Thursday, March 21, 2019

Number 4

Fingerprints, scuffs, pen marks, dust, smudges, proof of people living. That's what I love about vinyl, the virtual conversations taking place among scratchy, sleeveless 45s in some shitty cardboard box on the floor of a record or antique store, the ghosts of chatty, previous owners I sift through. I found this brilliant Eddie Floyd single from 1968—an all-time fave—in a cramped box in a store in Rockford, Illinois for a couple of bucks. It looked worn as hell but, like an old house or used paperback or dirt road, that's what drew me to it. Nothing a Spin Clean couldn't help, anyway, which did in fact brighten the highs and deepen the lows of this beauty, written by Floyd with Booker T. Jones, who produced it for Stax. Those pops and clicks in the opening: the sound the ground makes under your feet on the approach to your grandma's or your new girlfriend's; that creak in the front door of the beach house you stayed in that summer when you.... The number 4 written on the label? I have no idea, but I could come up with about ten imagined storylines to explain it.

With perspective, I gotta say that I don't find such tactile sense memories among my CDs (which are now boxed away down in my basement), even the ones I first bought back in the late 1980s. I dropped loads of money on CDs for several decades, bought into the overwhelmingly present argument that 1s and 0s paved the virtual road to the future, that there was no looking back. Yeah the shelf of mix tapes I made, swapping with friends and wooing my girlfriend, tell lots of stories, but plastic only bends so far before it snaps. Fingerprints on a CD case, the robot-like error when a damaged disc plays: these seem to lack the depth and the sponginess of vinyl and of album covers and 45 sleeves. Now I regret that I pressed pause on buying vinyl for so long, though I never truly stopped.

This is generational, I know. I still listen to half of my music via Spotify anyway, and the CDs from your high school years sure tell their stories. When you come across a stack of chipped cases in twenty years, or notice the obscure handwriting on some random CD-r, you'll enter the past and its richness and mystery they way I do when flipping through vinyl, at a store and at home. And so it goes.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Gotta tell me why

It's too much to go into, but Amy and I have been hate-watching Gilmore Girls for a while. In an episode from the fifth season, the character Zack Van Gerbig, a scruffy "rocker" who plays in a local band, scoffs at his girlfriend and fellow bandmate Lane Kim when she suggests that their band try and improve on some recent promo photographs.

Happy with the ones that they have, Van Gerbig dismisses the idea. "We're not Maroon Five or The 'gee whiz' Slickee Boys," he says.

WTF. Now, Gilmore Girls was a show that prided itself, often way too cutely, on its pop culture references, and the character of Lane, in particular, was an energetic font of favorite bands and musicians, most of the earnestly cool/hip/alt variety. Yet no band name-checked on the show was nearly as surprising as The Slickee Boys, an obscure, indie-label garage-psych band out of the Washington D.C. area. (Having grown up in suburban D.C., they're a longtime fave of mine.) I don't know how they ended up on the lips of a pretty-boy rocker in an episode of a dramedy that aired in February 2005, a decade and a half after the marginally-known Slickees called it a day (save for many reunion gigs). Preliminary Internet research has turned up nothing but the episode's Wikia page (scroll down to "Pop Culture"), deepening the mystery. Was a show writer a fan? Did the writing staff pick the band name out of an old issue of Trouser Press? You gotta tell me why.

Photo (cropped) of Slickee Boys via discogs.

Friday, March 15, 2019

"Would you believe?"

I picked up a copy of Blue Magoos' 1967 Electric Comic Book recently, and didn't notice until I got home that the four-page comic book featured in the original pressings was sitting inside. Now this is truly an of-the-era document: as dramatized over the two-page center spread, the story involves the band enjoying a "psychedelic lollipop" ("Look what somebody sent us."... "I hope it's safe."... "Well I'm not gonna get all hung up about it."), then kinda freaking out yet maintaining their cool ("I don't understand what's going on here."... "I have a chest cold."), rocking out onstage, and then, hilariously, the band's organist and vocalist Ralph Scala being mistaken by two mini-skirted girls for the Fugs' Tuley [sic] Kupferburg! Surrounding the chaos are collage sketches of the band and some sage advice ("Patience is the key word"—apply when and as necessary). The drawings are credited to Jody Sutton, Naomi Schiroma, and Betty Acker—where are they now? “We got fan letters with cartoon drawings of us,” Scala explained to Record Collector. “Eventually, the girls who sent them...hooked up with our producers and submitted a portfolio of ideas. Their work was so good that the producers used them for the comic book insert.”

On the back page, a Magoos fan could order a very cool looking iron-on transfer, join the Blue Magoos Society, and order a "wild" psyche-de-lite, the secret formula of which creates the "wildest, weirdest shapes imaginable!" We're informed that "it's so wild the BLUE MAGOOS carry two PSYCHE-DE-LITES with them everywhere they go." I know I want one. Of course you can, or could, find one on eBay.

Grab that lollipop and enjoy.

Blues Magoos, 1967

Thursday, March 7, 2019

I get the music, I get the heat

I'm somewhat embarrassed to I feel I still have things to say about the Who, yet at its best their music continues to move and startle me. The other day "See Me, Feel Me" came up on shuffle, and I was sent yet again by that song's optimistic naiveté, beatific surrender, visionary passion, and anthemic spirit. And I remembered this passage that I'd read recently in Roger Daltrey's memoir Thanks a Lot Mr Kibblewhite in which Daltrey recalls the awful experience of his band's epic day/night/day at Woodstock. The band endured a helicopter flight, car drive, and then mile-slog-through-the-mud to get to Max Yasgur's dairy farm, weren't immediately paid, suffered from some idiot spiking everyone's drinks, waited around forever tripping resentfully, and didn't hit the stage until five in the morning.

"Somehow, we kept going," Daltrey remembers, "and every time we felt like we were losing it, we dug in a bit deeper."
Then, shortly after six, we got to "See Me, Feel Me" from Tommy and the bleeding sun came up. Right on cue. You couldn't have topped it, After all the shit we'd been through, it was perfect. It was extraordinary. It was one of these moments you couldn't ever recreate if you tried. Once in a lifetime.
A famous moment in Rock Mythology, and no finer a dramatic background for the performance of that song. (A debated "famous moment," it must be said; some who were there insist that the sunrise occurred during "My Generation," the actual finale of the band's set, a few songs following "See Me, Feel Me." You can certainly see the warm bluing sky in the footage. Either way, as the Who were stomping though "See Me, Feel Me"'s remarkable finish, the sun was ready for its closeup.)


One night long, beery, unremarkable night in the late 1980s at the Union, my favorite bar in Athens, Ohio, "See Me, Feel Me" came on the jukebox, sparring with our usual faves. I probably didn't notice when the song came on, or I did and barely registered it, having heard it hundreds of times. Yet as I stood at the bar—it was my turn to buy—I turned to my right and glanced down at the length of the joint, smoky, dark, junky, my friends squeezed into a booth next to the pool table, laughing, elbowing, and as if coming out of a haze I realized that the end of the song was playing, and—yes, I can grant some of this to the beer, to youth, to the heady joy of friendships and an evening of possibilities—I heard the long, repeated chorus in a way I'd never heard it before. In fact it felt as if I were hearing the song and its moved and moving, hymn-like changes and harmonies for the first time, tricked or surprised or whatever-it-was into the moment. Listening to you I get the music gazing at you I get the heat following you I climb the mountain I get excitement at your feet—the millions, the glory, the story—I get the story....

Everyone was smiling, everyone was happy to be there, everyone was bathed in a glow and looked to me to be elevating slightly unaware, the whole bar warmer and safer and more beautiful than I'd ever seen it, before or since. Writing about the career-making Woodstock set and by extension the then-new era of thousands-strong, giant-stage, open-air music festivals, Daltrey remarks that as the band's front man he had to learn to drive the band in a new way, "with no back wall and half a million people stretching over the horizon. I had to drive the curvature of the earth." That's an amazing observation, as evocative of the heady era as the ecology flag and Armstrong on the moon, and yet as tiny and cramped as the Union is (well, was) that song that night raised the black-painted ceiling and dropped the shitty walls and for a few moments I glimpsed, or I felt, nothing less than the curve of the earth. I get the story. Then it was back down for me.

Corny, sure. But that's mostly because I haven't figured out how to describe an age-old story in a new way. This is little more than an account of a song issuing from a jukebox in a dive bar and altering the landscape. Nothing and everything.

Photo of The Union via Pinterest.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Sublime trouble

I don't know that anyone needs to add to the words already written about the sounds produced in the Stax Studio, but then I hear a song like "Ole Man Trouble." The lead track on Otis Redding's Otis Blue/Otis Redding Sings Soul album was cut in Memphis, Tennessee on July 27, 1965 with old hands Booker T. Jones on organ, Steve Cropper on guitar, Donald "Duck" Dunn on bass, and Al Jackson on drums; Wayne Jackson and Gene "Bowlegs" Miller added trumpet, Andrew Love and Floyd Newman tenor and baritone saxes respectively, and Isaac Hayes piano. That supremely gifted group of musicians play with characteristic restraint and raw elegance, on top of which Redding sings a simple, needful, and dimensional blues-based melody, from the bottom looking up.

These are just words. How can prose translate, approximate even, the elemental beauty and agony of this song? What astounds me today, as it does so often, is Cropper's playing. In Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion, Robert Gordon observed that Cropper, in order to write with Redding, bought himself a second Telecaster, “a good used one, because Otis always tuned to a chord, open tuning." He's quoting Cropper now. "Otis was a one-fingered guitar player, so in his songs, there are almost no minor chords—because he didn’t know how to make that form. For things like ‘Try a Little Tenderness,’ I played in standard tuning; for things like ‘Ole Man Trouble,’ the intro was all done with a chord on the second Tele." Characteristically, Cropper plays rhythm and lead, the desperate body and the voice it speaks with. Those muscular, dirty riffs Croppers plays in response to Redding's pleas at the end of each line are pretty nasty-sounding for Stax; they sound like hungover agita, and yet they're menacing and prideful, too, completely and intimidatingly bad ass. When the horns return at the end of the first verse, they're heralding, uplifting, but sound a little wary of the guitar, too—at least they're wise enough to give Cropper a wide berth, let him sort himself out.

Blues, soul, R&B: screw taxonomy. The story's old as dirt, and it sounds somehow as if the recording is, too. Like so much of the music produced during Stax's peak years, the performance feels like it's about to burst out of its own blues and misery—even the elegantly modest Jackson hits an excitable drum roll at the end of the second verse, out of what, impatience? Bravado? Desperation? I'm not sure, even the many times I've listened, except that it sounds inevitable and necessary. "Ole Man Trouble" was "one of the few ballads Otis sang that was not in triplet time, unfolding instead in a steely 4/4 meter set by Steve Cropper's mesmerizing rhythm guitar," Jonathan Gould writes in Otis Redding: An Unfinished Life. "Cropper and Redding would wind up sharing the writing credits on nearly a dozen songs, but it's hard to say why 'Ole Man Trouble' wasn't considered one of them, so thoroughly does Cropper's playing determine the character of the track." Gould too marvels at Cropper's "thickly voiced chords, sliding sixths, muted clicks, and driving bass-note runs," and Dave Rubin, in R&B Guitar Method, writes of Cropper's "telepathic backup"—I love that phrase—and that his playing's a "first-rate example of chords, bass lines, double stops, and triple stops combined to create a full accompaniment."

Again, these are just words, abstractions that attempt to voice what's beyond language: as with the greatest music produced by the Stax players the sound is vital, and of-the-era, post-electric blues and righteously soulful, lovingly assembled and as loose as the weather, and feels as old as the Bible.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

So far away, so near

The Chords will forever be slotted in with the U.K. Mod Revival of the late-70s, early 80s, but the bulk of their songs—as in the best rock and roll—transcends any attempts to label or categorize. Formed in Southeast London in 1978, the band played often in their home country, including headlining two Mod festivals at the Marquee Club. They signed with Polydor records and released several singles—"Now It's Gone," "Maybe Tomorrow," "Something's Missing"—and one album, So Far Away. A handful of singles followed ("The British Way of Life," "In My Street," "One More Minute," "Turn Away Again") but by '81 the band was finished, as the Mod Revival receded and New Romantics and synths ushered the parkas and scooters on their way. (Chris Hunt wrote a terrific overview of the band here.)

The Chords have since reformed, and have issued a live album, some comps, and an EP, and So Far Away has stood the test of time, sounding fresh and relevant, with punchy sound courtesy of producer Andy Arthurs. In retrospect, these guys gave the Buzzcocks and the Jam a (brief) run for their money, in part because they didn't slavishly ape a Mod Look and didn't sing about Faces and pills and Bank Holiday riots, but mostly because their songs are urgent and passionately played. Chris Pope was a fantastic singer, unique and excitable, and the band was tight and propulsive in the best coiled UK power pop/punk tradition. These three songs in particular demonstrate how a rock and roll band can both trade on and shake off a label, the driving Sam & Dave cover propelled by that clarion-call guitar lead, the gang-singing and key modulations in the title track sounding spontaneous yet inevitable, not pre-written. These songs lift above most of the Chords' peers' material out of sheer energy, tuneful desperation, and an eye above the horizon, traits that imbue most tunes with timeless appeal.

The weekend starts here, indeed.

The Chords at the Marquee Club, 1979 (Via Flickr)

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Something's happening

Every generation has its share of timeless utterances, from Dylan seeing through bomb-builders' masks to Nina Simone responding to pressure with prayer to Marvin Gaye's fish full of mercury to the Sex Pistols' No Future to Nirvana's oh well, whatever, never mind—artists singing in the present about the future with more presentiment than they realize. I'm astonished, and chastened, at how relevant the Jam's monumental 1980 single "Going Underground" is in 2019. Strive for more? What's the point. Pleasure out of hate? Enough already on my plate, thanks. Choose your leader, place your trust—well, the public gets what the public wants. But I don't get what this society wants. From braying sheep on TV to kidney machines replaced by rockets and guns, the details are prescient and timely; like others before him, Paul Weller had his finger on the pulse of political hypocrisy and tyranny that seems to beat eternally.

Equally astonishing still is the band's performance: wire-tight, pissed-off, urgent. It feels as if the song is playing the band, not the other way around, as if, having rushed to the studio, the Jam's catching up to the very song they're playing and recording. And perhaps my favorite moment in any Jam song: after the dreamy middle-eight, a sing-song variation of the title and chorus phrase, Weller slashes at his Rickenbacker in such a violent, angry, and surprising way that it startles and excites me every time. A rupture in the performance that sounds and feels completely organic and inevitable, but which threatens to demolish the thing in a single stroke. Rock and roll at its best, and, sadly, its most prophetic and timeless. Turn it up, wash it down:
Some people might say my life is in a rut
But I'm quite happy with what I got
People might say that I should strive for more
But I'm so happy I can't see the point 
Something's happening here today
A show of strength with your boys' brigade
And I'm so happy and you're so kind
You want more money, of course I don't mind
To buy nuclear textbooks for atomic crimes
And the public gets what the public wants
But I want nothing this society's got 
I'm going underground
Well the brass bands play and feet start to pound
Going underground
Well let the boys all sing and the boys all shout for tomorrow 
Some people might get some pleasure out of hate
Me, I've enough already on my plate
People might need some tension to relax
Me, I'm too busy dodging between the flak 
What you see is what you get
You've made your bed, you better lie in it
You choose your leaders and place your trust
As their lies wash you down and their promises rust
You'll see kidney machines replaced by rockets and guns
And the public wants what the public gets
But I don't get what this society wants 
We talk and talk until my head explodes
I turn on the news and my body froze
The braying sheep on my TV screen
Make this boy shout, make this boy scream...
Songwriters: Paul John Weller
Going Underground lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

Monday, February 25, 2019

Insights? Conclusions? Maybe.

Nancy Mairs, on the essay (and why I like it): "An essay is not the same as reportage, although it may subsume reportage as it may do poetry and narrative also; As a writer, I like best the flexibility
of the essay, its stylistic inclusiveness."
It may recount facts one moment, sing about them lyrically or raucously in the next, weave them into stories, transform them into lessons, toss them aside in the end. Strictly speaking, an essay is just what Michel de Montaigne meant when he named the genre: a test or a trial of an idea, which may lead to a firm, unambiguous conclusion but probably, in my experience, will not. In short, although an essay may offer insights into the truths of human being, it will never yield the capital-t Truth, for the not-so-simple reason that no such entity exists.

Photo of Mairs via Arizona Daily Star.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

The People who listen to "People Who Died," cont'd

Last year, I wrote: "A little over seven years ago, I posted Jim Carroll's 'People Who Died' to my YouTube channel, 3 Chord Philosophy."
It's the fourth most viewed video there, after the White Stripes' "The Hardest Button to Button," the Cars' "You're All I've Got Tonight," and Dwight Yoakam's "Fast As You," yet by far it's received the most comments, 640 and counting, as of today. Many are of the "what brought me here" variety, but the more thoughtful and urgent comments tell a story: "People Who Died" has clearly struck a power chord in the young and the old, the experienced and the innocent, the sadly wise and the wide-eyed romantics alike who respond to the song's melancholic desperation, rock and roll fury, and biting honesty. 
"It's accessible to kids," Carrol said about the song in 1980, adding "It's like an elegy but it's not sentimental." Four years later, he remarked that "People Who Died" is a "about, you know, stolen possibilities, about people who died young before they could fulfill their promises, you know?" The song will last, and continue to move listeners and challenge them to face their own grieving, callousness, or befuddlement in the face of loss.
And the comments keep coming, 889 as of this morning. I think they always will. We're too close to the emergence of YT still to gauge the effects of the community it's established and fosters. But it's legit, and powerful. (Click to enlarge.)

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Ty Segall + White Fence

DOWN AT THE ROCK & ROLL CLUB—On the last two occasions I caught Ty Segall a beatific mood pervaded the evenings. His gig last night with White Fence at the Empty Bottle was a looser, junkier affair: two pals swapping guitar leads and grins. Tim Presley's White Fence and Segall play like a chemical reaction, and you never know when it's going to explode or simply simmer, but it never fizzles out. Presley and Segall are a study in contrasts: Presley gives the impression of a late Small Faces-era Steve Marriott with his Swingin' haircut, slim blue crew neck sweater, gray slacks, and sharp shoes; Segall's lumpy in jeans and a t-shirt, his hair Vesuvian to Presley's Mod. Presley seemed shy, haltingly announcing the other band members while Segall couldn't keep a smile off his face; he leaped about and raised his guitar to the low ceiling in Feedback Rock God mode, while Presley stayed put, his eyes sometimes shut, sometimes open and regarding his hands and the textured sounds they created. I've never seen Television live, but I was put in mind of Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd as Presley and Segall played off of each other, moving between earnest and goofy, loud and controlled but melodic, also. The songs didn't matter too much; the groovy "Easy Ryder" called attention to itself in both its brevity and well-constructed pop form but the other tunes were long-ish, psychedelic improvs, and happily for me the guys onstage never forgot they were playing for a crowd (a sold-out crowd, at that) and they rode the crests and waves of their sound with entertaining aplomb. They tuned up (a lot) between songs, Presley sheepishly admitted that he forgot how to play one tune, and Segall screeched-off instead of counted-off a few numbers, then laughed at himself afterward as the songs launched, a little embarrassed, and mightily into it all.

I'd wanted to see Segall and White Fence play together ever since I listened to and dug their collaboration Hair back in 2012. They delivered a set that was informal and muscular, trippy and in control, a great night of rock and roll elevating on good vibes and serious chops. Go see 'em if you can.

Tim Presley

The opening bands, both local, diverged as well. Tobacco City played spooky, touching, waltzing Americana, the guitarist and singer and the female vocalist calling to mind Emmylou and Gram; the pedal steel player sent gorgeous, heartrending lines throughout the small club—last night was his first gig with the band and he's probably a keeper. I can't imagine the band without him. Axis: Sova came on next, two remarkably adept guitarists, a bass player, and a drum machine. Somehow these guys rocked it up while tethered to the machine, their sinewy and dimensional playing finding a curious home inside the metronome. Dynamic stage presences these men aren't; they played super-serious with nary a nod to the crowd. (I think they take their cue from their standoffish drummer.)

Tobacco City

Axis: Sova

Thursday, February 21, 2019


When I listen to a great song I usually don't mind if it's derivative. Joyce Carol Oates, in a different context, said that a successful essay "is not place- or time-bound," that it "survives the occasion of its original composition." This is obviously true of ground-breaking, horizon-expanding songs that break molds or create ones that haven't been made yet. But some songs have nervy ways of slipping free from imposed ways of defining their value. The other night I spun songs that are obviously retro in that they pay close attention to their forebears, in both spirit and form (and chord changes), and they're songs that I've long loved, songs that move me and make me smile, songs that with their humor and exuberance elevate just above their influences. Are these songs "new?" No. Are they written and performed out of a certain tradition? Sure. No matter their origins, or the intentions of the writers, or how derivative they are, these songs simply exist in a pleasurable zone. I'm sure you've got yours.

"An original artist is unable to copy. So he has only to copy in order to be original." Jean Cocteau. Clever stuff. But this gives short shrift to the pleasure of homage.

Utopia, "I Just Want To Touch You," Deface The Music (1980)

The Spongetones, "Better Take It Easy," Beat Music (1982)

The Kaisers, "She Gonna Two Time," Beat It Up! (1995)

The Milkshakes, "I'm The One For You," Nothing Can Stop These Men (1984)

Photo of Hofner bass guitar via TopsImages

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Turning down the noise

Pitchers and catchers report to work today, and as always for me the news is in graphic contrast to the weather outside. And as I wrote recently, my normal excitement at the start of the long baseball season is muted a bit this year; although it felt good to get it off my chest and I'm looking forward to the long season, I still feel some unease at the state of the sport, if not the game. (Although if MLB tries to introduce runners at second at the start of extra innings....) I mostly think it has to do with the blanket coverage of the game I've come to expect and, to my sensibilities, be overly burdened with. I'm pretty confident that only large-scale disasters perilously affecting thousands of people merit 24/7 coverage, so I'm dialing back the amount of baseball "news" I'm receiving. I'll be cutting back on minute-by-minute social media reports, avoid General Manager Speak as best I can, and attempt to limit my exposure to the game to actual games on the radio and TV, and recaps the next day—is that a thing?—in the news. I'll still reliably read the always reliable Jim Margalus at SoxMachine, but perhaps go for hours between bulletins. Anyway, that's me. I'm turning down the noise a bit.


Oh and I came across this beauty online.

Top, detail from print advertisement for RCA Radio Corporation of America, 1948

Thursday, February 7, 2019

I'll Never Stop Being Amazed

Driving into school today I tuned in to the Underground Garage on SiriusXM as Palmyra Delran's new song "Tragedy Ann" was playing. I've been a fan of Delran since I saw her band the Friggs tear it up at the late, lamented Sleazefest down in Chapel Hill, North Carolina ten or so years ago. I haven't listened to her new record, yet before I'd made a right turn I was singing along with the chorus, notes and words I'd never heard before in this arrangement, this tune, this performance—singing along as if it was the hundredth time.

Fifteen minutes later, I board the elevator in Zulauf Hall to go up to my office on the tenth floor, and just before the door closes the adjacent elevator opens and off pops a guy heartily, and loudly, singing the Beach Boys' "Sloop John B." All I hear was a line as he disappears—my grandfather and me—yet before my elevator reaches the second floor I'm singing the song to myself, then whistling it as I get off the elevator, now idly wondering who's going to take the torch from here: catch the tune consciously or otherwise from me—carry it inside, sing it aloud, or hum it—to the song's next magical destination, as an earworm or a gift. It's been hours, and I bet the the trail of "Sloop John B"'s is still going strong, somewhere, in the hallway of an office building, in an aisle of Hy-Vee, in someone's car whose radio's on the blink, in a bedroom where a new mom is laying down her baby, a trail lit back when I heard a stranger sing a song today.

Monday, February 4, 2019


When I was a kid it was easy to ignore baseball as a business: I didn't care about bottom line or salaries or profit margins, only that This Week in Baseball ran every Saturday and that I could watch the Orioles on television, and occasionally at Memorial Stadium, during the summer, the NBC "Game of the Week" for rare glimpses of National League stars, and the wonderful, exciting, seemingly endlessly tense playoffs and World Series.

Now, as Spring Training is set to gear up, I'm experiencing something of a dark night of the soul as a fan, as are many of my baseball-besotted friends. I don't like many of the changes the game is undergoing: the grim, nearly joyless over-managing; so-called bullpenning; the reliance on swinging for home runs and the suppression of station-to-station strategy and balls-in-play; the intrusion of replay which grossly rewards an unrealistic demand for perfection. But more importantly, the dubious and at times outright vile politics of many of those in charge and the obsession with the bottom-line on almost all teams, milking every last cent of the fans. (And now: gambling.) I could go on, and many have and many will. I understand that baseball is a business, run by men and women whose politics differ from mine and who do not have my best interest in heart, rather their investors and political bedfellows. I've been able to block this out, or frankly ignore it, for many years, yet the cumulative effect has been a watering down of my hitherto bottomless love for the game, which renewed itself this time every year for decades.

In the sports columns where I read about player contract news, I visually "x out" the dollar amounts, focusing only on the length of the contract, as I did effortlessly when I was a kid and could ignore off-the-field developments. But such childish gestures on my part can't erase problems everywhere: I've seethed at news of teams donating to politicians and causes I find reprehensible; I'll go out to happily watch my Northern Illinois University Huskies play ball, yet be aware of odious goings-on at the elite levels of collegiate sports; I'll listen to broadcasts of old baseball games online, but, guarding against nostalgia, recognize that the sport has always been infected with awful people with unfortunate interests. (On a far more self-interested note, I have a book about baseball coming out in a few months, which I'm enthused, not to mention obligated, to promote.) I don't want to have give up baseball cold turkey, yet I've been directing many 3 a.m. concerns toward the bedroom ceiling: am I disciplined enough to turn away from Major League Baseball given the many hours of deep and rewarding pleasures the game gives me for so many months? Will I refuse to buy tickets to games even though a day at the park is one of life's great pleasures? Can I sigh and philosophically acknowledge that humans screw up, that an ethically or morally pure sport is an impossibility? (Everything a human being touches "he deforms slightly in his own image," Flannery O'Connor.) Or am I being selectively righteous? Can I still enjoy the game as opposed to the sport? I allowed myself that luxury for a long time, something that's becoming harder to defend lately.

I'm not sure where I'll stand in a few months. (Yes, there are many far more important things in life.)  I'll continue to look for and enjoy what's good in baseball. I'll watch games and imagine the players battling without attachments to million-dollar contracts and unsavory owners, and out of the glare of 24/7 television, radio, and social media coverage. I can't not like baseball. My love for the game remains, yet will be in graphic contention with the growing, darker aspects of the industry.
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