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Guest post: Hassan El-Tayyab

September 15, 2016


Hassan El-Tayyab has written Composing Temple Sunrise, a memoir about his journey across the country to find his musical inspiration.  Since it sounds like my kind of book, I’m anxious to read it and I’m happy to welcome the author here today.

When I was about eleven, my cousin and I got grounded for stealing my sister’s Beanie Baby collection. As punishment, my mom sent me to the library and made me write a book report in the middle of summer vacation. In my search for potential topics, I stumbled upon the music section. There, I found a compilation album of the acclaimed blues singer Robert Johnston from the 1920s. I spent hours listening. I also found a biography on his life and decided to write my report on the legend of how Johnston sold his soul to the devil in order to be able to play guitar so brilliantly. I think that tells you a lot about my early music education. I love music that stems from the blues. The blues resonated with me at an early age because I respected the pain and wisdom in the art form. I loved how the music got into your bones. There was something deeply profound about the old blues masters and something that still blows me away to this day. This is a quality I look for in music. Is it real? Is it honest? Does it move me? Has it been shaped by real life experience.

With my blues roots firmly established, I kept on exploring music. In high school, I loved artists like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Bob Dylan, the Beatles, and ACDC. Typical, I know! But Classic Rock just did it for me as a teenager. I kept on exploring and found myself listening to gospel, jazz, and soul-inspired music by artists like Ray Charles, Otis Redding, and Paul Pena. I was listening to oldies as all my pals listened to the contemporary music of the day. Bill Withers, also in that lineage, is one of my favorites. I know we’ve never met, but I feel a soul-bond with him beyond just his music. He lost his dad growing up and I lost mine. He was raised by his mom and grandmother as I had been. And he grew up with speech problems like I had and pushed through it to become a professional singer. I listen to Bill Withers and feel as though I’m listening to a friend give me advice about how to live. I love his tune, Just Another Day to Run. “If you don’t look inside your mind, and find out what you’re running from, tomorrow might be just another day to run.” The wisdom of that line will be true forever.

There are plenty of artists that I love that come from a great deal of hard earned life experience and raw talent too. I’m a huge fan of Tim Obrien, Darrel Scott, Sean Hayes, Anais Mitchell, Bela Fleck, Paul Simon, James Taylor, Taj Mahal, Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, Joni Mitchel, Crosby Stills Nash and Young, Iron and Wine, Sufjan Stevens, Allison Krauss, Willie Dixon, Miles Davis, Ahmad Jamal, Sly and the Family Stone, Stevie Wonder and the list goes on and on.

As far as literary influences I find myself really drawn to memoirs, biographies, and real human stories. Two big influences for my book was Kerouac’s On the Road and Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. Kerouac traveled the country as a Beat during a really interesting time in American history. His call to adventure and exploration really appealed to me. Strayed appeals in a similar way. She lays it all out on the line in her book in a devastating yet totally inspiring way that I truly admire. She made herself so vulnerable you feel like she’s confiding in you as a close friend. Reading about all her painful memories and seeing her work through it is powerful stuff. It helped give me license to share what I did in Composing Temple Sunrise.

As I was writing the book under the direction of my editor/memoirist/professor of creative writing Faith Adiele, I read many other memoirs for inspiration and insight on the craft of writing memoir. I read books like Dharma Girl, Malcom Xs Autobiography, Bob Dylan’s Chronicles, Travels with Charlie, Running in the Family, Chronology of Water, Outsider in the White House, The Fire Next Time, Between the World and Me, Meeting Faith, and many more.

In addition, I love political science books. I’m fascinated by government and the political arena. From the Unwinding and The New New Deal to the New Jim Crow, Cognitive Politics, and Manufacturing Consent, and anything I can get my hands on about Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and FDR!

Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the book that started it all for me; the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. These books got me into reading at a young age. Tolkien to me is one of the all-time greats and someone I find myself continually going back to at different stages of my life.  

About the author:

Hassan El-Tayyab is an award-winning singer/songwriter, author, teacher, and cultural activist currently residing in the San Francisco Bay Area. His critically acclaimed Americana act American Nomad performs regularly at festivals and venues up and down the West Coast and beyond and he teaches music in the Bay Area.

About the book:

Composing Temple SunriseComposing Temple Sunrise is a coming-of-age memoir about a 26-year-old songwriter’s journey across America to find his lost muse.

Triggered by the Great Recession of 2008, Hassan El-Tayyab loses his special education teaching job in Boston and sets out on a cross-country adventure with a woman named Hope Rideout, determined to find his lost muse. His journey brings him to Berkeley, CA, where he befriends a female metal art collective constructing a 37-foot Burning Man art sculpture named “Fishbug.” What follows is a life-changing odyssey through Burning Man that helps Hassan harness his creative spirit, overcome his self-critic, confront his childhood trauma, and realize the healing power of musical expression.

In this candid, inspiring memoir, singer-songwriter Hassan El-Tayyab of the Bay Area’s American Nomad takes us deep into the heart of what it means to chase a creative dream.

After experiencing multiple losses (family, home, love, job, self-confidence) , El-Tayyab sets out on a transcontinental quest that eventually lands him in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. His vivid descriptions capture both the vast, surreal landscapes of the Burning Man festival and the hard practice of making art.


12 Comments leave one →
  1. September 15, 2016 7:49 am

    Sounds like an interesting memoir.

  2. September 15, 2016 9:15 am

    Since he lives in the Bay Area, I will contact him and see if he might be interested in appearing as an RBC author. Thanks for this guest post.

    • Hassan El-Tayyab permalink
      September 16, 2016 11:42 am

      Hey please hit me up! That sounds like a great opportunity.

  3. September 15, 2016 10:11 am

    Thanks so much for being on the blog tour! The memoir is getting great reviews.

  4. September 15, 2016 10:46 am

    Great interview! Thanks, Hassan. I love the story of how you found your inspiration and passion for music in an unlikely situation.

    I love the blues, too, and all those road journeys stir up something in me.

    Thanks, Kathy, for bringing Hassan to us.

  5. September 15, 2016 12:49 pm

    Great story! I remember a similar sort of epiphany when I discovered Robert Johnston, except I could never play of course, or write books about music or anything else! …must not be the Robert Johnston connection…. :–)

  6. September 15, 2016 7:54 pm

    Terrific guest post! I am a huge fan of music and especially enjoyed the parts about music/musicians.

  7. Hassan El-Tayyab permalink
    September 16, 2016 12:07 am

    Thanks all. Keep in touch at

  8. September 16, 2016 2:16 am

    what a really neat guy! that’s so cool he followed his muse and found his music!

  9. September 19, 2016 1:08 pm

    I am obsessed with this memoir! I hope everyone reads and finds inspiration to follow their passion. Never give up.

  10. bookingmama permalink
    September 20, 2016 8:31 am

    This one sounds right up your alley! Plus the message is great!

  11. April 26, 2017 12:42 pm

    I cried, I laughed out loud, I vicariously experienced Burning Man, and I even found inspiration for the second verse of a song I’ve been struggling with from Hassan’s heartfelt journey. Thank you, Hassan, you are a true artist.

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