Saturday, December 29, 2018

A Win For Every Stitch is the #1 New Release on Amazon

If I may be a little self-indulgent, I was on Amazon yesterday checking out the sales reports for my new book A Win For Every Stitch when I saw this. The book is ranked as the #1 New Release in the category of Baseball: Essays & Writings! Both the paperback and the Kindle versions have been selling very well and so far the response I've gotten from readers has been 100% positive. I've also been signing and shipping out loads of signed paperbacks, so many that I had to order another box from the printers right after Christmas. If you're interested in a signed copy you can still order them directly from me HERE on the site (please allow ~2 weeks turnaround time). Paperback ($19.99) and Kindle ($4.99) versions are available on Amazon and if you buy the paperback, you can download the full Kindle version for only $0.99 more! Stuffed with opinions, stats, and detailed recaps of every game the Red Sox played in 2018, A Win For Every Stitch is 350 pages of love for the Sox and baseball in a book that makes a great memento of that historic season. I sincerely hope everyone who reads it enjoys it and if you'd be so kind as to leave me an honest review on Amazon, I would really appreciate it. They really do help. Thanks!

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Does Music Even Mean Anything Any More?

I was recently driving in the car and had my two oldest daughters with me. They're thirteen and twelve years old and as is typical for when they're in the car with either me or my wife, they wanted to listen to the radio. When they were younger, they liked whatever my wife and I listened to whether it was the Beatles, the Who, Rush, Blur, or (most) anything else we put on. Over the last couple of years, though, they've really gotten into the current spate of pop music on the radio. Even though it seems to be the same ten vacuous, computer-generated, autotuned "songs" played in an endless loop across every Top 40 radio station sung by people who all sound the same (especially the female acts...they ALL sound identical), they can't get enough. Conversely, while my youngest daughter likes a mix of current pop music and whatever I'm listening to, my son is really into the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, and the Who (his favorites).

Along these same lines, this past summer drove from where we now live in the Midwest back to New England for vacation to visit family. Over the two-day drive, we surfed the radio so we could listen to music along the way. After getting tired of hearing the same songs over and over, my wife and I started stopping on stations with songs we wanted to listen to. Every time we landed on a song we knew and loved from either our era of the 1980s and 90s, or a song from our parents' 50s and 60s eras, our girls didn't want much to do with it. It wasn't that they actively disliked the songs, but they had no interest in listening to them or learning who wrote them, who sang them, etc. That spurred a conversation between my wife and I about how our kids' generation is growing up very differently from ours. When we were growing up in the 80s and 90s, we were not only aware of the pop culture going on around us, but were immersed in that of our parents' (and even our grandparents') generation. My brother and I probably watched as many reruns of sitcoms from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s as we did the current stuff that was on. Shows like the Dick Van Dyke Show, Andy Griffith, Gilligan's Island, The Brady Bunch, the Munsters, the Addams Family, Happy Days, and too many others to list were among those we watched and enjoyed. There was comedy like the Three Stooges (only the Curly episodes, of course), Monty Python's Flying Circus, and Saturday Night Live (a show that was great in the 1970s/early 1980s and again in the 1990s). And the music? Forget about it. I was raised on the music of the 1960s and 70s thanks to my parents and I've written about most of my favorite bands from that era on this site. That classic rock still makes up the bulk of my listening. For as great as the alternative and indie rock coming out of the US and UK was in the 80s and 90s (which I still love), there is something about 60s and 70s rock that just does it for me. That was the music I grew up listening to and it's the music I studied when I was teaching myself how to play guitar, bass, drums, and write songs.

What I see with my own kids and their friends of that age is that there is not a lot of curiosity beyond the prevailing music (and by extension, the pop culture) of the immediate present. It's all about which songs are hot at this moment and these also happen to be the ones they hear incessantly on the loop every station has them on. Songs that were hot one month are eventually disliked or worse (for the "artists"), utterly forgotten. Whereas my generation has a lot of songs where we'll say "remember that one? I love that song!" my kids will say something to the effect of "eh, that was popular a little while ago but now I don't like it." I guess what I'm trying to get at is that there doesn't seem to be much staying power to the majority of pop music these days.  It's not surprising when you think about it: these songs are written by teams of (usually) a dozen or more people adhering to the "hit formula" or the month, "performed" by a computer, and almost entirely devoid of human musicianship. Lyrically they're equally as vapid: gone are the days of musings on romance, love, heartbreak, or the state of the country and/or world. Instead, the airwaves are filled with autotuned voices extolling the virtues of getting wasted, partying, being pissed off at an ex, how much money said performer has, how sexy said performer is, and other utterly meaningless pronouncements. Now, to be fair, there were songs with shallow subjects in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, but they weren't the only thing being broadcast far and wide and in actuality they were either here and gone as fleeting hits or widely mocked and ridiculed for the intellectually bereft garbage it was. The exception has become the rule and I can't say I enjoy much, if any of it.

Before this turns into a "Rock is Dead" redux post, I don't think it's merely coincidence that this coincided with the demise of rock music as the dominant genre around the year 2000 while hip hop and computer-generated pop ascended. Music used to be about musicians with something to say writing and performing music from the heart and mind about things that mattered to them. The best of it had a way of communicating with the public and tried to resonate within the shared human experience as it connected on a deeper level. Nowadays it's mostly performers chosen by record company executives for their looks and marketability "singing" "songs" (I put both words in quotes on purpose) about nothing at all. As I said in the Rock is Dead post a few years ago, though, music used to mean something to connected us with fellow fans and the artists themselves and touched an emotional spot inside of us beyond catchy melodies and thoughtful lyrics. Now it's just another disposable commodity, like a wad of gum to chew up, spit up, and throw away once the flavor is gone. Doubly so now that most music can be had for free on the internet (case in point: I still buy CDs and vinyl while my kids and their friends stream everything online).

This post wasn't meant to disparage my kids or other young people and their musical preferences; rather it was inspired by that moment in the car and how it made me think to highlight the differences between my generation and that of my children. That evolution is something that completely changed the meaning and function of music whereas my generation had (predominantly) the same connection to music that young people in the 50s, 60s, and 70s had. Bob Dylan was right: the times they are indeed a-changin'.

Friday, December 21, 2018

My Favorite Rock and Roll Christmas Songs

While I love Christmas (minus the crass commercialization), I normally can't stand Christmas music. This is mainly because of how ubiquitous and annoying it is on radio stations and over shop speakers from the moment Thanksgiving ends until December 25th. Most Christmas pop music is also cheesy (I swear if I hear "Last Christmas" or "All I Want For Christmas is You" one more time...); add in the fact that most radio stations play the same 10-12 songs on an endless loop all month and you might be starting to see why I can't stand it. Even my beloved rock music isn't immune as most rock Christmas songs are either overly schmaltzy (see: Bruce Springsteen's version of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town") or downright bad. That being said, with Christmas only a few days away I thought I'd share some of my favorite rock and roll Christmas songs. These are songs I never get tired of hearing even during the rest of the year. In no particular order:

John Lennon - Happy Xmas (War is Over)

Does it suffer from being a bit too of its time (the height of the Vietnam War)? Yes. Does it suffer from ripping off the melody to the old English folk song "Skewball"? Yes. Does the children's choir make it a bit cheesy? Yes. Does it suffer from including Yoko Ono? Hell yes. Still, it's a pretty song whose message is mostly still as relevant in 2018 as it was in 1971. Plus John's voice, as always, is simply fantastic.

Paul McCartney - Wonderful Christmastime

John's former songwriting partner in the Beatles got into the act in 1979 with his slightly more saccharine take on a Christmas song. Paul was working on his McCartney II solo album and threw this song together in a couple of days. It's since become a Christmas standard alongside Lennon's song. While it doesn't have the gravitas of John's song, Paul's song is fun and shows how he can effortlessly come up with a catchy melody as easily as you or I breathe. It's been said he makes approximately $400,000 a year in radio play royalties from the song...not bad for something dashed off in between album sessions. 

The Waitresses - Christmas Wrapping

I love 1980s music, and it's not just because I grew up during that decade and have a fierce nostalgia for it. Pop music in the 1980s was fun as hell and the memories it evokes of my childhood, the good times I had, and the more innocent world it was are very powerful. I've always had a soft spot for The Waitresses one-hit-wonder-hit "I Know What Boys Like," but the other song they're known for is their 1981 funk/New Wave song "Christmas Wrapping." (Does that make them a two-hit wonder?). Vocalist Patty Donahue's laconic singing style is perfect for the wry and Ray Davies-esque lyrics about a woman who is too tired to have fun during Christmas and decides to spend it alone before the fates intervene. And that bass line...

Speaking of Ray Davies...

The Kinks - Father Christmas

My choice for the greatest rock and roll Christmas song of all time is this Kinks classic. In typical Kinks fashion, Ray Davies wrote a killer rock song with humorous lyrics that have a more powerful message below the surface. If you don't know the words (or can't figure them all out), I urge you to look them up. They're funny, poignant, and contain his classic social commentary without bludgeoning the listener over the head. All of that and it's just a great song.

That's my list...what are some of your favorite rock or pop Christmas songs?

Monday, December 10, 2018

Why I Love Sports

Recently my wife and I were given some free tickets to an Indiana Pacers game. We're all Boston Celtics fans, but we also really love basketball and thought it would be fun to take our kids to the game. Unlike their parents, our kids had never been to an NBA game before and free tickets were the perfect way to give them their first experience. The Pacers played the Utah Jazz and while we didn't really care which team won, we had fun although the constant barrage on the senses (mainly noise) of modern NBA games drove me absolutely nuts (that's a topic for another post). During the game my son asked me who I wanted to win. I told him I didn't care either way, to which one of my daughters said "that's because you just love sports." That got the wheels turning in my head and made me think about why I love sports so much. Ever since I was a kid they've been a huge part of my life;  I would say that along with music, sports is the thing I'm the most passionate about. There are several reasons for this:

The Physical Aspect - Let's get the low-hanging fruit out of the way first: in order to be good at sports, you need to be in good physical shape. It doesn't mean you need to have 3% body fat or run faster than Usain Bolt in the 40 yard dash, but you've got to be physically fit. This also varies by sports because a baseball player doesn't need to have the endurance of someone who plays basketball or hockey, while a soccer player doesn't need to have the upper body strength of a football player. One of my favorite things about playing sports is that it allows me to be physical, to run around and throw and jump and swing and kick and shoot. Playing something is a fun way to stay in shape and do something active with other adults as well as with my kids. It's also a chance when watching sports to appreciate the superior physical condition professional athletes are in after spending their entire lives training and working toward achieving their career goals. The parallels between that and what we can achieve in our everyday lives through that dedication, whether it's physical fitness, academic achievement, career advancement, or honing talents like music, art or writing, leads to an appreciation as well as a valuable lesson we can all learn from.

The Emotional Aspect - Being a sports fan, whether you're rooting on your kid's youth teams or your favorite professional teams, is first and foremost FUN. Getting emotionally invested and cheering for your teams, at whichever level, is one of the most enjoyable things about being a sports fan. Now, there's definitely a balance and some reality checking that goes on with this; if sports fandom takes over your life or subsumes your overall identity then it's a problem, but as long as it's kept in perspective and all in fun, there's nothing wrong with it at all. I've been a fan who lives and dies with the Red Sox, Celtics, and Patriots my entire life, but I don't let that fandom consume me or take over my life. At the end of the day sports are supposed to be a fun diversion that shouldn't be taken too seriously. Still, some of the best (and worst) memories of my life are tied to rooting for my teams and for pretty much all of those moments I can remember exactly where I was and what it was like as though replaying a scene from a movie. The same is true for the moments when I played sports as well as now when I watch and coach my kids.

The Mental Aspect - Sports are typically thought of in purely physical terms because regardless of which sport one watches or plays, there is some significant physical mastery of a skill (or multiple skills) that is required in order to be successful. However, an equally important but often overlooked aspect is the mental approach. For many people, myself included, the strategy aspect to sports is as fun and interesting, if not more so, than the physical. Regardless of which sport it is you're playing or watching, there is a mental game within the game that is as important as the physical game. Take my beloved baseball for instance: so much of the sport is strategic. Whether it's deciding which pitches to throw (and in which sequence) to each batter, how to position the fielders, stealing bases, hit-and-runs, squeeze plays, the strategy is an integral part of the game. Hell, in football strategy pretty much is the game as every single formation and play on offense and defense is devised and chosen to counter what the coach thinks the other team will do. Basketball, hockey, and soccer are more free flowing but no less beholden to strategy with the various plays and deceptions they employ. In fact, when you really think about it deception is the name of the game in just about every team sport. If that's not playing the mental game, I don't know what is.

The Excellence Aspect - Whether it's sports, music, writing, art, film, science, business, or anything else, I enjoy and admire excellence. Just as I am blown away by a musician who writes a fantastic song or plays something interesting or unique on their instrument, so too am I wowed by athletes playing their sport. I'm not exclusively talking about professional sports, either. At any level, including as young as my son's 9U travel baseball team all the way through junior high, high school, college, and the professional ranks there is nothing better than watching people who are great at what they do. At the professional level in particular, these are men and women who have dedicated their lives to their craft and possess skills most of us could never even dream of. As a means of emphasizing just how far superior these people are than the rest of us, I'll share a personal anecdote from my younger days. When I was in college and graduate school I had a group of friends who I played basketball with. We'd play a few nights every week for 2-3 hours at a time, usually finding enough guys at the gym to run 5-on-5 full court games. One time this fellow we'd never seen before asked if he could join us...he was wearing nice-looking Celtics gear and told us he had made the Celtics summer league team the year before but didn't make the cut to get a training camp invite. He joined our group and proceeded to wipe the court with every one of us. This guy ran faster, jumped higher, dribbled and passed and shot better than us, and made everyone else look silly (he was also nice and quite humble from what I remember). It dawned on me as I walked home that night that "this guy was fantastic and he didn't make the NBA!" Think about that: he was by far the best player I've ever shared a court with and he wasn't even good enough to get an invite to an NBA training camp. If he wasn't good enough, that should tell you how good the players who are in the NBA (or any other professional sports league) are. That excellence is one of the most admirable and fun things for me when I watch sports and I suspect it's a major reason most people follow as well.

The Teamwork Aspect - Obviously this only applies to team sports, but one of the things that fascinates and inspires me about sports whether I'm playing, coaching, or watching is seeing how individuals perform within the framework of a team. When a team truly plays together and for each other, the results are usually exhilarating as they bring out the best in each other. In team sports, I dare say that every winning team is a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. I see this in the youth sports I coach all the way up to my favorite pro teams. The lessons learned in parlaying individual excellence into the team, playing for your teammates, hard work and sacrifice are valuable at any age and translate into all walks of life, not just athletics. Whether it was the teams I played on in my youth, my kids' teams that I coach, or watching the Red Sox win the World Series (as but one example), there is something special about seeing stellar individual performances working together to elevate the play of the team. It's as fun to watch as it is to be a part of.

There are numerous aspects to why I and countless other people around the world enjoy sports. Whether it's watching, playing, or debating them, regardless of which sport is your favorite I'm sure you'll agree that the reason we love continue to follow and enjoy them is as multifaceted and varied as the number of sports themselves. What are some of the reasons you enjoy sports? Please feel free to comment below so we can discuss them!