Autobiography Ghostwriter Kevin Quirk Plans to Mark His 60th Birthday with a Revisit, Reminisce and Reconnect Tour

When I interview women and men in my role as personal historian and autobiography ghostwriter, I often invite them to share stories from memorable birthdays. Sometimes that invitation opens the door to birthdays in which that person goes back in time. That’s what I’m choosing to do for my extended 60th birthday.

The plan is shaping up for mid-August, about a month after my actual birthday. The idea is to return to places that have been important in my life though I seldom spend much time there anymore. I seek to reminisce, revisit, and perhaps rekindle…something…I’m not yet sure what.

First stop is the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York, the holistic educational center where I lived and worked for several years. It was my home base for sorting out new directions and new possibilities in my life. It’s also the place where my wife Krista and I met, 25 years ago this summer. Our jobs overlapped, with me serving as Director of Housing in charge of the cabins, dorms, and camp sites for attendees and Krista in charge of arrangements for the faculty. We enjoyed a few nice talks, walked the perimeter of the lake together a few times, and even went to a movie, “Field of Dreams,” which celebrated Krista’s home state of Iowa while paying homage to Boston’s Fenway Park, my backyard all through college. Of course, it would take us three more years of only occasional letter writing (pre-email) to finally see the potential of a relationship, but that’s another story!

Then it’s on to the coast of Maine, where my parents frequently took our family for summer vacations. Their goal, as we heard it often, was to retire somewhere along that coast. Maybe run a little motel near Boothbay Harbor. It never happened, but it makes for a poignant memory. I’ve only prowled the coast a couple of times in the last 45 years, so I’m looking forward to going back in time in that region. We’ll be based down south near York but I know I’ll make it at least as far north as Camden.

Then I will make a stop in my hometown: Shrewsbury, Massachusetts. My parents moved away from there when I left for college in 1972, and I have no family in Shrewsbury today. I have passed through every now and then, but haven’t really explored the town in decades. I’m going to do that now, spurred by joining the Facebook group “If you grew up in Shrewsbury you remember…” I do remember more, more than I thought I did, and somehow as I turn 60 it’s become not only more important but more meaningful. I especially remember growing up on Lake Quinsigamond, and I’m looking forward to getting back out on the water where I first would explore in our rowboat and then in the fastest canoe on the lake!

Then it’s on to Fenway Park, where I attended at least 150 games while living in Shrewsbury and then attending Boston University as an undergrad in the ’70s. I once selected an apartment on Park Drive, despite the ever-present roaches, because it was a six-minute walk to the Fenway bleachers – five minutes for Yankees games. I was in Fenway when Carlton Fisk won Game Six of the 1975 World Series with his foul pole home run. I was back, thanks to my friend John, for the ’78 playoff heartbreak with the Yankees. The last time I sat in Fenway was more than 20 years ago. It remains one of those places that remind us that while much has changed, some things are still pretty much the same.

I don’t have any great expectations for this experience of remembering and honoring these past places that form part of the backdrop of my life. My plan is to show up and be present. Who knows? Maybe when I sit in some “Writing Your Life Story” class like the classes I teach today, I will be able to call up my memories, and the feelings and associations behind them, when I went back in time to mark my 60th birthday.

- Kevin Quirk helps women and men of all ages, backgrounds and places write their life stories as personal historian and autobiography ghostwriter. He is the author of “Your Life Is a Book And It’s Time to Write It,” and the place he now lives in is Crozet, Virginia.

Turning 60 Is Easier with Bruce Springsteen by My Side

I was driving down I-81 outside Hershey, Pennsylvania well after midnight, with the rain falling steadily, and I was asking myself why I had done it.

Why had I driven up four hours from Charlottesville, Virginia on a Wednesday afternoon in May just so I could stand in line for three hours in a parking lot, then stand five hours longer in a cramped space amid beer-drinking people in a beaten down stadium next to a chocolate park, in the rain, to watch Bruce Springsteen? Why had I even chosen to attend another Springsteen concert just a few weeks after I had seen him closer to home in Virginia Beach, and less than two years after I had been to not one, not two, but three Springsteen shows a couple of months apart during the 2012 Wrecking Ball tour?

Why, as I am about to turn 60 years old, have I suddenly become a late-in-life Springsteen admirer, follower, some would say junkie, a person who peruses a fan message board where anyone who has been to less than 50, 80, even 150 or more Bruce concerts is considered out of sync with the most important matters in the world?

It’s not like I never who Bruce Springsteen was. After all, I was a student at Boston University in the early 1970s when Jon Landau wrote his famous column in The Real Paper about seeing rock and roll future in the face of Bruce Springsteen after watching his first Bruce show. As a journalism student, I read every issue of the weekly Real Paper, so I’m sure I must have at last glanced at the article. I vaguely knew the name Springsteen as a supposed up-and-comer in rock music, and I probably heard him interviewed on WBCN because I listened to Boston’s alternative rock station faithfully.

But I didn’t need Bruce then.

I loved rock music, but I was a ‘60s purist. Raised during the British Invasion and the influx of popular American rock acts in the mid-to-late ‘60s, I still gravitated toward the performers I had embraced as a teenager. When I managed to scrape together a few bucks to attend a rock concert in the early to mid-‘70s in Boston, I was investing in the Kinks playing “Preservation,” their version of the rock opera form spawned by The Who and “Tommy.” Or seeing back-to-back Neil Young shows, because Neil had begun as a ‘60s rocker with Buffalo Springfield. Or having a night of “nostalgia” watching Bob Dylan and Joan Baez sing Blowin in the Wind together during Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Review tour. Or catching Van Morrison singing Brown Eyed Girl for the millionth time.

I carried the belief that ‘60s rock was then and always would be the benchmark of all music. I didn’t need or want any new name to push aside the Stones, The Who, The Kinks, The Moody Blues, Dylan or any of them. I needed to hold onto that connection to my coming-of-age experiences, when rock seemed to name the world for what it was, give you the strength to take it on, or stir you toward a vision, however hazy or wacky, of something more, something better. So as Bruce was slowly becoming a bit of a new cult figure along much of the Northeast, I paid little attention.

Flash forward five years. I was living in Bruce territory, working as a sports reporter in the suburbs of Philadelphia. I certainly knew about Bruce then. How could I not? My preferred rock station in Philly would cue up a Bruce tune about every third song they would play. And between songs they would play a promo with Bruce singing, “Growin’ up…in Philadelphia!” I did enjoy Born to Run and Thunder Road and Jungleland and some of the others that would come up more often in a rotation than the latest Top 40 hit on the AM dial. Those days Bruce was popping up in music venues of all shapes and sizes all over the Philly-Jersey area, even during his hiatus in recording due to his contract dispute. I never saw him. Wasn’t even tempted.

I still didn’t need Bruce then.

With rock, I still clung to those ‘60s artists, and I didn’t even listen to rock so much anymore anyway. I liked folk music, whether the ‘60s stalwarts like Joni Mitchell or even the more contemporary folkies. I remember being so enraptured with Phoebe Snow that I would later name my white cat Phoebe. I even allowed some space for classical music. Life was busy, my going-out budget only allowed for Tuesday $1 matinee movies, and, truth be told, I didn’t want to identify myself as a Jersey-Philly person anyway. I was a New Englander in my bones, in my head, and in my heart. And back then you had to breathe Jersey-Philly life to align with Bruce.

Oh, I did give in and buy my first Springsteen album: The River. I absolutely loved the title song, and I certainly enjoyed and appreciated Independence Day, Jackson Cage, Hungry Heart, and a few others. But half the other songs I just couldn’t get into. Then he had those songs about cars and characters who obsessed about them. Yuck! Who sang songs glorifying cars? And in the days of LP’s, it was a real aggravation to keep maneuvering the needle around the duds. I was definitely not drawn to pay money for another Springsteen album. I mean, did The Beatles ever put out an album in which there was even one song that failed to maintain a high level?

By 1981 I had moved out of Bruce Territory and into the edge of the Bible Belt: Charlotte, North Carolina. People in Charlotte listened to country music, and no one ever spoke of Bruce Springsteen. Until, that is, Born in the USA exploded on the scene and the resultant Bruce Mania swept out from the Jersey shore to the whole damn USA. I wrote about ACC basketball for The Charlotte Observer in those days, and I remember our newspaper tracking the Bruce hype when he stormed into our state. There was a full article about the local gym that Bruce took over the morning before one of his Carolina shows. Geez!

Okay, so I did give in. On a whim, because I had a night off between games involving the likes of Michael Jordan, I paid $20 to a scalper for a ticket to witness this Springsteen madness in Greensboro. It was a bit like my album experience: half the songs were great, half of them sucked. And with his silly outfit and the way he stormed on, off, and around the stage, he was so showy, so…pretentious.

I didn’t need any more of Bruce.

In the ‘80s, as I crossed from my 20s to my 30s, I was spending my music money on Mozart and Tchaikovsky. The only rock music act that I had seen once and would pay to see again was The Moody Blues, who had reunited and were adding more hits to bolster their Nights in White Satin heritage.
So Bruce and the E Street Band got bigger and bigger until they blew apart for awhile. I didn’t mourn the breakup or follow what Bruce did solo. I was oblivious. I moved around the country, including a stopover in the San Francisco area just long enough for the ’89 Bay Bridge earthquake, and my musical tastes and needs kept evolving. By 1996, when I was writing my first book, a huge step after only writing things that could be read in one five-minute sitting, I chose as my musical background to write by the sounds of Gregorian chant. When I was hanging out in New Age-like enclaves like the Omega Institute in New York, you didn’t come across many Springsteen fans.

Live marched along. As Bruce says, we lose ourselves in work to do and bills to pay. On the car radio, I would surf between the classical and classic rock, and then I’d punch in my George Winston tapes.
I definitely didn’t need Bruce then.

I got older, wrote a whole bunch of books that help people tell their life stories as author and ghostwriter, got married a second time, and adopted a son from another country. With music, I got the most excited in watching the anticipated rise of a local Charlottesville folk singer named Terri Allard in Charlottesville. My wife and I would travel all over to see Terri—all over a 25-mile radius anyway. Not exactly like Bruce fans scanning the globe for concerts. I barely even knew that Bruce was still recording new music and still playing live shows until I saw a listing for his Charlottesville gig in 2009. Out of curiosity, I bought tickets. It turned out to be only a few nights after the death of E Street Band member Danny Federici. Trained as a therapist, I thought Bruce seemed sad, though he still bounced around the stage and did his water-slicked slide. He also looked older. For that matter, so did I.

Something else stuck with me that night. We were seated in one of the arena’s upper sections and even had binoculars to zero in on the stage. And I saw all those people standing on the floor, so close to the stage. “Wow, how neat it must be to watch a concert from up there?” I thought, but then brushed the idea aside as something I would never be able to afford. And anyway, those tickets must have been only for VIPS. No way regular people could get in there.

So I still didn’t need Bruce…but I did decide that I would keep a light on for news of what he was up to anyway.

And then Clarence Clemmons passed away and Bruce wasn’t sure if there could even be an E Street Band again and something touched me somehow. When I heard that he had recorded a new CD, Wrecking Ball, I went right out and got it, the same way all those Bruce followers must have been doing for these last 30 years and a couple of dozen albums. I played it once. I was impressed. I played it again. I was awestruck. First, his voice was still strong, clear, and powerful. I figured he had lost it a little by now. Second, many of his themes resonated with me. Third, every song—well except maybe one or two clunkers—were of the same very high quality.

I played that CD, at high decibels, over and over in my car. I had not done that for rock music for…too many years to track.

I kept the light on brighter. I tuned into the Backstreets fan group and learned all about “the pit” and how it was actually quite possible to buy tickets for the standing space near the stage, and how to do it. I learned all about wristbands and lotteries and TicketMaster and BTX ticket sellers offering extra Bruce tickets without a mark-up in price. I vowed to have my first pit experience, and on Labor Day night in 2012 in Philadelphia, I was standing five persons back from Steve Van Zandt in Citizens Bank Park. By then I had learned many other Bruce songs from all those years when I didn’t even know he was singing, and I would have sung along in full voice…if I had any voice left. Unfortunately, I lost it all the night before: singing every word of almost every Bruce song while standing in the stadium for the first of two back-to-back Bruce shows, a back-to-back I had vowed to be there for.

I guess I was beginning to need Bruce.

So today I read Bruce concert reviews, buy live DVD’s, and rush to check out the video clips from the latest shows on YouTube. I bought the High Hopes CD not because it was supposed to be good but because it was his latest. I wear a Bruce tour T-shirt my wife bought for me. I took my 12 year old son to his first rock concert, which had to be a Bruce show. I’ve ventured into the pit again, and I lament that Bruce is apparently taking a prolonged break from live shows. I’m still bashful about identifying myself as a Bruce fan, a Bruce convert, a Bruce diehard, or whatever. But it is what I am.

Why? I’ve searched for clues. I think it has something to do with turning 60. When I watch and listen to Bruce, I see a model of maintaining passion, commitment, and dedication in what we do, where our gifts lie, and giving it everything we’ve got and more, even now. I need that kind of modeling as I continue to crank out books as a ghostwriter and the process of writing life stories is just a little…different for me now. I want to pour the best of myself and my abilities to writing the life stories of men and women of all ages and backgrounds, and other purpose-driven books, and I want to keep doing it for as long as I can. But I need reassurance sometimes that I can still do it. As I watch Bruce, I think about how maybe we’re getting older but we’re still going, still doing our best to be who we are at our core for “as many lives as they give us,” as Bruce said recently.

I’m a close follower of Bruce today also because I marvel at his uncanny, wonderful blend of intensity and easefulness. He exudes passion when he sings and plays, and yet his smile and grace in relating to his audience embody an acceptance of who he is, who we are, and how it all fits together in some kind of community. Even when he prances around the stage, crowd surfs, makes faces, waves for his audience to sing along or raise their hands, I don’t see a showy performer over-doing it now. I feel and sense intimacy, and though it is certainly somewhat crafted, it is also real.

I think I’m also drawn to Bruce now because I appreciate his way of capturing a sense of holding onto a spirit of fullness of life in all you do, think, feel, and believe. To me, fullness of life is a core spiritual foundation.

It’s also got something to do with Bruce having been born two weeks after my older brother, from whom I’ve been mostly estranged during our adult years. I don’t know Bruce, but when he stands up there not far from me on that stage, I see something of a big brother figure. And though he has not yet reached out to me for book coaching help on his memoir that he has begun but apparently can’t complete, I can at least say I shook his sweaty hand as he walked the catwalk while singing Tenth Avenue Freeze-out in Charlottesville.

Just being in the pit is certainly part of the draw. It’s quite an experience to be watching these shows so close that I’m waiting for Bruce to ask me to go refill his water bucket where he dunks his head when gets over-heated. More than that, I feel privileged. As I have come to appreciate the full body of his musical work, and watch him pour out his energy into what he has created for three full hours without hardly stopping to catch his breath, I feel like I am watching a Rembrandt-caliber artist up close and personal. Heck, I can even stomach an occasional car song: Cadillac Ranch is definitely okay, though I still cringe at Ramrod.

So I can freely admit that in some respect, I really do need Bruce in my life. Today. And tomorrow. All those years when he was around and I didn’t need him, hardly even paid attention to him, and now it’s changed. Life is like that. Relationships shift and evolve. Passions and desires take new forms. Old needs fade away and new ones sneak up on us, like spirits in the night.

Toward Bruce I feel a special kind of gratitude for…still being there, still doing what he does so beautifully, so gracefully, so passionately…for still being Bruce. “If I fall behind, wait for me,” he writes in one of his songs. So Bruce, as I turn 60 I just want to say this:

Thank you for waiting for me—not me personally, but for the collective pool of those of us who didn’t start out as fans 40-plus years ago but for some reason or other wanted and needed to come along much, much later. I fell behind in Boston, in Philly, and beyond, but I’m catching up now. Thanks for continuing to write, record, and play music with depth, meaning, energy, and fun. Thanks for continuing to perform at such an incredibly high level.

And thanks for instilling in me a strong curiosity, or desire, or, yeah, a need to watch and listen for where you’re going to go to from here.

Facebook “If you grew up in my town” Groups Are a Gold Mine of Stories for Anyone Writing Their Autobiography

I tend to be a bit slow to pick up on social media trends. Just a few weeks ago I caught on to the existence of a Facebook group, “If You Grew Up in Shrewsbury You Remember…”
That’s my hometown: Shrewsbury, Massachusetts. I have not lived there since I went off to college at age 18, but the community still has a prominent place in my memory banks. And as soon as I began exploring the posts, I understood that this was going to be a major boon to my efforts in capturing my childhood as part of writing my life story.

I found that a story lie waiting for me to discover behind half the posts and the photos that went with them. I remember the amusement park at White City, and the black-and-white family photos of my older brother and sisters taking me there in my stroller. I remember the shopping center that took over that same space on the shores of Lake Quinsigamond in the early 1960s. My first bike got stolen outside the entrance to Bradlees department store there, and at the other end of the plaza I saw “Mary Poppins” when it opened the White City movie theater. A year later, when Marry Poppins finally flew out of town, I watched “The Sound of Music” there. As a child, I assumed that Julie Andrews was the only movie actress around.

A photo of Maironis Park triggered memories of how my Lithuanian grandmother was a member of the organization behind it, which enabled us to use the tiny swimming area behind the meeting space. A photo of the Edgemere Diner revealed a childhood friend’s mother and the reminder of how that diner served as my marker when riding my bike: I could finally turn off busy and loud Route 20, with all the trailer-trucks, onto the quiet neighborhood street that led to the park.

Looking at the Howard Johnson’s photo reminded me of what a treat it was for our family with five kids to go there for an ice cream or, as an even bigger splurge, a plate of fried clams. The photo of St. Anne’s church kindled memories of playing for the church basketball team. After missing a few easy layups the first game, a very tall priest fired 50 passes in a row to me under the basket to get it straight the next day at practice. For our Catholic confirmation, we practiced our solemn march into the church to the music of “Bolero.” I had to smile years later when “Bolero” was used in a very “different” context in the popular movie “10.”

Posts about my high school touched upon a memory that had just surfaced for me a few days earlier. During our junior class presentation of “Our Town,” the girl playing the female lead cracked her ribs running into the seats during the exit with her boyfriend/husband at the end of Act II. After several hushed and confusing moments, our director announced that although the actress did have an understudy, he wanted the injured girl to have a chance to play the final scene. Act III was performed about two months later.

Between jotting down notes for my next story to write, I did a quick check to see if this group was a unique entity on Facebook. Silly me! Of course there already had been dozens of “If you grew up…” groups.

Do you have one for your town? If not, do you feel called to launch one? If you are writing your life story in a memoir or autobiography, I bet you’re going to find a gold mine of stories within the posts and photos that pop up there. Happy hunting!

- Kevin Quirk helps women and men from any and all towns across the U.S. and beyond to write their life story in his role as autobiography ghostwriter, personal historian, book coach, and life-writing teacher. He is the author “Your Life Is a Book And It’s Time to Write It! An A-to-Z Guide to Help Anyone Write Their Life Story.”

A March Snowfall in Virginia Stirs Memories of a Blizzard and a Howling Dog Named Gus for Autobiography Ghostwriter Kevin Quirk

It’s snowing again in my home near Charlottesville, Virginia, and I can’t help feeling cheated. As a native New Englander, I have long since come to anticipate and rely on stealing a month or more of spring. Come March 1st, when my family and friends back in New England keep grumbling about the winter that will never go away, I’m changing into sweatshirts and light jackets and watching the trees and flowers come to life.

Not this year. Just a couple of weeks after this wild winter of 2014 had dumped 15 inches of snow on us, we’re getting another substantial snowfall. We might get 6 or 8 inches before it’s done with us tonight, and the temperatures are fast plummeting to zero.

Who stole my spring?

Ah, but there’s a good side to being force-fed this reminder of “real” winter. It’s brought back many enduring memories of snowstorms of the past. The one I am reminded of today must have delivered at least two feet of snow on our home area of Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, about 40 miles west of Boston. Usually life goes marching on when it snows in Massachusetts, but this storm had brought the march to a screeching halt. No one was going anywhere for a couple of days, and our long dirt driveway must have ranked low on the list of our regular snow plow man. We were not dug out for days, and the snow bankings from the previous storm and resultant plow just got higher and higher.

It was the snow bank closest to my bedroom window that became the sight of the image frozen in my mind. Our dog Gus, part beagle and part cocker spaniel, was a rugged outdoor pet that huddled in his doghouse on the porch in bad weather – but only for a few hours. Then he’d take off – in those days before leash laws – and we know where he would most often be heading. He had a doggie girlfriend, a part German shepherd lass, more than a mile away. We would often see them frolicking on her front yard, and yes, we did notice some pups who looked a fair bit like Gus around there as well.

In the aftermath of this blast of snow, with our driveway unplowed, even Gus was snowbound. He was yearning to be with his love, but living in the reality of being a dog beholding to the elements. To show his displeasure, he climbed to the top of that snow bank and just began howling. Like a wolf, he completely emptied his lungs, over and over again, pausing only to gaze down the unplowed driveway hoping to see it miraculously cleared, or raise his nose to pick up the scent of the arriving snowplow. And it went on and on for hours, well into the night.

Poor Gus.

Since I’m working on writing my memoirs these days, I’m going to be sure to find a place for this story. Are you caught in the tight grip of this nasty winter? Has it stirred some memories of winters past for you? If you are committed to writing your life story, write them down now, while you can still hear the howling reminders of yesterday.

- Kevin Quirk has been helping ordinary women and men write their life stories for almost 20 years in his role as autobiography ghostwriter, book coach, editor, and writing teacher. He is the author of “Life Is a Book – And It’s Time to Write It! An A-to-Z Guide to Help Anyone Write Their Life Stories.”

Study Reveals That Children and Adolescents Benefit from Hearing the Life Stories of Their Older Relatives

As a personal historian and ghostwriter of memoirs and autobiographies for 18 years, I have consistently noticed the joy and appreciation of family members who read and hear the life stories of their parent or grandparent. Now, an Emory University study confirms that there are indeed emotional and psychological benefits for children and adolescents who are able to learn about how their older relatives have lived:

The study concluded that teens who knew more stories about their extended family exhibited a greater degree of emotional well-being and had a stronger sense of self-identity. I believe these same kinds of benefits extend to the adult children of men and women who take the time and effort to sit down and chronicle their life stories with the help of a personal historian or autobiography ghostwriter. Often these family members are simply surprised to uncover so much of what they never knew.

I recall a 93 year old client whose five adult children, most in their 60s, told me how much they had learned about their mom from the autobiography that I wrote for her. Oh, they knew about the parts of her life that included them in the picture, but there were details about her childhood that were surprising, revealing, and affirming of just how far their mother had come in her life.

The 50-something son of a current client similarly mentioned to me that when he read his father’s life story that I have been working on with him since last summer, he found out things about his father that had never been shared before. And he was enjoying the discovery.

Sharing stories about their past for children and grandchildren is often the primary motivation for clients who come to me to interview them and write their life story in a memoir or autobiography. It’s also what frequently drives the students who attend my classes on “Writing Your Life Story.” They tell me that their family has been after them for years to sit down and write their stories, both those that are already well know within the family ranks and those that have not made it to the dinner table. Knowing that their younger family members are waiting to hear something meaningful, and personal, pushes many seniors in a positive way to dig deeper into their memory banks and bring forward the engaging stories that others are waiting to hear and read.

An article in the December 9 issue of the Washington Post explored the growing trend of seniors hearing the call to document their stories, and how they often call upon personal historians and autobiography ghostwriters like us. These seniors understand the benefits they can extend to their family, and the gift that endures much longer than a typical physical possession. Those of us whoo offer our services through the Association of Personal Historians, know the joys and rewards that come from this sacred act as well. That’s a major reason why we do what we do.

- Kevin Quirk has been helping women and men of all ages and backgrounds tell their most meaningful stories in his role as personal historian and ghostwriter of memoirs and autobiographies. He is the author of “Your Life Is a Book – And It’s Time to Write It! An A-to-Z Guide to Help Anyone Write Their Life Story.”