This past weekend I had fun sharing my story about Nicola Tesla at the 14th Annual Hagood Mill Storytelling Festival in Pickens.
I also listened to some of the other storytellers recount stories from their childhoods. John Fowler talked about a valuable lesson that he learned from his first grade teacher. Kim Weitkamp talked both humorously and tenderly about her father and family. David Joe Miller told a short story at the end about how he got started with storytelling after he discovered some old family letters and discovered stories about his father, who died young. Listening to David I got to thinking about how I got started with storytelling.
The inspiration to tell stories and not just write them down, came about a decade before I actually began, when I was about eighteen or nineteen. I listened for the first time to a recording of Lord Buckley, who retold many familiar stories in what he called “hip semantic.” Lord Buckley, like me, was enamored with Jazz and the lingo of the Jazz musicians of his time, the 1950’s.
He retold the Biblical stories of Jonah and the Whale and The Naz; he talked about The Hip Ghan (Ghandi) and the spinning wheel, and generally included a large dose of Love no matter what the story he was telling. I fell in love with his humor, and creative use of language. I knocked around quite a bit after that with my then partner jazz musician Monty Waters, living as expats in Europe for about eight years. During that time I never forgot listening to those records.
In the 90’s I returned to NYC with my three year old daughter and initiated a weekly series called Sunday Afternoon Stories at the Threadwaxing Space Gallery. I started out telling some of my own stories, including a retelling of Cinderella, that I considered to be in a Lord Buckley style. My story about Nicola Tesla is another one, and his spirit resides in the pages of my book Dreamscape, a collection of poems and stories about fascinating people from ancient to modern times. I believe that I have grown into my own style of storytelling but Lord Buckley’s creative inspiration is no less than it was when I was a teenager.
There was a vibrant poetry/spoken word scene going on at the same time and I eventually merged the two, in my world, with a new series that I called Listen & Be Heard. It included a house band. While my efforts to get published were unfruitful for many years, I was getting weekly gratification from the immediate experience of sharing stories and poetry with living breathing people seated in front of me and I have never tired of it.
You can still find recordings by Lord Buckley. My friend Oliver Trager wrote a well researched biography about him entitled Dig Infinity! Lord Buckley also had one book published by City Lights Books which they are reissuing this year entitled Hiparama of the Classics.