Friday, August 28, 2015

Words and Music: Story of New Orleans

Was it really 10 years ago when the levies broke, when Hurricane Katrina flooded and drowned so much of New Orleans? I can still remember the horrifying images and footage, the desperation and suffering, and the history of injustice and unrest laid bare for all the world to see. 

This song came to me almost all at once during a meeting at work, weirdly enough. (I'm terrible at paying attention to work meetings. God, they're the worst, aren't they?) I scrambled to write it all down when I got back to my computer. 

Weirder still, I got an out-of-the-blue email from a friend of mine literally minutes afterward -- the only person I knew or know who actually grew up in New Orleans. She helped me finish it with some desperately needed authenticity and sensitivity. 

It's an optimistic song at heart, and we've since revisited the Big Easy for an incredible time at Jazz Fest in 2009. But New Orleans is still very much in the process of an uneven redemption

Anyway, it took me a long time to get it down on CD, and in a much different (and I hope you'll say better) form than the fast, disjointed acoustic version I played live for so many years. 

On the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's horrific landfall, here's the Story of New Orleans.

Story of New Orleans
© Jon Gorey 2005

Intro/verses: [D / G x infinity]

Down for the festival some years ago 
Woke up at 2 a.m. to go see a show 
At Tipitina’s we drank on the lawn 
Pulled up onstage and then kicked out at dawn 
In New Orleans, New Orleans 

A friend of mine spent his New Year’s Eve 
In some girl’s arms above Bourbon Street 
And later on when the morning came 
He knew her story but not her name 

[D] New Or-[G]leans, [D] New Orleans [G] -- oh I’m [A] sure 
Nobody’s loved you [D] more 

[D] Then the music [A] stopped, the ocean [D] swelled 
Our brothers, friends, and [A] children trapped in [D] hell 
[Bm] And every rambling [A] heart the world [D] around 
[Bm] Mourned as our [A] beloved city [D] drowned 

And so my dreams were broken in two 
The memory of her and the sight of you 
I had to be there, I had to go 
Was she gone forever? I just had to know 
My New Orleans, New Orleans, oh be sure 
I said a prayer for her 

Walking down the streets and boulevards 
Trees torn from their roots, abandoned cars 
But somewhere in the air, I heard the sound 
Of saxophones and trumpets underground 

Looking around at all the work to be done 
Enough to overcome most anyone 
But the man on the stoop of his gutted out home 
Humming a gospel song, was not alone 

The family next door they lost everything, too 
They picked up the pieces as they picked up the tune 
People kept singing, yeah, pulling through 
Music don’t die, and neither will you 
My New Orleans, New Orleans, oh be sure 
I’ve never loved you more

Monday, August 3, 2015

Introducing House & Hammer, my new home improvement blog

house and hammer

As you may know, I've dabbled in some home improvement and DIY projects over the years -- like redoing our 1970s-era kitchen before our daughter was born. I've also been writing for the Boston Globe's Sunday real estate section a bit lately. And I've always been obsessed with houses and architecture.

All this made me realize I should start a blog about that stuff -- so that's what I did! If you get a chance, check out House & Hammer, my new blog about real estate and DIY home improvement.

As the name implies, it's partly about houses -- think home ownership, home equity loans, and dream-house caliber "wish listings." And then it's also about home improvement and DIY projects, like how to build this rustic end table built from reclaimed wood:

So tell your friends! Tell your neighbors! And tell me what you think!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Two Kinds of People

Bill Murray's character in the movie "What About Bob?" explains his divorce by saying, "There are two kinds of people in this world: Those who like Neil Diamond, and those who don't. My ex-wife loves him."

Whether it's true or not, I'd argue that if you don't like Neil Diamond, either:

a) you don't know what you're missing,

b) you didn't party much in college, or

c) his unbridled and unapologetic emotionalism makes you uncomfortable.

All of which are understandable. Just don't discredit the man's songwriting chops, because he's one of the finest of our times.

Anyway, my best friend Adam and I went to see Neil play the Boston Garden last night for an astounding 11 bucks each -- I mean, that's almost criminal -- and it was, as I kept telling the missus this morning, transcendent. Amazing.

He even played a series of songs from his 1972 "Hot August Night" live album, every fan's favorite, just as we upgraded ourselves to $150 loge seats near the stage. I had so much damn fun.

(Side note about that album: Adam and I once saw Phish play in London, at the Shepherd's Bush Empire. Midway through the show, as Trey Anastasio noodled along into the 19th minute of his 20th guitar solo, we simply got up and left the show. We went home, cracked some 500mL cans of Fosters, and listened to "Hot August Night" on the roof of our flat, and it was amazing.)

The seat upgrade, though, got me to thinking about something. There really are two types of people in this world: Early birds, and the late shift.

If you know me at all, you of course know I'm the latter. I'm late for everything. I've probably made you wait for me more than once, and I'm really sorry for that. It's horrible.

But removing the inconsiderate nature of personal tardiness from the equation, consider these two types of people at a baseball game or concert.

Early Birds

The early type likes to show up before the game starts, catch the end of batting practice, get settled into their seats, and see the scheduled, well-orchestrated opening ceremonies -- the first pitch, the national anthem. It's all scripted, and very comforting in that sense.

Often these are also the folks who leave in the 7th or 8th inning to "beat the traffic." Can you blame them? Post-game traffic is awful, and given the ESPNization of baseball, they've probably been at the park for like four hours already. And it's especially necessary if you've got young kids with you. Still, I was raised not to leave a game early if you can help it.

The Late Shift

...which is why my dad and I usually stroll into a game midway through the first or second inning, and stay 'til the bitter end.

Here's why I prefer the late shift strategy. First, I don't really care that much about missing the pre-game fuss. It's nice and all, but it's just ceremony.

And sure, we sometimes miss a big first inning, and walk into a game that is already more or less decided. But that's extremely rare. Far more often, late-game or extra-inning heroics decide who wins, and in a far more dramatic and exciting fashion than even a 10-run first inning.

Case in point: Games 4 and 5 of the 2004 ALCS. Anyone who left early to beat the traffic during those historic extra-inning contests probably hates themselves just a tiny bit.

And that brings me to my final point: The people who bail out early leave empty, usually better, seats behind. Call it the pioneer spirit, but it's a rare baseball game (or concert, or any event really) when I don't end up movin' on up to better seats for the last few innings or the encore. My dad's been doing this with me since probably my first ballgame.

In the aforementioned Game 4, Gina and I got into the game with junk seats, but around the 7th inning, we met up with some friends in perfect field box seats along the third-base line (easily the best place to sit in Fenway Park). The game went into the 12th inning, so we had awesome seats for a full five innings of historic baseball: the Dave Roberts steal, Bill Mueller squirting an RBI grounder past Mariano Rivera, David Ortiz's incredible game-winning homer in the 12th. We even ended up on national TV in our adopted seats.

All because some early bird figured he'd beat the traffic. Thanks, whoever you are! 

Want to beat the traffic and still catch life's memorable encores and extra-inning miracles? Arrive fashionably late, stay for the whole shebang, and just linger in the afterglow until the crowd thins out.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

A St. Paddy's Day Gig? It Must Be Spring

Well I'll be damned.

The snow -- All. That. SNOW! -- is finally, slowly, mercifully melting. The Red Sox are playing baseball. And I've got a gig on St. Patrick's Day!

Tuesday, March 17th
Lucky's Lounge
355 Congress St. (corner of A Street, no sign)
Boston, MA 02210
5:30pm-7:30pm / No cover

Could it be... spring? With the sun and the grass and all that? Even if it's not here yet, I'm at least starting to think it may actually arrive someday, which is a major improvement from my outlook a month ago.

Does this mean it won't snow again this season? No.

Does it mean the Red Sox will be any good? Not necessarily, though I have my hopes.

Does it mean I remember how to play all those Irish songs? God, I hope so. 

The bigger struggle will be my old-man wrists. After 20 some-odd years of playing guitar, probably with bad technique, my left wrist aches even on a good day.

After shoveling, I don't know, maybe three tons of snow every single day this February? It positively throbs.

Nothing a little Advil and Guinness can't handle, right? (Take that, liver!)

So come join me for a pint and some cheer as we celebrate the melting snow and the green grass that lies beneath it. (Or rather, the murky, muddy brown of snow-tortured turf, in the case of our yard. But still. It's a freaking beautiful sight.)

Here's to spring! (Take that, winter!)

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Words and Music: The Scarlet Letter

It's been 10 years and three -- that's THREE -- (3?!!) -- Red Sox World Series championships since I wrote "The Scarlet Letter."

To the 26-year-old me who watched the otherwise insignificant Aaron Boone knock my dreams out of Yankee Stadium in late 2003, this present version of reality is flat-out unthinkable. In a few ways, really. Let me explain.

Of course, there's the Red Sox. You all know the story, perhaps not as intimately if you're not from around Boston, but you get the gist. Eighty-six years is a long, long time. (Cubs fans have endured even longer, but I'd argue it's worse when you come so close so often.) As a bright-eyed 10-year-old, I watched that ground ball go through Bill Buckner's legs in disbelief, and watched my dad pretty much have a breakdown.

But there's more to it than that. In the fall of 2003, I was unemployed, trying to find love, trying to be a musician … and worried I was failing at all of it. But I lived in walking distance of Fenway Park, and I had plenty of time to catch games. By the time the playoffs rolled around, more than any other year – and I'm a longtime fan -- I was just about clinging to baseball.

When the Red Sox lost that ALCS Game 7, after leading most of the game, my brain, I think, cracked just a little bit. Like a hairline fracture. I wandered down an alley in Allston and sobbed for the better part of an hour. It wasn't just about baseball.

Over the next couple of weeks, I became genuinely worried about my mental state. On the street where I grew up, there was an old, mentally handicapped man who would ride his bike around the neighborhood -- lurching, really – hollering out play by play to old Red Sox games. "YASTRZEMSKI'S AT THE PLATE! HEEEERE'S THE PITCH… STRIKE ONE!!" He woke us up virtually every Sunday morning of my childhood. (This is 100% true.)

And I became partially convinced that I was destined to turn into that guy. Like, maybe he wasn't even mentally challenged or anything; maybe all that had happened was that he was in a vulnerable place emotionally in October 1975, or 1986, and he just snapped afterward. Seemed plausible enough to me.

Anyway, after the team stalked and signed Curt Schilling that November, the sting of the loss gradually began to fade, replaced by that same-old persistent hope. By midwinter, I was improvising an Irish drinking song about the Red Sox for a raucous crew in the waning hours of an open mic I was hosting at Roggie's in Brighton, and "The Scarlet Letter" was born. (The song, not the Hawthorne novel. That came a good deal earlier.)

We recorded it live at the Cask n' Flagon – the old, dirty one – just before Opening Day. I say we, because it was a group effort: To everyone who was there, who is clapping and hollering and singing along in the recording, I want to thank you so, so much for being part of a great moment in my life.

By the end of 2004, I had fallen in love with the woman I would marry; I had heard my own song played on the radio; and I had watched my Red Sox come back from a 3-0 deficit against the Yankees in the ALCS – in attendance at Games 4 and 5! -- and go on to win the World Series for the first time in my life – and my father's life, and my grandfather's life -- beneath a surreal lunar eclipse of the Hunter's Moon.

So yeah, it was a pretty incredible time. 

The Scarlet Letter
© 2004 Jon Gorey

Intro: G / G / C / G / D / D / G / G

Verse 1:
If I (G) may let me tell you a (C) story (G)
Of a (D) man born of tragic descent (G)
Who knows nothing of October (C) glory (G)
But (D) only of loss and lament (G)

I inherit this fate from my father
Like he from his father before
We've a burden to bear like no other
It's a mark we wear forever more

Chorus 1:
(C) Lift me up, (G) let me down
(C) Start back over (D) again
For (G) I wear the scarlet letter
The (Em) shame of my ancestors' sins
I (C) suffer through miserable (G) weather
Just to (C) have my heart broken (D) again
For this (C) B on my forehead's for (G) Boston
But like a (C) modern-day Baseball Revere (G)
When the (C) spring comes around
I'll ride (G) through every (Em) town
Sayin (C) hey, hey, (D) hey! I think this is the (G) year!

Verse 2:
Long ago someone sold out my kinsfolk
It's said we're now forever cursed
Others say it's our way to just crumble and choke
And I can't decide which is worse
I've endured all I can of this heartache
That I've known for too many a year
My impossible dreams turn to heartbreak
Every one strike away leads to tears

Chorus 2:
Lift me up, let me down
Start back over again
For I wear the scarlet letter
The shame of my ancestors' sins
I suffer through miserable weather
Just to have my heart broken again
For this B on my forehead's for Boston
Yeah everyone knows your name here
And the winters are long
But the summertime song
Goes hey, hey, hey! I think this is the year!

Verse 3:
I'm afraid I will grow to be bitter
Even more bitter than I am now
For each time I see some pinstriped hitter
I just want to throw up in my mouth
Yet I hold out my hope for the home team
Through every conceivable turn
Surely there'll come a day they make good on my dream
I guess that I never will learn

Chorus 3:
They lift me up, let me down
Start back over again
For I wear the scarlet letter
The shame of my ancestors' sins
I suffer through miserable weather
Just to have my heart broken again
But this B on my forehead's for Boston
Yeah for baseball and bleachers and beer
And when spring comes around
I stay true to my town
Singin' hey, hey, hey! I think this is the year!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

In defense of a New England winter

(c) Quincy Daily Photo

I know some (ok, apparently most) people hate the cold, and so many eventually leave the Northeast for warmer places. I know this, although I don't understand it. But I guess I'm weird: I love the snow. And fires, and sweaters, and drinking beer by the fire while it snows (wearing a sweater, obviously).

Granted, you shouldn't listen to me. I went to school in Syracuse, N.Y., where it snows well over 100 inches a year. Unfortunately that's not hyperbole.

(Sidenote about Upstate N.Y.'s lake effect snow: It would be one thing if, like in Boston, the snow just dumped down 1 or 2 feet at a time, and then the next day was sunny and crisp and perfect for skiing and sledding. But in Syracuse, you get those big storms, and then the rest of the time it's just ... consistently gray and lightly snowing. It seriously snows like an inch a day, every day, all winter. It's like living downwind from an active snow volcano.)

Anyway. Whatever, move to North Carolina or Savannah or Florida if you must. Good riddance, you sell-out.

Except for the people who keep moving to freaking Arizona.

Let's forget, for the moment, the state's intolerable political climate.

Are you a nomad? A reptile? A cactus??


Then you should not be living in the desert!

People need water to live. That's why we've been settling near lakes and rivers and streams for, you know, thousands of years now. The fact that so many people keep migrating to an inhospitable oven where they then insist on growing lawns and filling pools that evaporate and maintaining golf courses that use three to four times more water than a normal golf course (!) is so insane to me I can barely contain myself.

Florida, with an equally despicable political climate, at least has reliable rainfall going for it.  

Gratefully, places like Phoenix are trying to be more careful with their water use. But two-thirds of the city's water is used for landscaping. Landscaping?! Who the hell cares about your shrubs? You yourself as a human being will die without enough water! Good grief. And the entire Southwest is pulling harder and harder on the overburdened Colorado River. It can't end well.

I just want to go on the record as saying, 10 to 200 years before it happens, that I am not in favor of bailing out Arizona and Southern California homeowners when their water finally runs out and the entire regional housing market implodes on itself (umm... again). You probably had it coming.

I will, however, offer you a wool sweater and invite you to stay in my guest igloo. When it melts, you can drink it!

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