Sunday, April 28, 2013

10 Songs That Define Me

I’m approaching 15,000 songs in my iTunes music collection.

I’m not trying to show off. I have a genuine love of music that compels me to collect as many different songs and albums in every conceivable genre as humanly possible.

After putting myself in a contemplative mood by consuming a rather full glass of Oban single malt scotch one night last week, I tried to choose the 10 songs in my entire library that defined who I am.

Let’s just say that process didn’t take an evening. It was the worst kind of torture, the self-inflicted kind. My heart ached for the songs I had to eliminate from the list in order to get to the musical heart of my being.

Of course it was worth it, not only because it gave me an excuse to listen to some righteous, inspiring, rocking, soul affirming, get-up-off-your-ass-and-fucking-loosen-up-your-damn-hips tunes, but also because I got to reminisce about why these songs became so essential to my life.
”String of Pearls” and “In the Mood”

Let’s travel back to the 1940s for a moment.

The world is at war and one newly wedded bride from Baldwin, N.Y.,  is waiting for her husband to come back to her in New York City. She distracts herself by hotel bar hoping around the city, enjoying a couple of stiff manhattans, or dining with her father-in-law who people assumed was her sugar daddy. “String of Pearls” and “In the Mood” by the Glenn Miller Orchestra provides the soundtrack to many of those nights.

Lucky for me, Grandpa Ford would come back from World War II—a few pounds heavier thanks to devouring any C-ration other soldiers refused to eat—and be married to my grandmother for 54 years.

My grandmother loved when my high school jazz band performed these two tunes because it reminded her of a time when she was young, in love, and in New York City awaiting for her soul mate to return all at the same time. I couldn’t in good conscience choose just one. Here’s hoping she joins me in spirit for a drink in Manhattan sometime soon.

“Lost in the Fifties”

When I was a teenager, I compiled my favorite songs on cassette tapes. I’ll pause briefly for the youngun’s to Google what a cassette tape is.

Welcome back. Ronnie Milsap is one of the first country artists I remember following religiously as a kid. “Lost in the Fifties” is the first song on Volume 1 of Daniel Ford’s Favorite Songs Anthology (there were 20 volumes in total).

Listening to Milsap today reminds me of running errands with my mother on the weekends, having family dance parties in the living room, and not knowing enough about the world to care about anything else but having fun.

I don’t give my mother enough credit for sparking my love of music. The country singers she turned me on to are still an important part of my collection and I wouldn’t be the same guy without exclusively listening to country music the first 13 years of my life.

Including this song is my way of saying “I love you” and “thank you.”

“Everybody Knows This is Nowhere”

Odds are good that when I get into my father’s car there will be a Neil Young song playing.

Young’s discography has been on nearly every car ride I’ve taken with him, from the time he used to pick me up from elementary school to our reunions at the Waterbury train station. I had to choose something from the legendary “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere” album because it marked my father’s musical birth and is one of the records he remembers wearing out as a teenager.

The album’s title track has comforted me during my darker moments in New York City. It served as a reminder that when I did indeed escape nowhere that someone who loved me would be waiting to pick me up with never-ending guitar solos and cowgirls in the sand.

“Something in the Way She Moves”

When Neil Young isn’t playing in my father’s car, James Taylor probably is.

My father says that his generation would listen to Taylor to “come down” from listening to acts like Jimmy Hendrix. The man hasn’t deviated from his laid-back, melodic style and the world is a much richer place because of it.

Pretty sure my father and I wore out the cassette tape of Taylor’s first greatest hits album. This song in particular is one of our favorites because it sums up perfectly what being in love should be like for a man.

There’s not a bad version of this tune. And I think someone I know will appreciate the “Go Red Sox” shout out at the beginning of this clip.


Attending Bob Dylan concerts is what my brothers and I do to bond.

We’ve seen him at a variety of venues across New England and New York in varying states of inebriation. There was the show in Augusta, Maine, where my younger brother bought a slim-fitting women’s concert T-shirt; the one at UMASS where we had front row seats and completely ignored the gaggle of attractive, blond college girls in the second row; and the show in Boston we almost didn’t make because of a handful of tall Guinness pints at the Bell in Hand Tavern.

Since Dylan is hell-bent on trotting out the same playlist every time we see him live together—if I hear “Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” one more time Bob, I’m charging the stage—my brothers and I will probably never get to hear this song live. This clip will have to do.

“I’ve Got the World on a String”

Listening to Frank Sinatra in high school confirmed in my mind that I was going to be a writer and live in New York City. “I’ve Got the World on a String” is how I thought I’d feel every day waking up in my apartment before I stepped foot in the city I was born to reside in.

Ten years here and it’s exactly how I feel.


I want to believe this Stevie Wonder song is what my writing process sounds like: energetic, inspired, loose, free flowing, and adventurous.

For those that know me, my process doesn’t sound this beautiful.

I also can’t resist dancing to this song whenever it comes on. I was once at a wedding and everyone had just sat down to enjoy dessert. The DJ decided that it was a good time to play “Superstition.” I alone bolted for the dance floor.

Was I helped by several gin and tonics made with top shelf gin? Sure, but it wouldn’t have changed my reaction in the least. Best part was I remained completely alone on the dance floor. Not even my date made a move to join me.

I didn’t care. And I never will when it comes to this tune.

“She’s the One”

I usually start every half marathon I run with Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run,” but “She’s the One” ends up saving me at some point during the race.

I’ll feel my body start to fatigue and thoughts of slowing down will pop into my head when the opening keyboard and guitar riffs start pounding into my ears. My energy level and the belief I can make it to the finish line are re-filled instantly. The line “that thunder in your heart” that leads the second stanza makes my whole being thunder as my sneakers hit the blacktop at a faster pace. This song has a permanent spot on my ever-changing running mix.

Unrelated to running,  I’ll also add that if James Taylor’s “Something in the Way She Moves” sounds like how a man should be in love, than this song sounds like how he should make love.


“The Way You Do the Things You Do”

For being alive, young, and in love in New York City all at the same time.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Why I Still Want to Be a Writer When I Grow Up

When I was in the second grade, I was assigned a one-page paper on why my future self was famous enough to be featured on a U.S. postal stamp. 

I had an overactive imagination. I pretended I was superheroes, a yellow-clad crime fighter, and a dashing archeologist. As my mother likes to say, I became so immersed in whatever role I was playing that Daniel Ford ceased to exist. I was that character.

However, when it came down to what I wanted to be in real life, only one thing captured my imagination completely.
“I am Daniel Ford and I am famous because I write books. I wrote Batman, Ghosts, Future Dream, and Future Dream 2. My books are all around the world. I wrote my first book Ghosts when I was 9-years-old. I got a medal from the President. For every book I write, I get $6 million. I give half to the government. I got another medal for Batman as well. I wrote other books. Here are their names: The Lost Bunny and Dick Tracy. Each have up to 100 to 200 pages. Now that’s how I got my name on a stamp.” 
I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. I may have had an unrealistic expectation about the salary, but there’s nothing I wanted more than to be an author.

It hasn’t always been an easy career choice. There have been plenty of moments when I thought my muse had forever deserted me. I doubted I had enough words left to finish my first novel and give the characters I had fallen in love with a fitting end. I’ve stared at blank notebooks terrified that I had no worthwhile ideas to fill them with. I let people in my life convince me that I didn’t have the talent to make a living crafting content.

But I've been blessed with inspiration when I needed it most:
  • My older brother Tom demanding I rid my work of clichés. 
  • My father—and family in general—for giving me colorful material.
  • My mother, who is a good writer and creative talent in her own right, telling me to never, ever give up. 
For the last two years, I’ve shared thoughts on how I stay passionate about working with words and how other writers can improve and grow their craft. There’s one slightly more cynical piece of advice I left out of both blog posts.

To be a great writer, you have to hate doing it. Okay, that’s a bad way of putting it. You have to love to hate doing it. 

Here’s why:

Also, even without a $6 million salary, you could be lucky enough to have an attractive woman in a beautiful dress read what you wrote and admit, “I’m weak.”

Someone I care deeply about recently reminded me that the insignificant things that stand in the way of us being great on a daily basis—which pale in comparison to the more horrific and tragic elements of the human experience—don’t define our characters.

The people we love, those who love us, and the actions that raise us up over pettiness, divisiveness, and self-pity are the things that stamp a good and valuable life.

In my case, words give meaning to my life. An endless, wandering, emotional, and persistent stream of words will forever define me.

And I plan on writing much, much more.

Monday, April 1, 2013

14 Family Photos I Couldn’t Live Without

For as long as I can remember, the walls in the study of my parent’s house in Connecticut have been covered with family photos.

Pictures of my nephew Jack and my nieces Katie and Madeline have deservedly taken over half the room, but one can still find me in eighth grade as the Cowardly Lion, my younger brother in his high school baseball uniform, and my older brother’s tragic high school yearbook photos.

Aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins of all sorts are on display as well. Even more can be found in the living room, but more than likely in what my mother describes as her “dead people section.”

However, thanks to all these images, it feels like no one ever quite leaves us completely. They are always there watching us, protecting us, rooting for us, picking on us, and experiencing the next generation of the family along with us.

The last few holidays, my mother and I have diligently rummaged through old photo albums and picture frames in an effort to scan as many faces of the family tree as humanly possible so that all future branches have something to hang in their homes on the moon.

Trying to choose the favorites out of our extensive collection is next to impossible, but I couldn’t resist highlighting some that I think capture everything that’s special about my family.

Here are 15 photos I know I couldn’t live without:

It’s not often you get to feature your family into a professional blog post. However, thanks to a pocket watch my mother gave me that was owned by her father Arthur, I was able to do just that. I hope that the watch I now carry around is on his person in this undated photo.

As I mentioned in my best man speech at my younger brother’s wedding, Grandpa Ford went AWOL to marry my grandmother Marie. This photo of her holding a picture of him in uniform captures everything about that moment. My younger brother and his wife recreated it as part of their wedding pictures.

New York City is in my blood. My father’s parents were born in the city, fell in love in the city, and started a family in the city. Here’s my grandmother outside their house in Long Island with my Uncle Stephen (on the left) and Aunt Kathy (on the right). My father is on the bicycle. 

Both sides of my family like to eat and drink, so it’s no surprise there are quite a few images of us sitting around some kind of table doing both in equal measure. I love this one because it includes a sizable chuck of the older Blanchette crew and my Pépère wearing an awesome shirt.

(left to right): Maria Hebert, Oneil Hebert, Theresa Martin, Rolande, Sophie Blanchette, Eddie
    Blanchette, Valdor Martin, Arthur, Cecile, Phoebe Albert, Emma Blanchette, Fred Blanchette

Speaking of drinking, one of my favorites of the Blanchette men drinking beers at a wedding.

Roland, Arthur, Bobby (in front), Jimmy, and Clifford

My mother’s sister Artheline died in a car accident when she was 16 years old. My mother resembles Artheline the most. Thanks to iPhoto, this somewhat faded photo came alive again in haunting beauty.

I wrote about why my Uncle Stephen is so special in one of my earliest blog posts. I think about him the most at the start and end of every baseball season, and every time the Red Sox beat the Yankees (yes, I have family members who stray from the pack). My father adores this picture of him and so do I.

I consider myself an amalgam of several of my mother’s brothers. I have Clifford’s temperament, Jimmy’s dark hair and build, Roland’s charm, and Bobby’s skill with tools (Ha! Just kidding). However, I have never, and will never, look as cool as Jimmy does in this picture.

I can’t tell you how much my younger brother looks like my Uncle Clifford in this picture. It is eerie. It’s also pretty badass.

This picture mesmerizes me for some reason. I don’t know if it’s because it features my Uncle Pit (far left), Pépère and Mémère, and my Uncle Bobby (baby in the foreground), the scenery of upstate Maine, or its light and dark contrasts. It’s such a simple image that says so much. We found it yesterday and I’ve been looking at it ever since. I imagine I will be for some time.

My Uncle Pit passed away recently. This photo from his honeymoon is how I imagine him wherever he is. Before he starts causing trouble with my uncles that is.

I’m going to get in so much trouble for including this one, but I don’t care. We’re missing my brother Patrick at this point, but I make up for it by being adorable.

We organized a Yankees-themed 90th birthday for my grandmother. Someone gave her a pink Mets hat to wear. #Facepalm.

This was the year Santa smelled like Guinness. These little lights prove our family has a bright future.