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.