Better to Fail in Originality than to Succeed in Imitation?

Herman Melville once wrote, “It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.” And he knew what he was talking about. Though Moby Dick is now considered one of the greatest works of American literature, the critics panned it when it was first published in 1851. Fewer than 3,500 copies were sold during Melville’s life. The product of a year and a half of writing, the book draws on Melville’s experience at sea and on his reading of whaling literature. An unsuccessful poet, in later life financial troubles forced Melville to take a position as a customs inspector. He died in 1891. Three decades after his death – at the centennial of his birth – critics discovered his work and thus began the “Melville Revival.” Moby Dick has never been out-of-print since. A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown. As a professional entertainer, I Continue Reading

Categories: Concerts and Festivals.

And the Band Played On

There’s a library bond (Measure 10-145) on the ballot this year in mostly white, mostly poor, rural Douglas County, Oregon (population 107,000.) If the measure doesn’t pass, the ten branches of the local public library system will shut down for good. In many communities, the public library system is one of the sacred cows of local government. But in Douglas County, things are different. In a willful assault on the cultural well-being of citizens of all ages, elected representatives have actively conspired to shut down a library system that circulates 500,000 items each year. Can Douglas County afford the inevitable price it will pay as a county without a public library system – a county of citizens who will never be as worldly, well-educated or well-read as their neighbors in neighboring counties? This year, Roseburg Fire Products, a large manufacturer with 3,000 employees across the USA, moved its Douglas County Continue Reading

Categories: Libraries.

The Song of the Century

During the month of October,  I performed a series of preschool story time concerts in Oregon’s Douglas County Public Library System. Yesterday, I played a gig at the small library in Oakland, Oregon (population 927). The vintage 1910 building has thirteen-foot ceilings and large wooden-frame windows. The library resides on the top floor of the building and the Oakland Play School Co-op operates downstairs. In the 21st-century, it’s uncommon to find a public library within walking distance of a school campus, let alone one in such close proximity that the students can access the library, even on a rainy day. So, Miss Melinda, the school’s lone teacher, assisted by several parent volunteers, brought her class of a dozen preschool students upstairs to attend my concert in the cozy children’s room of the library. I taught them to sing Woody Guthrie’s “Put Your Finger in the Air” and “Why Oh Why?” We sang “Twinkle-Twinkle Little Star,” “Old Continue Reading

Categories: Libraries and Schools.