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"

Friday, May 4, 2012

Top 5 Real-Life Super Powers

The Avengers comes out this weekend, another comic book come to life featuring an ensemble of superheroes. I'm not a huge comic-book nut, but it is fun to imagine being Superman, or Captain America, in this case. For some reason, though, I find the plausible far more intriguing and exciting than the fantastical; and there's the inspiration behind today’s Top Five Day...

Top 5 Real-Life Super Powers

5a. Super Strength. In the past decade, there have been two reported cases of babies born with a gene that blocks the production of myostatin, a natural protein that keeps your muscles from growing too large. The result is that, even as infants, the children were quite strong, with bulging biceps and six-pack stomachs. No one knows yet how this will affect them as they age, since the human body is such a delicate machine; tendons, organs, and other tissues may not be able to keep up. (Think about adding a 600-hp engine to your Honda Civic: sounds good, but in reality it would just blow out your transmission.)

5b. Feeling No Pain. In a similar vein, some people suffer from a very rare genetic disorder that prohibits them from sensing pain. This is a “careful what you wish for” scenario, though, because while it might sound terrific – you’d never be bothered by a stubbed toe, could play through any injury in a football game, and probably couldn’t lose in a fight – it’s actually horrific.

Think about it: As a child, it’s difficult to learn even basic lessons like, “Don’t put your hand inside of a fire.” This family’s child would mutilate himself as a baby, gnawing on his tongue during teething and not feeling a thing as he bled. Sadly, many kids with the condition don’t make it into adulthood. But it does qualify as an incredible, if tragic, superpower.

4. Bulletproof Skin. Plenty of super heroes, from Batman to Iron Man, have no actual super-human ability aside from the time, money, and necessary know-how to create powerful gadgets, weapons, and bodysuits. The real-life heroes in our military have access to some comic-book caliber technology, from bulletproof vests and helmets to night vision goggles and weapons straight out of science-fiction. And if a vest seems too bulky, now scientists are working on bulletproof skin.

3. Alcohol Tolerance. This may not seem like a super power at first blush; after all, most people can build up a healthy tolerance with lots of... um... “practice.” But if you can keep pace at a party and still keep it together while those around you slobber, slur, and go all in on a pair of fives, you’ll come off looking like a god among mortals. Or at least a decisive Jack Donneghy type.

Interestingly, an allergic reaction to alcohol is common in some cultures (Asian and Native American, in particular), while it’s believed that Europeans – who were more likely to live in cities a few hundred years ago – actually evolved with a high tolerance for the drug, because people drinking beer or wine instead of water were less susceptible to cholera and other water-borne diseases. Crazy, right? But the ability to tolerate the enzymes in beer saved a lot of lives in Dickensian London.

2. Perfect Pitch. A select few musicians, like Mozart and Mariah Carey, have the ability to recognize and replicate a musical note without any context whatsoever, which is called perfect or absolute pitch. This means they can hear any tone, and name the note – identifying a car’s horn as an A-sharp, for instance, while noting that the engine drones along in E-flat. (Schmoes like me have relative pitch, meaning I can carry a tune in relation to itself. But I can’t just start singing a song in G without actually hearing a G first.)

While only about one in 10,000 Americans possesses this gift, it may be more prevalent than once believed. For one thing, some people are born with perfect pitch but lose the ability if they don’t begin studying music formally at an early enough age. What’s more interesting, though, is that musicians who grew up speaking a tonal language like Vietnamese or Mandarin – where a word’s meaning can vary depending on the pitch – are almost nine times more likely to exhibit perfect pitch. So it may be just a matter of nurturing the ability at a young age. Whatever the case, as a musician, this is just about the ultimate super power. Except for…

1. Poison Ivy Immunity. About 15% of people out there do not react to urushiol, the chemical found in poison ivy, oak, and sumac sap. These real-life X-Men, like my dad, can just frolic through the woods in mid-July, in shorts, without a care in the world (well, except for the damned mosquitoes).

Can you imagine? Nearly every summer of my childhood, I spent weeks caked in calamine lotion, trying futilely to ignore that ferocious, gnawing itch of a poison ivy outbreak. It was pure torture. Even as an adult, the rash invariably brings me to the brink of tears after about a week. And yet some of you will never know that fate. What an amazing gift!

Do beware though: repeated exposure can eventually cause you to have a reaction, even if you’ve never been allergic to it before. And if you do come into contact with poison ivy, wash the area with lots of soap as soon as you can – it works.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Lucky Guy

Hello, everybody, and happy Spring!

First things first: I'm playing a St. Paddy's Day show this Friday at Lucky's Lounge in South Boston. Now, I know what you're thinking: "Southie" + "St. Patrick's Day" = @$%!-fest. But I assure you, Lucky's is a classy joint with terrific food. So come say slainte! 

Friday, March 16
Lucky's Lounge
355 Congress St. (corner of A Street, no sign)
Boston, MA 02210
4:30pm-8pm / No cover

Also, if you missed it amid the holiday hubbub, I released a new full-band EP in December called "The Things You Keep." You can buy it on iTunes, CDBaby, Amazon, or Bandcamp, or stream it free on Spotify and Bandcamp. It's my first CD in six years; I hope it was worth the wait!

And the biggest news of all is actually pretty small, weighing in at just over eight pounds. Please welcome to the world our daughter Genevieve Gorey, who has been melting my heart for just over a week. 

Enjoy the beautiful day,
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