Bloom Family Carolers Strike Again!

Every year since my youngest was five, our family has made a Christmas video to share. It’s sort of a conglomeration of Christmas card/letter, ugly sweater, and virtual caroling.

Here is our eleventh one! “Angels We Have Heard on High” has always been one of my favorite carols, and for several years now I was thinking we’d already done it. But this year I went back and checked and discovered that wasn’t true.

I appreciate each one of you who stops by this blog and wish you well this holiday season. And a happy new year!

Uncle Frank (The Ballad of Gus Dominguez)

My great-grandfather Gus Dominguez was born to parents who had emigrated to the US from Cuba and Germany. Gus spent a decade in a Brooklyn orphanage and then part of his teenage years living on the streets. His daughter, my grandmother Hazel, had given me a copy of a typewritten transcript of some of his memories of those years, as told by him. I kept this transcript in a notebook and recently pulled it out to read to my children. I had remembered there were some pretty colorful moments in the story and thought they’d be interested to hear it.

After that reread I thought it would make a pretty good folk ballad, so that’s what I did for my song last week. I sat with Gus’s story and rhymed it into a song, trying to keep it as faithful to his telling (in content, style and wording) as possible.

Nathan generously contributed several hours of work adding guitar and drum tracks to help keep this long song musically interesting.

And I spent lots of time perusing the Internet for photos of 1900s Brooklyn and Philadelphia. And cats and cigar stores and saloons. This was such a fascinating way to feel more connected to my great-grandfather and the time and place in which he grew up. Many of the photos I found were from a book published by Danish immigrant Jacob Riis, called How the Other Half Lives. The typewritten words are from photos I took of the transcript my grandmother gave me. Incidentally, I learned that she was named Hazel after Gus’s sister Hazel (unnamed but mentioned in his memoir), who died from the 1918 flu, shortly before Gus’s daughter, my grandmother Hazel, was born.

Uncle Frank has a lot of nerve
Coming to see me after all these years
Since he turned us all out of his home
And left us at the Home of Saint John

We weren’t even Catholic till he sent us there
To keep four kids out of his hair
I used to be Lutheran, not that it matters
I’m just a poor boy, beaten and battered

Uncle Frank
Uncle Frank

The laundry man took me when I was sixteen
I saw he had four kids and seen what it’d mean
To stay there washing all day and all night
Keeping those children all in my sight

Laundry Man
Laundry Man

So I went tramping alone on the streets
Looking for food and a place to sleep
I saw a stable and found nearby
A covered wagon with blankets inside

So that’s where I slept, at the Navy Street gate
Where I seen a man with a familiar face
A sergeant Marine who was my brother Fred
He took me on board and made sure I was fed

Brother Fred
Brother Fred

I still had no room so I asked around
And worked for a lady hauling milk around town
It didn’t pay cash but I got a home
And two meals a day and she got me some clothes

But then she took sick and she closed up shop
And once again I was out of luck
She gave me two dollars so I could eat
And I headed back out on the Brooklyn streets

Brooklyn Streets
Brooklyn Streets

I slept in hallways, got up at sunrise,
Found some meals for a decent price
My two dollars lasted for six more days
I kept looking for any kind of work that pays

Inside a saloon on Fulton Street
Was a lunch laid out with so much to eat
I looked at that lunch, hungry as a bull
Dreaming of feeling my belly full

The bartender said you look half-starved
Help yourself, I thanked my lucky stars
Twenty customers watched me eat
Threw coins in my hat till I had tears on my cheeks

Kind Strangers
Kind Strangers

They gave me eight dollars ten cents and their smiles
And told me where I could live on that for a while
Twenty-five cents for a night of sleep
In a sailor’s flophouse on Tremont Street

Then a man took me in and I worked for his brother
Scraping rusty pipes, sealing ships’ boilers
It was dirty work but a decent life
Till he came home drunk and started beating his wife

I tried to butt in and he smacked my face
So I knew I had to get out of that place
Next time he got drunk and beat her again
I picked up his poor cat, and threw it at his head

Out the window went the poor cat
I ran away and never looked back
I’m sorry for the cat, I don’t know how it did
But I had to leave if I wanted to live

Poor Cat
Poor Cat

I found a good job as a captain’s boy
The storms were rough but I was employed
Near the Cuban coast I got drunk with a friend
The captain hit me hard and said my job had to end

At least they paid me – forty dollars
I was a rich man, I went to the track
My bet paid off, I bought some new clothes
Worked for a while as a stable hand

I started to look for the other kids
Searching through all the Dominguezes
I found the school where my sister was
And that she was being well taken care of

I rented a room on Navy Street
And then one day who should I meet
My old man himself, waiting for me
I greeted him as if he hadn’t left me

He asked me to go with him to PA
Said he’d explain it all on the way
He’d married again, had two more kids
And changed his name cause of something he did

I said, what did you do? Did you kill or steal?
Then he told me a story and it was all real
He got engaged and then changed his mind
Cause he’d found out she was the high-flying kind

She didn’t want to let him go
But he didn’t want to keep her and so
He threw acid in her face
So now the police were on the chase

He changed his name to Frank Hidalgo
And from now on I should call him Uncle

Uncle Frank
Uncle Frank

He ran a cigar shop in Philadelphia
My brother Fred came in and recognized him
Fred sailed right at him, cussing and mad
Frank ducked behind the counter and I got bashed

Then Fred started crying and I tried to explain
But he just left and didn’t come back again

Brother Fred
Brother Fred

I finally found Charlie, my other brother
Through an ad in the New York newspaper
He came to Philadelphia, turned out alright,
And then our house caught fire one night

And who do you think started that fire?
Yeah you got it right – that cowardly liar
A lighted cigar, a hall filled with clothes
Good old Uncle Frank, right on the nose

Uncle Frank
Uncle Frank

My mother died when I was six
This story shows how dear a mother is

Perfect Pretend Night

I got Nathan to play along on this one so it’s officially a Cabin of Love song! And just indulged in old romantic movie scenes for the video. Sabrina, The Philadelphia Story, and Roman Holiday are the movies these snippets came from.

Let’s pretend that we’re all alone
And there’s nothing to see on our shiny phones
And the children have all gone to bed
And there’s visions of each other dancing in our heads

And we know just what to do
And we feel a love so true
And the stars are shining bright
On this perfect pretend night
Buh duh duh dum bah bah bah dum

You go first and I’ll follow you
To the ends of the earth in these dancing shoes
That we’re making believe are on our feet
While we’re moving to a rhythm oh so slow and sweet

And we know just what to do . . .

Who cares the weather or how we feel
This is our secret world and we make it real
So let there be light in each other’s eyes
And magical nights under black velvet skies

And we know just what to do . . .

She Ain’t Gonna Be My Baby Anymore

My eldest child turned 18 this past week, so naturally my song for the week needed to be for her. Her dad Nathan and I took a walk together that we used for a cowriting session, which we extended when we returned home, and within a couple hours we had this very country song. Fun to have Nathan on the lead vocals this time. He wanted a song that expressed both loss and gain, grief and pride. I think we got it!

For better and worse she’s always been my girl
Ever since we met she’s been my world
But things have been changing for a long long time
Now I look back and I can see the signs
Something’s going on that I can’t ignore
She ain’t gonna be my baby anymore

She’s tall and proud and lovely as can be
She’s all dressed up but I know it’s not for me
There’s a spring in her step and a charge in the air
She flashes a smile and tosses her hair
She grabs the keys and walks out the door
She ain’t gonna be my baby anymore

There goes my baby
There goes my girl
There she goes shaking
My whole wide world
I just want to hold her but I know she can’t stay
She’s gonna leave and I won’t stand in her way
Where she’s headed I don’t know for sure
But she ain’t gonna be my baby anymore

I’m looking at her but she’s looking beyond me
Out where the big blue sky meets the sea
She’s got stars in her eyes, I’ve got a lump in my throat
She’s ready for the tide to carry her boat
And I’m crying a river back here on the shore
She ain’t gonna be my baby anymore

There goes my baby . . .

She’s shaking me awake from my sweet dreams
The sun is rising and she wants me to see
I never loved her more than I do tonight
I’m keeping it together with all my might
And I’m picking my heart up off the floor
She ain’t gonna be my baby anymore

There goes my baby . . .

Gonna Go Outside

I put off songwriting till Saturday morning for week 34 of #songaweek2021. The deadline to submit is Saturday night. After a band rehearsal in the afternoon I recruited my husband and bandmate Nathan to play along and we got-‘er-done for another week. Don’t look too hard for meaning in this one. But we had some fun!

I’m gonna go outside and listen to the news
All the tweets and chatter and the cock-a-doodle-doos
There’s a thousand stories
In my own back yard

There’s no time like the present and there’s no place quite like this
And if you feel you’d like it well I’d like to feel your kiss
And just a few more things 
We could try after dark

We’re on a great big rock that keeps on rolling round the sun
Just when we think it’s over well it’s only just begun
It’s the most fantastic way
To see the stars