Monthly Archives: July 2010

Oil Spill Protest – I’m Sticking With Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger is 91 years old and he’s still at it. This time he has a new song to sing; he’s protesting the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, you know, the one that’s turning that shoreline into an environmental nightmare of crude oil and muck. The song is both a social commentary on life in 2010, a call for all of us to get involved and a prayer of sorts, for a better future.

Amazing isn’t. Even after all these years, Pete Seeger has avoided the anger and cynicism that turns many bitter and silent. Instead, he seems as strong as ever and as hopeful as ever and if that isn’t an inspiration to you then I don’t know what ever could be.

The first concert I ever attended was in Boston in 1976, I believe, and it featured Pete on banjo, Jackson Browne on guitar and David Lindley on violin. It was a fundraiser for a group called the Clamshell Alliance which had been fighting and rallying for many years to stop the construction of two nuclear power plants in the coastal town of Seabrook, New Hampshire. By this time it was pretty clear that the plants would be built, but Pete and Jackson and David were still singing their protest songs; still holding out hope that the nukes would be stopped. They knew that it was up to them and that if they didn’t continue to fight the power then most likely nobody would.

I’m proud to say that I was at that show. And whenever I am in New Hampshire and come close enough to see the one nuclear power plant that still operates, I am proud that I was a very small part of the protest that may not have stopped construction but perhaps forced the builders to make the plant just a tiny bit safer that they might have.

The lives of people like Pete Seeger should stand as an inspiration to all of us to get involved, to as Pete would say, “think globally and act locally.” So today I ask that you listen to the song, to do what you can to protest it in the hopes that it doesn’t happen again.

In the hope that someday, maybe, “we’ll all pull through.”

Addendum: I was chatting via email with a great friend of mine and I was telling him about a really fantastic article that was published in the New Yorker that was written about Pete. Here’s the link. If you have a spare 15 minutes please read it. I know you’ll enjoy it: http://www.peteseeger.net/new_yorker041706.htm

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Filed under Music, Profiles

Deconstructing Toto (the band, not the dog)

Today I thought I’d treat you to a real laugh, as short story writer, novelist and comedic talent Steve Almond takes apart, line by line, the song “Africa” by one of the truly bad bands of our time, Toto.

(Almond recently published a book called on the premise of whether or not Rock and Roll really has the ability to change your life. I’ve read a bit of it and it is very, very funny.)

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Filed under Humor, Music

My Childhood Hero – #4, Bobby Orr

When I was just a boy, Hockey Fever swept Boston and Boston fell in love with Bobby Orr. My life, and the lives of hundreds of thousands of other hockey fans, would never be the same.

This “Fever” of which I speak happened in the late 1960s and coincided with the arrival in Boston of a young man named Bobby Orr who would begin a seven-year, injury-shortened love affair between fans and one extremely talented athlete.

If you lived in the Boston area in the late 1960s, Bobby Orr was akin to the second coming. The blond skating and scoring sensation grew up in Parry Sound, Ontario (about 2 hours north of Toronto and, what seems on the map like a million miles away from Boston.) It is said that Boston Bruins scouts were on a trip to Canada to check out a couple of other players when they happened to spot Orr and decided that day that he would someday wear a Boston Bruins jersey. After courting the Orr family for about a year, the Bruins organization did just that. They convinced 14-year-old Bobby and his parents (especially a reluctant, protective mother) to sign on the dotted line in the kitchen of an ugly old home next to the railroad tracks, not far from the frozen rivers and ponds on which Orr had been skating and playing “shinny” hockey for the previous 10 years.

If the Bruins front office could have had their way, they probably would have had Orr playing for the franchise team in Boston the next night, but in the NHL you had to be 18 to play in the big leagues, so Orr played for several years on the minor league Oshawa Generals, a mere child competing against players much older than he was.

Finally, at the ripe old age of 18, with the eyes of an entire city on him (the hype was incredible), Bobby Orr arrived in Boston. And not long after that, with the acquisition of several other great players including a scoring machine named Phil Esposito, the Boston Bruins were suddenly a contender for the Stanley Cup and Bobby Orr became my full-time obsession.

My bedroom walls were covered with Bobby Orr posters and articles I had read over and over about the young superstar. Orr seemed to have it all. He had winning good looks, a gentlemanly, shy manner, and, most impressively, he could skate circles around every other player in the league. My uncle was a Boston Police lieutenant and he would often be assigned to details at Boston Garden which meant that he would allow my father, also a huge hockey fan, and I to walk past the press gates. We didn’t have seats and often had to stand behind the last row of the first balcony inside the old Boston Garden, and occasionally old eagle eye, yours truly, would spot a pair of open seats and drag my dad to go sit in them. And sometimes we didn’t get kicked out.

But whether I was watching the Bruins play in person or on television, my eyes were transfixed on Orr. He was so fast and had so many different moves, faking and deking the opposition out of position to line up a slapshot from the point. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was watching a man who literally changed the way the game was played. Orr turned hockey from a defensive game into an offensive one and it was great to watch. Orr was so good his first year in the league that he won the NHL Rookie of the Year award. But he also hurt his knee that first year, suffering an injury that would limit both his playing time and shorten his career.

But nobody was thinking about Orr’s knee injury on May 10, 1970. It was a warm, spring day in Boston and about 50 of my relatives gathered at my Aunt Babe’s house (yes, Babe was really her nickname) where we witnessed what everyone agrees is the most incredible and famous goal in hockey history. The Bruins were up 3 games to none against the St. Louis Blues in the finals of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Boston hadn’t won a Stanley Cup championship since 1941, some 29 years earlier.

When the game went into overtime, the tension grew. Thinking back to that day, it seemed like we all knew what was about to happen. Just 40 seconds into overtime, Boston Bruin player Derek Sanderson, who was standing just behind the opposing net, passed the puck to a streaking Bobby Orr. Orr shot the puck between Blues goalie Glenn Hall’s pads to win the game and the championship. A millisecond after the shot, as Orr skated away with his arms and hockey stick raised to mark the win, he was upended by an opposing player. Bobby Orr went into flight and for a second seemed truly superhuman. The picture of Orr flying through the air is planted in my mind as firmly as anything else from my childhood. Needless to say, the entire living room at my Aunt Babe’s erupted in celebration, as did the city of Boston for the next three or four days. It was truly something else. A young boy’s dream had come true.

A few years later my father told me that he was taking me to Toronto during summer vacation. There we would see the Hockey Hall of Fame, do some other sightseeing and possibly make the trip in our rental car to Parry Sound, Ontario, to see the town where Bobby Orr came from.

On our way to Parry Sound we stopped at Orr’s hockey camp. Orr was there and I was thrilled when he autographed a magazine and posed for a photo. Meanwhile, my always gregarious father introduced himself to Bobby Orr’s father, Doug, and the two men began talking. My dad mentioned that we were going to be visiting Parry Sound, and Doug Orr invited us to stop by the house. Let me repeat that. Bobby Orr’s father invited us to stop by the house. When I found out, I couldn’t believe it. Things became even more surreal after we got to the Orr household, were warmly greeted (Bobby wasn’t there) and given a tour of the basement where the family kept a trophy case, which must have been at least 25 feet long, filled with trophies and pucks and other mementos. Before we left, Doug Orr gave us a couple of Bobby Orr coffee mugs, “gifts from the Orrs.” Over the years, one was broken (knocked off the wall during puck shooting practice in my cellar), but I still have the other one. My most prized possession!

Years went by, and I remained a huge fan of Bobby Orr. I even started to play the game. When Orr was forced to retire because of his injured knee, my heart was broken, and when they paid tribute to him and retired his number at the old Garden, I wept along with thousands of other Bostonians.

Bobby Orr was, in my opinion, the greatest hockey player who ever played the game. The images of him skating the length of the ice and scoring goals are forever etched in my memory.

He was my hero.

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Filed under My Stories, Sports

Why I Write

I write because I must.

I write because there is something that calls to me, that forces me to try to make sense of this world. A world that is both sublime and ridiculous. A world that I’ll never truly understand, but which I feel is I might understand if I would just write a little more. So I press on.

The urge has been with me since I was a young child. At that early age, I suppose I write for attention; to be heard and, perhaps even, understood. Writing was something that I could do in isolation that would always bring great comfort, whether I was satisfied with what I had written or, in most cases, not.

As I got older I discovered that there might be a chance that I could be an effective writer and possibly, imagine the thought, make a living doing it. It fulfilled and sustained me then as it does today. And though I’ve been writing for a living off and on for most of the last 3 decades, I believe the muse or voice inside me would call out and force me to put one word in front of the last whether I was paid or not. These days I mostly do it for love.

For me writing is a conversation with an imaginary reader, friend, or even lover. It is a chance to express my most personal personal thoughts without fear of embarrassment or interruption. Writing is often an opportunity to create a dialogue with one person or a thousand. In that it is a strange beast, offering words so personal to such a vague, unknown audience.

I write because it calls to me, makes me happy and completes me. Without writing I think I would be a much more lonely man in this increasingly isolated world. It connects me to others in a way that nothing else can. It completes a circle that starts with the thoughts that are in my head and ends in the same place.

I write because it is the thing that makes me feel most human. It is a joy for me, and it’s thrilling on the rare occasion when I write something that I believe is of superior quality; that represents the true me.
Writing defines me and allows me to help others understand who I am.

Finally, I write because I believe, deep in my soul, that it is the reason I am here. It feels so often like my true calling and purpose. And even though I am so seldom satisfied with the end result, the sensation that I get when I am in the process of writing is like non-other.

There is a story of the writer Henry Miller who would sometimes sit at his typewriter when no words would come to him and say in French, “I am listening.” Like Miller, I too am always listening to that muse within and without.

I am it’s servant. And I will always be listening.

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Filed under My Stories

The Art Of Losing

I happened to hear this poem on the radio about 20 years ago and it instantly became one of my favorites.
I hope you enjoy it too.

One Art
by Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster,

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three beloved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

— Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) a disaster.

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Filed under Poetry

Cormac McCarthy – Our Greatest Living Writer

Many may disagree, but I believe Cormac McCarthy is not only a genius, but also our greatest living writer. Period. (Which, by the way, is about the only punctuation mark that McCarthy seems comfortable with.)

Cormac McCarthy’s prose reads like nothing you’ve ever seen before. It’s been called both Biblical and Shakespearean. His vocabulary is so extensive and obscure that you often need to read his novels with a dictionary nearby. His sentences can be two words long or go on for pages. And his descriptions of the world he’s writing about, whether it’s the Tex-Mex border in “The Border Trilogy” or the post-apocalyptic, ashen wasteland of “The Road,” are always spot-on acurate and deliciously detailed.

Here’s a description of an Indian attack, from what many consider to be his greatest work, “Blood Meridian; Or The Evening Redness In The West”:

“A legion of horribles, hundreds in numbers, half naked and clad in costumes attic and biblical or wardrobed out of a fevered dream with the skins of animals and silk finery and pieces of uniform still tracked with blood of prior owners, coats of slain dragoons, froggged and braided calvary jackets, one in a stovepipe hat and one with an umbrella and one in white stockings and a bloodstained weddingveil and some in headgear or cranefeathers or rawhide helmets that bore the horns of bull or buffalo and one in the armor of a spanish conquistedor, the breastplate and pauldrons deeply dented with old blows of mace or sabre done in another country by men whose bones were dust and many with their braids spliced up with the hair of other beasts until they trailed upon the ground…”

And on and on for another full page so that you are overwhelmed both viscerally and psychologically. He paints on a broad canvas with colors so intense that they are like a dream, or in this case, a nightmare. His style has been likened to Faulkner, along with Flannery O’Connor and even Leo Tolstoy. In America, and probably internationally as well, Cormac McCarthy is head and shoulders above other writers of every age.

He’s also unique in so many other ways, tending to hang around with scientists and engineers rather than other writers and disliking most of all the preasure to talk about his craft, his gift and his passion. Strangely, his following has been for most of his life that of a “cult writer,” although now that he’s won a couple of big prizes, including a Pulitzer for “The Road,” his audience has become considerably more mainstream. But when asked by the ubiquitous Oprah, in his only television interview of his life, if he cares whether or not people read his books, he shyly and uncomfortably admitted, “not really.”

Charles McCarthy was born almost exactly 77 years ago on July 22, 1933 in Providence, Rhode Island. When he was four his father got a job for the Tennessee Valley Authority and so the family moved to the South. Sometime in his early years, Charles changed his name to Cormac (the Gaelic equivalent of “son of Charles.”) He was raised Roman Catholic and attended the University of Tennessee before joining the Air Force in 1953. He was stationed in Alaska where he had his own radio show. Sometime soon after he seems to have lost the Blarney or gift of gab and began the life of what many would call a recluse.

McCarthy went back to school, but never fully matriculated, instead concentrating on writing. He wrote a couple of not very good short stories and married his first wife, while living in Tennessee and working as an auto mechanic. He started work on his first novel which would become the tepidly received, “The Orchard Keeper,” and followed that debut with a two of what are now called “southern Gothic” works, “Outer Dark” and “Child of God” and then the much longer, “Suttree,” which many believe to be semi-autobiographical. He and his wife lived a hard core, hand-to-mouth existence, with McCarthy turning down all manner and form of deals that would have brought in some badly needed cash.

Finally, just in time when he barely had enough money to eat, in 1981 the still obscure author received a MacArthur Grant (also known as a “genius grant”) and used this money to live on while he researched and wrote the magnificent “Blood Meridian,” a historical novel closely-based on true events. “Blood Meridian” is about a kid who through a series of unfortunate events finds himself in the company of the infamous Glanton Gang, a group of outlaws and scalpers who were contracted by various interests to clear Indians from the Texas-Mexico border in the late 1840’s. It’s a book that is as violent and grisly as they come, perhaps made even more horrifying by the fact that most of it is true. Many critics, including Harold Bloom, as well as surveys of other writers, place “Blood Meridian” at the top of the list of novels written during the 20th Century, some going so far to compare it to Melville’s “Moby Dick.”

After the publication of “Blood Meridian,” McCarthy moved both from Random House to Knopf and from the Southeastern part of the country to the West. Living and occasionally riding horseback on the old trails into Mexico for “research,” McCarthy began work on what would become “The Border Trilogy,” with the first installment, “All The Pretty Horses” published in in 1992. McCarthy finally began to garner positive reviews and the novel sold almost 200 thousand copies in it’s first six months. It eventually won McCarthy a National Book Award, along with quite a bit of hard to come by popular acclaim. Next would come the second and third installments, “The Crossing” and “Cities of the Plain” (which had actually been written first as a possible film screenplay.)

Since then, McCarthy has remarried, and churned out novels more often and just a good, if not better, first with “No Country For Old Men,” (which was made into a film by the Coen Brothers and won the Academy Award for Best Picture), and finally with his last book, “The Road” a post-apocalyptic love story between a father and son, a second straight novel to be made into a film.

Since the release of “The Road,” McCarthy has been fairly quiet. Rumors have it that he has three or four novels already completed and ready for publication and that his next novel will be titled, “The Passenger,” a longer work and somewhat fictional memoir of McCarthy’s time spent in New Orleans.

But what convinces me of Cormac McCarthy’s greatness is how satisfying it is to go back to his novels and re-read them. After being introduced to “All The Pretty Horses” by a friend in Boston, it’s become my absolute favorite work of fiction and I can probably recite whole paragraphs. In his golden years, McCarthy’s writing has become more sparse, almost Hemingwayesque:

“With the first gray light he rose and left the boy sleeping and walked out the road and squatted and studied the country to the south. Barren, soundless, godless. He thought the month was October but he wasn’t sure. He hadn’t kept a calendar for years. They were moving south. There’d be no surviving another winter here.”

It’s been said by some devotee of Tolstoy’s, that he’d like to be reincarnated as that author’s pen. Along the same lines, I suppose it wouldn’t be bad to be reincarnated as Cormac McCarthy’s typewriter.

It sure has been put to good use.

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Filed under Books

Proper Opposum Pedicure

Just when you don’t think it can get any stranger comes this. (Thanks to my friend Tonya for the link).

One question. Would this qualify as animal cruelty?

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Filed under Humor