Posted by: Mark Nielsen | December 31, 2011

Resolved: I Will NOT Make Any Half-Baked Resolutions This Year

Chet Baker

Chet the young lion, ...before he became the old junkie. Image by svennevenn via Flickr

Or if I do, I will not beat myself up over not keeping them…

Life’s too short to make oneself miserable about not getting over some self-made bar.

It’s just bad juju: judging my personal success or failure by a narcissistic or socially-derived, fairly arbitrary standard that has nothing to do with my belovedness “under God”.

But I will try to keep moving forward in 2012 nevertheless, whether or not I stumble — and I’m sure I will. It’s the nature of the beast.

One way I’m moving forward: I’ve been back hard at work lately on my novel (or back “at play”, to be honest). However, I’ve never been very disciplined in my creative writing (to be honest yet again).

Still, I must say I am enjoying my on-and-off, undisciplined research on jazz trumpeter Chet Baker, the model for one of my main characters and one of the most undisciplined and sloppily brilliant “stars” of the past fifty years.

Chet, singing and playing in 1953, when he was the same age as my own novel’s 1959 “hero”, Bill Marino.

My novel, tentatively titled Murder at Birdland, has changed substantially in its focus over the past few years, in both its themes and the characters who will carry it forward.

It was originally planned as a John Irving-like study of family life and socio-religious interactions in 1959 Massachusetts. It is now looking like a much grittier study of bohemian life for young musicians, Beatniks, addicts and other ne’er-do-wells in 1959 Manhattan. But I’ll still have a little “vacation” trip to quiet Cape Cod, MA thrown in, to introduce the McKittredge family and provide a sweet, offbeat counterpoint to NYC’s hip, urban milieu. (Yes, I used the word “milieu”. I’m a snobby intellectual. So sue me.)

It may be wishful thinking, or coattail-riding, but I want to casually incorporate a few well-known figures like poet Allen Ginsberg and jazz saxophone legend Lester Young on the fringes of my murder mystery. The plot is loosely based on the real-life murder of Irving “Zach” Levy, one of the owners of Birdland, the 52nd Street club that was the epicenter of the jazz world in this fascinating period of American history.

By settling in on the eve of the Kennedy era, I can still focus on the moral, political and cultural transition from Eisenhower’s sunny (but shady) late Fifties into the darker but equally fascinating early Sixties. But by moving my setting from pastoral Cape Cod to jumpin’ Manhattan– the original fast-paced postmodern city that defined hyperspace before supercomputers were even conceived– we get more latitude in what we can explore.

Of course, 1959 Manhattan is also to some extent the world of  the television hit “Mad Men“, which I like but do not follow closely and do not intend to emulate. Instead, “Lady Day” Billie Holliday and her ilk are just closer to the bone for me, personally. As are geeky photographer William Claxton and seminal Beat/hippie poet Diane DiPrima, two other real-life models for my novel’s characters. They’re more overtly odd, and broken, as opposed to the shiny exteriors and dark underbellies of discreetly philandering ad executives and repressed suburban housewives.

I also think there are a lot of contemporary parallels with that historical period, compared to the Bush and Obama years. It’s in the clash of hope with disillusionment, when we find out how hard it really is to live ethically and yet still hold onto our “happily-ever-after” ideals. Vietnam (and yes, that region was simmering in ’59) is not exactly Afghanistan, but you see what I’m getting at, right?

Bringing all this down to human scale, in the lives of some hopeful but deeply troubled twenty-somethings, should make it a story not just about the Fifties, or a few creative pioneers, but a book about you and me, here and now.

But like I said, I can’t even resolve to finish it this year. Instead I entrust this challenging but enjoyable work to Destiny, to Future Mark, whom I barely know and am only just now beginning to trust.

But he’s a good guy. A little geeky, but with a good heart. I think you’ll like Future Mark, and the stories he has to tell.


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