During my trip back to the Windsor area last Christmas, my father got a call from a childhood friend, someone I vaguely remembered having visited us once when I was younger, but not anyone I thought my father still communicated with. They didn’t talk long, but from where I was reading the paper at the kitchen table, I could hear him on the phone in the basement rattling off the state of the family: Cousin 1 just had a baby and has turned into quite the sailor; Cousin 2 took a job as a news reporter in a big city; Cousin 3 is graduating journalism school this year and thinks he might look for a government gig, since J-schools produce far more graduates than there are jobs. Then there was a pause.
“Oh, no, no he’s here. About a week. Uhh, well he lives in Toronto now, working for [redacted]. It’s not a particularly high paying job, but he likes living in Toronto, I guess. You know my brother [redacted] had some health issues there for a while…”
And that was it. My cousins all had lives worth talking about at length, but his only son works a low-paying job and lives in Toronto. No mention of crossing the one thing I never thought I would ever do off of my life’s list of ambitions. Remember this if you think having your name on a book spine will change your life in any meaningful way.
They say if you love it, you should let it out its cage
And fuck it, if it comes back you know it’s there to stay.
Thirty-five. That’s how long I was going to give it. The great thing about writing is you can do it no matter how old you are, no matter where you are on the planet. But after three years of futzing around with half-finished short stories, blog entries and excuses, I was starting to think that, if by the time I turned 35, I didn’t have anything to show for this dying dream I’d been dragging around like Django with his coffin, I’d just hang it up and embrace mediocrity. Find some office data entry job with decent benefits and something resembling an RRSP. Blog a bit on the side, but never doubt my place, or lack thereof in it.
Then, an acquaintance of mine [and author of the volume on Portishead’s Dummy], blogged about the open call for submissions to Continuum’s excellent series of music guides, 33 1/3. I’d always romantically daydreamed on how cool it would be to write one of them, so I started musing on what album I would do if I could: Midnight Marauders. The Shape of Punk to Come. Albums I love, but nothing that could summon the sort of passion necessary to pump out a 50-80,000 monograph on it. Like so many other things I think about doing, I put it to the side, tried to forget about it a couple of weeks before the deadline.
That weekend, I’m standing in line at the 7-11 on my way home from work at around 11.00 pm, grabbing a carton of milk for the morning. The girl in front of me is buying what looks to be her groceries for the week and fumbling in her purse for her wallet, dropping a vial of white on the floor in the process. When I get over what I’m witnessing [country mouse ain’t never seen coke in person before], I pull my headphones out and scroll through something to listen to.
I want to listen to Donuts, I think to myself. I haven’t listened to that in a while.I pay for my milk as the accelerating churn of ‘Workinonit’ kicks in and step out into the cool Toronto night.
Man, someone should do a 33 1/3 onthis album, I think. That could be amazing.
I stopped at the corner. Wait. I should write a book on this album.
So, in a rare flurry of energy, I put a proposal together. That was in April. In June, I got word that my proposal for Donuts made it through the first round of cuts, from 471 to 94. Enough of an achievement on its own, certainly something to be proud of. I said at the time, I knew I’d had a good idea about the book, something no one had stumbled on before, I thought I deserved to make the second round. Which, if you know me, is not the sort of thing I’m prone to saying. So, I got what I wanted. But man, wouldn’t it be cool to actually get the go ahead to write it?
I was sitting at a cubicle at the company home office when my phone buzzed, alerting me to an email from the editors of the series. I froze, and started prepping myself for the letdown. It’s okay, I told myself, to make the shortlist your first time out, that’s an accomplishment in itself. You couldn’t reasonably expect them to take a chance on an unknown property like you. “It’s an honour just to be nominated,” right?
I tapped the email, and skimmed it. All I saw was ‘accepted,’ and my stomach dropped. Son of a bitch. I got it.
I couldn’t talk about it publicly right away, until the publishers had all their ducks in a row. I got the green light email on Aug 31.
People ask my if I’m excited. I mean, of course I am, but it’s going to be a hell of a lot of work in the meantime, plus my personal life’s been simultaneously enduring no small amount of upheaval. Now that that’s settled, and contracts are on the way, interview subjects have started being reached out to, I can start to appreciate the fact that I’m actually going to do the one thing I’ve always wanted to do, that I’m moving from observer to participant. And I realize that there are probably going to be more than a few people wondering, ‘Who the fuck is Jordan Ferguson?’
All I can say is I’m a guy who is well aware what the work of Dilla and this album in particular means to people, because it means the same to me. And I’m a guy who wants to write this book not to get myself over, but because I want to celebrate the man’s work, life, and music. Other than that, y’all will just have to trust me. I promise I won’t make you regret it.
Feature image by Happy Sleepy. Found on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.