In January every year I like to look back over my journals and think about where I am in relation to where I’ve been, which is what I’m now going to do, right here. In January every year I also like to breathe air that isn’t inverted. But I can’t, because it isn’t there. In January every year I also like to eat chili with tortilla chips crumbled up in it while I write my Backstage Graffiti column, which I am yummily doing. Two out of three ain’t bad.

I covered this principle of “looking back in order to discover where you are” with scientific precision in a column here eleven years ago. It’s not a prerequisite, but the research-minded may want to review – www.ldsmag.com/article/1/1602 . Also, it’s funnier than this one.

Here we go. This time last year I was immersed in building a new home for Babymoon, my little recording studio (its seventh location), and didn’t write much. I built it of cedar and burlap, which calls up images of Big Bad Wolves huffing and puffing. (I have more hair on my chinny-chin-chin than any pig in literature, but don’t have to swear upon it, because the exterior walls are concrete.) Well, now I’m moved into it and making albums that I keep subtly hinting that you should buy.

Subtle, Schmubtle. So Babymoon-wise I’m ahead of where I was a year ago.

At this time the year before, the sheriff was pinning a note to our cabin door announcing that it was going up for auction on Valentine’s Day. The whole cabin, not just the door. He was really nice and wished us luck. We shook every tree in sight and, along with bringing down a lot of snow on our heads, averted the auction with probably a full twelve hours to spare. Bidders were disappointed-it’s a cute cabin. Seeing as how I’m sitting in it while I type this, I’m real-estatedly ahead of where I was two years ago.

This time in 2010 I was at a “Twelfth Night” party at the home of artist Brian Kershisnik, passing a guitar around between me, him, Peter Breinholt, my son Sam, J. Kirk Richards and his wife Amy, so pretty much status quo. Why would I want to do better than that, anyway?

This time in 2009 I was rehearsing on the set of LDS Motion Pictures for a shoot of our bluegrass Prodigal Son play “Take the Mountain Down.” I’m not rehearsing for anything this January, so theatricallly I was aheader then than I am now.

In January of 2008 I finished writing “Boam and Hammy In the Utah War,” the first of two and 1/4ths historical novels. My journal records me finishing it several times that month. (But when I started it, I only started it once.) Right now I’m writing, at a glacial pace, another novel. It isn’t the final 3/4ths of the third historical novel, but one about a guitar that gets pawned and redeemed (Meridian, December 2009) -so maybe I’m in about the same place on the Pulitzer Prize-pursuit level, only slower.

In January of 2007 I wrote in my journal, “Both rifles and the mahogany Martin guitar are in hock.” (I usually keep the pawning of rifles a secret, because pawning rifles doesn’t evoke any particular sympathy-most people would just say “Why don’t you just sell them outright and be rid of them?” No, I’m wrong-it would evoke the sympathy of hunters and members of necessary well regulated militias (“M.O.N.W.R.M.”s) But what is the sympathy of hunters and M.O.N.W.R.M.s when compared with the sympathy of aesthetes?) As of this point in January, 2013: nothing in hock. I’m way ahead. Of course, it might be because my pawnbroker retired.

The nearest thing to this date in 2006 is the journal entry, “It is suggested that our lives can magnify our callings, as we bring our very personal experiences and knowledge and imagination to what we are assigned to do. But conversely (or complementarily) our callings can magnify and elevate our lives, making of the most mundane moments opportunities to learn and celebrate and testify.” Pretty doctrinal, but a couple of days later in the volume I found this more typically Backstage Graffiti entry.

14 January 2006

“Wrapped out of a week-long shoot of the story of Esther for the people who make the Liken The Scriptures series for children. I played Esther’s guardian Mordecai-I spent the better part of one shooting day mainly not bowing to the bad guy Haman (played by the very funny Jeff Stevens, who cracked us up even on the gallows-maybe especially on the gallows).

“This was a fun script and a good familiar crew, but what made this work such pleasure (in spite of fourteen and sixteen hour days) is the thoroughly charitable and faithful culture of this company. And there’s a tremendous feeling of family, both spiritually and literally-the scriptwriter and co-director is Dennis Agle, whose wife Suzanne runs craft services (the beloved snack people) and whose daughters work in wardrobe and as production assistants (P.A.’s), and then show up in costume as extras (E’s). Aaron Edson, the composer, lyricist, and other director, defers to his wife as choreographer. Many preparatory phone calls to me came from the Assistant Director, Ken Agle, who is Dennis’s brother, and from Brooke Schaertl, daughter of Mike Schaertl, chief camera, with whom I’ve worked before (his sixteen year old daughter Michelle, a P.A. on this shoot, played my daughter in the video of Saturday’s Warrior when she was three days old. Many more whole families of employees are involved. (I think nepotism is way underrated.) The happy surprise is that everybody does good work!

“It’s been a warm pleasure to work with the astoundingly talented Summer Wood (Summer Naomi Smart) as Esther. I was cast with her in the Sundance production of Funny Girl’ when she was eighteen, and we’ve felt since then a kind of familial fondness for each other (not unlike our relationship in this show).

“A typical thing: A guy was pulling cable who, maybe about forty, wore rumpled pants, tennis shoes with holes in the soles, suspenders attached askew, a crooked baseball cap, and thick glasses (he is legally blind). I suspected he might be a sufferer of Savant Syndrome (my son Sam tells me that this guy could tell you when my first album was released (1971) and who played on it (a full rhythm section including Lex de Azevedo and the guy who drums now for Bob Dylan), though he’s not really a fan of mine at all). Two or three times during the shoot, he had something to say to Mike Schaertl regarding scene coverage or continuity or camera angle. Everything stopped while his observation was patiently and respectfully heard and taken into account, and then work on the film resumed.”

Here in 2013 I’m not on a film shoot with old friends, which puts me behind where I was, cinematically, in 2006. But I’m surrounded by constant, and longer-lasting, outpourings of the brand of kindness and faithfulness and family feeling in my ward and town that characterized the Esther gig, so I’m really ahead where it matters most.

In late 2004 and early 2005 I read the Qur’an. We had a copy in the bookshelf because a Muslim my wife tracted out in the Netherlands on her mission wouldn’t take a Book of Mormon from her unless she took a copy of the Qur’an from him.


From my journal: “The Qur’an has not yet given me, nor do I imagine it can give me, the astonishing proof of God’s love that beats with blood and passion in the heart of the Atonement. If Allah has no son, he has no son to give. Allah may know my thoughts and intentions, but I don’t get any sense from this book that he knows the fears, sorrows, yearnings, and joys that really are my life and self. I am, indeed, Allah’s hobby and not his child.”

Let’s move right along without drawing any conclusions, both because this observation is, again, not the sort of thing you look to find in Backstage Graffiti and also because it could get me fatwa’d if read by a crazed few among the millions of sane Muslim subscribers who the Meridian Editors insist read my column regularly.

On this date in 2004 I shoveled snow a lot. Right now I’d be happy to shovel some snow if the falling of it broke the inversion. I guess that in this regard I’m behind where I was in 2004. But it’s not my fault.

During this week in 2003 I flew down to St. George to play a benefit concert for a local musical theatre company with my son Sam and Robert Peterson, former Broadway guy and perennial favorite on professional stages in Utah and all over the place. After the concert, Sam and I swung by a place they had down there called the Blues Barbershop. It was open mic night and we played a couple of songs. From my journal:

“When the mics were off and people were on their way out, a little miracle happened. My old friend and fan Paul Brennan materialized out of the audience, whipped out a G harmonica, and we played Abilene’ together. He had attended the gala and whistled and stomped and been disappointed when we turned the stage over to Broadway music. Afterward, he’d dropped his wife off home, telling her that he knew Sam and I would show up at the Blues Barbershop, which we had not remotely planned to do. I’ve known Paul for twenty-five years, he’s promoted concerts for me wherever he’s lived, he’s recited The Planemaker for thousands of schoolchildren, and this was the first time we’d ever played together. He’s a heck of a player. (My first introduction to Paul was when he walked into the new Rosewood Recording Company in Provo in 1978 and announced to us that he was the best jaw harp player west of the Mississippi.’ And he probably was. With the jaw harp it’s hard to tell.)

“I don’t really play the blues. About the only bluesy song I know is Abilene,’ and though it’s fun to play I’ve never done it for audiences, because it’s just a lonely hard luck song and also because I only know the chorus and one verse.”

At about that time I worked up a couple more verses, if only because a song that already longs for a place where people don’t treat you mean and everything’s free seems like a sound doctrinal basis for expansion.


All the little children like you and like me
Are lookin’ for Heaven in the top of the tree.
I’m gonna climb til I can see
Abilene, my Abilene.

Gates of pearl, streets of gold,
There’s a light in the night, so I’ve been told-
So hang on tight, I’m gonna hit the road
For Abilene, my Abilene.

Been gone so long I’m losin’ track of the facts.
Is it a city on the plain, or is it Zion by the tracks?
Well, if it ain’t I just might have settle for a reasonable facsimile-
And that’s Abilene.

So that’s ten years ago-ten years of progress analysis. And now I sing “Abilene” for everybody. Frequently. Maybe I’m ahead of where I was.

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