Friday, September 16, 2011

The Origin of Giant Steps Press

I met John Rullo during the intermission of a show I was playing at the Cornelia Street Café. It had been forty years since we graduated from high school together, but he was instantly recognizable to me as he sat with his wife and his daughter at a table in the back of the club.

He introduced me to his family and said, “I like how you wrap your lyrics around American songbook standards, especially your tale of Orpheus as a jazz musician with a Jesus-Dionysus shadow spoken over ‘Spring Can Really Hang You up the Most.’ I gotta get you a copy of my new book, Blind Spots. It’s the rock version of your Orpheus story.”

It turned out to be all of that---and more. For one thing, it’s a laugh-out-loud coming of age in the Sixties story (its sub-title is The Memoir of a Baby Boomer on the Rocky Road toward Spiritual Awakening): hilarious and insightful, provocative and evocative, a look back with his sense of humor in tact. For another thing, it charts the progress of a seeker who outdistances the hypocrisy, denial, propaganda and self-righteousness of an authoritarian religious education at war with both the spirit of Jesus as well as the spirit of the times, rock music, where he finds a home as a composer, drummer, guitarist, singer and bandleader.

Forget the old code of lontano as practiced by the Sicilians. Rather than play his cards that close to his vest, this Italian-American hipster-pilgrim wears his emotions on his sleeve. In high school he didn’t even need words to advance his point of view; his sudden smirk of surprise, his scowl of incredulity and his drop-jaw smile at the hustle enveloping us let us know that nothing fake or unexamined would get past his all-seeing eye. The best thing about Blind Spots is its articulate voice of candor, humor and irreverence; the guy is a natural story teller in which each detail connects. Every riff and vamp, every by-the-way aside and memory lane twist is a spoke on a wheel sending a reader to the hub of his thesis. It’s there, at the unmovable and still center, that his real story of spiritual transformation takes place.

When I called him to thank him for the book, I learned that all was not well. “My publisher is taking me to the cleaners,” he said, “I seem to lose money on every book I sell.” We compared notes. Thanks to services like print-on-demand, CreateSpace, Amazon and Kindle, the industry had reached the point where the old publish-distribute-tour-royalty paradigm had fallen out of the hands of the suits and into the laps of the authors. I had been fortunate to work with an artistic indie publisher of both my recent books and a CD, but I saw the value of owning and marketing my own work in this new technology.

We did a couple of readings together and found that my audience responded to his work and his audience responded to my work. Convinced that we could do more together than we could on our own, we created Giant Steps Press and reached out to the under-thirty cadre of folks who have mastered the social networking tools as well as the formatting and cover design of our new books. On the recommendation of everyone we consulted, we decided to start a blog with the purpose of drawing together like-minded readers and writers, bookstore owners and venue-meisters, critics and thinkers, pilgrims and seekers, viewers and reviewers.

Unlike book writing in which one author does all the “talking,” blog writing is not only many-authored, it allows the reader to become a peer participant in an ongoing conversation and inquiry that stops only when everyone has no more to say---and that could be never. I hope the blog does for others what Rullo’s books do for me: open my heart and mind through humor, invite me to question everything and to be a part of a community of seekers of truth and tellers of tales.

- Kirpal Gordon

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