Ah, books! The festshrift part of Saturday’s fun involved a soon-to-be-published book of essays honoring my scholarship and teaching, edited by Amira de la Garza, Bob Krizek, Steve Corman, and Nick Trujillo. Last night I got to see the cover (Celebrating Bud is the title and the cover captures that sentiment perfectly) and the list of 30 contributors.
It was a good thing I was seated. “Blown away” and “humbled” are words that usually don’t belong in the same sentence, but this time they do. I’ll post more about the book when it is published, along with information about how, if you are interested, you can obtain a copy. Proceeds from sales of this book all go to a new narrative ethnography award in my name to be given annually through the International Association of Qualitative Inquiry and the National Communication Association.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Ethnogs phenomenon, allow me a couple of paragraphs to explain it.
A few years ago Nick, Bob, and I visited the Experience Music Project museum in Seattle. One of the features of that place is a soundstage where visitors can choose instruments and pretend to play classic songs while being videotaped/recorded, and for a few bucks more receive a poster of the event, the recording, and faux tickets to it with the name of the band and date of the “performance.” We decided to do it for laughs and chose the name “The Ethnogs.” We three are all ethnographers, so it made a kind of wacky, laughable sense. We selected nom de rock stage names, invented autobiographies as our lives as the children of famous ethnographers from the old days, and crafted a mostly comic and entirely untrue story of ourselves. It was all in good fun, done for laughs.
One thing led to another. Nick got it into his head to turn the event into the beginning of a longer-term research project on “mythography” by creating a fictional past for our band and the Seattle recording as our “reunion.” Bob, with an assist from Nick and me, contributed a “yes we inhaled deeply” history of our imagined co-appearances with the Beatles, the Stones, and a host of other great bands from our youth, and all of us collaborated on a “discography.” That led to Nick writing some original songs (for real) under his nom de rock, Gory Bateson. You can listen to them on YouTube by just typing in his faux name.
He sings better these days. I swear it.
The next thing we knew we were being asked to play as a real band at our national communication convention. Somewhere along the way to that venue we picked up another ethnographer, Chris Poulos, who, under the nom de rock Ripp Tup, became our “roadie,” and few “groupies” who also collaborated on the event and the by-now burgeoning fictional history of the faux band.
We also had a “guest rock n roll accordionist,” Steve Corman, aka “Wolfie,” who joined in the fun with his faux German accent and a story about having played with the original band back in Berlin. I should also say that by this time the Internet had spawned its own viral history of our band, complete with real people from several continents claiming to have seen us play, back in the day. You can access some of that madness on Bob’s site here or read one of them here.
This bizarre turn of events – moving from faux to real – also produced rhetorical fuel for Nick’s study, and he and the whole idea behind it was featured in The Chronicle of Higher Education. There is also a published scholarly article, “Performing Mythic Identity,” about the band. And there are blogs that curse us for “grabbing fame” or that question our motives, as if we take any of this seriously. Sigh.
It’s not all fiction anymore. Nick is now an “independent music publisher” and is about to release his second solo CD under his nom de rock. Not bad for a guy who used the group as an excuse to learn how to really play guitar and sing. I add only that Bob, who began this project without knowing how to play an instrument, is now a pretty good guitarist with a beautiful collection of Rickenbackers.
The truth, sometimes, is indeed stranger than fiction. Particularly when it is created by it.
The Ethnogs began as a hoot and remains one to this day. There’s nothing serious about it and the music is pretty basic, but participating in a faux band has been a lot of fun. And there’s this: Nick lost his wife, Leah Vande Berg, to cancer in 2004, before we made that trip to EMP in Seattle. Bob had also lost his Mom and sister during this time. You know my story. In all three cases the whole Ethnogs phenomenon has been not only comic relief but also therapeutic. Music will save you. I swear it’s true.
Music, books, friends, food, conversation, laughter. It’s a grand life, if only we let it be so.
So it was that Bob, Nick, Steve (with his lovely wife Diane), and Amira all visited us at our Sun Lakes house on Saturday night. We ate jambalaya (made by San and Nic), looked at some of the festschrift materials that we accessed via a very cool guitar flash drive (thanks Amira!), and I joined in the singing (neuropathy prevents me from playing guitar) of a couple of our “hits” – “Train to Purgatory” and “Anthem.” Nick also sang “Purple Winnebago” and Steve did a solo using Bob’s 12-string acoustic. As the Beatles put it on Sgt. Peppers, “a splendid time was guaranteed for all …”
The group broke up earlier than we used to on account of my need for sleep but oh what a fun night it was! Good friends, good food, good memories, and good music . . . an entirely fitting end to a good week filled with good news.
This week we return to Four Winds for more chemo to keep the rogue cancer cells at bay. We also plan to talk to a radiation doc of Robin’s choosing, to see if that treatment option might be useful to alleviate my back pain. As it is I am “managing” the pain with drugs, but only just. It is not easy standing up and I still can’t sleep lying down in a bed. While I have become accustomed to sleeping in a recliner, it’s not my preferred location for gentle snoring. As we anticipate a move back into our house sometime this month, I’d like to be able to sleep and snore in our bed again. But hey, these are still fairly minor complaints, given what it could be. And I am still grateful for the relatively good health I am enjoying.
I want to end this post by thanking again my lovely wife, San, and fine son, Nic, for all they do to keep this family in good spirits while so much else is going on. This past week, in addition to my Clinic visit, scans, and all of the associated chores of “the care and feeding of Bud” were accomplished by them while also working to make our real house livable again. This included their meeting with painters, carpet men, pool specialists, our yard guy, and a realtor in addition to performing some of the manual labor themselves. Alyssa would have helped out, but she was on a cruise with her folks. Our pal Mac graciously stepped in, all of them content to leave me in Monkey’s good company.
When you are alone and feeling a little sad because you can’t do what you used to do, a adorable furry cat doing what adorable furry cats do – which may only be explained by the fact that, as Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. teaches us, they live backwards in time – can be a smile-worthy comfort. Monkey did his job. He was a smile-worthy comfort to me last week and no doubt will be again this coming week.
Of course, given his backwards-in-time life, he already knows what will happen …