Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Three Little Stories About Little Things

By Dan Horgan

The expression “enjoy the little things” is misinterpreted in today’s society. Life is indeed about enjoying the “little things,” but devouring a twinkie after a hard day’s work – a likely “little-thing” scenario in modern entertainment – is not the small piece of our day we should be pinpointing as special.

Life to me is about enjoying the little things that add up to equal great things – the things that make us who we are. I’ve noticed these things in my life over the past few weeks and feel compelled to share them with hopes that you can draw parallels – and ultimately recognize the little things in your life that make each day beautiful.

Walking towards growth

During my orientation at Emerson College 15 months ago I met a short and friendly kid named Elliot Oquendo. I initially thought the two of us would get along but not have enough in common to be close friends. But as we started hanging out, Elliot and I realized we share the same humor and outlook on life. And after three college semesters of good times and character-building trials, we’ve become as close as brothers.

One of my favorite things to do with Elliot is go on walks through the Boston Common and Public Garden, which are right across the street from Emerson. The historic grounds are fairly deserted at night, allowing us to stroll through and talk about anything without judgment.

Since we became friends, Elliot and I have probably walked over a hundred times. While ambling, we talk about girls, our future goals, and life in general. We’ve learned more about each other and ourselves on these walks than we would have ever expected.

The other day Elliot and I went on a spontaneous walk down Boylston Street and soaked in the city’s holiday decorations. We talked about the importance of not compromising morals and values for social gains, and I realized how lucky I was to have such a great friend I could share my thoughts with on a regular basis.

Elliot is a brother, and the bond we’ve formed has been boosted by something as small as strolls through the park.

“Winter” by U2

Growing up, there was a U2 soundtrack to pretty much everything done in my house. The band has always been my parents’ favorite, so I’ve inevitably heard the Irish rock quartet as much as Bono has expressed his desire for world peace.

My dad made a particular effort to help me appreciate U2, as the band’s poignant lyrics speak to him and his Irish heritage. I remember him explaining to me the meaning behind “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and why Bono wrote “The Sweetest Thing” for his wife, and I have countless recollections of him blasting and rocking out to the group on car rides. For me, the result of growing up on U2 was a developed love for the band, whose music I now associate with my father.

The other night Elliot and I went to see the new movie “Brothers.” The film was a powerful picture about the after effects of war for veterans. As the credits rolled and we left the theater, I heard what was unmistakably a new U2 song playing. I was blown away by the power carried in Bono’s soft voice, and I immediately fell in love with the song.

As I walked out of the theater with the song playing in the background, all I could think about was how much I loved my dad. He’s been there for me since the day I was born, and I can’t think of a more influential role model in my life. U2 is just a small thing he’s introduced to me, but the band symbolizes the bond we share.

As soon as I got back to my dorm room, I looked up the song and emailed it to my dad. The tune, entitled “Winter,” brought a moment of joy to my day. Being able to share that joy with someone like my dad made it all the more special.

Kitchen Talks

I hated doing homework in middle school and high school, so I would always get creative in finding ways to make it more enjoyable. My favorite tactic was doing homework in our kitchen while talking to my mom, who made dinner for my family on a nightly basis.

The routine would usually go something like this: I’d half work on my homework and half complain to my mom about how much I hated school, while she slaved over a meal and kept the conversation going enthusiastically. I give her credit for doing so–I probably talked about myself way too much.

It’s been a year and a half since I finished high school, but last month while at home with my family for Thanksgiving, I sat in the same kitchen chair I would do my homework in and talked to my mom while she cooked for the holiday. I was reminded of the daily talks we had throughout my younger years, and a warm feeling of nostalgia came over me.

I have countless – and I mean countless – fond memories of spending time with my mom. The summer I spent with a broken leg was probably the best of my life because my mom took me everywhere under the sun to ensure I could still be a kid and have fun. But throughout everything we’ve been through, what I enjoy most is the small daily interactions we have. Just talking to my mom about my day means so much to me. I guess I never grew up in the fact that I still get excited when my mom comes home from work, simply because I get to see her. Our kitchen talks were a minute part of my upbringing, but I’ll always treasure them because they are a microcosm of the love I have for her.

The little things in my life keep me happy and make me who I am. Recognize the great little things in your life and enjoy them to the utmost.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

All that you can't leave behind: Destroy what you've built

By Dan Horgan

I've recently become obsessed with the band Crystal Castles - an electro/dance/punk duo from Canada, famous for their home-produced recordings and sometimes rambunctious live shows. All of my punker-than-thou friends will probably hate me for even giving such a night-club band a chance, but I'm not letting loyalty to a specific genre of music cloud the new love I've developed for this eccentric pair - especially when I believe their story is paralleling my current life expositions.


Humans are builders. We spend our lives building things that we love and are beneficial to us - relationships, careers, art, you name it.

To tear down what you've built has been out of the norm and frowned upon throughout history. If you're a middle-level employee who for years has been working your way up at a big company, don't quit your job - the time you've spent climbing the corporate latter will have been wasted. If you're a lonely middle-aged man who finds a nice, attractive girl, don't go looking for someone better - such a steady partner may not come along again. If you're a promising young baseball prospect, keep at the sport - the prestige that comes with being a dynamic pitcher or shortstop is worth spending a childhood striving for.

There is immense value in sticking with something. Rocky marriages have been saved through patience and years of mutual hard work, and mediocre bands who started in oblivion have risen to stardom through non-stop touring and promotion. But there are times, especially in art, when annihilating what you've built is the best and most fulfilling option. It's reckless, risky, and even crazy, but sometimes you need to be a little crazy to accomplish great things.


Crystal Castles is one of the world's hottest new bands, and it started on a whim. Ethan Kath, the synth player, founder, and producer of the group, was in a popular metal on the brink of record deals when he "decided [he] wanted to try something different." He left the band, secluded himself for months, and crafted what would be the beats to Crystal Castles' first songs.

"Maybe I was insane at the time," admitted Kath in a interview.

Insane, that is, by society's standards.

In his metal band, Kath had helped to build a stable form of art with even more potential for growth. Art is near impossible to profit from in today's world, but his band was about to breach that seemingly unattainable feat. Why would he want to throw it all away?

The answer, I believe, lies in the unnameable power of artistic whims.

What if Kath hadn't had the desire to try something new? What if he'd ignored that desire to stay with his stable form of art? He would have followed the stream of stability most humans live by. But he never would have met Alice Glass, the fireball vocalist for Crystal Castles. The two would have never formed their wacky songs which have been played millions of times. And perhaps most devastatingly, he would not be happy making music he was no longer passionate about.

Fame, riches, and happiness aren't bad rewards for acting on a whim.

So how does Kraft's story relate to my current artistic endeavors? Let me digress a bit.

I've had my life's best success in two areas: boxing journalism and Boston punk rock. My Web site was the world's most monthly visited boxing site less than two months after it launched. My book "Bringing Back Boxing" led to me being interviewed on countless Internet radio stations and even a local Fox News broadcast. My band The Social Failures played on several huge local shows and our message-encrypted lyrics coupled with our intense playing style won us over a large portion of the Boston punk scene.

But all of that is now in the past, and I don't plan on ever going back. I've torn down what I built, started a new band and blog, and am taking a new approach on how I express my creativity.

Am I crazy? Maybe. I did, after all, spend thousands of hours writing stories for fight sites and trying to get my band's music out to the masses. Both parts of my life are extremely difficult to move on from.

But in the long run, I feel my choices will aid me in achieving what I want in life. I'd ultimately like to help others through inspiration, love every day like it's my last, and carry out the basic values I think God expects from every human. I couldn't do that in boxing journalism - a small, corrupt field - or through my old band, which was solid but generic. I can, however, take my shot at life through following my heart and hoping people enjoy the footsteps I leave.

So here I am, writing a new blog and book and recording songs for a new band. I've restarted my building process, and although I'm scared, I feel ready to take on the world. The Awesome Column was made on a whim as was my new band. Both moves are risky, but I shouldn't be afraid - the best things in life sometimes come on a whim.

Don't be afraid to be a little crazy.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Art as Passion

By Dan Horgan

Over the summer I took a job booking concerts at an upscale bar in downtown Boston called Limelight Stage and Studios. The work provided decent pay, depending on how much of a crowd each band drew, but the job’s real reward was meeting passionate musicians – each with a unique story.

I booked artists of all types – heavy metal and punk bands, acoustic duos, and even a comedic group every now and then. Even if I didn’t like the genre of music, I appreciated the enthusiasm each performer brought to the stage. Art, to me, doesn’t need coincide with talent to be beautiful; it only requires passion.


It was a Monday night in July, and I was scrambling to find a last-minute performer for a show that Wednesday. I already had two bands confirmed, each a solid draw, but as a music fan turned promoter, I felt an obligation to give fans their money’s worth every time they came to Limelight. Two acts just didn’t cut it.

I went on my Myspace account and started messaging bands and solo artists about possibly filling the slot. Being in a band myself, I had plenty of musicians on my friends list to choose from. But to my dismay, each had some excuse as to why they couldn’t play.

“We only play shows with guaranteed pay. Sorry.”

“Our drummer is working that night and can’t get off. But please keep us in mind for future shows!”

“My voice is too sore from yelling at my husband. I’ll play as soon as he cleans the fucking house.”

I knew I’d have to get creative if I wanted a third act.

I took one last peek at my Myspace friends list to see if I’d missed anyone, and I came across a rock trio my band had played with in March called Fitchburg Punx. I immediately checked their page to see if they’d be a good candidate for Wednesday, but with no shows scheduled and a lack of activity on their account, I thought an eleventh-hour performance would be out of the question. It looked like Wednesday night would be one of the weak two-act “concerts” I pledged I’d never promote.

But while scrolling through Fitchburg Punx’ site, I saw a link to another group called Marko and the Bruisers. Marko, I remembered, was the drummer for Fitchburg Punx, so I was curious to see if his second band was at least active and playing shows. Even if they couldn’t play Wednesday, I thought, they might be a good candidate for future booking.

I went on Marko and the Bruisers’ page and found that Marko was actually alone in the project, playing acoustic guitar and singing original songs. Solo acts are far easier to book than full bands, so I thought I may have landed on what I was looking for. I sent Marko a message asking if he’d like to play a show in 48 hours, and after a few detail-exchanging emails, he agreed. I’d found my third act.


It was Wednesday night. After spending 45 minutes on the road and another 15 walking from my car to Limelight, I looked at my watch and realized I had arrived to work over 40 minutes early. I was nervous about the night’s show. Maybe I thought showing up early would compensate for my lack of preparation.

About 20 minutes of me standing outside the venue passed before Limelight’s sound technician Jonathan arrived. We started our routine conversation about the evening’s show.

“So what’s tonight’s lineup look like?” he asked.

“We have three acts,” I answered confidently. “Two acoustic and one electric. All are pretty solid.”

Of course, I would never admit that Marko had only agreed to play the show 24 hours ago, or that he was apprehensive to accept because of a lack of songs. I needed to appear confident in my booking. Poise in business goes a long way.

After talking awkwardly with Jonathan for 10 minutes, I got a text from Marko saying he was right down the street. I could see him so I waved him over.

Marko walked over with a bright but unsure smile on his face and his girlfriend by his side. The two certainly looked like punk rockers. Marko sported a fedora, a black shirt, and pajama bottoms to boot. His girlfriend was decked out in piercings and had fierce dyed hair.

I gave Marko and his girlfriend a friendly welcome. The two were cordial, chatting it up with me about the local punk scene. I began going over the procedure for the night’s event.

“You’re going on first, probably half hour after doors open,” I told Marko. “Jonathan will get you set up with acoustics and all that. He’s the small Asian guy over there. Don’t worry about playing too long or short a set. I’m flexible. It should be a fun night.”

Marko was cool with everything. He somehow thought I was doing him a favor by getting him the show, even though he was clearly a last-minute fill in.

But after the initial small talk, Marko began opening up about how nervous he was for the show. He told me how he couldn’t sleep the night before, lying in bed and going over songs in his head. He reiterated the fact that he’d never played a solo concert before, and apologized for the lack of songs he was about to play. Little did he know, my nerves, which had calmed since I’d gotten a third act, were again tingling. What if he sucked and I looked bad?

While talking, I noticed Marko was holding what appeared to be a run-down ukulele.

“What’s that?” I asked ignorantly.

“It’s my guitar!” he said with a laugh. “The $30 special from Wal-Mart.”

I began thinking a two-act show wasn’t so bad after all.

Marko took the stage and started tuning his piece-of-shit instrument. He looked nervous. He sang a few notes and Jonathan gave him the thumbs up on acoustics.

“You’re playing live in 30 minutes,” I told him. “Just hop on stage, introduce yourself, and start playing when the time comes.”

The half hour went by slowly. Only 10 people filled in, five of whom were in bands scheduled to play later that night. Because of time constraints, I told Marko to start his show anyway. He took the stage.

“Hi everyone. I’m Marko and the Bruisers. This is the first time I’ve done this.”

I looked on skeptically as this stiff 25-year-old punk began ripping through power chords on what was probably the world’s cheapest guitar. After a 15-second instrumental, he began singing. My last-minute act was under way.

I was initially impressed with Marko’s musical talents. He had a good voice and obviously knew what he was doing with his instrument. After a song or two, my nerves stopped tingling. He was clearly a suitable act.

Marko carried on with what turned out to be a terrific set. He played each chord with passion and precision, sang his heart out, and performed as if he were in front of thousands of people. His songs were both serious and goofy, touching upon everything from inner redemption to “white kids who think they’re black.” He left nothing on stage, and the small crowd loved him.

The tingling sensation inside me returned. Only this time, I felt inspired rather than nervous. I had no I idea I was about to have one of the most inspirational conversations of my life.


Marko came down after his set to thank me for the opportunity and to offer his services if I ever needed him to play again.“I’m always down for shows,” he said.

I was particularly impressed with how adroit Marko was on guitar, so I asked him why he didn’t play the instrument in a punk band.

“I’m from Spencer, Mass,” he said. “No one out there wants to play punk. So I have to do everything myself.”

“Well what about your other band, Fitchburg Punx?” I inquired. “Why haven’t you guys been doing shows or recording?”

“It’s tough to practice. I have to take a bus out to Fitchburg from Spencer and it gets expensive. I work at a super market. It’s decent work but only enough to pay the bills. It’s tough saving money up, so I just stick with the solo stuff.”

That quote hit home with me. A sudden euphoria rapidly swam through my body. I felt like hugging Marko, skipping down the street in joy, and high fiving the nearest stranger.

Marko, I realized, had taught me the true meaning of why people make art.


Not everyone has circumstances that allow them to be creative. Great painters are sometimes poor and can’t afford top-notch materials. Dynamic singers don’t always find backing musicians of similar talent. Awesome film directors sometimes work with $500 budgets.

In Marko’s case, circumstances were heavily against his making music. A dead-end job didn’t allow him to record professionally (the songs he did for Marko and the Bruisers were recorded into a small, cheap device then uploaded to his computer). A lack of musicians in his hometown prevented him from forming a band. And a putrid guitar stopped him from sounding professional.

But Marko just didn’t care.

Didn’t care that his job had crappy pay. Didn’t care that he couldn’t even find another kid to jam with. Didn’t care that his guitar was the sucky Wal-Mart $30 special. He stuck his middle finger up to the world and said, “I’m going to make punk music no matter what because it’s what I love.”

And that, my friends, is art.

When the chips are down and the world seems likes it’s trying to squash you, fight back. Do what you love. Sometimes the only person stopping you from what you want to do is you yourself. You’d be amazed at what you can create when you try.

Marko could easily go on with his life and just accept the fact that he’ll probably never be touring the world with a kickass band. Yet he carries on, writing songs, playing any show that’s offered to him, and having fun. All the while, he’s inspired this writer to take a chance by leaving every publication I’ve written for to start my own blog.

Art does not need to coincide with talent to be beautiful; it only requires passion.