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!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Free Music February: Top 5 Love Songs

Photo by TheWickedSoul
Happy blizzard, everyone! I hope you were able to keep safe, warm, and cozy, and catch up on the books / movies / music / cooking / skiing / whatever it is you've been wanting to do more of this winter.

As for me, I was able to catch up on all that shoveling and living off the grid I'd been meaning to do. We were without power for over 24 hours, a rarity in our dense urban village. But the wood stove kept us warm, and the good folks at National Grid has up and running by late Saturday night.

Anyway, in celebration of Valentine's Day, I have a special Top 5 Day post for you: my favorite romantic songs that I've written. And as a token of my love for y'all, they are all FREE to download in the month of February.

Without further ado...
5. Riches of the Poor | Download free
As John Lennon said, "All you need is love." It's as simple as that. I've been blessed enough to know it in many forms, and it really is all the riches one could ask for. Fun fact: The melody to the chorus was written many years ago, beside a campfire on the shores of Lake Huron, in celebration of that most marvelous foodstuff: "Peanut butter, whoa-oh-whoa-oh-oh / Peanut butter, whoa-oh-whoa..."

4. Fear of Drowning | Download free
I love the way this song came out. It covers a lot of deep territory, even though the chorus is pretty syrupy sweet; it's very much a grown-up love song. The butterflies of budding romance are great and all, but facing life's challenges with your partner is as real as love gets.

3. Going Away (Adagio) | Download free
This is a sad but ultimately redemptive song about something that happens in relationships all the time: two people who are in love start to grow apart. We all need to grow as people, and ideally you grow in step with your partner. But that's not always how it works. What can you do when your paths begin to diverge? I guess that's what's so melancholy about it.

2. J.W. | Download free
This song is just heartbreaking. Like a soggy dog mournfully howling outside his owner's door in a snowstorm. Even now, some 15 years later, it conjures up the same intense emotions within me. Is there a better vehicle for emotion than music? It's like a time machine! Fun fact: A lot of people presume J.W. to be a girl's initials, but that's not the case. (No, it's not a dude, either.)

1. On and On | Download free
I've already written a whole blog post about this one -- the song I sang to Gina on our wedding day. That's not the reason I rank it No. 1, though. It's my hope that it captures the simplicity, optimism, and sense of eternity that accompanies true love. If I had to spend the rest of my days with just four chords, well, I'd be honored to spend them with G Em Am7 and D. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The NRA: Making Angels Every Day

I am a bleeding-heart liberal; I think it's funny that the term is somehow intended to be derogatory. Yes, my heart bleeds. It bleeds for the kids killed in Newtown. It bleeds for their poor parents and their families. It bleeds for the kids who survived but will forever be haunted by the horrors they witnessed.

Not just as a parent, but as a person, with a heart, this is all I have been able to think about for the past few weeks. Even amid Christmas, work, weddings, and other distractions, my heart has not been able to wrestle itself free from the weight of this tragedy -- the latest in a long, terrible saga.

So I wrote a song. And I made a video for it, with some facts about gun violence in America courtesy of Stop Handgun Violence and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
  • It's an angry song, because I am angry. I'm devastated and desperate to do something.
  • It is directed at the NRA, because they are the biggest, clearest villain in a story that is full of villains.
  • And if you want to be heard, I want you to add your voice to this call for action -- literally. Download the song from Soundcloud, record yourself singing along on the last chorus, and re-upload the new audio file with your overdubbed track (or send me the .WAV file and I can mix it for you).

Some caveats:

1. Of course the NRA is only one part of a very big, very complex problem. We live in a violent society and we celebrate it. Video games glorify realistic warfare at the same time they desensitize us to it. Our idols and action heroes are often ruthless murderers -- even the youngest among them (think Katniss Everdeen from Hunger Games). Our intense, militaristic national sport -- this pains me to say, because I love football -- has become so violent it is causing brain damage among its players.

And then there's "The Media," which is at least partly to blame for the pervasive violence we're exposed to. But here's the thing: We control the media, on a micro and a macro level. YOU very much control the media in your home. If something is excessively violent, shut it off. You are directly in control. And WE control it as a group, because Warner Brothers isn't making action movies for the hell of it; they're making them because people pay tons of money to go watch them. Stop supporting this crap if you really want to do something. Consumer spending is one of the most powerful tools we have in our modern capitalist society.

When I studied in London, I remember being delighted that the movies broadcast on network TV largely left in the sex and nudity of R-rated films. It was the violent scenes that were edited out for general audiences. Isn't that the way it should be? Wouldn't you prefer your kid to see a pair of boobs now and then rather than someone getting shot in the face? What the hell is wrong with us?  

2. No one (rational) is suggesting we should take away everyone's guns. Of course you should be able to hunt. Even Lady Mary shoots for sport in Downton Abbey. And yes, you should be able to keep a loaded shotgun by the door to protect yourself if you feel it's necessary (but do note that I will not be stopping by your home anytime soon, which is probably best for both of us).

But there is absolutely no need, and no justification for, legalized semi-automatic weapons or high-capacity ammo magazines. If you need more than 10 rounds at a time to shoot a deer -- or, for that matter, an intruder -- you should pursue another hobby and probably try keeping a baseball bat by the door.

And I get that target shooting with one of these things is probably a lot of fun. That's great. Other stuff is fun, too. Lawn darts were fun in the ‘80s, but they kept killing kids, so they stopped making them. And now we somehow make do with other lawn games like horseshoes, bocce, and cornhole. Hell, drunk driving was probably a lot of fun back in the day; people did it all the time. And most of the time nobody got hurt. But not all the time. So we as a society agreed to crack down on it, and we have spared a lot of innocent lives in the process. Boohoo -- you have to take a cab or a subway home so you don't kill anyone.

 Likewise, this is a tradeoff we must make as a society. If you don't think it's worth it… please think again. If you’re ready to tell parents who lost a 6-year-old child, to their face, that you don't want assault weapons banned because you have a right to shoot targets with them and it's a whole lot of fun, well... you need to reevaluate your priorities, to say the least.

And if you, like the NRA, are blindly rejecting gun control efforts and defending these instruments of destruction from being banned simply because you think it's the first step in some liberal conspiracy to take your shotgun away... I’m sorry, but you should know that I consider you an accomplice to the massacre in Newtown and to the tragedy that keeps unfolding every day in town after town after town across this country.

About 40% of American households -- over 70 million adults -- own a gun. Only about 4 million of them are NRA members. And yet the NRA continues to dictate and dominate the discussion on gun control and to hold our elected officials hostage to their demands.

I trust that many more gun owners are responsible, reasonable people who have no interest in starring in their own Rambo movie and would tolerate, if not embrace, common-sense gun law reform. If you are among them, please help us stand up to the NRA. Let our voices drown out theirs.
Here are some gun control groups worth supporting:
...and don't forget to look up your representatives in Congress and tell them you support gun law reform.

They Make Angels
© 2013 by Jon Gorey

Verse: Am7 G D / G D/F# Em / Am Bm D / Em B7 Em / C / B
Chorus: G B7 Em / C E Am / D D7 G C / G D G

Every time a gunshot rings
An angel gets a pair of wings
The old boys of the NRA
Are making angels every day
They make angels, and it pays

How can you defend your right
To harness military might?
The blood of children on your hands
Twenty slaughtered innocents
Their blood is on your hands

So lay down your guns
In the blood they have spilled
Give up your fight
Defending my right to be shot and killed

Now you want to arm the schools
To extend your martial rule
Your callous war on common sense
Is gruesome in its consequence
Your war has no defense

So members of the NRA
Do you believe in Judgment Day?
Are you prepared to take the blame
When Jesus calls you out by name
When your soul Hell comes to claim?

Lay down your guns
In the blood they have spilled
Give up your fight
Defending our right to be shot and killed

Every time a gunshot rings
An angel gets a pair of wings
The old boys of the NRA
Are making angels every day
They'll make angels... until we say

"Lay down your guns
Clean up the blood they have spilled
Give up your fight
Defending our right to be shot and killed"
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