Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Baby, It's Cold Outside

Yikes that's cold! I mean, don't get me wrong, I like the cold. But it all happened so fast, didn't it? I feel like fall -- my favorite season -- gets shortchanged, lost in the shuffle: It doesn't really get going until mid-September, and by November 1 there are already holiday commercials popping up.

Then, before you know it, you find yourself paralyzed with cold, shivering in the darkness of 4:45pm.

BUT, there is much joy to be found in our new season, if you can somehow roast that mind-shattering chill out of your bones. How, you ask? Simple!

Get cozy. An Irish pub is a nice place to get toasty, tucked away from the cold clutches of Old Man Winter. A little place like the Irish Village in Brighton, say. Protected from the elements, nestled up next to friends or dashing strangers, you're getting warmer already.

Sip a butterbeer. Or any malty brew, really. Such as Kona Pipeline Porter or Sam Adams Winter Lager. Yum. Both available (I think) at the Irish Village. If you happen to duck in there, I mean.

Warm your heart. Nothing cheers the soul quite like music does. It can melt the coldest of hearts. And what kind of music evokes the most cheer of all? Why, Christmas carols of course! Just ask Buddy the Elf!

All this is to say that Edgar and I -- a.k.a. The Decks -- are playing at the Irish Village on Thursday night, with Meg Smallidge and Jeff Harris. We'll be celebrating the season in holidazzling fashion, performing Christmas carols, favorite songs and some originals too. You should come!

Meg & Jeff play at 7pm, we go on at 9pm. It's bound to make you feel warm and fuzzy -- like Santa's beard, after he eats oatmeal! (Bad example?)

Wishing you all a merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, and a happy new year! 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Top Five Thursday: Busking Pitches

The Fiddler in the Subway: The Story of the World-Class Violinist Who Played for Handouts. . . And Other Virtuoso Performances by America's Foremost Feature WriterI just finished "The Fiddler in the Subway," a collection of feature stories by Washington Post writer Gene Weingarten. It's one of the best books I've read in years: hilarious, heartbreaking, and human.

But the title story -- the Pulitzer Prize-winning one about renowned violinist Joshua Bell performing in a D.C. subway station and the commuters who paid him absolutely no mind -- is the one that moved me the most.

It often surprises coworkers or acquaintances to hear that I used to be a busker, singing in streets and subways, but it’s actually a fundamental part of who I am. It’s a role I identify with more than any other – the free-spirited minstrel – and for good reason: street performance is where music, travel, friendliness and generosity all intersect.

“They are the ghosts.”
I can tell you from experience that Weingarten’s story hit on many truths, both beautiful and discouraging. Nearby merchants understandably care more about your volume than whether you’re any good. The large majority of passers-by will ignore you, or listen discreetly without giving themselves away. Many are too busy to notice -- “they are the ghosts,” Weingarten says with haunting insight – but others simply don’t care for your style of music, and that’s ok.

But children do always stop to listen, and it’s not just an attention span thing. They become entranced. I like to sit on the ground when I play, which puts me at their level.

And there is always someone like John Picarello out there, the man who stopped to listen to Bell, saying, “It was a treat, just a brilliant, incredible way to start the day."

Like any artist, or teacher, or anyone who cares about something, you do it for those people; for the few but deep connections that you make.

Many of the most meaningful experiences of my life have happened while, or because of, busking. A woman bent down to give me a 10-pound note on the Central Line platform at Tottenham Court Road, sobbing, because the REM song I was playing affected her so deeply. At the same station (Northern Line platform), a Japanese girl was moved to tears as I played “The Boxer,” and described how she had arrived in London just that day and had already been robbed. I still get chills remembering these moments, in awe that I could have had such an immediate and intense impact on a complete stranger.

I’ve had hundreds of deep conversations and made real friendships out of nowhere thanks to busking. I was plucked from the Notting Hill tube station to have dinner at a French woman's flat -- she insisted. I have sung impromptu harmonies with drunken revelers, and have befriended homeless men. Once I was asked to serenade a clerk at a Bond Street clothing shop who had just gotten engaged. Appreciative patrons have bought me beers and, in lieu of any change, offered me everything from drugs to jewelry to women’s undergarments.

There is a young guy with a husky, soulful voice who has increasingly been playing outside our office in the late afternoon, and I give him a dollar every time I see him. I always give at least some change to a street performer – knowing that even throwing in a couple of dimes helps, if only to break the ice so other onlookers might get the hint – but rarely a buck. But this kid is so good; leaving my rather corporate job, I’m jealous of him, and happy for him, too.

Quite honestly, in many ways I prefer singing in the streets to performing a real show. No one expects anything of you -- they haven't paid a $10 cover -- so you can't really disappoint. You meet new people and, hopefully, add something surprising and beautiful to an otherwise dull part of their day. There are no microphones or amplifiers to contend with, so the mix is completely organic and easy to adjust. And when people change their plans to stay and listen, you know you've really earned their appreciation.

From Faneuil Hall to Covent Garden, Grafton Street to Las Ramblas, I’ve played on plenty of street corners and subway platforms – “pitches,” in busker parlance. Here are my five favorites to date.

Top 5 Busking Pitches

5. Downtown Crossing, Orange Line platform (Boston, Mass.)
I owe all these experiences to my dad, who gave me both the idea and the confidence to try playing in the subway 15 years ago. Downtown Crossing was the first place I ever played; it was a terrifying debut. (This is where I picked up the habit of closing my eyes while I play.) My knees were shaking violently for the first few songs, but I settled down quickly, and soon kids were clapping along and money appeared in my guitar case. I got hooked.

4. Paseo de la Concha (San Sebastian, Spain)
My experience here has been well-chronicled in song, but the story goes like this: My friend Adam and I were on a train to Barcelona (after some misadventures), and while he was in el baño, the conductor came by. I had no money for a ticket (just an “emergency” credit card from my parents and a few British coins) and was promptly kicked off the train. (When Adam got back, he had a heated, inebriated confrontation with the conductor in broken Spanglish.)

This was well before cell phones, and I found myself alone and broke in San Sebastian – a lovely seaside town, though I didn’t realize that yet. El estacion del tren wouldn’t accept credit cards, so as the sun set, I tried singing near the beach promenade, and gradually the locals came out for their evening strolls. I raised enough money for my ticket to Barcelona, and even got invited to spend the night with four Spanish girls. (I refused, saying I had to go meet my friend… what the hell was I thinking??! Though to be fair, he did spend an entire day waiting for arrivals at the Barcelona train station.)

3. Tottenham Court Rd. Station (London, U.K.)
I was devastated when I learned that they started restricting buskers from playing in London’s Underground. (I was also crushed when they banned drinking on the tube, since, as a college student, drinking beer on public transport was one of my favorite things to do in London.)

This was the first place I ever made a bunch of money – whether at the very end of the long, Central Line tunnel, or on the Northern Line platform, I would typically make 40 pounds an hour playing here. When my parents came to visit, they were impressed by that! But it was a tough pitch to get – there was lots of competition. I gradually became friendly with the other buskers, including a lanky, punk-rock girl from NYC and a Jamaican guy who played reggae.

2. Haymarket Station, Orange Line outbound platform (Boston, Mass.)
This has become my go-to place. You might think that what makes one pitch better than another comes down to foot traffic, but it’s more complicated than that. It’s like page views for a website – it helps to have a lot of them, sure, but you also want quality page views.

Haymarket isn’t as busy as Park Street or Downtown Crossing, but that’s a good thing. There are fewer trains attempting to sing along with their squealing brakes, and after 7pm you can fit in a solid three songs between trains – giving you ample opportunity to win over listeners. You want people to have a chance to hear you; if mobs of people are whizzing by, they’re only giving you money because you’re there, not because they listened and liked you.

And the acoustics in this tunnel are phenomenal. When I return after not having played here in awhile, I am astounded by how good I sound! What’s more, given its location near Faneuil Hall, it often attracts tourists -- who are more likely to be in a care-free, spending mood than a commuter, and often get a kick out of seeing what they consider a Boston tradition.

1. High Street (Galway, Ireland)
Galway in summer is a musician’s playground. The arts, and those who appreciate them, are everywhere. I often tell people that living in Galway for the summer was like spending three months in the ‘60s.

It’s usually problematic to sing outdoors without amplification, but on Galway’s packed pedestrian thoroughfare, there are no cars to compete with, and the buildings are close enough together to provide some reverb and resonance. The shopkeepers are accustomed to the drill, and so are the passers-by; it’s fairly easy to draw a crowd around you.

In my experience, the Irish love music more than anyone, and have an unrivaled appreciation for street musicians. And waves of tourists seemed to think a 10-euro CD by someone they saw live would make a perfect souvenir for their friend or teenage niece.

I performed almost every day that summer, and during the peak of the season, I would often make 100 euro in an hour if you included CD sales. I’ve never been in better musical shape, or met as many interesting people, singing my little heart out on the metal box outside the Internet cafe.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Album of the month: Dance

Dance by Lissa Schneckenburger
2010, Footprint Records

Running by the ocean at sunset, I was listening to the lilting, Celtic notes of a fiddle. As I inhaled the salt air in gulps and looked out at the gray sea, I could almost convince myself it was Galway Bay out there beside me. But that couldn't be true. For one, the Boston skyline was just ahead.

Also, I was far too busy busking and drinking in Ireland to ever do any jogging.

Anyway, the fiddle was courtesy of Dance by Lissa Schneckenburger. Lissa -- a student of traditional New England music, which is heavily influenced by the Celtic regions -- recently recorded a pair of concept albums, where she researched and resurrected nearly forgotten folk songs from the Northeast.

The first, 2008's Song, focused on ballads, while Dance, released in September, is an entirely instrumental collection of fiddle and dance tunes. (If you can't find a partner -- or, like me, simply don't like to dance -- it does make great company on an evening run.)

Gentle notes ease you into the album's first and best song, "Petronella." What follows is a perfectly arranged traditional tune; everything about this 4-minute wonder is just irresistible. It is both perky and elegant, light hearted and deeply moving. 

Next comes "Lamplighter's Hornpipe / Suffer the Child" -- a true dance number, upbeat and frisky. The interplay between the bass line and fiddle during the second eight of "Suffer the Child" creates beautiful, stirring harmonies.

"Moneymusk" features the album's most ambitious fiddling. At first I thought Lissa might have been shredding her instrument so hard that she hit a wrong note. But that squeaky sharp is part of the tune, and simply sounds a bit odd without accompaniment. The piece builds from solo violin to a full ensemble, complete with horns, that makes the final minutes feel nothing short of exuberant. It could play during the climactic closing scene of a John Hughes movie. 

Track 5, "Eugenia's Waltz," is the album's only real weak spot. Melodic and moody, it feels more like a ballad that should be sung (though I'm not sure it even has lyrics); for the first time, you realize you kind of miss Schneckenburger's voice. What bothers me the most, however -- and frankly this is kind of ridiculous of me -- is that the tune never reaches the high note it longs to hit in the chorus. As a songwriter, it just kills me to listen to this wasted opportunity each time through.

A tune that does hit that high note, however, is "Rory O'More." Charming and bouncy at the outset, it ambushes the listener with a moving bridge section that's extremely pensive, even a bit haunting. The pulsating, rhythmic "Fisher's Hornpipe" follows -- a tune that makes even me want to dance.

My second-favorite track, "Jamie Allen," rounds out the CD, and this arrangement makes the most of its marvelous melody. As the percussion backs off near the end of the tune, the resulting choir of instruments is breathtaking, and a beautiful way to end the album.

In fact, it's worth noting here that the accompaniment and sound mixing throughout Dance is spot on -- Lissa has surrounded herself with talented musicians who complement rather than compete with the fiddle, stealing the show only when it's called for.

While some lyric-loving listeners may find themselves longing for a vocal ballad thrown in the mix, any fan of instrumental trad will enjoy this album through and through. It's enough to transport you to the shores of Galway Bay -- or at least to the stools of Tig Coili's.

Lissa Schneckenburger performs at Club Passim Monday, Oct. 25.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Modern life is rubbish... literally

I remember reading a story about H&M when they first opened up stateside, where the CEO or spokesperson referred to it as "disposable fashion." The clothes are stylish and cheap, but poorly made. (To wit, my wedding suit was from H&M; the pants were unraveling at the seam by the end of the ceremony.)

And the whole idea is: that's ok. You buy a cheap-but-trendy sweater, wear it to your big party, maybe once more, and when it starts to pill/tear/shrink, so what -- it's out of fashion anyway, or you're sick of it, and it's time to buy a new one.

It’s similar with printers, an industry that mastered the now widespread practice of discounting its basic equipment only to rob consumers on refills. When our 5-year-old printer was acting up a few weeks ago, do you think we got it repaired? Of course not! We went out and bought a new one, for just $30 after rebate. It would have cost at least twice that to get it repaired.

I think this is part -- perhaps even the crux? -- of the problem with our modern consumer economy.

Yes, it's wasteful that we continually replenish our supply of poorly made stuff all the time, and unconscionable that our unwanted but more or less functioning printers end up in a heap in Africa, oozing toxins into some kid's drinking water.

But this behavior is also destroying pillars of American prosperity.

Back in the day, a guy owned a good suit or two, and a good hat, and a few nice shirts and a pair or two of wool pants. And he wore them all the time. He may have dressed the same each day, but at least he looked sharp.

Those clothes cost him a bunch of money -- one reason why he owned just a couple of each. But they were made in America, and made to last.

The loss of American factory jobs is well lamented. But there’s another job being lost here, too.

When, after seasons of wear, his pants began to thin, he would take them to a tailor - because they were quality possessions, worth the investment. When the soles of his leather shoes wore through, he brought them to a cobbler. When his TV went on the fritz, he called a TV repairman, because you couldn't just pick up a working television by the side of the road on trash day (mock me, but I haven't paid for a TV in like 8 years).

Today? In many cases, it is generally cheaper and easier to buy a replacement product -- a new blender, or sweater, or toaster, or microwave, or air conditioner -- than to get your old one fixed by a professional. So in addition to wiping out domestic manufacturing jobs, this trend is eating into traditional skilled professions. To quote the US Bureau of Labor Statistics:

"Employment of shoe and leather workers and repairers is expected to decline rapidly by 14 percent through 2018 … buying new shoes often is cheaper than repairing worn or damaged ones."

Thankfully, we will still ring the repairman for major investments like refrigerators, cars, houses. Not to mention our bodies – we still value them enough to go to the dentist instead of just buying fake teeth at Walgreen’s!
This phenomenon even extends to food: By cost per calorie, it's often cheaper to buy food at McDonald's than at a healthy restaurant or even the grocery store. The calories aren't as good for you, of course – but once again we are wooed by the idea of getting more crap for less money instead of investing in something of higher quality.

While we still employ well-paid industrial designers, gone are the middle-class men and women who built and repaired products meant to last a lifetime. The focus has instead shifted toward churning out a never-ending cascade of new products as cheaply as possible -- while white-collar marketers contrive new ways to sell all that garbage to the rest of us.

And we buy it.

It’s discouraging, but does this spell the end of society? No, we’ll be ok. We no longer produce a lot of real stuff, but we do produce ideas and information. And weirdly, they need repairs, too. For better or worse, you are probably more likely to call the Geek Squad to salvage your desktop than hire a carpenter to fix your desk.

Where am I going with this? I don’t really know. I am super guilty of it myself. I own very few nice things, because I lose everything -- on trips, on trains, at people’s houses. In fact I left that H&M suit jacket on Thompson Island in Boston Harbor. I've owned dozens of sunglasses, none of which cost more than $15. And I’m on my fourth bike of the last 10 years, all bought used, on the cheap, because they tend to get stolen. (Although I guess they were recycled back into use after they were stolen… which is a plus? Err… yay.)

Anyway, from now on, I am going to make an effort to buy less crap in favor of quality products that last longer. For every two H&M shirts I might have bought, I will get one L.L. Bean shirt. For every pair of Bass shoes – which are made from “leather and/or plastic” and start to squeak after 4 months – I will buy Uggs or Dr. Martens and wear them twice as long. 

And I promise I'll recycle that printer.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Are you the spontaneous type?

Or are you more of a planner?

Well, now's your chance to find out. It's like a real-life Cosmo quiz, but without all the mindlessness and tampon ads.

So here's your quiz: Edgar and I, a.k.a. The Decks, are playing Thursday night -- which may be tonight by the time you see this -- back at the Irish Village in Brighton.

Short notice you say? Well, summer is the season for impulse. When an idea strikes you, you can actually do it — because it's not snowing out! And some of life's best experiences are those that present themselves out of nowhere at the last minute. Like a spare ticket to Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS, for instance.

(For the record, our show doesn't promise to be anything quite so historic or exhilarating as The Game That Changed My Life. But you might enjoy yourself nevertheless.)

If this just sounds too crazy, too hectic, and poorly thought out, then come see us on Thursday, Sept. 9, at Paddy Barry's in Quincy. You've got plenty of time to make arrangements, choose an outfit, and get properly excited about it. Ahh, isn't that comforting? You can add it to your calendar. Look at that — you've got plans!

Whatever your personality type, I hope you're enjoying the summer, and I'm looking forward to seeing you!

Thursday, Aug. 19
The Irish Village
224 Market St., Brighton, MA
7pm-10pm / Free!

Thursday, Sept. 9
Paddy Barry's
1574 Hancock St., Quincy, MA
(Quincy Center Red Line)
9pm-midnight / Free!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Faneuil Hall and the Tragedy of Choice

I’ve written about this before – how an excess of choice can actually be more crippling than freeing. No place embodies this concept quite like the free will bonanza that is Faneuil Hall in Boston.

If you don’t live here, or have somehow managed not to visit the 2nd most famous tourist attraction in a city chock full of tourist attractions, Faneuil Hall is an all-pedestrian shoptropolis/engine of commerce in the heart of the city. It is perhaps the most shining success story in the mixed bag that was 20th-century urban renewal.

Inside the main building is an extreme food court, a long corridor with vendors hawking just about every food imaginable at a pretty good mark-up. A hungry luncher ambling down that hallway usually wears the same expression as a 7-year-old at Toys ‘R’ Us on December 23. The possibilities are tempting and limitless.

Which is why, after you’ve made your decision, found a free table, and eaten your lunch amongst the bustle… you can never be really happy with your choice.

“How was your lunch?”

“It was pretty good. But… maybe I should have gone for the clam chowder instead. In the bread bowl, that looked SO good. Or a cheese steak. This was all right though, I guess.”

There are a couple of issues at play here. One is simple: mall food is mall food, even when it’s more upscale, and it always looks and tastes better before you eat the whole thing. Have you ever felt good about the orange or sesame chicken you just ate at the mall? No. Not once. But those samples are so tasty!

But it also comes back to a much larger problem in our society, which threatens everything from day-to-day contentment to love and marriage: the overabundance of choice, and the fear of commitment and decision-making it leads to.

I’m willing to wager that around the world, young people who live in cities with a thriving singles scene have a much harder time settling down, and far more doubts about doing so, than their peers who live in small towns with few eligible mates or in places where arranged marriages are commonplace.

Likewise, I’d bet that a 7-year-old who’s allowed to pick out any one toy from Toys ‘R’ Us will be racked with more doubt about his decision, and perhaps enjoy the toy less, than a kid who receives the same toy as a surprise without knowing all the other options he could have chosen.

For the record, something compelled me to get a chicken cheese steak today -- why?! -- and I’ve regretted it ever since. Not that it wasn’t tasty. But I could have had chicken tikka masala!

Monday, July 12, 2010

I will try not to drip sweat directly on you

Well hey there! It's been awhile, eh? I hope you’re enjoying your summer! And it sure is summer. Around this time last year, after the second rainiest June on record, we were still wondering where the hell summer was. (Just futzing around in 2010, apparently.)

Now, I love the 15-hour days and 75-degree nights of midsummer. But I am a fair-skinned, sweaty fella. (As I type, I am the color of a savory, boiled crustacean, and just as drippy.) I don’t do well in the obscene heat and relentless sunfire. In fact, last summer, just when it finally started to warm up, me and the missus escaped to Ireland -- where we were able to wear sweaters and jeans and drink tea under a murky grey sky. It was glorious. (I believe at one point I said, “Suck it, 95 degrees!”)

All this is to say that a friendly pub and a good pint know no off-season. So if you feel like ducking out of the sun’s scorching rays for a bit this Thursday evening, stop by the Irish Village in Brighton, where my friend Edgar and I – a.k.a. The Decks – will be performing our second-ever show from 6pm-10pm.

Thursday, July 15
The Irish Village
224 Market St., Brighton, MA
6pm-10pm / Free!

Don’t worry, no one expects you to stay all four hours. Goodness, that would be crazy! Just pop in for a pint, a chat, and some music, bask in the breeze of the open windows (or the refreshing chill of the A/C, depending) for a bit, and then slip back out into the summer night’s balmy embrace.

And if you do stay the entire four hours? Well, I'll buy you a beer for your trouble! Really!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Last day of work / First night of rock

This Friday will be my last day at WGBH. Next week I'll be working alongside some esteemed friends at — which means that I will no longer report to Big Bird (that tyrant!), but rather the madman behind "Mad Money," Jim Cramer himself. It should be quite the change of pace — wish me luck!

The night before my last day at work is exciting in its own right. My friend Edgar and I have thrown together an acoustic duo, a little rock n' roll outfit if you will. We're called the Decks. Our debut gig is this Thursday at the best little pub in the world and we'd like to see you there! Here are the details:

Thursday, May 27
Paddy Barry's
1574 Hancock St., Quincy Center (Red Line)
9:30pm / Free!

Honestly we're not even sure if we're getting paid for this gig, we're just doing it for the love of music and a good time. We've got a suitcase full of songs for you, and Paddy's is a little gem of a place, with a proper sound system, a welcoming warmth about it, and friendly bartenders who pour a great pint of the black stuff. (There's no kitchen, but restaurants abound in Quincy Center, and you can bring take-out into the pub with you.)

So come kick off your three-day weekend a little early with us; I promise you'll enjoy yourself. Well, unless you're an old codger who doesn't like fun, friendly people, music, or beer. In that case I don't know what to tell you. Tough luck, Menino!

Hope to see you there!

Legal notes: Big Bird is not really my boss, nor a tyrant for that matter. And while I have nothing against Mayor Menino, it's well-documented that he hates anything fun.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A weekend in Mexico

I wasn't really in Mexico for the weekend, sadly. It was just really hot, and we couldn't drink the water. And I had some chips and salsa, if that counts for anything.

People were so crazy about the water situation! (If you don't live in Boston, quick recap: a big pipe that supplies 2 million of us with drinking water burst on Saturday, and they had to start using untreated water from backup ponds and reservoirs. So we had to boil all tap water for a minute before it was safe to drink. AND make sure to let the boiled water cool down before drinking it, they had to remind the idiots among us.)

We were at a Kentucky Derby party at J.J. Foley's Fireside in JP when things went down, and while the bars and restaurants downtown responsibly stopped serving fountain soda and coffee, Foley's would have none of it — they poured me a seltzer at the end of the evening like nothing was amiss. "You'll drink pond water and you'll like it, kid!"

But they were pretty much the only ones taking it in stride. Everyone else was going bananas at the grocery store like it was the end of the world (or a 3-inch snowstorm); clerks were hauling endless pallets of water around and handing out gallon jugs like they were in the National Guard. Suddenly it was a bad idea to shower or wash your hands.

Has no one gone camping before, or swam in a pond? For the love of... it's fine! People, you can take a shower in water you would ordinarily swim in. Just don't drink it!

Anyway, thankfully that little plumbing emergency is all over now. A pretty quick fix, too!

In other news
Before we went to Mexico, I cashed in some of my Home Depot birthday bucks and built a trunk I'd been planning for some time. Check it out:

Gina thought I was building her a coffin!

Anyway I learned an important lesson: when you buy a 1x8 piece of lumber... it's not actually 1" x 8". It's like 3/4" x 7 1/4" ...ish. Same goes for a 10" board and everything else. I had meticulously (ok, hastily) drawn up plans based on totally bogus measurements! Am I the only one who never realized this?

I'll chalk it up to being 34: another year, another of the world's secrets revealed! By 35, maybe I'll understand the principles of time travel. Or how a toaster turns bread into toast.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Words and Music: Picture of Pablo

There is a picture out there, somewhere, of my friend Paul. It is marvelous; it is sublime in its absurdity.

His hair is dyed orange, because we were in London, it was 1997, and that was the thing to do. It was meant to be Prodigy red or Sick Boy blonde or something, but it didn't come out right (see photo to your left -- which is not the photo).

He is looking upward, squinting, and smiling in a coy-but-drunken way, with engorged lips... like an intoxicated chimpanzee who's just found half a banana in your garbage.

He is shirtless.

Scratch that, I think he's actually wearing a black bra. How did I forget THAT little tidbit?

And someone is reaching into the frame, pinching at his bare chest.

I can't even remember the sequence of events that led to this Pulitzer Prize-caliber photograph, and if we graduated in the age of Flickr I'd be able to show it to you. Alas, it's hidden away somewhere safe and secretive. Or perhaps under an old couch cushion in a condemned apartment. Either way... it's alive and well in my memory.

This song has precious little to do with that photo, except for its name.

Picture of Pablo (Download MP3)
©2001 by Jon Gorey

Intro/verse: G / Em / C* / D*

C* 332010
D* 55403x

(The trick to the bass line is to hit the open A string between the G and Em, and then to walk the C* chord up to the D*.)

Verse: G / Em / C* / D* (x8)
Tell me again, the story of the man who
Had everything until she up and gone and ran to
The arms of another man
Well he stole my baby
I begged her to stay
I kept her waiting
So she left to betray

Pre-chorus: C / D / G / B (x4)
But she didn't know that I, I'd been here before
And when I couldn't close my eyes, I couldn't take any more

Chorus: G / Em / C* / D* (x2)
Hey hey, that's what I say now
Hey hey, that's what I say now

Now all my friends, they say that seeing is believing
But that depends on what you want to be achieving
When all you had is gone
Well he stole my baby, I begged her to stay
I kept on waiting, for two years and a day
But she didn't know that I, I could see through the door
And when I couldn't close my eyes, I couldn't take any more
Hey hey, that's what I say now
Hey hey, that's what I say now

[D] But I know [C] there is [G] love now, [D]I [C]know it's [G]true
But my [D/F#] baby's [E] blue now...
[C] I've never [A] seen her [E] quite like [B] this
But [C] that's what you [D] get with a [G] kiss

So hey hey, that's what I say now
Hey hey, that's what I say now

And so it ends like any other fascination
He's on the mend, he gets another invitation
She's on her way back home
Well behold my baby! I'd begged her to stay
I kept on waiting here, for two years and a day
But I didn't know that I, I'd get a knock on the door
And when I couldn't close my eyes, I had to fall to the floor
Hey hey, that's what I say now
Hey hey, that's what I say now

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Guinness is good for you

Now that I've got dry socks on for the first time in days, I can finally think about something besides water and where to put it. And that brings us to tomorrow: I'll be playing a Saint Patrick's Day show from 4-8pm at the Sweetwater Cafe downtown (view map).

With a sunny forecast in store, what better way to welcome this annual rite of spring? Come by after work, say hello and have a pint, and just make sure to head home before the combination of Guinness and rebel songs gets you feeling too plucky.

Let me address some Frequently Asked Questions:

You realize it's a Wednesday night, right? I'm not 25 anymore!
I realize that in the past I've dragged you out for 11pm sets on school nights, for which I'm sorry. This is why I requested a happy hour gig. Stop in after work, take off by 6pm, and you could still be in bed by sundown, old-timer! (Or you could stay out 'til all hours, carousing and fighting and whatnot. I'm not your babysitter.)

Wait, the Sweetwater Cafe? That's not even a real Irish pub!
Precisely! As someone who truly enjoys a good public house, and has spent many a St. Paddy's Day in Irish pubs around the city... they are much more enjoyable on March 7 than March 17. The Sweetwater has several key pub qualities — cozy feel, comfort food, a decent pour — and it'll be busy as well. But busy like a Saturday night downtown, not like New Year's Eve in Times Square. This also means that instead of hearing "The Wild Rover" six times in 3 hours you'll only hear it twice.

You're not even Irish!
Shhhh... don't blow this for me.

Is Guinness really good for you?
In as much as drinking it makes you feel good, certainly (that's where the old ad campaign derives from). But it also has fewer calories per 12 oz. than a Budweiser (125 cal. vs. 145 cal.), and has been found to contain antioxidant flavonoids that help prevent blood clots, as compared to lighter beers. This might be the right point to remind you that I'm a musician, not a doctor.

When are you playing again?
How did you pass the reading comprehension section of the SATs? Anyway, here's the recap:

  • Tomorrow — a.k.a. Wednesday, a.k.a St. Patrick's Day — March 17
  • From 4-8pm, at the Sweetwater Cafe. 
  • Take the T to Park Street (Red/Green lines) or Boylston (Green line), park at a metered spot along the Public Garden, or pay to park underground at the (reasonable) Boston Common garage.


Thursday, March 4, 2010

Otto has always been #1 in my book

Check that out, right there. For the time being, my alma mater Syracuse is #1 in both college basketball polls. They've been surging all season (27-2! insane), and even in the past few weeks, with their best player banged up, they managed to beat Georgetown (ranked like #10 at the time) and Villanova (#7). Oh, and Providence, which was especially awesome, because a few of us took the 3:30pm Amtrak Miller Lite Express down to Rhode Island to catch the game.

(Wait, it's not called the Miller Lite Express? It should be. You really have to pound them, it's only a half-hour ride!)

I'd been loosely following the 'Cuse on their season-long ascent, catching a half here and a highlight there. But seeing them play live made it clear: this team is really, really good. I'll be picking them to win the tourney — wait, I mean I would pick them, if I participated in such mischief — and not just out of wistful nostalgia for my college years. I attended two basketball games last week: SU at Providence and the Celtics vs. the woeful NJ Nets, at home. This Syracuse team could have wiped the floor with the Celts that day.

I will now knock on various wooden objects.

Other lessons learned from last Tuesday's adventure:

1. The train is the way to go. I love trains anyway — I mean, I really miss taking the subway to work, and that's just a standing-room-only cattle car hurtling through blackness underground. When you add comfortable seats, scenic vistas, the gentle rocking, and booze car? There's really no comparison... driving is for chumps. Also, we got there in record time, and the kindly MBTA commuter rail (a longer but cheaper trip than Amtrak) got us all home safely after the game.

2. Behaving like you're 23 years old will not actually make you 23 again. In fact, the next day you will feel like you're 83.

3. College basketball road trips are the best (if you didn't go to a big sports school, well, sorry I guess. You're welcome to root for SU). This was on par with our early 2000's trip to New York for the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden. That year, we still had our college IDs and managed to score $9 student tickets — on the floor! — to the sold out night games. Three of us crammed into a 100-square-foot hotel room but we spent most of the night at a diner anyway. (At one point, I believe I leapt into a pile of curbside Manhattan garbage for $5... learning from bad decisions is essential to personal growth, right?) Awesome times, just a few hours away. We should have taken the train!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Fight or flight

Gina and I have a theory about surviving winter: at some point, you either have to get the hell away to someplace warm, where you can charge your solar battery, or you have to go all in and embrace the season — skiing, sledding, hot cocoa, roaring fires, snowmen, whatever. It doesn't matter which method you choose, but doing one or the other is essential to dodging the doldrums of midwinter; waiting it out is not an option.

This year we decided to welcome winter's icy clutches, and went even colder with a short trip up to Montreal for the long weekend. We love that city, and it's the kind of place that loves you back.

We stayed at a super charming B&B (read my TripAdvisor review if you like) and ate like crazy: mussels steamed in savory broth, fries with homemade spicy garlic mayo, baked onion soup, maple syrup glazed salmon, crepes with nutella and banana, crepes with apples, brie, and maple syrup... you name it, we ate it, and it was all fantastique.

The weather was cold but the city was alive. I was thinking back on our trip to Stockholm in January 2005, and how the city was a bit quiet and melancholy — waiting it out. Montreal, on the other hand, felt ready to burst at times, like a party might break out in the street despite the cold.

Throw in hot mulled wine, the Winter Olympics, a working fireplace in our room, and an ambient Valentine's Day snowfall, and we enjoyed the perfect winter weekend. We came home relaxed and recharged, ready for the home stretch of winter.

After all, we're almost there. Pitchers and catchers have reported to spring training.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Words and Music: Song I Wrote for You

With some distance now separating myself from many of the songs I've written — let's call that distance "perspective" rather than "age," shall we? — certain songs outlast others, enduring beyond their original context to resonate just as strongly in new chapters of my life. The one that really might be my favorite of all, that still just breaks my heart for some reason, is "Song I Wrote for You." I don't know what it is about this very simple song, but it's never stopped evoking the same profound emotions it did when I first wrote it.

It's partly about a girl, of course (isn't it always?). But that's a very small part of it, and certainly not the reason it continues to have such a powerful impact on me.

I was supposed to go down to New York that day. There had been some kind of minor bomb scare in the city, and I grew paralyzed with fear about the trip; I couldn't go. I couldn't even leave the apartment. I'm realizing now that it might have been the first time I really confronted the emotions that 9/11 had provoked in me: the deep-seated fright and overwhelming sadness I had mostly managed to quell for over a year.

Intentionally or not, the lyrics obscure some of that. But the melody triggers all of those emotions in me, all over again, every time.

It's a powerful thing, music.

Song I Wrote for You
©2003 Jon Gorey

Intro: A / A / Bm / D / E / A

[A] What's the matter with the world
What did I forget to [Bm] do
Was it something that I [D] said
Can I [E] make it up to [A] you

When did everything go wrong
Did they ever think that [Bm] through
I think I heard this in a [D] song
It was [E] one I wrote for [D] you

And I'm [E] hoping that the [A] world don't [Bm] fall
And I'm [D] holding out for [E] something but
[A] Not at [Bm] all and I'm [D] more or less [E] hopeful
But I [A] can't see the [Bm] starry sky
[D] Too many [E] sorrys I [A] don't know what to [G] do
But I'm [D] sure it ain't [Bm] nothing like [A] this
I [A] don't know what to [G] do
But I'm [D] sure it ain't [Bm] nothing like [A] this

[A] What's the matter with my [A] life
What did I forget to [Bm] bring
Can you tell me what to [D] do
God I [E] hear so many [A] things
I don't want to end this [A] way
I just want to make it [Bm] right
I'm afraid to live the [D] day
And I'm [E] scared to sleep the [D] night

And I'm [E] hoping that the [A] world don't [Bm] fall
And I'm [D] holding out for [E] someone but
[A] Oh not at [Bm] all and I'm [D] more or less [E] hopeful
But I [A] can't see the [Bm] starry sky
[D] Too many [E] sorrys I [A] don't know what to [G] do
But I'm [D] sure it ain't [Bm] nothing like [A] this
I [A] don't know what to [G] do
But it [D] sure ain't [Bm] nothing like [A] this
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