A week ago last Sunday I got a call from my mother in Florida that went something like this:
"I'm absolutely sick from all this awful marathon coverage. You're a musician. You need to write a song for those people and what they're going through."
My initial reaction was to blow her off. Amidst a dozen or so other seemingly valid reasons for ignoring her request, the thought of being perceived as a "faker" looking to glom onto this unfortunate event didn't sit too well with me, either. So, I appeased her with a boilerplate, "Sure, mom. Okay, I'll try," then hung up and went back to watching Bridezillas.
But, it was no use. The seed had been planted and it kept stirring around in my head. Of course, the negative thoughts came, too. Anything for my lazy ass to try and find an excuse not to do it.
The excuses ranged from;
"I can't just sit down and write a song. Songwriting takes time."
"Even if I did, it will probably suck anyway, as I'm lousy at communicating my feelings."
"I haven't written anything in ages. I'm way too rusty."
And last but not least, the most logical:
"That's all I need. To become one of the masses of the soon-to-be-growing, cheesy, over-the-top bleeding hearts on the Internet."
Nonetheless, whilst thinking of "me, me, me" as it usually does, the voice in my head suddenly pulled a deliberate, screeching U-turn:
"You went to Emerson, so you have many friends in the Boston area."
"Both your grandfather and uncle were cops. Imagine what it was/is like for the police, fire, and emergency workers -- what they must've gone through these past few days -- not to mention the victims."
"If you can reach just a few of them and help them get through whatever it is they're going through, perhaps it would be worth it. Besides, what else are you going to do? Sit on your ass all day, instead?"
After both sides made their closing arguments, I decided I would at least try. I happened to be listening to Richard Branson's audiobook Screw it, Let's Do It at the time and thus, with Sir Richard's voice (or at least his narrator's voice) egging me on, I stood up, went to my guitar case, took out my guitar... and, out-it-came.
Literally, the song just flowed right out of me. I stood in the middle of my living room in complete shock. I've been writing songs for the better part of twenty years and I can't remember ever having a melody and lyrics just "appear," as if I was playing a song already written. As I sang the lyrics to myself for the first time while watching CNN, I gave myself chills -- another thing that doesn't happen too often. Something's going on here and it's obviously beyond my control.
My first call was to my friend Jaime, a 9/11 first responder and heck of a piano player. I asked him if he was interested in collaborating on a song for the people of Boston. Without hesitation, Jaime immediately agreed and so we sat at his piano and began fine tuning the piece. From there, we laid down an awful sounding demo -- as good as he is a pianist, that's how bad an engineer Jaime is -- which I sent to my folks. Since my mom was the inspiration, they deserved to hear whatever this thing was we were working on. They loved it, in spite of the quality, but thought it was too slow. "Speed it up, Junior" my dad quipped. At which point, he sent the demo back to me sped up exponentially to where my voice resembled the shrilling end of Rock Lobster. But I got the point. I increased the tempo a bit and played it again. I was energized. Thanks, dad.
In just a few short hours, I went from sitting on the couch scratchin' my butt to a man on a mission; the song was telling me it was time to get serious. It wasn't satisfied with a simple iPhone recording and a shout-out on YouTube. Like the Audrey ll in Little Shop of Horrors, this thing wanted to be fed. So, feed it we did.
That evening Jaime and I called on our friend and producer, Dan McLoughlin, owner of Garden Street Music, an awesome music school/recording studio in Hoboken. But, as this was obviously a time sensitive issue, the question was whether or not Dan would have time available the very next morning to engineer and record us? He did. Apparently, there was a last minute cancellation and the day was open. Fate? who knows?
Less than 24 hours later, Jaime, Dan and I sat in the control room and listened back to what we had done. It sounded amazing. The fact that we wrote, recorded, arranged and mixed "Boston Strong," top to bottom, in a day was pretty incredible to each of us sitting there. My friend Jocelyn dropped by and 30 seconds in, her jaw dropped and her eyes began to fill with water. Her reaction confirmed we nailed it. We were quite proud of ourselves. What's even more incredible is, as I listen to it now, a week later, I don't want to change a thing.
Coming home that night, the first thing I did was set the song to pictures. The photos of the tragedy of the bombings, the resilience of the rescuers, and the eventual dramatic capture of the terrorist brothers in Watertown made an emotional piece of music that much more gripping. I posted the link to my Facebook page and went to sleep.
The next morning there were dozens of comments on my page telling me what a great job we did. My friends began autonomously sharing the link on their pages. My folks flipped out. My girlfriend flipped out. They sent the link to all their friends and they flipped out. I know people sometimes say "Good job!" when they're trying to be nice or neutral, but this was genuine gratitude pouring fourth from people everywhere.
I sent the link to the Watertown Police and received the amazing response below:
I just want to tell you how much I love your song. I had tears streaming down my face and goosebumps and shivers when I first heard it. For me personally it touches my heart and soul. I arrived at the scene shortly after 1:40 a.m. on Friday and was one of the first officers at the boat scene on Franklin st. At 5:30 p.m. on Friday I talked to my three boys on the phone wishing them a good night and told each one of them that I love them. Who knew a half hour later id have bullets going by my face. No words can truly describe what I have seen and what I have experienced. I am truly blessed.
Thank you again,
Officer Kathleen Donohue, Watertown P.D.
If that heartfelt message had been the only one I received, it would have been worth it. But, then came emails from other police officers and firefighters and even the governor, himself...
Great song. Thanks so much for your message and good thoughts. We are shocked and wounded, but resilient. Knowing that you and so many others around the world are standing with us helps.
What was happening here? A song I came this-close to not writing was suddenly touching so many people in so many ways. In all my years of writing song after song after song, never has a piece of music done what this one did, and is doing. I still can't believe it as I type this.
It became obvious to Jaime and I fairly quickly that we could use this song as a potential way to raise money for the people whose lives were changed forever on that fateful day. "Why don't we post the song on iTunes and donate the proceeds to Onefund.org?" I said.
This way, if there are folks out there who can't afford a $50 or $100 donation, but who like the song, they can download it and actually take part in contributing to help someone in their recovery. Not to mention, 20 million people vote for their favorite "Idol" or "Nashville Star," every week, so, even if just one percent of them spend the same dollar on this song, we'd raise over $200k dollars for the victim's and their families.
Suddenly, I realized, in just 48 hours I'd gone from a guy who was afraid to be seen as a hanger-on to a motivated force that believed, if people hear this song, the sky's the limit. Even if we only raised ten dollars it would still be a worthwhile endeavor.
With the goal now being to use the song as a way to help financially, as well as emotionally, I realized we'd better get this track mastered so it sounds as good as it possibly can. My band had used Ted Jensen, arguably the finest mastering engineer in the music business, in the past to master a few of our records, but it had been years since we spoke, and I was in no position to afford him. Nonetheless, I took a shot and emailed his assistant the track and told her what the goal was. Minutes later, she emailed me back saying Ted had agreed to master the song, no charge. Amazing gesture number 1.
As I was about to upload our Little Song That Could to iTunes myself, I got a call from my attorney who said that he'd spoken with Dave Zierler, the president of Ingrooves -- one of the largest distribution companies in the U.S. -- and that they would be willing to step in and pick the song up for nationwide distribution. Amazing gesture number 2.
From there, Tim Westergren, CEO of Pandora, emails and says they're going to add "Boston Strong" as soon as it hits iTunes. Amazing gesture number three.
Just minutes later, I get an email from Tara Darrow, public affairs director for Nordstrom's, informing me she heard Boston Strong, loves it, and is going to be adding it to their in-store music rotation. "A.G." number 4.
As all this was going on, my parents and everyone else were nagging at me constantly, saying; "You HAVE to get this song out there. People have to hear this."
Rather than go door to door, we thought the best way in this day and age to let a lot of people know about something, is with a press release. Neither Jaime, nor I were crazy about the idea of writing our own press release, not to mention spending hundreds of dollars more on top of what we'd already spent, but, the voices kept telling us to get it out there. So we did. And, for all intents and purposes, it flopped.
Out of about 5,000 potential press outlets, only the Sacramento Bee, Broadway World, and the Wall Street Journal Online picked up the story (as an added bonus, the Journal even managed to include non-working hyperlinks).
Why, did no one pick up on this song that was getting such amazing feedback? Simple. Because, by now, several days had passed and dozens of the bandwagoners had come out with their versions of "Boston Strong," as well. Whereas, just two days prior, had you Googled Boston Strong song you would've found one other besides ours. Now, there were more than 20. Add to that some artists were already playing their versions on CNN during the day, and you can see the window was closing fast.
But, that was and is okay with us. The song has done way more than I ever thought it would already and I'm just blown away from the responses from the people it has reached through friends and family sharing the link.
However, the dud of a press release was not entirely a dud.
Amazing gesture number 5, and the one that prompted me to write the story behind this song, is, from basically out of nowhere, I get a call from the Mets' publicist telling me the team heard about what we were doing, that they've been looking for people in the New York area who've been making an effort to help the people in Boston, and they have selected us to be the recipients of the Citibank Outstanding Teammates in the Community award. I was/am still in shock. Me? An outstanding member of the community? I just wrote a song. But, apparently, to a lot of people, it's more than that.
Thus, come this Tuesday night, the Mets and Citibank will be presenting Jaime and me with the award before the game and they will play the song on the jumbotron for the entire stadium. We are both blown away by such an honor.
I guess, in the end, if this is the end or the middle, or whatever, it's okay to be one of the 20 or so artists out there with a song for the people of Boston. Sure, there will always be a few 'freeloaders' -- like those guys who tried to trademark the "Boston Strong" phrase -- but, ultimately, we're artists. And, that's how we communicate. And, while not every song will be a winner, each one hopefully comes from the same place ours did, and that's all that matters.
To watch the video click here.
To purchase "Boston Strong" on iTunes click here.