Starting Out

As any budding story-tellers knows, getting in is often as difficult as getting out. Beginning the poem and closing the novel are equally challenging.

Where to begin? What will capture a listener’s or reader’s attention? Students in public speaking classes are given a handy mantra for organizing their talks: Tell them what you’re going to tell them, Tell them, Tell them what you told them.

Sounds simple, right? And perfectly nonspecific. The kind of instruction that produces “extra” screws after one disassembles and then tries to reconstruct a carburetor. What? Where’d they come from? At one time, the manufacturer included all the screws in the thing’s assembly, but now they’re loose and place-less.

But the mantra isn’t at all helpful in crafting an introduction.

In order to arrest the attention of an audience that compels them to attend to what will follow, there’s got to be something magnetic, catchy and involving right from the git-go. Otherwise, they’re likely responding with a “Ho-hum” or “Who cares?”

And the intro can’t be a gimmick. Shouting obscenities, for instance. Or slamming books on the podium.

Attention-grabbing without calling attention to itself.

Even the great rhetors, one imagines, occasionally get stumped.

“Eighty plus seven years ago . . .” Oh, wait. Let’s try “four score . . .“

Brian Wilson is widely and justifiably acknowledged as a genius. As lyricist and musician, he began making waves (even if not catching them) more than a half century (that’s two score and a decade) ago and is today still touring.

But even he, it seems, sometimes got “stuck” on the song’s opener. Consider these examples.

“Well, I saved my pennies and I saved my dimes,” 4-0-9.

“Well East coast girls are hip,” California Girls.

“Well it’s been building up inside of me,” Don’t Worry Baby.

I’m cherry-picking, of course. To suit my purposes and support a thesis of sorts. And maybe it’s not Brian who’s at fault; many seem eager to blame Mike Love – he of the fake-sounding name – for any flaws in the Beach Boys’ execution.

Starting something is often as difficult as ending it. Maybe the Bonzo Dog Band solved the problem in “The Intro and the Outro.”

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