never knew. You could almost feel the power of what was not being played, just as pronounced as what was being played. I’ll spare you further music criticism, only to say that that balance was one that I forever wanted to strike (again, even though it was internalized and didn’t really consciously affect me until so much later in my life). To this day, when I’m writing or revising, I think that I want the narrative to sound like 77. I don’t know exactly what that means when it comes to words, only that I want the power and simplicity, the beauty and the elegance, and the tension and force that comes from the silence of open space.

And so there’s one first, but a first that’s so representative of the multitudes of firsts I’ve had, where a situation that makes no sense produces a suggestion to me (me being someone who is forever susceptible, vulnerable, curious, and obsessive); and then I find myself tracking it down, and like some kind of bastard family tree, I’ll later see that the suggestion has splintered into other directions and ideas that I never ever would have imagined. And all stemming from reasons I still don’t understand.

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