For several years, perhaps more, people I know have thought that I should have a blog. Well, after a lot of contemplation, I’ve finally decided to start one.
But what should I write about? Well, that’s not as easy a question as it seems. Most of my life’s work has been in two areas of interest, but they are far from the only ones I have.
Back in 1985, only a couple years after I graduated from the University of Notre Dame, I had my first book published – Hooping It Up: The Complete History of Notre Dame Basketball. It was the first book to cover the entire history of the hardwood sport as played by the Fighting Irish, from the first games against the Fort Wayne, Indiana YMCA in 1897 through the 1984-85 season. It received mostly solid reviews; the one I cherished the most was from John Duxbury in The Sporting News, who wrote in part, “I was amazed by the scope of Neely’s research.” As much as I could, I went back to newspaper accounts and other sources, including a couple of long-lost game-by-game scorebooks in Notre Dame’s sports archives, to put together the history. A photo I found in the University of Notre Dame Archives, which had been unnoticed before then, proved to be the official portrait of the university’s first varsity basketball team; a giant blow-up of that picture is now part of Notre Dame’s Sports Heritage Hall in the Joyce Center on campus.
Hooping It Up sold enough copies to cover the advance I received before it went out of print in the early 1990s. Copies are still floating around and aren’t expensive, if you want to seek one. Every once in a while, I’ve thought of updating it, as it is the only book I’ve had published to which I still own the copyright.
A few months after Hooping It Up came out, I was looking for work, and I hooked up with the sports department of the local daily newspaper that I had grown up reading in eastern Pennsylvania. The book served as my resume. I spent eight mostly good years doing that, moving up from getting paid per article to running the entire sports section, but by the end of 1994, I was burned out, tired of always working evenings and never having more than one consecutive day off.
Even with my long-time interest in sports, arguably my interest in music is even stronger. In March 1973, I was tired of taping songs off the radio, only to have them interrupted by disc jockey patter, so I bought seven 45 rpm records at a junk store in my old home town. That started a record-collecting hobby that continues to this day, though I haven’t made any significant additions to it in a while.
My collection led directly to my next career. In August 1995, I was hired by Krause Publications, a book and magazine company located in Iola, Wisconsin (population 1,200 or so), to start an in-house line of books for record collectors. During my time there, I researched, wrote and/or edited a full slate of price guides. From the fall of 1996 to the fall of 2008, my name appeared on the cover of 30 books in all. Some were on specific types of records (seven editions of 45 rpm guides, five editions of LP guides); others were on specific genres (jazz, country & western, rhythm & blues, “alternative music,” the British Invasion, the Beatles, and Christmas music).
The one I think I’m the most proud of is the Goldmine Standard Catalog of American Records, which I co-created with my editor, Greg Loescher (the book was his idea; I was the one who took it from there). Six editions of the main volume, which covered roughly the years 1950 through 1975, came out from 1998 through 2008. I became known around the U.S. and elsewhere as something of an expert on records.
The Goldmine Christmas Record Price Guide in 1997 was one of my worst-selling efforts, but it inspired a passion among those few people who bought it that continues to this day. It allowed me to serve as a judge in the Seasonal Music category for the now-defunct Indie Awards, which were given out by the National Association of Independent Record Distributors (NAIRD), later the Association For Independent Music (AFIM), for excellence by independent record labels and their artists. Several years ago, when I signed up to take part on a monitored Christmas-music message board, I was treated by the moderator as if I were J.K. Rowling registering for a Harry Potter fan forum.
The Christmas record guide is the only one of my old books that, at least for a time, was fetching collector’s item prices online; I still get people asking me if I have extra copies or plan to update and revise it. I still have a passion for Christmas music, from Bing to Sting, from Bach to Beck, from the profound to the profane, so who knows?
I also wrote hundreds of articles for Goldmine magazine, the top periodical for record and compact disc collectors; my first article was published in 1995 and my most recent in 2011. Also, during its short period of existence (1999-2000), I was the resident record expert for eBay magazine.
So what have I been up to for the past few years? Well, the less said, the better. I found myself having to resort to seasonal (manning the phones for a mail-order food company, to name one), part-time (winter and spring work for the same company) or temporary (enumeration for the 2010 U.S. Census) work, none of which paid very well and all of which were a big step down from what I had been doing.
In the summer of 2013, after the emotionally painful end of a long (by my standards) romantic relationship, I ended up leaving Wisconsin for central Virginia, where a family member offered to take me in until I got back on my feet. Two years later, I’m still not back on my feet, and except at the church I attend and the choir with which I sing, I don’t feel like I fit in. I’ve had only one full-time job since coming here, and that was for about two and a half months. By now, I am starting to wonder if I’ll ever be employed again.
I remarked to a friend that I have at least nine different unfinished or partially researched book ideas. Of course, there’s not much market for them, so I plan to use this blog to share excerpts of some of the unpublished projects I’ve been working on. I may occasionally post something other than that, but that’s the idea right now. Feel free to read along or join in!