Category Archives: Music

It’s the Little Things: A Good Mail Month

keepoursingingvoicesgoldenIt seems, nowadays, that almost every piece of information or news that we get comes electronically. The mailbox outside your front door has been mostly relegated to bills, flyers and takeout menus. That reality, however, makes it all the more surprising and uplifting when you do get something in the mail that has some worth or value on a personal level.

This past month, the mailbox has been good to me, and I’d like to share a few stories, and thank some people who went out of their way.

I was excited to hear that a long-time friend and former Syracuse roommate, Andrew Fillipponi, is finally tying the knot. I’m more excited, as a fisherman, that he’s tying that knot in New Orleans… one of the fishiest places I’ve ever set foot in. Congratulations Pinto Bean, we’ve got a few crazy stories to rehash at the next meeting of the… well, Syracuse fans, we’ll say.

If you’ve read this blog or followed my Social Media presence, you know by now that I’m a huge fan of a musician named Brian Fallon. He writes some beautiful songs, and I’d recommend checking them out if you’re in the market for new music (who isn’t?) Fellow fans of the band have formed a group online called Andy Diamond’s Church Street Choir (taken from song lyrics) and actually sent postcards, and very cool ones I might add, to fans around the world. I got mine this past month and it was a touching reminder of how music can connect people who are otherwise worlds apart.

When friend and former Emerson classmate James Spica saw the oyster-inspired Christmas ornaments we were selling at Tomo’s Tackle here in Salem, he naturally wanted one, so I stuck an ornament in the mail for him. This past week, he returned the favor by sending an Orvis gift card, which is all the excuse I need to head to the nearest Orvis and dream of the spring fishing that’s to come.

What do you get when you combine music and fishing (besides the world’s best possible combination)? A fellow Fallon fan, Christina LaMarca, liked one of the fish prints that we’re selling out of Tomo’s Tackle, so I sent a small mahi print to the midwest for her mom. She returned the favor recently by sending a movie she’s insisting that I watch, The Princess Bride.

I’m a fairly quiet guy who lives in a small upstairs apartment in an out-of-the-way part of a North Shore town in Massachusetts. Three people, all from different walks of life, none of whom know one another, went out of their way to send something thoughtful or personal in the past month, and each mailbox inspection has been an uplifting reminder that it’s a beautiful world, full of incredible people.

If you need some inspiration in the mailbox, and want to help a great cause… donate $25 to the Melanoma Research Foundation and I’ll send you a one-of-a-kind Catch a Cure T-shirt, thanks to Rick Roth at Mirror Image printing, who donated the shirts to the project. We only have a few left, and this will sound like a sales pitch, but it’s true so… if you want one, act fast.

Thank you to all of you you took the time, it honestly did bring some cheer amidst the snow-pocalypse we’re currently experiencing north of Boston.

Hemingway on Springsteen’s Birthday

screen-shot-2016-09-23-at-9-08-49-pmAs part of a class assignment today, I visited the JFK Library in Boston, which if you’ve never been, is an incredible place to go. The view of the city, alone, from outside the museum is worth the trip.

Inside the museum, through December, they have a section dedicated in memory of Ernest Hemingway, an author whose impact on my life, and the lives of many, cannot be overstated.

As you wander through the exhibit you’ll see handwritten letters and notes from Hemingway, a man whose memory and legend have far surpassed anything one might attain in a mere, mortal existence.

I was lucky, earlier this month, to see a Springsteen concert in Gillette Stadium, and with four-plus hours of music, it was incredible. (I’ve gone to 13 Springsteen shows in the past with friends, girlfriends, and even one solo, but this time I took my Mom, who I blame wholeheartedly for turning me into a Bruce nut in the first place).

But between visiting the memories of Hemingway and seeing Springsteen on stage, I was reminded of something important, and perhaps even necessary for any of us pursuing a career in any artistic field.

If we are able, no matter the sum, to earn some amount of money doing this — this thing, or these things, that we love, that’s fantastic.

But if money were the motivation, we’d never have reason to write at all. Exactly no one, in the history of humanity, has ever said: “You know what I’ll do? I’ll get rich writing!”

But perhaps there’s another kind of wealth to be sought. If we can impact, inspire, or move someone with words or images… if we can affect a life in a positive way with something we create… maybe that’s a reward that has a greater value, or higher purpose.

As I wandered through the JFK museum today looking at handwritten letters from Hemingway, I began to wonder…

And in Gillette Stadium sharing more than 30 songs with my mom, a Springsteen fan from the get-go, I began to wonder…

What is this… “worth?” What is the value of what these men have created, shared and left behind for us?

I will never be so bold or confident to think that I, or any writer, might articulate that value in question.

The music, the words, the books and the albums and the concerts and the novels that we share, that we savor, that become part of our fabric as a human being, are of greater value than any material thing we might exchange here.

Both Hemingway and Springsteen, early in their careers, were faced with critics, doubt and rejection. I can only really, for a moment, begin to imagine their “worth,” as human beings when I consider what my life might be like without their influence.

And if we each take a moment to consider what our lives might be like without our favorite author, without our favorite band… we can almost grasp how important these things are to each of us, and to all of us as a whole.

And how important it is, then, for each of us to continue to strive in our own way to make what contribution we can.

In Memory of Tolkien

TolkienSome research revealed that on this day in 1973, at age 81, the world lost one of its greatest writers, J.R.R. Tolkien. What, one might ask, does this have to do with fishing or curing cancer?

Any number of fantasy-inspired stories have been written or told over the ages, but Lord of the Rings has survived and thrived better than almost any other. In fact, as of 2010, the Lord of the Rings has sold more than 150 million copies. The few books that have topped that on the all-time list are ones like… The Bible.

When Peter Jackson brought the epic adventure to the big screen, the final installment, The Return of the King, grossed more than 1.1 billion in worldwide box-office sales.

Tolkien lost his father at only 3 years old and while he spent his earliest years living in Africa, he’d later return to England, where he’s most known and loved.

I fell in love with Tolkien, and all things Lord of the Rings, in middle school. I even feigned illness and skipped a class one day to finish reading The Return of the King. 

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve thought about his work more, and why it has become such a universally endearing, seemingly timeless story in our culture.

Scholars have poured over his life and work, and anything I might write about the man and his stories has almost certainly been written before. But as a fan, a reader and a writer, I’ll do my best to remember him on the day the world lost him.

I think, more than any other single factor, it was the nature of his epic adventures that made them so universally endearing. Yes, he had an incredible imagination, he was a fantastic writer and his ability to weave poems and songs into his work is almost unparalleled.

But he did something that perhaps only a man who lived through his era could: He set before his heroes a task of seemingly insurmountable difficulty. Tolkien was a Second Lieutenant in 1915 in the First World War, so the type of evil he wrote into his stories isn’t something he had to create wholly from his imagination, he saw plenty of it on the battlefield.

During his time fighting he endured everything from trench warfare to lice-delivered disease, but unlike many of his friends, he survived to return home.

I have no doubt that the evil of war that he encountered served as a great inspiration in the works he’d go on to create.

What I loved and love most about the Lord of the Rings was the nature of the quest set before the heroes. There’s not a page in the books where you feel, for a second, that a hobbit has a chance at completing the task set before him. From the minute Frodo leaves the Shire, you can’t help but think that he’s undertaken a journey without a hint of hope. But a journey he must undertake nevertheless.

Even, for his part, Frodo never seems to see his task as a possible one. He understands, however, that it’s not a burden he can pass along or a responsibility he can neglect.

Tolkien’s ability to instill the nature of the mission into the reader, his talent at conveying the sheer hopelessness of the mission, is what makes the entire ordeal so inspiring in the first place. No task, mission or journey is more admirable than one taken on without a hint of hope, one born of obligation that necessitates sacrifice.

And perhaps there’s even some inspiration to be drawn from type of mission.

It is impossible, and unthinkable, that any one person might undertake or attempt any journey that would end with cancer’s eradication. The very notion that any of us might attempt this is laughable.

But for all of us affected by its evil, the journey is one, each in our own way, we must undertake. If Frodo passed along the ring, or gave it up, or threw it away, he’d be relieved of the burdensome task put before him. Tolkien, too, could have found a way to avoid the war. Neither did.

Both fictional and historical figures understood that whatever stand we can make against an evil that exists in our lifetimes, that threatens to affect our lives and the lives of loved ones, is one that we must make.

If we say that a growing evil on the horizon, whether it’s cancer, Sauron’s armies,  or a threatening enemy, is “not our problem,” then we allow all those around us to do the same with our example.

And evil, disease and death will exist as long as humanity does, but the only truly dangerous thing for any and all of us is complacency, is indifference.

On my best day I will never be the writer that Tolkien was on his worst, so I’ll leave you with his words rather than mine: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

Image: Huffington Post

A Life Story: Told in Tattoos

The guys at Miami Ink in Florida donated the cost of this tattoo to the Melanoma Research Foundation.

If you ask 10 different people about tattoos, you’ll likely get ten different answers, ranging from the inked aristocrat who believes that they’re art to the conservative person who believes that they’re a regrettable and passing fad. I’ll not weigh in on where I stand (although it might be obvious) but I’ll share the story of mine, save one, and I’d love to hear yours.

Catch a Cure: I’ll start with my most recent, a fishing hook through the melanoma ribbon on my left hand. Rick Roth is a guy who designed the T-shirts we’ve been selling to raise funds for the Melanoma Research Foundation, and the design he put over the back shoulder was so cool, I decided to have it tattooed on me permanently. I didn’t know when I made that decision that the guys at Miami Ink. would donate half the cost for the tattoo to the MRF, but it was a great addition to the story.

Zane Grey: When I first read the Zane Grey quote, “The lure of the sea is the same strange magic that makes men love what they fear,” I knew it articulated a sentiment about the sea that I’d had for almost my entire life, and better than I ever might.

The Hold Steady: The Hold Steady is a band that I love, and one of their songs contains the lyric: “Heaven is whenever, we can get together.” When I lost my Dad I thought a lot more about what heaven might be like, and came to the conclusion that if… all it was was seeing those who’d gone before us, that’d be as good as it might be.

Bruce: I’ve been a Springsteen fanatic for more than a decade now, and having his Telecaster with the sneakers hanging from the headstock (an image pulled from the back of an album) was a logical decision when it came to choosing the next tattoo.

Pearl Jam (1): I once drove for 14 hours from New Jersey to Wisconsin to see Pearl Jam play their 20th anniversary concert. Suffice it to say, I love Pearl Jam. Perhaps my favorite song is “Given to Fly” and so I had those lyrics, with a feather pen containing the ‘Given to’ and writing ‘Fly’ on my hand, tattooed on me when it became evident I’d be a Pearl Jam fan for life.

Pearl Jam (2): One thing that we learn as we get older, is that try though we might, we can’t control every aspect of our lives. That lesson came hard to me, but it finally did. Pearl Jam’s song ‘Release,’ is about Eddie Vedder losing his father, so the lyrics “I’ll ride this wave where it takes me” around the famous stickman from the Alive single seemed like a logical conclusion for my inner right arm.

Ireland: ‘Bach’ might not sound Irish, but my ancestors are almost all from the Emerald Isle. My mother came from a long line of Gillorens (after Killorglin County, Ireland) and my father’s mother’s side were McCabes. My first tattoo was the Irish words for ‘Hope,’ ‘Love,’ ‘Faith,’ and ‘Strength’ on my right shoulder, around a cross with a shamrock at the center. Muinin, Gra, Dochas and Neart… in case you were wondering.

Striped Bass: When I was an intern at Field & Stream, now-Fishing Editor Joe Cermele helped design my second tattoo, a striped bass over a nautical star. Suffice it to say I’ve loved stripers for the two decades that I’ve been chasing (and sometimes catching) them.

The Red Sox: I got the Boston ‘B’ when I moved to Boston. ‘Nough said, right?

Writing: One of my favorite bands is a group from New Jersey called the Gaslight Anthem. In a song called “Handwritten,” they sing: “From heart to limb to pen, every word handwritten.” I’ve loved to write for as long as I can remember, so having lyrics from a band that I love articulate a sentiment about writing seemed only logical.

Redfish: When I was a kid, we used to vacation in Florida and the house we’d rent was on a saltwater canal. Throwing a shrimp-tipped jig from dawn to dusk might get a hit from any number of species from ladyfish to jacks, but the one that kept me casting was redfish. I’ve been lucky to catch them in every state where they swim, but when I caught a 30-plus-pound red with Emerson classmate and friend James Spica, I knew it was time for a redfish tattoo. I have the redfish tail, with a bit of blue at the tip (a coloration they get from an oyster diet), and the signature black false eye.

Foo Fighters: Again, Dave Grohl has produced some of my favorite music in the past twenty years, but it took me about that long to understand the lyrics “Times like these you learn to live again.” During a period of my life when I was…. learning to live again, I had those lyrics, around the now famous double F, tattooed on my forearm.

One More: My father was a man of few words, but one thing he said to me that I’ll remember forever, whether it was regarding push-ups, hours of work, or attempts at something you cared about… was: “Do as many as you can, and then one more.” When he was diagnosed with melanoma in 2010, I had those words tattooed on my arm. He kept fighting, one more day, week and month, long after doctors predicted the disease would beat him. And I’ll keep fighting, in his memory, to raise one more dollar to beat the disease that took his life, once and for all.

It’s easy to look and someone and pass judgement based on appearance, and we’re all guilty of this at times, but if that’s going to be the case, I’d at least like to share the story and the inspiration underlying the ink. So there it is.

Any fishing, cancer-battling, or musically inspired tattoos out there? I’d love to hear about ’em.

Road Tunes: The Soundtrack Behind Catch a Cure

Fishing with Clarence Clemons in 2010 was a dream come true.

“Without music, life would be a mistake.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

This quote is one that, depending on which stage of life you’re in, might make sense to a greater or lesser degree. If you’re a young person inundated with the various forms of streaming music, free music, YouTube music and every other kind of music, music might just be a constant part of life you are able to take for granted.

If you’re a little bit older, and remember getting a cassette for your birthday, that you could put in the tape deck of your first car, maybe music for you, like me, is the soundtrack to escape, freedom and discovery that paves the potentially rocky path from adolescence into adulthood.

I said recently in a blog that part of the reason behind Catch a Cure was my love for the open road, but that’s only part of the story. Were that ride down the East Coast and out to the Pacific, or that first Catch a Cure, or this most recent one, a quiet one… it might not have been undertaken.

On the road, with the right radio station on, the little nagging thoughts in your head, the worries, concerns, the self-doubt, fear or anxiety…those bumps seem a little smoother as you roll over them, the shocks in your soul respond a little more lovingly, forgivingly.

We all have our own music, and the fact that it is ours, that we discovered it, however we did, is part of what makes it so endearing to us. But the true beauty of music is that, no matter how personal it is to us, we get to share it with a community of people we might not know otherwise. If you are the only fan of a given musician or band, well… I think you’re mistaken if you believe that you are.

With that in mind, in hopes of connecting with more of you music-lovers out there, here are the top three bands that kept the bumps in the road on both journeys less jolting, because the musical shock absorbers were there to help me take them in stride.

Bruce Springsteen and The E-Street Band: This guy, and his musical catalogue, almost defies any attempt I’d take at describing what he means to his fans. I fell in love with Bruce at the age of 18, and 13 concerts, one tattoo, and one trip fishing with saxophone player Clarence Clemons later… suffice it to say it’s only gotten worse. I am one of those Bruce nerds who could debate the different lyrical versions of Thunder Road with you well into the wee hours of the morning, and if you’re of a similar mind, I hope we fish together some day. But for those of you who aren’t, I’ll quit rambling romantic about the Boss. Suffice it to say he is, and always will be, number one in my book, my first radio pre-set, and a concert I’ll always try to make it to if it’s at all possible.

Pearl Jam: I believe in a lot of ways these guys inherited the Rock throne from Bruce, or at least co-occupy it at the moment. They’ve stood up in defense of important social issues, they’ve written passionately about the political climate in America, and year after year, they’ve produced important, incredible and highly enjoyable music. Like Bruce, Thank God, they have their own Sirius radio station. I once drove 14 hours to Alpine Valley, Wisconsin, and slept in a parking lot for two nights, to attend Pearl Jam 20, the celebration of the band’s 20th anniversary.

The Gaslight Anthem/The Horrible Crowes: I’m grouping these bands together, because they’re headed by the same frontman, Brian Fallon of Red Bank, New Jersey. If Bruce is the old guard in my musical collection, and Eddie Vedder’s the now-accomplished Rock Star, I think Brian Fallon of the Gaslight Anthem is the budding “future of rock and roll.” (Bruce nuts will get that reference…) When I lived in Red Bank, I’d run into these guys once in a while and they could not have been nicer. I’ve seen them in concert a handful of times now, and Fallon is equal parts rebel and poet, and I’m hoping his bands, his solo projects and his musical efforts are the beginning of a career as long as Bruce’s.