Tuesday, April 19, 2011


For memoir, and I've said this in my blog more than once, it really doesn't matter what REALLY happened, what matters is what YOU think happened, because ultimately all people want is a story.

I've been thinking a lot lately about myth and personal myth-making. It could also be called campfire inspiration. When primitive man sat around the campfire did he ask himself--should I tell what really happened or just the juicy parts? Of course, in order to hook his listeners he told about the exciting hunt, the danger, the heroics. He knew that much and he was a Neanderthal. Not to diss Neanderthals too much.

When Bob Dylan suddenly got big, when he made it and people wanted to know all about Bob Dylan and the publicist from Columbia wanted to put out press about him, they interviewed him to get his story. Bob told them exactly what they wanted to hear, because Bob Dylan was a storyteller. From his Chronicles I read that he told them he was orphaned or some such bullcrap and that he was a runaway, etc etc. They ate it up. The truth didn't really matter, not then, and possibly not even now. People want to believe in the myth of Bob Dylan rather than the real man or the musician. Celebrities need to be bigger than life, even if that's not exactly what they want. It's what happens.

So this weekend I was reading a retrospective of the painter Edward Hopper. I love his Cape Cod work. Anyway, there was a small little blip about "Nighthawks"; people always want to know the "real" story behind it. He said it was painted from memory of a diner that sat at a certain corner in New York City during the 1930s - 1940s. Of course, that makes sense. And that it was now demolished. Except someone went back to check it out and learned from census and city records that during that time period at that corner there was NEVER a diner, but a gas station.

Does this fact diminish "Nighthawks" or make us change our minds about a masterpiece?

Not really, because the painting has taken on a life of its own and is now iconic.

it's also rumored that his wife Jo was the model for the red-headed woman, again a good story, which also happens to be true


Sheila said...

This is interesting. I'm working on a memoir for my kids and grandkids and am not doing any real research -- yet -- but I am not making things up either. At least not on purpose! I thought my maternal grandfather was one of four children but just recently got a bare-bones bit of information about the family, written by my mother. There were seven kids in that family. Yikes!

Jane, I loved your description of your parents and your desire to grow up like Laura. I never read the books! I tried as an adult and didn't like them. Sorry! But I was in love with Ken in My Friend Flicka and wanted to live on a ranch in Wyoming. Even though I lived in the country with a horse, goats, dogs, and cats. And married a man who carried me off to Minnesota from the East Coast. We still live in the country . . . but it's not quite Wyoming.

Sheila Welch

Jane Hertenstein said...

This needs to part of your story, the one you're working on, the red herrings, the myths told and retold, because the search for one's past involves many forks in the road and wrong turns.