INTERVIEW FOR A CONCERT & LECTURE IN KENNEBUNKPORT MAINE ABOUT "THE WRECK OF THE ISIDORE" BOOK
• First some background stuff. You're obviously an accomplished musician. How did you start down that path? Is music something that has always been a passion for you?
I have been a musician my entire life. I never had a "real job" and have made my living since 1974 playing concerts, touring around the country and selling my recordings. This book is a new direction for me. I won the 1981 National Fingerpicking Guitar contest, and the 1982 International Autoharp contest, and have released about 22 albums of "independent" music. I am not part of showbiz or the music industry but I consider myself successful. I live in a house, not a car, for example.
• What drew you to the guitar? Everything.
• Do you have ties to the town of Kennebunk?
I live in York, Maine, and that is where the Isidore ended up after she left Kennebunkport that fateful night. My mother's family has been in Bath, Maine since the 1600's, so I have a life-long relationship with Maine.
• Can you give a brief account of the story that you decided to write about?
On Nov. 30, 1842 the Isidore left Kennebunkport on her maiden voyage bound for New Orleans with 16 local men on board. A fierce nor'easter blew in that night, and her wreckage was found at Bald Head Cliffs the following morning amid 18 inches of drifting snow. Several crew members had reported various eerie dreams and premonitions before the disaster, and that combined with the spectacular wreck itself plus lingering reports of a ghost ship caused the story to become a very widespread tale in Maine a century ago. I became interested in the story for several reasons. I had always wanted to write a shipwreck song, and this one had every element I could have dream of, and I didn't have to invent anything. The fact that it happened near where I live made it extra interesting, and so did the fact that this once widely-told story had vanished. To finish the song I had to learn more facts about the ship, and as I got more interested and dug more into the story, I learned a lot about what I now call "Maine's Hidden History." Most of us who live or visit here have a vague idea that Maine used to be all about sailing and the sea, but there is no tangible evidence anywhere. There are no ruins or dinosaur bones to pique your curiosity. By the time photography came along, it was almost over and done, so there is almost no visual record of what want on around here for centuries.
• How did you discover this story? What brought it to your attention? I bought a book of Maine shipwrecks years ago at a museum, and did not even open it for years. When I did open it one cold dark night, on page 2 there was a photo of a tombstone that said "Cape Neddick" with some nice poetry and nice names like Captain Foss and the barque Isidore. When I looked at the date on the tombstone that said "Nov 30, 1842" and I realized it was Nov. 30 I got quite a chill. The song practically wrote itself, and then I wrote 3 other songs, and released 3 of them on a CD in 2001. I have performed them on and off over the years, and they have been very well-received. Fiddler/singer Joyce Andersen and I did 4 concerts in Cape Porpoise and Kennebunk over the next few years where we sang the songs, told the story and did a special kind of memorial concert with some readings from a local historian and some poetry. It was really fun and a nice way to weave the music and the story and the history together.
Last year someone suggested that I write a book about the Isidore, and it hit me that the wreck of this ship was a perfect "window" into the past. So in the book I tell the story of the wreck and also at the same time tell the story of the way of life that has vanished as completely as the timbers of that ship. Everything vanishes if it is not being re-told and re-invigorated. Liberace sold 100 million records, and who even knows who he is now?
• Is history a subject that has always interested you?
I have never been a history buff at all, and have never written a historical song before or since the "Wreck of the Isidore." Songwriting and performing have always been very closely related to history, and I think the best history is the stuff that gets made into entertainment. Only historians would care about Julius Caesar if not for Shakespeare. I like to think that we entertainers are the descendents of the bards and the oral history people, and combining the music and the stories make them both better. And I like to think that because I have spent a lifetime performing, and actually watching people lose attention, I have a much keener sense of how not to bore people than a writer or a historian who work alone, with no live feedback on how interesting they are.
I very much love living in Maine, and I am finding that learning about things that used to happen around here is making it a lot more interesting and actually exciting to live here in this sleepy town. The bloggers are re-writing the rules of journalism, and now I think it is also time for the people to apply some DIY (do it yourself) energy to uncovering their own local hisory. Schools do not have textbooks that are specific to each town or county, so they teach American history or Maine history. No history book would care about the Isidore story, or the History Channel for that matter, but that does not mean it is not worth knowing about. I can read as well as a historian, and knowing where to look for things is the advantage they used to have over the rest of us. Now with the digitizing of everything, all of us can find out about things that only a few of us could get access to in the past. Old books whose copyright is expired (pre 1920 roughly) are pretty much free on the internet now, and if you like them and if you are interested in things that happen in the pre-copyright era, there are few barriers now. In just the last couple years, old newspapers have gone online and you can poke around endlessly there if you like. I want to tell this story, but I also want to inspire and encourage other people to dig up other things also.
• Have you based any of your other work on historical accounts?
So far this is unique.
• You've published both a book and a collection of songs. Did the idea for the music come first, or did you know that you would eventually do both? see above
• Did you work on each project simultaneously? How long did it take you to complete both projects?
I of course wanted to include the songs that pertain directly to the shipwreck with the book, but I just thought it would be a good idea to include a full length audio CD with some nice nautical-flavored and inspired music on it. It's like including a soundtrack with the movie. So far pretty much everyone agrees that combining them makes the whole thing better.
• What was the songwriting process like? Do you come up with the
lyrics first and then write the music?
12) Have you written any other books? What the writing process like for
that? I have written many articles, and several books about how to play the guitar, but never anything like this.
• Will you be performing music at the event on Sunday? What do you have planned for the event?
I intend to play some music, and especially the "Wreck of the Isidore" song. And I want to engage people and talk about this story, how everything, including stories, gets lost. My goal is to sort of "glamorize" living in this part of Maine, and somehow knowing about dramatic things that happened here in the past has worked for me and I want to spread the feeling around. The historical markers they put up on the side of the road are always boring, and I wish I could re-write them all and inject a sense of awe and amazement into them.
• How do you think it will feel to be presenting this material to people from the Kennebunk area?
It's going to be exciting to be in the "Ground Zero" area for this story. When I went to learn about it, the Historical Society folks in York did not know about it at all. But in Kennebunk, where all the sailors were from, the historians knew all about it. I am hoping actually for an audience of people who are just interested, and it will be easier and more fun for me if they are not all that knowledgeable about local history! And I promise not to be boring.