If, as Mark Twain insists, the difference between the right word and almost the right word is the difference between lightning and lightning bugs, Deseret News music critic William S. Goodfellow catches lightning in a bottle.
More than once he's left for home after a late-night review only to return to the office because the right word finally came to him."Precision?" he says. "I guess I think more in terms of `accuracy,' or `thoroughness.' I like to tag all the bases."
And for the past couple of weeks he's been tagging the bases at the Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition. As with everything he writes, Goodfellow has an over-arching context for writing about the event.
"I was over at the competition the other day and someone said I was reviewing the performances. Actually I'm covering the event. I want to give the reader a feeling for what's happening as well as my assessment of it."
Born in California, Goodfellow went to high school in Utah, did his undergraduate work at Stanford, then - in a page out of Jack Kerouac's "On the Road," a work he once lampooned in a nationally recognized parody - he set out in a rattle-trap, Okie-loaded car for the University of Chicago. He had just enough money for three quarters of school, so he batted out his M.A. in three quarters' time. (Goodfellow refuses to discuss his I.Q., but friends say it's somewhere this side of Einstein. Then they say no more.)
To put food on the table he took a job on the Chicago Sun-Times copy desk and was soon doing music reviews with the legendary Bob Marsh. To make a short story shorter, he married his wife Susan there (she was his choir director, he was her institute teacher), and the two latter-day pioneers came West.
Today Bill Goodfellow is seen as one of the more complex people on the Deseret News staff. There's a certain reserve - one could say a Victorian demeanor - about him. But behind that stiff upper lip is a sly sense of humor, a hearty laugh and a love of murder mysteries, movies and "The Rockford Files."
He has the ability to write in any style (including this one), but in his own criticism he opts for long, Henry Jamesian clauses. It puzzles people.
"When I get doing serious criticism," he explains, "it's an involved process of both thinking and writing for me. That's how it comes out."
In the end, criticism is indeed serious business for Goodfellow. Once, after he gave a group of performers a negative notice, one musician approached him. "Mr. Goodfellow," she said in dismay, "We try so hard. . . ."
His reply was typical. "I know you do," he said, "that's why I take you seriously and give you my best effort."