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Brian Doyle Essays On Music

Brian Doyle was one of Oregon’s most prolific authors. His 28 published works span a variety of topics, from essays on the Pacific Islands and spirituality to novels which featured non-human characters. 

Oregon Art Beat

Award-winning Oregon Author Brian Doyle died at his home Saturday after a months-long battle with cancer. Doyle, 60, was a prolific author of essays and novels on a variety of subjects. His 28 published works put him in a category of extraordinarily prolific writers. Once he got started, there was no stopping him. He sometimes published two, three, even four books in one year. A fearlessly inventive storyteller with a confident prose style, Doyle published novels, essays, short stories and more. One gets the sense Doyle’s writing process opened door after door in a sprawling mansion of ideas. Here are a few titles to get you started.

“God is Love: Essays from Portland Magazine” (editor, December 2002)

An instructive survey of voices and ideas that galvanized and influenced Doyle, these are among the essays he curated as editor of the University of Portland’s flagship alumni magazine — a post he held for 26 years. Andre Dubus, Barry Lopez, Cynthia Ozick, Terry Tempest Williams, and others weigh in. You’ll find struggle here, but also celebrations of everyday sacraments of family and community that lay so close to Doyle’s heart. Publishers Weekly writes, “This collection reads like a mesmerizing love song to the complex and sometimes unwieldy religion of Christianity.”

“Mink River” (October 2010)

A lovingly-imagined Oregon coastal town of Neawanaka is the tapestry in which Doyle invents a cast of fascinating characters, celebrating the unsung dramas of life in a faded timber town. Author David James Duncan, who was good friends with Doyle, praises its “hauntings and shadows, shards of dark and bright, usurpations by wonder, lust, blarney, yearning, are coast-mythic in flavor but entirely bardic at heart. I’ve read no Northwest novel remotely like it and enjoyed few novels more.”

“The Plover” (March 2015)

Hobo sailor Declan O’Donnell’s sails solo across the Pacific, fighting a losing battle to maintain a sense of solitude. Doyle gives us an irresistible cast, including the goofy, cantankerous Declan, a mysterious child snared in the grip of grief, pirates, Polynesian bureaucrats, and more. Doyle’s longtime friend Hob Osterlund writes, “Brian has a magic ability to understand animal voices, worries, loves, fears and appetites. Somehow, word by word, run-on sentence by run-on sentence, we all come to love each other more, all because of this one man’s passion for small honest stories.”

“Children and Other Wild Animals” (October 2014)

An exercise in Doyle’s great range, these stories chronicle encounters with all manner of species. Some work was previously unpublished; other essays appeared first in “The Sun,” “Utne Reader,” “High Country News,” and “Best American Essays.” The Iowa Review took the occasion of this book to proclaim Doyle “a Townes Van Zandt of essayists known by those in the know.”

“Martin Marten” (April 2016)

Interwoven stories from the lives of two youngsters living on the slopes of Mount Hood: a young teenager named Dave who is on the cusp of leaving his bucolic forest life behind, and Martin, a pine marten (martens are weasel-like mammals) on his own adventure. When this novel took the YA prize at the 2016 Oregon Book Awards, judge Deb Caletti wrote, “Doyle has crafted a classic — a timeless book that lets a reader disappear into a full and gentle world.”

“Chicago, A Novel” (March 2017)

One part coming-of-age tale, one part love note to one of America’s great cities. Kirkus Reviews writes, “Page follows page of evocative writing as Doyle celebrates ‘the shopkeepers and cops and nuns and bus drivers and carpenters and teachers who composed the small vibrant villages that collectively were the real Chicago.’”

“The Adventures of John Carson in Several Quarters of the World: A Novel of Robert Louis Stevenson” (March 2017)

A fascinating premise: Doyle imagines a young Robert Louis Stevenson killing time in San Francisco, captivated by a seasoned sailor’s tales of traveling the world. In doing so he contemplates the power of stories and the legacy of one of the world’s great literary lights. Jenny Davidson, writing for The New York Times Book Review, declares, “I doubt Doyle would object to my suggestion that for those who don’t already know Stevenson, his own stories will be a better place to start than this book. But Doyle offers a salutary reminder of the greatness of the tales spun by Hawthorne, Kipling, Conrad, Stevenson and others of that ilk, and I was won over despite myself by his loving reconstruction of an era of storytelling now lost.”

Brian Doyle


Songs Without Words


The greatest hits of a life of music

By Brian Doyle

June 28, 2013



Someone asks me about the greatest live music moments of my long life, and something in me leaps with joy and out pour these moments:

(a) Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band roaring as they finish a show in Oregon with “Land of Hope and Dreams” for something like—I kid you not—half an hour, with all the lights in the arena on and a crowd of 20,000 dancing and singing and seething and going absolutely, joyously, communally bonkers. I wept at the love and hope and laughter and heartlift of it. When I say that was a holy moment, I damn well mean it was a holy moment, and I am not talking about religion.

(b) David Bromberg playing Irish airs on his fiddle in the dark in a tiny pub in Massachusetts, all lights turned off and nothing but candlelight, his significant bulk slipping magically around tables and chairs, the faces rapt, the haunting music making the hairs prickle on your neck, and you could hear 10,000 years of sadness and courage and grace and rain and hunger and bravery and endurance in the music. I’ll never forget that as long as I live.

(c) Eddy Clearwater and his blues band continuing to play their set in a ragged club in Chicago, even after a part of the roof fell in! As they were playing! A howling summer thunderstorm had hit the club hard, and the rain cascaded down behind the stage, but they never paused or even missed a beat as Eddy shouted, Louder! and the bartender, to his eternal credit, gave everyone in the place a free drink.

(d) Blues guitarists George Thorogood and Jimmie Vaughn walking out into a thick hot summer night from their gigs in two separate pubs across the street from each other in Chicago and playing together for a while in the street as traffic stopped and a grinning crowd collected and everyone in both bars poured out laughing and jostling and a city bus even let its passengers out for a few moments to catch the song, and when the guitarists finished, Jimmie Vaughn shook hands with the bus driver.

(e) Van Morrison, on an open-air stage in the Gorge of the Columbia River, with 20,000 people sitting on a vast hillside, the night after Frank Sinatra died, singing one Sinatra song after another, his black fedora pulled down over his eyes, the music echoing off the basalt cliffs behind him and booming up and down the river for miles and miles and miles.

There were other moments. Many other moments. When you are right there, inside the music being made right in front of you, by people who love making music and are very good at it, sometimes something happens for which even I, word-mad, word-addled, word-besotted, cannot find words. But you know what I mean.

Brian Doyle , an essayist and novelist, died on May 27. To read Epiphanies, his longtime blog for the Scholar, please go here.

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