Sunday, July 6, 2014

Baseball and Writing and Life

by Patrick J. Walsh

Here's something I'm particularly grateful for today: my video Pitching Diamonds: Cy Young's First No-Hitter ( has just passed the 5,000 views milestone.

I am so appreciative for everyone who has checked it out over the course of the past two and a half years, and I am grateful for all the views, comments and feedback I've received on all my video efforts.

I first posted the Cy video in the very early hours of April 6, 2012 -- the overnight following Opening Day of the 2012 season for my New York Mets. That day, Mets ace Johan Santana returned from shoulder surgery to pitch a masterful five innings while helping to secure a 1-0 win over the Braves.

Later that season, Johan would pitch the first no-hitter in Mets history. I watched both of those games on TV, with my Mom.

Looking back on them now, and reflecting on all that has happened since — to my team, and in my life — I cannot help but smile when I think of how lucky I am to have had so many great experiences as a baseball fan, and as a writer.

The Cy video marks my first step beyond the Five Minutes in Space series — the first time I've posted a video intended for a broader audience. I had originally launched my YouTube channel in January, 2011 as a way to communicate with like-minded fans of space exploration — the folks who might know me as the author of Echoes Among the Stars or Spaceflight.

When I started researching my baseball project about a year later, it was awesome to have the ability to transform one small slice of the research into an 'instant' short-form documentary that I could immediately share online. It allowed me to reach out to other baseball fans, and to give everyone who might be interested in my writing a chance to see a little bit of my work in progress.

Given the length of time it often takes to put together a big project, and the fact that I am pretty much always working on a whole raft of different writing projects at the same time (like pretty much every other writer I know), it's an especially good thing to be able to quickly, concisely, and continuously share a sample of my work with anyone who'd like to know, you know, "so what are you working on now?"

There were 10 years between the publication of my first book (Echoes, in 2000) and my second (Spaceflight, 2010), and that's a really long time to have to try to describe your current project, again and again, in a manner that's succinct and vivid enough to capture someone's interest. Especially when the project is constantly evolving, or as you shift your attention from one project to another.

Having a video sample helps me to honor the question, and to provide a meaningful answer for those who are kind enough, or interested enough, to ask about my work. I am always grateful for both the interest and the support, as writing can often be a fairly solitary pursuit, and it's important to stay plugged into those who care the most about your work.

Which brings me, not coincidentally, back to the game of baseball.

In baseball, as in writing, as in life itself, there is so much joy to be found in being part of something larger than yourself: a team, a city, a sport, a life, a history…

I like to think that my own experiences of that feeling of joy, however personal or humble, have given me some small idea of what it's like for those who are at the heart of the greatest moments in the history of the game.

Just as time passes and those moments are transformed into memories, all the little joys we experience first-hand remain as near as our connections to the times we shared, and to the people who shared them with us along the way.

And as we remember and record and pass along the stories of those moments, we also pass along a little bit of each of us. Clapping, cheering, breathing right along with our favorite team or favorite players, we all take our seats in the stands as the game rolls on, helping to shape some small part of a day, or a season, or a lifetime.

That's baseball, and history, and life. And I'm grateful for the chance to share it with all of you.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Doing the Math: A Review of Keeping the Dream Alive

By Patrick J. Walsh

Bob Dylan once said writing songs is mathematical, intimating that at its highest level, songwriting is mostly a process of working out how things go together (or come apart) to create a finished work that makes sense. And in some ways, figuring out why you like the music you like is a pretty similar process.

When you look back at the music you've liked for a long period of time, you'll probably find some little surprises among the big hits and well-known artists. Looking ahead is always a bit trickier, though, when you try to project how you'll feel about a current favorite somewhere down the road.

In many cases, the common denominator will be pretty simple: the music that sticks around is the music that sounds best. And in the case of Keeping the Dream Alive, it's the distinctive nature of the sound that gives this collection of bluesy, driving roots rock its unique character.

The opener, "Lotto Dust," is a classic blues parable about the power and peril of dreams gone wrong. The narrative draws poignancy from the counterpoint of Walsh's strong, quiet tenor and the warm chorus of backup vocals — a good example of how the mix supports the theme and coloring of the songs.

As the signature song of the group, the driving uptempo instrumental "Keeping the Dream Alive" is a good summation of the artist's influences and interests. While carefully controlled, in keeping with the overall production, it also gives free rein to elements of the classic and progressive rock that permeate a great deal of his musical heritage, and which are also evident in his live performances (where he's been known to roll out deep-catalog covers such as Jethro Tull's "One Brown Mouse," for example).

"Hurtin' Up My Heart" features a bright multi-tracked rhythm vamp and the sort of heavy lead guitar that distinguishes classic funk and soul. The song's simple blues structure anchors a retro tone that's accentuated by its "old soul" lyrics, and the buoyancy of the rhythm creates an end result that is actually dance-friendly, in an old school reggae sort of way.

For me personally, as familiar as I am with the artist and his musical interests, the most revelatory song of this collection is the instrumental "Aloft." Straying from the core blues of the other compositions in the group, this foray into a sort of short form progressive rock is a definitive statement of sophistication and maturity by someone with a deep understanding and appreciation of the influences that have shaped modern popular music, and which have also informed his own musical journey.

"Every Day She's Gone" is another straight blues, and also serves as a good example of how the artist's careful attention to detail, in lyric and melody, helps to fully express the intended sentiments of the song. There is a stony finality to its theme of accepting loss while still remaining connected to the emotions that make memories meaningful in the first place, and as such, it serves as a fitting, dignified valedictory to the collection.

In each particular expression of its overall themes, and particularly in the careful crafting of the distinctive sound of the recordings as a whole, this long-awaited collection is every bit the compendium of musical styles and technical skill that fans have come to expect, and to cherish, from this excellent singer songwriter. It is music well worth having, and quick to join your short list of favorite recordings.

Friday, June 20, 2014

A Dream Comes 'Round at Last

by Patrick J. Walsh

Fragments from a life-long friendship with the
artist behind the new CD "Keeping the Dream Alive"

• • •

I remember talking with my cousin Kelly when he was in the midst of seeking out expert advice to help him achieve the sound he wanted for what would become his first CD, Keeping the Dream Alive.

I had heard some of the songs he was talking about, and they sounded great. Exasperated, I gave him my own advice:

"Just get it done and put it out there."

That was about two years ago.

• • •

Lately, as I've been working toward the reboot of my portfolio website, I've had occasion to revisit the large amount of music journalism that I've written over the years.

As I read through many of my old clips, I realized that I am afflicted with the reporter's occupational hazard of being able to recall the circumstances of virtually every interview and performance that I've covered, as well as the particulars of how I went about writing each article.

At the heart of all those details, though, it is my personal memories of the people and places and music that remain most vivid.

Interestingly, at the same time that I've been experiencing this musical and emotional rewind, I have been listening to some new music — the first CD released by my cousin Kelly, who I've known for virtually my entire life.

• • •

Separated in age by just a handful of months, each the youngest in a family of brothers, each having fallen in love with rock and pop at just about the same time — that moment when psychedelia first began to show up on "classic rock" playlists, and the first mention of the term "punk" as a music genre began to show up in the media — my cousin Kelly and I got along famously from the first moment we met, and have ever since.

Although our family situations were different when we were growing up, we were never at a lack of words or welcome whenever we saw each other.

Kelly always seemed a lot cooler than me, but in a way that never made me feel bad. He dressed cooler; his hair was longer; and he was easy to talk to, even for me, as quiet as I often was as a child.

Kelly (right) always seemed a lot cooler than me...
• • •

When we were little, our dads took us on a camping trip: Kelly and his two older brothers, and me and my older brother. Back then I was overwhelmed by being in the woods. Everyone seemed to know more about camping and fishing and cooking out than I did.

I remember being glad to find that our campsite had a wooden platform where we were to put up our tent — not for fear of what otherwise might find its way into our sleeping quarters, but simply because it reminded me of the platform my Dad had made in our backyard, where we had already spent so many happy times.

Even then, when I had yet so little of it, I was borne back into the past as surely as Fitzgerald's Gatsby.

For his part, Kelly seemed relaxed and at ease, enjoying the quiet of the woods and the company of his Dad and brothers and his beloved uncle and cousins. Gradually, I grew less anxious.

Ultimately, it was one of those experiences that form up in your heart and mind years later like a series of Monet landscapes, providing a window into the best parts of your connections with people you love, as those relationships evolve over time.

Years later, Kelly would take his own young family camping at the very same spot.

• • •

When we were a bit older, Kelly and I were at a party — one of those gatherings that would, over time, attain a sort of mythical status among my friends and family. It was the kind of get-together that resulted in people looking through the bushes in the yard the next day, trying to locate a misplaced family member who hadn't quite yet found his way home.

I have a friend who to this day delights in the memory of a discussion he had with Kelly at that party. He remembers how the two of them started up a flight of stairs while Kelly was deep in the midst of a point-by-point exegesis of the then-new Jethro Tull album, as a means of exploring the merits of progressive rock as a whole.

On a step about halfway up, Kelly suddenly stumbled and fell to one knee; then, hardly spilling his beer, he steadied himself, regained his balance, and continued upward — still calmly discussing Tull, and Ian Anderson's place in the pantheon of great rock songwriters.

By current standards, it was a crazy time. But as I look back, I realize that it was probably that period in the lives of our parents' generation when the last possible dreams of youth were still swaying just at the edge of the horizon; tantalizing, maddeningly close, but still just far enough away to cause even the wildest romantic to wonder if maybe, just maybe, those dreams would never slow down enough to be touched, or to be made real.

And for our generation, still so young, it was a time when all dreams still seemed on the table, just waiting to be put into motion.

• • •

Over the years, Kelly and I have shared similar career paths, a deep gratitude for (and devotion to) our family and friends, and a deeply held creative impulse that we each recognized in the other early on.

I became a writer, and I've been blessed to have been able to make my writing a key part of my life and career, as well as an outlet for my creativity. At the same time, I have also always loved music — whether I'm just listening, or composing, or writing about someone else's work.

Kelly has been a successful professional for a very long time, regularly expressing his creativity through the technical expertise and business sense that he puts to good daily use for the benefit of others. But he has also always loved music — and in his case, his long-held passion for writing and performing music has now resulted in the release of Keeping the Dream Alive.

• • •

Recently, as we chatted over dinner, getting caught up on family and friends and careers and yes, reminiscing, Kelly and I got talking about some of the technical aspects of music recording and production.

He tends to chide himself for having taken so long to finalize the recordings that have now become his first CD. In truth, however, it is the careful attention to detail that he devoted to their production that provides the finished work with much of its beauty and power.

He approached the task of recording and producing Keeping the Dream Alive with the same quiet, good-humored expertise that has long made him a successful professional: reaching out to family and friends for support and advice, seeking the help of experts where necessary, enlisting other creative artists where helpful.

And then — now — he has taken the final step in the long creative process, moving from dreamer to doer, taking ownership of his own music and sharing it with the world.

From dreamer to doer, taking ownership of his own music...
Both the process and the result represent a great deal of what is important to him, in music and in life. And in a very real way, the finished product honors all those moments through the years when any of us felt that little creative spark inside, calling for a pen and paper, a guitar, a microphone, to document the bits and pieces that form the first ragged outline of a dream.

He has now set that outline in stone, and set those dreams to music.

• • •

In addition to being justifiably proud — or at least, well satisfied — as he enjoys the initial reaction to Keeping the Dream Alive, I'm sure he will also be relieved to not have to deal with the impatience of those who have long encouraged him to "just get it done and put it out there."

At least until he starts work on the next one.

© Patrick J. Walsh

 Keeping the Dream Alive, 06.01.14