Trek by Rand Bishop // Book Review and Author Interview

Length: 376 pages
Publisher:   BookBaby; 1 edition (July 10, 2019)
ASIN: B07V2K64T6
Genre: Non-fiction, Memoir
Buy On: Amazon

Rating: 5 out of 5.


Early 2017. Rand Bishop’s heart was breaking. With post-election America turning mean, the Grammy-nominated songwriter/author couldn’t sit idly by. So, inspired by the woman called Peace Pilgrim, Rand — at 67, with chronic knee and foot issues, minimal camping experience, and zero knowledge about long-distance hiking — decided to TREK from Southern California to the Central Oregon Coast, a distance of 900 miles.

Understandably, concerned friends and family members attempted to dissuade Rand from a venture fraught with such potential peril. Still, he remained undeterred, convinced that traveling by foot offered his best opportunity to meet folks one-on-one, listen to their concerns, engage in civil, constructive dialogue, and locate patches of common ground. Amid the dissonance of tribal rancor and blame, Rand needed to know there were still nice people out there. So, he went searching for a kinder America.

With TREK, the author invites the reader along, as he pushes a jury-rigged cart christened “the Pilgrimmobile” over urban sidewalks into the hinterlands, along dedicated bike paths, aside interstate highways, through neighborhoods and massive industrial parks, on narrow, decaying blacktop and remote, rutted, mountain trails. The pilgrim treks past windswept corporate farms, then inhales fresh, salty breezes, dwarfed by the awesome, dramatic beauty of the Pacific coastline.

Facing constant alienation from the common presumption that a grey-bearded, cart-pushing pilgrim must be homeless, he confronts seemingly insurmountable grades, spans precarious bridges, encounters wild animals, endures relentless wind, moisture, hunger, blisters, exhaustion, and loneliness.

The pilgrim gets spat upon, spattered with gravel, nearly knocked down a cliff by a Goliath RV. One fateful afternoon, the earth literally swallows him whole, buries him in dirt and rocks, and straps him down with thorny blackberry vines.

But, readers can take heart, because these difficulties are far outnumbered by spontaneous demonstrations of kindness and generosity from myriad Good Samaritans. Meanwhile, the pilgrim hangs with the homeless, convenes with fellow seasoned adventurers, lends an empathetic ear to the forlorn, the dispossessed, and the self-possessed, performs impromptu campground concerts, and withstands evangelical attempts to save his immortal soul.

By TREK’s end, after meeting a thousand fellow humans over the course of one life-changing spring and summer, Rand Bishop returns home nourished with the knowledge that, one-on-one, the vast majority of us are not only nice, but kind, caring, and often generous. And, despite our obvious differences, we have far more in common as individuals than we might have assumed.

My Thoughts:

Trek was an incredibly unique memoir. I have read many memoirs in the last few years as memoirs are my current favorite genre, but none nearly as unique as Rand Bishop’s. Of course, each writer’s story and book is unique in its own way, but Rand’s story just made me read in awe. I have never read about a person’s pilgrimage–let alone from an author’s point of view–so his story was so neat to read. I loved how he wrote his book in the form of a journal/diary with an entry written every day of his pilgrimage. It made the story so much more personal to the reader as it gave the impression of reading Rand’s personal life and thoughts. He gave a glimpse of what it was like to walk 900 miles across U.S. terrain both physically and emotionally. I admire his devotion to peace as well as his courage to do something about it. We all have something in our lives or the world that we want to do something about, but it takes someone special to actually do something about it. Rand Bishop did something about it.

About the Author:

Oregon native Rand Bishop grew up in the suburbs of Portland fixated on two equally impractical career paths: stage actor or rock star. Between attending Oberlin College and the University of Washington, a season of bit parts at The Oregon Shakespeare Festival made his choice obvious. Rand ran away with the Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus. During the 1970s and ’80s, Rand recorded for Elektra, A&M, Sony, and MCA and shared stages with The Doors, Alice Cooper, Jethro Tull, Rod Stewart, and Credence Clearwater, while honing his tune-smithing craft. Tiring of the road, he transitioned to “the other side of the desk,” to earn his stripes as a platinum record producer, talent-development executive, and music publisher. An in-demand studio singer, Rand harmonized with the Beach Boys, Rita Coolidge, Kris Kristofferson, Mick Fleetwood’s Zoo, Graham Nash, Tim Curry, and Quiet Riot. As a Grammy-nominated, BMI Award-winning, Million-play songwriter, Rand counts 300-plus diverse credits: from Cheap Trick to Tim McGraw, Heart to Indigo Girls. He has contributed compositions to more than a dozen feature-film and TV soundtracks and several stage musicals. Rand’s song catalogue has generated over 20 million sales and continues to rack up millions of broadcast performances year after year. Positive public response to “My List” (Tim James/Rand Bishop) ― a five-week #1 for Toby Keith, and the most-played country single of 2002 ― inspired Rand to co-author My List: 24 Reflections on Life’s Priorities (McGraw-Hill, 2003). After that publication, he authored two career guides for aspiring songwriters (Makin’ Stuff Up and The Absolute Essentials of Songwriting Success) both issued by Alfred Music Publishing. Rand’s self-published novel/mock memoir Grand Pop spent a year in development as a premium-cable series under producer Ken Topolsky (The Wonder Years, Party of Five). Rand’s latest book is the self-published memoir, TREK: My Peace Pilgrimage in Search of a Kinder America. Rand is a produced playwright, an award-winning/optioned screenwriter and, for six years, contributed a regular column to American Songwriter Magazine. He has guest lectured at colleges, sat on music industry panels, facilitated creative workshops, and remains a highly respected songwriting coach. Rand has served on the boards of directors for three non-profits: Songwriters and Artists for the Earth (SAFE), the Nashville Film Festival, and Peace Village, Inc. In 2012, after four decades in Los Angeles and Nashville, Rand returned to his home state to be of assistance to his aging parents. Residing in Newport, on the Central Oregon Coast, he is developing and staging a one-man musical multi-media performance piece entitled TREK on Stage, comprised of stories and songs inspired by his 2017 900-mile pilgrimage. Most days, Rand can be seen on Nye Beach taking his beagle Millie for yet another long walk.

Author Interview:

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your book? TREK is my fifth published book but my first attempt at a full-length memoir — if you define memoir as an autobiography that covers a specific period in the author’s life. I come from a songwriting background. A lot of people — even a lot of aspiring songwriters — assume that songs are beamed down from the Muse whole, complete and perfect, that we write them in a few minutes. While that might happen on rare occasions, the fact is, everything after the initial inspiration is about craft which means there’s almost always quite a bit of rewriting involved if you really want to create an airtight song. Introducing characters, situations, developing relationships, and conveying the entire story in three or four minutes with clarity and emotional impact means trying out a lot of ideas, making difficult word choices. Songs require succinct writing, using language economically. 

When I wrote my first book, I felt liberated, like I’d escaped the confines of the three-minute song. I enjoyed being able to expand and spread out, using words to explore the dynamics and nuances of thoughts and emotions. I could indulge in lengthy descriptive passages. And, even with all that freedom, it wasn’t a struggle to keep my earlier books within reasonable lengths. TREK was an altogether different experience. My first draft turned out to be more than twice as long than the recommended length for a commercial memoir. That surprised me. It was like I’d written a seven-minute song that needed to be shortened by half. It took many months to hone the tale down to a digestible portion. And, honestly, I still wish I’d been able to write a shorter book — if only because I’d prefer the font in the paperback to be bigger. 

What was one of the most surprising things you learned over the course of your pilgrimage?   Before I started, I envisioned myself gaining a certain amount of notoriety along the way — you know, as the old Pied Piper Peace Pilgrim with his beagle pushing a cart up the west coast inspiring folks to set aside their differences and communicate civilly and constructively. I’m a Unitarian. It seemed reasonable to expect that Unitarian fellowships along my route would invite me to sing for their Sunday services, that parishioners would invite me to stay at their houses. Some would even invite friends over for spontaneous house concerts. One Unitarian minister put me up and another church gave me shelter. But that was it. I got smiles, some hugs, lots of encouraging words. But, no invites, no house concerts. Aside from friends I hadn’t seen in decades, the most open and generous people turned out to be friends of friends, or folks I just happened to meet purely by chance. 

And, as I trekked on, the more right it seemed that I wasn’t drawing attention from anyone outside of my Facebook friends. Because I wouldn’t have wanted anyone to think I was doing it for fame or ego. Being anonymous and unexpected actually gave me much better opportunities to meet people on an equal basis and have honest, unguarded communication. Still, it surprised me that I felt so content to trek those 900 miles without a bit of fanfare.          

What literary pilgrimages have you gone on? Actually, I’ve never been on a literary pilgrimage per se. That being said, I guess I could say that my entire life has been a literary pilgrimage of sorts. Life is a journey, often a pretty challenging one at that. Writing is my default mode, my way of coping with the short falls and the disappointments. When my brother died suddenly and unexpectedly, I sat down to write. Every time I got up from my desk, I’d start sobbing and break down. Writing about my brother got me through the initial shock and anger of losing him. 

I like to say that I write to find out what I know. And, when I come back later and read my own writing, I nearly always wonder how I could have possibly come up with those exact words… half the time because it sounds like a bunch of pointless, pretentious gobbledygook, and the rest of the time because I can’t believe I came up with these ideas, and had the wherewithal to capture them in writing. 

People often ask me if I’d do it again — another 900-mile pilgrimage. My knee-jerk response is always a very emphatic, definite, “No!” My feet still hurt two years after completing my trek. By mid-afternoon nearly every day of the 90 I spent pushing a heavy cart northward through California and Oregon, I questioned my own sanity for taking on what often seemed a totally foolhardy endeavor. Then, the next morning, I’d get up and start again with new vigor and optimism. I love to walk. Walking not only gives my body exercise, it sets my creative subconscious free. I still walk three to five miles a day on the beach with my dog. Typically, that’s when I come up with my best ideas. And, I really enjoy getting out in nature on a day hike. Sometimes I fantasize about walking the Camino de Santiago. But, I seriously doubt I’ll be taking on any more peace pilgrimages, especially on pavement, breathing heavy metal exhaust, climbing long grades, and jamming my toes into my sneakers on the other side. From now on, I think I’ll use more conventional transportation when I go out to meet people.     

What does literary success look like to you? Good question. Because success is always relative, isn’t it. In 2002, I was already what most people would call a successful songwriter… with a Grammy nomination, songs recorded by superstars, on platinum albums, movie soundtracks, all that. Then, one of my tunes spent five weeks at #1 and I experienced success on a whole different level. Public response to that song “My List” got me my first book deal, which is how I got bit by the literary bug. Having a #1 hit was an accomplishment that could never be taken from me. The recognition and the financial rewards felt really fulfilling. But that experience was transitory. The honest truth is I’m on the cusp of 70 and I still feel like I’m trying to make it in show business. 

Here’s something I’ve learned: Any success in the entertainment business depends on a whole lot of essential factors somehow converging together. Some of those factors are in the artist’s control — doing quality work, networking, etc. But a whole lot of what’s required for mass exposure and commercial success is about persevering long enough to allow synchronicity to happen. And still, even for some of the most talented creative people, that convergence never happens. Even though I haven’t achieved the commercial success and recognition of a Jon Krakauer or a Brene Brown, I feel fortunate to have survived as long as I have, and enjoyed the successes I’ve had.

Would I like greater success and recognition as an author? Absolutely — if for no other reason than it would give me the opportunity to go out and perform my one-man show TREK on Stage for packed houses of adoring fans. And, it would be really gratifying to know there’s a large, avid audience out there eager to read whatever words I write next. 

But, bottom line, it’s pretty cool to think that someone out there is probably listening to one of my songs right now, or reading my written words, and those people’s lives are being affected, hopefully in a positive way. Most writers write because we have to, not because we want to sell a ton of books and become famous authors. But, since we write, we should also want people to read our work, and be moved by it. So, I guess success for an author — or any creative artist, for that matter — has a lot to do with real people getting emotionally involved or intellectually stimulated by the work we feel compelled to create.      

Emerson said, “To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” So, I guess, by that standard, I should consider myself a very successful and fortunate man.         

What was the most difficult scene to create in Trek? I tend to use an excess of descriptive words, especially in my earlier drafts. In TREK, I wanted to bring the reader on my journey with me. I want them to, as much as possible, visualize the dramatic beauty of the landscape, feel the chill and the strength of the wind and the heat rising from the blacktop. Choosing the precise language to capture my actual experience on the page, keeping it lean and economical, without getting self-indulgent or banal was an especially huge challenge in this book. 

Recounting the physical pain of walking up and down steep grades, crossing narrow bridges, while being exposed to constant traffic noise and pollution was also a challenge. As these were constant, everyday experiences, as essential as they are to the story, I had to pick and choose when and how I could even write about them. Otherwise, the entire book would have turned into a redundant list of complaints that no one would ever want to read. 

Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?  Not intentionally. Any secrets I might have, I keep to myself. The rest, I lay out there, naked in the light of day. I think negotiating everyday life is complicated enough. Just when we think things are going along smoothly, something invariably happens to throw us off the track. Life is about problem solving, which sometimes is a whole lot like decoding a puzzle, or a secret.  

There’s a scene in TREK where the metal frame of front wheel of my cart (“The Pilgrimmobile”) crumples. At that moment, blood rushed to my head and all I could hear was the pounding of my own heart in my ears. I was in overwhelm and my ability to comprehend anything was gone — temporarily. Here was a situation that required rational thinking and a realistic, step-by-step plan of action. But, in my addled brain, my only thought was worst case scenario — that my pilgrimage was over, my crazy, idealistic endeavor had come to its very inauspicious ending on a disintegrating sidewalk in Fremont, California. What seemed like a disaster in that moment turned out to be the segue into an important chapter during which I met some amazing people and learned some important, essential lessons. In life, secrets are revealed as they need to be revealed, and they can only be understood when we have the capacity to pay attention. Now that I think about it, that’s one of the major themes I explore on the pages of TREK. 

What are the best and most challenging things about being a writer? When people ask me what I do, I like to say “I make stuff up in my pajamas.” Then I’ll wink and add… “Beats laying bricks. No offense to any brick layers out there.” I’m not built for labor. So, I feel fortunate that, for most of my adult life, I’ve been able to spend most of my time doing what I love to do, what I feel compelled to do. I find satisfaction in laying my head on my pillow every night knowing that I’ve created something that wasn’t there before I woke up in the morning. Then comes the difficult part: creating commerce, which, like most creative types, I feel very uncomfortable about. 

Lots of talented, creative people don’t give themselves permission to live creatively. Every human being is born with a unique set of gifts. So, if we were granted our individual talents by a creative God force of some kind, don’t we have an obligation to reciprocate by developing those gifts to their highest potential and sharing them with others? I’m not saying that everybody should spend their lives making stuff up in their pajamas. Nor am I saying that everyone should be an artist of some kind. I’m saying that the world would be a much more peaceful, loving place, if more of us followed our natural childlike impulse to express ourselves creatively in our own unique ways. That’s how we pay that creative God force back for this brief life and for our native gifts. 

On the flip side, choosing to live a creative life is also a choice to live a life of uncertainty, or what most people would call “insecurity.” So, it’s understandable why so many people deny their creative natures and decide to take a more “secure” career route. And, I know — because I’ve experienced some very lean years and some very abundant ones — that life is a whole lot less stressful when have enough money and a solid roof over your head, food, all the essentials for a comfortable life. But, really, any sense of real “security” is imagined, and temporary. There’s always something we can feel insecure about, something to stress over, something we can find to be afraid of. It depends on how we look at it. We’re never in complete control of our actual life experience. All we can control is how we experience life — do we look at it as a daily grind or a trial by fire, or as an adventure. You either trust that the universe will always provide or you worry that it won’t. It’s your choice. There’s a phrase I love. I can’t remember where it came from: “I wouldn’t be a writer if I wasn’t blinded by optimism.” Ironically, I’m not a cheerful, optimistic person by nature. My Finnish bloodline doesn’t flow in that direction. So, it takes constant, daily practice to correct my natural inclination to look on the dark side. 

What was the most gratifying experience of traveling by foot for 90 days? Well, first, there was that sense of accomplishment, conquering seemingly insurmountable grades against powerful, relentless winds, through heat, pushing myself physically, finding out what I’m made of. 

But, honestly, my greatest fulfillment came in the conversations I had with so many fascinating people, the characters, the eccentrics, the borderline crazies. These were people from every walk of life, all ages, ethnicities, religious faiths or lack thereof, the gamut in socio-economic status. Interestingly, most conversations would begin with them asking a question like, “Wow! What are you up to?” Then, most of the time, the subject would quickly be about them, not about me. Most folks were actually far more interested in having someone to listen to their story than in hearing about mine. So, I had to practice my listening skills, to really pay attention, and ask sincere questions of them. Because, ultimately, what we’re all looking for is connection with other people. And, connection begins with knowing that someone else cares enough to really listen without judgement. I had to rid myself of the bad habit of thinking about what I wanted to say next. There’s a reason for the phrase “giving” your attention. Because listening is a gift. On many occasions, listening to the most egocentric, sometimes even incoherent ramblings required dipping into my reserve tank for extra patience. But, it was worth it because I could actually see, in their body language, in the pitch of their voices, that having somebody to talk to was providing them with a measure of healing.  

And, in the long run, I discovered that even in a nation turned mean, not only are most of us nice, and kind. Many are truly generous. And, knowing that provided healing for my fractured heart. It gave me hope. And, that’s the main reason why I felt compelled to sit down in my pajamas every morning for well over a years and write the TREK story. A lot of people are feeling discouraged and disillusioned right now. If I can help someone see a glimmer of sunlight on the horizon, then I’ve done my job. And, by Emerson’s standards, that is success in and of itself.             

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