Somebody’s Coming Home

Heart in HandDecember 14, 2012 was the longest day of my life. This isn’t a new revelation for me or for anyone who knows me, but it is one I wanted to revisit today. Especially today.

In the year before that pre-Christmas Friday 2 years ago, I had started to really dig the music of Nathan Bell. I had stumbled across a glowing review of his then-new acoustic album Black Crow Blue, but it was Crow’s self-released predecessors In Tune, On Time, Not Dead and Traitorland that grabbed me first.

Nathan’s work earns the sort of obsessive behavior I put in listening to those 3 albums. His songs are well crafted and True. I love his guitar playing, as well. His art fits very well in my hierarchy of things.

I loved (and still love) a good number of the songs I downloaded from Amazon. I listened to a lot of them a lot of the time. One of my favorites was “Somebody’s Coming Home” from Traitorland. It spoke to me immediately as a father. Listen to the song and that’s an obvious response.

As I sat a safe distance away from Newtown on 12/14, watching, listening, reading with sorrow as the bad news became worse and the worse news became unthinkable, “Somebody’s Coming Home” was forever transformed from one of my favorite songs to my song of thanksgiving.

The wait for that “big yellow school bus” to come around the bend with our own 6-year-old first grader on board was difficult to say the least. I promised myself two things: I would never forget, and I would be mindfully thankful. Thank you to Nathan for writing a song that helps me do both:

 Happy Thanksgiving. May everyone you love come home.

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Champions Overcome

One of the myriad ways in which I am a lucky man is based, at least originally, on proximity. I am fortunate enough to live in Central New York, where I have the pleasure of reading the writings of the great Sean Kirst.

Sean has been writing for our local morning newspaper for a couple of decades now. For much of that time he has been for me the window through which a lot of our problems and issues take on a human face. It may be easy to dismiss data and theory, it is much more difficult to dismiss people. Especially as Sean introduces them to us. He has been our local treasure. Now, of course, you can read his work from wherever you are at syracuse.com.

It was while reading this morning’s column that I found myself repeating a strongly held belief.

Champions overcome.

Of course, “champions” terminology is lifted directly from athletic endeavors, where there is very often a winner and a loser. Sports can be nuanced, but not nearly as frustratingly so as living a life. Back when I was a radio broadcaster, more than being a big sports fan, it is this reason that made me prefer doing sportscasts to news. In sports, the worst thing that happens most of the time is that somebody loses a game.

Sports champions are made by excelling over the long haul, but they rarely go without defeat. In the National Football League, for example, there has been a single championship team that has not lost a single game in a season. That was 42 years ago.

In that way, sports are very much like life. Some of us will have an easier time. Some of us will struggle. All of us will lose, and to ultimately succeed, all of us most overcome.

We overcome our past. We overcome our present. We overcome disabilities and weaknesses. We overcome enemies and friends. We overcome ourselves.

What defines champions, in sports and in life, is never giving up. We can rest. We can reflect. We can reassess. We must keep going.

We must overcome.

Trying

Laying a rose at RFK's grave, 1994I realized something this morning.

I was reflecting on my first visit to Robert F. Kennedy’s gravesite (posted in a Throwback Thursday pic I uploaded to Instagram earlier). It’s hardly the first time I have reflected on such things, but today I had a realization of something that has been true for a long time, but that I guess I just found the right words to describe.

Whatever empathy I have within me was formed long before I made that deep and meaningful connection to Robert Kennedy’s legacy as a young adult. I can trace my character traits, good and bad, back to certain people in my past (and present). All the good I may possess within me is thanks to someone else. It is those folks who instilled those things in me, who planted those seeds. It was then up to me to keep the seeds alive.

My empathy, though, was learned the hard way. The bullies of my youth, who mercilessly taunted and mocked me for something I could not change, taught me well what it means to be treated as less-than, with scorn and with ridicule. More to the point, they taught me how that feels.

I remember it in some way every single day. I just try to turn it upside down. I couldn’t bear to know I’d made someone feel even a fraction of that feeling, and I go out of my way to try to make sure that I don’t.

So, whatever empathy I may possess has been there a very long time, but it was RFK who put the fire beneath that empathy. Who’s memory keeps it at a slow boil. Bobby Kennedy, or more accurately the legacy he left behind, taught me not just to care, but what doing something about it looks like. In the same way my grandfather taught me what a gentle man looks like, or my mom taught me a work ethic, Bobby showed me how to speak up, and that we must. We can’t change anything if we don’t first say something. All around us there are people who need us to do that.

Talking will only get us so far, but I’ll let the man himself take it from here:

Of course, if we must act effectively we must deal with the world as it is. We must get things done. But if there was one thing that President Kennedy stood for that touched the most profound feeling of young people around the world, it was the belief that idealism, high aspirations, and deep convictions are not incompatible with the most practical and efficient of programs — that there is no basic inconsistency between ideals and realistic possibilities, no separation between the deepest desires of heart and of mind and the rational application of human effort to human problems. It is not realistic or hardheaded to solve problems and take action unguided by ultimate moral aims and values, although we all know some who claim that it is so. In my judgment, it is thoughtless folly. For it ignores the realities of human faith and of passion and of belief — forces ultimately more powerful than all of the calculations of our economists or of our generals. Of course to adhere to standards, to idealism, to vision in the face of immediate dangers takes great courage and takes self-confidence. But we also know that only those who dare to fail greatly, can ever achieve greatly.

My first visit to Arlington Cemetery was almost 20 years ago. I have been back to Bobby’s gravesite several times since. Each time I have a little chat with him, almost always consisting of only a couple of words.

“I’m trying.”

Make Thanksgiving A Tuesday In July

Heart To Heart TalkHere in the United States, today is the day we give Thanks. We count our blessings, gather our families, and take stock. Happy Thanksgiving, pass the taters.

My wife Jenna and I were chatting the other night about some of the people we know and some of the hardships they’ve faced, or are facing right now. It brought to mind a philosophy I have expressed for quite a few years.

You can eat right, not smoke, and drink in moderation if at all. You can exercise and reduce stress and do everything right. And you can still get sick. Really sick. Deathly sick.

Children from desolate and dangerous backgrounds have grown to be well-adjusted, kind, and productive adults. Children with every advantage have grown up to be murderers, rapists and thieves.

Life carries no guarantees. The very best we do with our behavior is improve our odds. As Mike Ness sings, “life’s a gamble and you might lose.

Too many of us go through our day-to-day lives feeling that we are owed something. That we’ve earned something. That we’re due. All the while missing the chance to appreciate more what we already have. What we’ve already done. Who we already love and who already loves us.

I send you the warmest of Thanksgiving wishes today.

May we all find Thanksgiving every day.

In Spite Of Myself

I will be the first to tell you, I’m not always the easiest guy in the world with whom to live. I have my idiosyncrasies and annoying habits like everyone else. I am prone to melancholia. I hate to be wrong. I eat all the cheese.

Another thing I’ve long known about myself makes me my own worst enemy sometimes.

I am just not very good at accepting help.

I am even worse at asking for it.

I do take pride in knowing I am not a slave to my weaknesses. I face them. I try to admit them. I try to minimize them if they can’t be eliminated.

It is with this idea in mind that I created my latest endeavor…against my own better judgment.

As you may have read in a prior blog, a year ago I had some of my home-recorded song demos professionally produced via the great Nashville Studio Live. As a music lover deep and true, this has been one of the greatest life experiences I’ve had.

Since then I have been actively releasing the songs (and others) in to the world in the hope something good becomes of them. More than anything else, I hope that someone who otherwise would not have heard them gets some enjoyment from them.

Now I am hoping to bring more pro demos to life.

I became aware of Kickstarter not that long ago. Being the geek that I am, I was immediately impressed with this use of technology and social media. Authors, filmmakers, musicians and the like have had success gathering critical mass for support of their artistic projects. That people of much more renown than I (Marshall Crenshaw, Griffin House) have had success there only adds to its legitimacy.

My own project has been launched in the hope it will virally spread to people far and wide. This is not the type of Kickstarter project that is going to bring in big pledges. It will absolutely require a grassroots sensibility and many, many folks giving $1 or $2. It will require those backers, as well as folks who can’t or don’t pledge, to help spread the word via Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, smoke signals, whatever it takes.

It will require help.

I’m asking for your help.

Born Anew: Professional Songwriter Demos, Vol. 2

Follow the link to check out the Kickstarter project

Thank you!