Monday, January 1, 2018

Another year over, a new one just begun

Well, that was some year, huh? Remarkably, we made it to the other side. Whew!

In the spirit of reflection and hopefulness, I thought I'd share what I consider my best work of 2017 - the stuff that helped get me through an often dispiriting year and makes me excited to keep creating in 2018.

As you might know, I've been writing more words than music lately (though the horrific shooting in Las Vegas all but demanded a rewrite of They Make Angels, five years and no gun laws later). Here are the 10 stories I enjoyed writing the most this year.

Thank you if you've read any of these already -- and for supporting journalism in any form these days, whether it's a newspaper subscription or NPR membership. And thank you if you've listened to my music, or supported other independent artists this year. (If you're curious, my favorite new discovery of the year, courtesy of the Newport Folk Festival, were the Wild Reeds. My God, I would let their harmonies lull me into eternity.)

Ok, away we go:

1. New England's Brewery Coast (Boston Globe Magazine)
My best friend Adam and I took a road trip up the coast to visit some of New England's best breweries, from Salem, Mass., to Freeport, Maine. (And I got paid - in real dollars, not like favors or gift cards - to write about it! So maybe 2017 wasn't such a bad year after all.)

2. When Sears Sold the American Dream (Boston Globe)
Long before you could buy a flat-pack bedroom set from IKEA and spend an afternoon sweating and swearing as you put it together at home, Americans were ordering entire houses by mail that were shipped by rail and ready for hopeful homeowners to assemble piece by piece. From immigration and racial redlining to streetcar suburbs and the World Wars to, many of the dominant themes of modern American history are wrapped up in the fascinating story of Sears kit houses.

3. Is This the Best Disney Soundtrack Ever? (Apartment Therapy)
I was incredulous when he first suggested it, but Adam helped me realize that "Moana" may be the best Disney soundtrack of all time, as determined by a totally scientific, in no way subjective song ranking.

4. It’s About Time You Went to Nova Scotia (Boston Globe)
We finally made good on a vacation to Nova Scotia -- one of those trips you keep promising yourself but never seem to take; it’s so close on a map, you just assume you’ll get there eventually.

5. The Fix Is Out: America's Throwaway Mentality (Boston Globe)
There's a new math behind a decision we all grapple with at one point or another: When a household item breaks, do we repair it or just replace it? Increasingly, Americans are choosing the latter — even for big-ticket items like furniture and major appliances.

6. The Enviable Walkability of 'Home Alone' (Apartment Therapy)
There's a big reason eight-year-old Kevin McCallister gets along just fine on his own - and it's something that's increasingly hard to find in American neighborhoods.

7. The ABCs and 123s of DIY (Boston Globe)
Back in high school, I scoffed when my math teachers insisted that the geometry formulas and algebraic equations we were learning would be useful in real life. Then we remodeled our kitchen.

8. The Stark Racial Inequality of Homeownership (Apartment Therapy)
The "land of opportunity" is looking more like the "land of staggering inequity."

9. Four Lessons From Pre-Cana That Any Couple Can Use (Boston Globe Magazine)
Any Catholic planning a wedding knows about the church’s premarital counseling — and among the more lapsed members of the flock, it’s sure to elicit a groan. And yet, a decade of happy marriage later, Pre-Cana stands out as one of our most important wedding preparations.

10. Can Gentrifiers Help Fight Gentrification? (Apartment Therapy)
Maybe not, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try. I spoke to some remarkably thoughtful and self-aware sociologists for this one.

 *  *  *  *  *
I hope good things like peace, hope, beauty, justice, good health, and happiness await you in 2018. And as for New Year's resolutions, I hope this year-end greeting contains some new songs for you a year from now. Until then, happy New Year!

Friday, January 13, 2017

Praying for Time (Among Other Things)

I recorded this song on my phone yesterday, in memory of George Michael. I'll tell you why, and what it means to me, after the jump.

Those who know me will tell you, without hesitation, that I'm an optimistic person and always have been -- perhaps overly so. I walk around this world grinning like some kind of delusional madman because I really do love life and the people in it.

I hope for the best, and unfailingly look for silver linings when the best doesn't happen. My wife would tell you this can be inspiring, but also wicked annoying. But either way, that's me.

However, something happened to me after Nov. 8th, 2016 -- something that tossed me into a long, deep, and uncharacteristic depression -- and I only recently realized the true reason for my existential crisis.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Sharing the luck

Some of you out there probably know that I find a lot of four-leaf clovers. I don't know why, I just do, and I always have. My wife thinks I'm part leprechaun (I do grin and giggle a lot - maybe there's something to it).

I still feel extremely lucky and blessed when I find one -- even if it's probably just a matter of good eyesight, or patience, or being outdoors a lot, or synthetic fertilizers causing mutations. I think the first time I found a four-leaf clover, I actually found three - on the Syracuse University quad. And I gave each one to people on my floor who could use some luck at the time.

That's what's so beautiful about it to me, that I'm able to share this little piece of good fortune with someone who might find hope or solace in it.

But for the past couple of years, I've been finding like, just a ton of them. More than I can handle! I guess I'm getting better at spotting them? Plus I walk my kid to and from preschool most days, through a grassy park, and there's ample opportunity to look (she helps).

When I find one, I put it in my wallet, pressed between random foreign currencies and an old Red Sox ticket stub (the contents of my wallet might warrant their own blog post), to kind of preserve it; but at times I open up my wallet and there are literally like five or six four-leaf clovers sticking out all over the place, it's nuts.

Basically, I've got four-leaf clovers coming out of my ears and I decided it's time to share the luck beyond my immediate friends and family. So I recently started making necklaces and keychains out of the four-leaf clovers I find, and selling them on Etsy.

handmade genuine four-leaf clover necklace

Since I tend to believe there's at least some bit of divinity involved when I find a four-leaf clover -- the Irish believed the fourth leaf symbolized God's grace -- the idea of selling them really grossed me out at first. But, I realized I could sell them as jewelry and gifts and donate all the money to a couple of charities I believe do great work: Saint Jude's Children's Research Hospital and the Make-a-Wish Foundation.

So when you buy a necklace for $33, I make a $25 contribution in your name to one of those two organizations. (The remaining eight bucks covers Etsy's fees and most of the materials.)

I'm a pretty handy and crafty guy, but I'm not exactly a pro jewelry maker or anything -- there are some air bubbles and other imperfections. But, um, that's what makes them so special? Let's go with that!

So if you're looking for a pretty unique, handmade gift come Christmastime - or Valentine's Day, or graduation, or anytime someone you love is sick or could otherwise use some cheering up  - please check out my shop! Here are some of the current items for sale.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall: Happy Birthday to Bob Dylan

Today is Bob Dylan's 75th birthday. His music has given me pure joy, and on more days than I care to remember has been the only thing that could soothe me, or even make sense in this world.

To paraphrase the man himself, All I really wanna do sing a Bob Dylan song for you.

So here you go. "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" is as gut-wrenching as it is inspiring. It's a song for our times, written about 50 years ago. Happy birthday, Bobby D, and thank you for everything.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Goodbye, Scott Weiland

So Scott Weiland has died. He was a longtime mess, it's true, but it's still sad. I always thought Stone Temple Pilots didn't quite get the respect they deserved -- they had to work hard to shake their "Pearl Jam knock-off" stigma, but they did so admirably. Their Purple album was perfection, and entirely theirs. STP set the backdrop to some of my best memories in high school and college.

It's been a sad couple of weeks out in the world, and when that happens I tend to need to belt out a song or two. So I recorded Plush on my iPhone this morning.

It isn't their best song (I'd vote Interstate Love Song) but it's certainly the first one that comes to mind when you think of STP. Virtually anyone who learned guitar in the early to mid-90s knows how to play it.

Anyway, here you go -- enjoy. RIP Mr. Weiland.

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
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