Thursday, November 27, 2014

Gathering Days

By Patrick J. Walsh

a sameness of days
lays on the weary afflicted
like a tarp over leaves
piled in the yard
waiting to be collected

while idle we wonder
at the comfort of days
whose same sameness
lays like a soft blanket
in a cradle quiet

the same sun shines
as the day begins
and sameness gathers
close around us
as we set out to pray

© Patrick J. Walsh

photo © Patrick J. Walsh


Friday, August 1, 2014


The importance of POW / MIA resolution

By Patrick J. Walsh

Peekskill, New York, July 31, 2014 -- Today, in the quiet warmth of summer in this picaresque city alongside the Hudson River, there is in the stir of memories and the milestones of history a moment to remember the journey of a native son.

Peekskill Bay - historic photo by William Henry Jackson, Detroit Publishing Co. (Library of Congress) the quiet warmth of summer, some measure of peace...

On this date a quarter century ago, two nations that were once bitter enemies during a long and violent conflict oversaw the culmination of that journey, when the remains of Lieutenant Colonel Robert Harry Irwin, United States Air Force, were formally returned to the United States by the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

A 1956 graduate of Peekskill High School, Robert Irwin enlisted in the U.S. Air Force after college. He served his country throughout the entire course of the Vietnam War, until his death.

He was 33 years old when his plane was shot down on February 17, 1972, about 15 miles west of the city of Vinh, in North Vietnam. By that point in his long and distinguished career, he had risen to the rank of Major.

Flying with him that day was Captain Edwin A. Hawley Jr. Hawley was badly injured in the crash, but survived the shoot down and a subsequent year in captivity as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese. He returned to the United States in 1973.

Two days after Major Irwin's plane was shot down, a North Vietnamese radio broadcast described the incident and claimed that both occupants of the plane had been captured. Captain Hawley was referred to by name during the broadcast.

Major Irwin was initially listed as Missing in Action. In the period following his loss, he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

In 1978, five years after the end of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam conflict, Lieutenant Colonel Irwin was declared deceased. His status in official records was listed as Killed in Action, Body Not Recovered.

The last official American wartime presence in Vietnam came to a close with the fall of Saigon in April, 1975. In the decade that followed, it was a difficult task for U.S. officials to get information about American service personnel who had disappeared during the war.

For many Americans, uncertainty about the fate of those who had been considered Missing in Action was an intolerable consequence of the end of the Vietnam conflict. During the administration of President Ronald Reagan, support grew for negotiations that might lead to more information about those who had been lost.

In February, 1986 -- 14 years after his plane was shot down -- U.S. officials were able to make a formal request for information about the fate of Lieutenant Colonel Irwin, during meetings with Vietnamese officials in Hanoi. Nearly two years later, in December, 1987, after a period of further negotiations, a report detailing the facts of the case was forwarded to the Vietnamese for their response.

On July 31, 1989, 17 years after he was last seen alive, the earthly remains of Lieutenant Colonel Robert Irwin were returned to U.S. soil. Befitting his long service to his country and his heroic sacrifice, his remains were interred at Arlington National Cemetery later that year.

And in the grateful memories of those who knew him, and with gratitude for the blessings of Providence on the part of those who know only the stark details of his service, there is some measure of peace, in the quiet warmth of summer in this city by the Hudson, where his journey began.

© Patrick J. Walsh

Source: Library of Congress Vietnam-Era Prisoner-of-War / Missing-in-Action Database (

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

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

For A Good Time, Call Scoot Horton

by Patrick J. Walsh

As folksingers go, Scoot Horton is decidedly old school. His songs are smart and tight, and his straightforward stage presence puts listeners at ease even in the busiest venue.

Scoot Horton at The Peekskill Coffee House.
It's easy to have fun when Scoot is on stage — even if you don't normally enjoy singer-songwriters, or folk music, or stories with quirky characters and unexpected twists. All you need is a keen ear and a close listen, and you'll find yourself smiling and tapping along.

With the basic tools of the trade — an acoustic guitar and simple, unadorned vocals — and a batch of wonderful new songs, Horton is gathering fans from audiences liberally salted with his fellow artists as well as 'civilian' listeners, in venues local to his home area of Westchester county, New York.

In a recent opening slot for Fred Gillen Jr. at the Peekskill Coffee House, Scoot showed off his quirky take on the singer-songwriter genre with a short set that had to feel as good on the stage as it did throughout the house.

Simply put, you have to know you're doing something right when you've got the cook keeping time with a spatula and the barista singing along with your paean to Chicken Pot Pie.

And in truth, it is just damn difficult not to like someone who quietly begins his set with "Hi. I'm Scoot. Thanks for coming out tonight."

As amiable as he is on stage, though, there is a special magic to listening to his songs before or after seeing him play live.

The chance to follow along with every word as each song unfolds is sort of like watching a sculpture emerge from a block of granite, as Scoot the storyteller emerges from the hooky rhythms of his catchy tunes.

Again and again his writing displays a wonderful knack for simultaneously coining a phrase and turning it on its head — as, for example, in the song Life and Hope, where he slyly confesses both aspiration and limitation:

"I've got hope / that I hope stays strong /
I don't sing / I just talk really long"

Even deadly serious material like Horton's Billy McGill — a first-person set piece about love gone murderously wrong — becomes engrossing when meshed with his spare musical approach and straightforward earnestness, where a more elaborate rendering would likely push the song into maudlin territory.

He closed his Peekskill set with Broke Man Blues, another take on the singer-songwriter life that, like Life and Hope, inverts the whiny cliches that often characterize compositions in this genre.

Both songs feature a protagonist whose impish, understated exuberance leaves the impression that he is happy in spite of his circumstances — and that you should be, too.

And that's a feeling that is, thankfully, difficult to resist when encountering Scoot Horton, live or via his recordings.

• Find Scoot Horton at Bandcamp:

© Patrick J. Walsh

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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

When Geese Dream

By Patrick J. Walsh

Warmth, in the sun; warm and water all-encompassing. The slightest of movements in the air, a slight stirring, and the smallest waft of scent, redolent of the most vivid moments of the past.

The day is quiet. The water spreads out, still, warm, flat from breast to shore, even and calm. She swims nearby in his dreams, and the days of the little ones remain before him as though painted on the air.

He dreams of her now, only dreams, in the long time of sunshine in the slowness of the warm afternoon.

At the rear of the line, the soft squish of the mud beneath; plodding behind the little ones, comical in their blonde tufts of cover. She at the front, always, showing the way for them. And for him.

The brightness of the afternoon, the lull of the sweet aroma in the heavenly scent; quiet, still. And no need to move. The water clear, and still.

As in the seasons the warm brings the cold and the cold the warm, the quiet of the afternoon returns him briefly to the busy time of the crèche, in that one season when she and he grouped with the others to care for all their little ones together.

It had been a time of great noise. There was frequent excitement, with the little ones sometimes quarreling over bits of things, and occasionally the others quarreling, too. But it had been a good time overall.

It had been a good time, and it was good in his dreams. The time seemed to have moved quickly past, but now, in his dreams, it seemed as though it may have passed more slowly.

In the warmth and the brightness, now, he saw his own little ones back then as distinct from the others; they moved along together, in a small bunch that only she and he could immediately see as separate from the others.

They were the third group that she and he had had together. It had been early in their time together. There were many little ones, over all the time they had been together. That time was the only time they had joined with the others.

With all the little ones they had had together, she had always been there, leading. Always leading.

Again in the soft warmth of the afternoon, with the sweet moisture in the air, she was there, as he dreamed. He dreamed in the warmth of the sunshine, with the water all-encompassing, and together they saw all the little ones, one group after another, and it was good.

She was there, and it was good.

© Patrick J. Walsh

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