Sunday, November 24, 2013

Moments of Bliss

The 51-second mark of Honkeyball's "Kemosabe."

The 4:38 mark of Metallica's "One."

When The Police hit the 2:31 mark on "Driven to Tears."

What do these points in musical time have in common? They're a few of my moments of bliss, little goosebump triggers. Every time I get to those points in those songs, I'm excited, no matter how many times I listen to them. These are by no means the only songs that bring on this response. Other artists, ranging from Susan Tedeschi to Queen, the Flaming Lips to James Brown, elicit similar Pavlovian responses.

That's why, as much as I love movies, television and books, nothing hits me like music does.

Here's "Kemosabe":

Here's "One":

And "Driven to Tears":

Friday, November 22, 2013

Your Holiness

Despite my sacrilegious ways (or is it "sacrilicious"?), I find beauty in houses of worship. Several months ago, I published the first post of what I promised would be a semi-regular feature here ("Holy!" from March 28, 2013).

Here's part two.

Let there be (some) light

This stained glass window is one of many at Church of the Good Shepherd in Dedham, Mass. The church dates to 1876.

St. John's?

I love this doorway at St. John's United Methodist Church, Watertown, Mass. The building was constructed in 1895.


The former First Baptist Church, Watertown, Mass., is now known as Mount Auburn Village. It houses eight condos.

Small Grace

Grace Episcopal Church, Newton, Mass., built in 1873.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Book Review: "After Visiting Friends: A Son's Story" by Michael Hainey

Boy did I enjoy this book.

I'm tempted to leave my review at that, but that wouldn't do much to burnish my reputation as a writer. Using the word "burnish" might help, though.

Michael Hainey, now the deputy editor of GQ magazine, was six when his father died under mysterious circumstances in 1970. Growing up in Chicago, Hainey rarely talked with his mother about his father, or how he died. He ached to learn the details of his father's life, but was discouraged by his mother and other family members from doing so.

He graduated high school, went to college, got a job and finally, in his 30's, decided he needed to discover the truth.

Over the ensuing 10 years he sought out family members, his father's former colleagues, friends, neighbors and anyone else who might have a clue about how his father died. Hainey was stonewalled on a regular basis. He traveled great distances to meet people face-to-face. He used the skills he'd learned as a journalist to keep plugging away.

I really admire Hainey's writing. He uses short, crisp sentences to get across deep, often emotionally charged points. He is selective with his flashbacks, and extremely creative in their use.

"Here they come. People I know. People who know me. Blood, they say. Relatives, all. In big, wide American cars, they drive into my faded-asphalt lot. There's my uncle, Paul, my aunt Nancy; my godmother, Lorraine and her husband, Clarence. There's Uncle Harry, there's Aunt Sue. They are waving to me. I am one boy on two wheels, going in circles, not stopping. And there they go, one after another, to do what you do when a life stops. Coming to close the circle."

For the last 19 months I've been working on a memoir of my own. Currently I'm on the fifth draft, and I've been inspired by After Visiting Friends: A Son's Story. I've been cutting as much fat as I can, and making fewer words do more work.

My story is nowhere near as fascinating as Hainey's, though.

I don't want to give away too much. Hainey's father was a newspaperman in Chicago. Like his colleagues, he lived by a certain code, which called for keeping things close to the vest. Maybe that's just called being a man, I don't know. When he died, the senior Hainey worked the late shift at the Chicago Sun-Times and spent many an early morning drinking alongside his buddies at bars all around the Windy City.

One night he drops dead, at age 35. Years later, his son comes across obituaries written in the Sun-Times and other Chicago papers. He notices that things just don't add up in these life summaries. His mission becomes figuring out just how his father died, who he was with, and why everyone clams up when the topic arises.

I'm gonna leave it at that. Go read this book.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


(I gotta see this movie....)

For more than 18 months, I've been working, off and on, on a memoir about a road trip I took with three buddies in 1988 -- half a lifetime ago. I thought I'd have it done and ready for publication, whether traditional, self-made or ebook, some time this year. But writing projects rarely go as smoothly and quickly as you think they will.

I wish I were done with it, but I've had fun during each step of the process. The first draft involved fleshing out a blog series I'd done in 2008 detailing the four-month journey. In that early stage, I considered offering a wise elder stance, urging recent high school and college grads to forgo business school or smart phone app development in favor of discovering the greater world around them. I wrote about how easy it is these days to stay in touch with friends and family, but that when you're on the road, you should try to cut as many ties as possible to maximize your adventure.

In those heady early days of drafting, I threw in all sorts of background information about trips I took as a kid and at the end of college, mentioned all sorts of cool places I wish my buddies and I had stopped at, extolled the virtues of motels, diners, drive-in theaters and roadside attractions.

As I read the journal I kept on the 1988 trip, and thought more deeply about the journey than I ever had, I realized that I didn't live up to the expectations I had for the trip. As I analyzed some of the trepidation, anxiety and fear I had on the road, I realized that my son, Owen, shares some of these issues.

So I tried to make that part of the book as well. I tried to balance a linear narrative of the trip and analysis of who I was then and who I've become and how that all has an impact on my family.

And I laid a lot of this out in a foreword.

In the second draft I began researching some of the places we'd visited, filling in background information on bars, tourist sites, hotels, motels, etc. I also sent questions to my fellow travelers, as well as members of my family, and other friends, looking for additional information to shore up my account.

The third draft found me tightening things up, continuing to do research and add information from friends and family. Then I needed a break. So I emailed the manuscript to several people, four of whom got back to me with comments and suggestions.

For the last few weeks I've been working on the fourth draft. During this process I shed the foreword, realizing that it served as an outline of sorts for the book, but wasn't necessary for readers. I also ditched the stuff comparing me to Owen, and shaved down extraneous background information and bits about places we never visited, although I wish we had.

I already know that there will be at least one more draft. One of the comments I received from a reader was to punch things up a bit, to make the words sing on the page a bit more. I've done some of that, but at times I get lazy and find myself reading through the text with editing in mind more than rewriting.

Another new facet of the latest draft is photos. I brought a broken camera with me on the road trip, although I didn't know it was a lemon until I tried to get a few rolls developed. Initially I thought my memoir wouldn't have any pictures, which bummed me out.

But as I edited, I realized that I had some pictures to add. Some are from a family vacation that I reference in the book. Others were provided by my buddy Andy, who was on the trip. Others are from college events, provided by friends. One is the worst picture ever taken of me, at a going-away party before I went on the trip. I'm wearing a brown turtleneck, a green sweater, have an unstylish mid-length hairdo and a beard. I'm 22, but I look like I'm pushing 40.

I've enjoyed every stage of writing this book, and look forward to the next one. At some point I plan to seek out an editor or agent, and then there will be more drafting. I don't know when the book will get published, or by whom. I don't know if there will be any interest outside my immediate circle of friends and family.

I'm not writing this book for the money, but I hope it sells quite a bit better than my first book, (C)rock Stories: Million-Dollar Tales of Music and Mayhem, which may have moved 100 units.

I think my memoir has more general appeal than my short story collection did. Whereas (C)rock Stories dealt with universal issues ranging from love, hate, death and growing up, I have a feeling that the music references and themes throughout the book might have alienated some readers.

This book is more self-analytical and deals with emotional struggles and interpersonal battles more openly.

Honestly, I don't want this writing process to end. I enjoyed writing (C)rock Stories, but there was a lot of work -- 10 years' worth, off and on. I'm finding it much easier to write this book, even though I put myself in an often unflattering light. Once I'm done with the memoir, I'll move on to another short story collection based on memories of growing up in my hometown. One of those stories is complete, and will appear in a new anthology being curated by my good friend Jim Corrigan.

Jim published Movable Feasts, which also included one of my stories.

OK, that's enough.