Beginnings Part 2 supplement — A memoir introduction

Joni Mitchell.  Image via

Joni Mitchell.  Image via

After drafting my memoir about the music business, I realized that I wanted to bring the readers into the story with their expectations somewhat in order. 

First, I wanted to settle, right away, the question of the narrator’s qualifications.  He was not a rock star, but rather someone who had found some degree of success, enough to have given him access to such things as record deals, MTV, the workings of radio, what it’s like to play on Letterman, and so forth.  I wanted them to expect an insider’s look at success without being distracted by the wait for a superstardom that the narrator never attained.

I also knew that someone picking up a rock memoir might expect tales of rock and roll excess, and I wanted to direct expectations away from that, lest the wait for scenes of debauchery start to distract readers.

So my introduction sketched in a few of the story’s plot points, and this panoramic introduction allowed the narrator greater leeway in telling the story that followed, because the introduction allowed readers to set aside questions that might otherwise have lingered. 

Think of it this way: Imagine flying to a place you’ve never visited, and a friend picks you up at the airport. 

  • Suppose she doesn’t tell you how long the trip is, or whether or not you are stopping for groceries, or whether or not you will be crossing the river, and so forth.  In that case, each sight has potentially equal significance.  Your mind has no expectations; each intersection is a potential turning point, each neighborhood might or might not be hers.  With so many options open, your soon lose the ability to take in the details because the big questions—where are we going and how long before we get there—remain outstanding.
  • Or suppose she fills you in.  “We’re headed across town, about half an hour drive.  We’ll cross the river, swing by the dry cleaners, and then drive uphill to where I live, which is not far from that radio tower you see to the right of the downtown skyline.”  Now you have context and thus freedom to let your eyes wander, to take in details and know that you haven’t lost track of the big picture.

Such was my thinking.  I had in mind something like the overture of a musical, something that would plant ideas in the minds of the readers and give them a framework, a sense of the story’s scale and scope.  Thus prepared, they could sit back and absorb the workings of, in Joni Mitchell’s words, “the star-making machinery behind the popular song.”


Thank you for reading.