Academic journal article English Journal

Serendipitous Stories: The Use of Memoir Concept Albums to Teach Memoir Writing

Academic journal article English Journal

Serendipitous Stories: The Use of Memoir Concept Albums to Teach Memoir Writing

Article excerpt

Serendipity played in my favor one night at a heavy metal concert back in 2010. I attended a show of my favorite band, which I hadn't seen in two years. They released a new album titled Nightmare, which fans did not expect to come out. The band, Avenged Sevenfold, was mourning the accidental fatal overdose of their drummer, Jimmy "The Rev" Sullivan, in December 2009. They were finishing the writing process when he passed away, but the band had decided to continue making music and finish the album.

When I first heard Nightmare, it hit me hard. From beginning to end, it took me through a jour- ney with the band through the grieving process. I was right there with them. I even cried while listening to one particular song, "Fiction." Along with the lead singer, the late drummer sings much of the chorus. The band used his scratch vocal (a first demo recording without vocal inflections) and recorded the other parts to highlight Jimmy's voice.

As I listened to this album on repeat, I real- ized that the album addresses the stages of grief, which I will address later in the article. It is an example of a musical memoir, or memoir concept album, written as a powerful tribute to their late bandmate. The themes of the album show the band in a raw state of emotion. Their lyrics are vulner- able; the instruments match the tone.

Memoir concept albums, such as Nightmare, are a way to bridge the teaching of memoir by using a medium students know best: music. Many high school classrooms read memoirs, such as Night by Elie Wiesel, but as the emphasis on writing con- tinues to be more academic, I propose a change. We should teach memoir.

Memoir is part of a larger genre: creative nonfiction. Creative nonfiction is writing about a true event based in reality. Many writers have discussed what memoir means. Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd describe memoir as self-discovery, self-creation, and self-exploration. Phillip Lopate defines memoir as being self-aware. Finally, Doug- las Hesse believes that memoirs are "writing that is 'true'" (18). Thus, memoirs are a definition and discovery of the self, and, as the authors also point out, the memoir may focus on a single event or on many events.

Memoir covers narrative, informative, and persuasive writing, which are described in the Common Core State Standards: College and Ca- reer Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing (CCRA.W). Memoirs are narrative memories told through rich description, dialogue, setting, and characters; and they are based on true stories (CCSS. ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.3). Memoirs inform the readers of a situation and in some cases break the silence of traumatizing events, such as in the widely read Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.2). Finally, the au- thor chooses which story to tell and which details to include. Therefore, the author is the judge of what matters and what details are worth writing down (Hesse 18). As an audience, we only read what is written on the page. The author persuades the reader (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.1). Teachers can ask students to think metacognitively about their memoirs by judging why they chose particu- lar details for inclusion in their memoir.

Teachers should teach memoirs as preparation for life beyond K-12 education. Writing takes on four different areas as students progress through their schooling: academic writing, civic writing, professional writing, and personal writing (Roen, Glau, and Maid). Memoirs can serve all of these purposes. The author must make decisions on what details to share and not share; therefore, the author demonstrates critical understanding of academic writing, and those decisions lead to an argument for what is important about the story being told (thus enhancing the idea behind argumentative civic writing). Professional writing requires clarity to be effective. Telling a story challenges the writer to paint a clear picture of an event. Finally, the memoir is personal and allows the writer to fulfill the desire to tell one's own story. …

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