Inheriting the Life of the Party

by Adam Booth

I recently attended a garden party in Cleveland to celebrate my friend Sarah’s musicology doctoral graduation. She has spent the past few years studying Anne Botta, a 19th century salonnière whose New York home was an important gathering place for writers, musicians, artists, and at times, celebrities. Sarah’s research looks past identifying the significance of individual pieces and composers, and towards the existence of music as a monument of the gathering. Music was a necessity that served a purpose greater than entertainment or display of crafty genius.

I couldn’t help but think that the guests at this garden party, a varied group of creative compatriots assembled from across the United States, were in a way reliving what might have been parallel to an evening at the Botta salon. To some cultural degree, our gathering brought back to life a particular convivial moment and depended upon each participant’s presence and interaction to exist.

As the day grew long and the guests left, the meeting returned to a dormant state of suspension, awaiting a future time when people would reconvene and resuscitate such an important part of civilization: gathering and communicating.

Much like the Botta salon and the garden party, the idea of story and its telling permeates our being but lies in a state of suspension until brought out of the mind and into the arena of ‘existence.’ I wonder, though, if those of us who tell are thinking enough about how powerful story is, and that it means much more than most of us are willing to discuss. Too often we think of story as a job (and all too quickly as an industry), and that we can ‘become’ story tellers by learning a few stories, making a recording, and then drawing up contracts with people to hear those stories. It is true that this is a model. To our advantage, we can market the word ‘story’ as we wish. After all, ‘story’ has until very recently only been part of folklore and most people outside of the storytelling ‘world’ don’t know much of what it means. But it seems that many of us on the inside don’t fully know what it means, either. Why aren’t we talking about the dangers of such liberty, and in particular, how to protect story and preserve what it means as a function of who we are?

We must remind ourselves that we cannot be too quick to overlook the antecedence of story for the sake of making a few quick bucks. Who were those diligent participants of humanity’s cultural salon (or garden party?) – those who brought story out of the mind’s state of suspension and into the consciousness of the community? Does not nearly every subculture and group of people traditionally have the storyteller as a member – and to how many cultures is story sacred, historical, pedagogical, and explicative? And do we consider these values when we stand in front of a gathering to tell our stories?

If we are not careful with out treatment of story – in particular, if we do not continually seek an answer to the question “Why story?” – then we run an increasingly greater risk of losing identity, thus removing the culture from our salon and dissuading guests from participating in the story party.

About Adam

Adam Booth tells stories influenced by his Appalachian and Jewish heritage. He is a three-time champion of the West Virginia Liars’ Contest and winner of storytelling competitions in three other states. In 2011 the National Storytelling Network honored his promise as a young teller with the J.J. Reneaux Mentorship Grant to work with Dovie Thomason. His first recording, The Mingo Black, is a series of original West Virginia tall tales and family heritage stories.

Contact Adam


7 thoughts on “Inheriting the Life of the Party”

  1. Adam, Thank you for reminding us that story is more than an occupation, it is conceptional way that we make meaning. I do believe, whether we are storytellers or simply someone interested in the idea of story making or telling, we need to see it as something that is not linear, but multifaceted and both subjective and objective. The more we study, the more we trouble what story is, but what is important is we do the study. Thanks Adam.

  2. Chris Hedges said
    “We now live in a nation where doctors destroy health, lawyers destroy justice, universities destroy Knowledge, Government destroy freedom, the press destroy information, religion destroys morals and banks destroy economy.”
    The reason why this is happening is this:
    There is a particular occupation which is missing from this world. The job of someone working in this occupation is to remind people of why other occupations have come into being. How medicine came into being, how Justice came into being, How knowledge came into being, How communication came into being. Traditionally this job was done by Mythology creators. Where are the mythology creators of the world we currently live in. Only storytellers can fill this vacant post to preserve “the reason for being” of occupations.

  3. Thank you for the reminders, Adam. Sometimes it seems regrettable to me that I quit my dayjob and have required my vocation to be my occupation.

    You’ve made me consider the word “play” as it relates to what musicians do. Tomorrow, I’m going to focus on playing my stories, rather than performing them.

  4. Quoth Adam: “Too often we think of story as a job (and all too quickly as an industry).”

    Industry-schmimdustry, I say! If you heard cheering from Georgia-way, that is why. I thought immediately of one of my mentors in curmudgeonship, the late great Edwin Newman, who noted the silliness of the term “industry” when referring to a particular business. I know that I am merely noting the grammar lesson here (the form, not the content) but still…

    Adam, I was thinking of that very salon atmosphere after Laura Hagman’s house concert in Silver Spring a couple of weeks back. (The one you missed because you didn’t want to brave the thunder storms and ground-contacting tornados, you weenie.) The best moment of the night came after the show was over. Geraldine Buckley and Cathy Fink started writing a song together, right there in living room. Most of the guests had rushed off and missed the quiet music and conversation from those who tarried. Hostess Laura, who in her way runs a monthly salon, said it was her favorite part.

    Thanks, Adam, for reminding to pay attention, even to our OWN selves. Thank you showing us the greater portion.

  5. Appreciate your post Adam, because it calls on us, as storytellers, to think about the what and why of our telling stories. Right now I am realizing story as most powerful when they connect heart to heart and as most satisfying to me when I connect eye to eye either as teller or listener.

  6. Most storytellers that I know are in a constant struggle between the stories they want to tell (i.e., the ones on their hearts) and the stories that are commercial enough to actually produce a liveable wage. I yearn to one day be financially independent so that I can tell exactly those stories that are crying to be heard. Not likely, but one’s reach must excede one’s grasp…

  7. Ah, but isn’t it true that some artists can become an industry? Certainly Madonna, Damien Hirst, and Michael Kors are all industries, and they began as doing but one job. It worries me when people get into storytelling and too quickly attempt to turn their one job into an industry, and that is what I was I was hoping to articulate with that comment.

    I wonder if Laura considers herself a salonnière. She should! Too bad I missed out on that special moment after your show. It sounds great. Come to think of it, I can’t quite remember what I did that night after the tornadoes dissuaded me…was it “The Wizard of Oz” that I ended up watching?

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