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!


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