Monday, October 23, 2017

Astros in Seven

The World Series begins tomorrow night, and the matchup features two 100+ win teams for the first time since 1970, when the Baltimore Orioles defeated the Cincinnati Reds. The Houston Astros and the Los Angeles Dodgers are evenly matched on paper; both teams sport fine starting pitching and relievers, stingy defenses, and offensive clout. The Dodgers would appear to have the edge given that they've secured home field advantage, but truthfully my Inner Predictor hasn't felt this gun shy in a long time. I'm pulling for the Astros for a host of reasons—growing up with the Orioles as my default home team and loving the Yankees, Red Sox, and Royals teams of the 1970s, my instinct is to yell "Go American League!"; my fifteen-year old nephew Matthew loves the Astros and has since he was a little kid; my DeKalb buddy Kevin is a scout for the 'Stros, and I'd like to see his contribution to the team be rewarded. Yet the Dodgers could easily take it. Either way, I'm looking forward to watching Yasiel Puig on the Big Stage, facing off against Justin Verlander and flashing leather in right; I'm psyched to watch the Astros' sluggers deal with the differential between Yu Darvish's fastball and change; I want to see Altuve be Altuve. And so on. I do predict close, generally low scoring games. And the Astros in seven.

Whatever transpires, here's to competitive baseball ball and a fun week!

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Anyone can do it

A handful of musicians, ranging from Paul McCartney, David Bowie, and Johnny Lydon to Leif Garret, Meat Loaf, and Kate Bush, hold forth on "Punk Rock" in a documentary episode of Countdown that aired in December of 1979. Good, of-the-era stuff, equal parts earnest and reactive, inspired and defensive.

I like what Steve Harley, late of the glam band Cockney Rebel, has to say. Squarely facing a trend and movement, he reacts honestly and reminds us what it was all about:
I like the principal behind it all. I never really pretended to understand what was going on. I can't pretend that I understand. I'm 28. I can't pretend that I understand 18-year olds. Writing songs about being on the dole, and living in high-rise council blocks of flats, and being underprivileged and deprived. I can't pretend to understand that because it's not part of my lifestyle, so I won't lie and say, "Oh, I'm hip to that!" Because I'm not. I'm from another world. Well, what the Pistols did, and their ilk, was important in that they made it very obvious that anyone can do it.

Friday, October 20, 2017

"LOL I Hate My Life"

Had a fascinating conversation in my Writing Creative Nonfiction I workshop yesterday about Robert Benchley's essay "My Face," which appeared in his book After 1903 What? in 1938. Benchley writes Benchleyesquely about his struggles with the disconnect between his subjective impression of himself and how he actually looks, in surprising window reflections and in the odd photo. "Some mornings," he writes, "if I look in the mirror soon enough after getting out of bed, there is no resemblance to any character at all, either in or out of fiction, and I turn quickly to look behind me, convinced that a stranger has spent the night with me and is peering over my shoulders in a sinister fashion, merely to frighten me." Elsewhere, he admits that he "never can quite make it seem possible that this is really Poor Little Me, the Little Me I know so well and yet who frightens me so when face to face." His tone is self-mocking, wittily urbane in the mid-century New Yorker reserved-personal style. I routinely assign the essay so we can talk about the value and limitations of humor in the essay, and about the subjective nature of humor writing in general. When I asked the class if they found the essay humorous, they collectively blanched. On the contrary; they found it brutally sad and a cry for help.

This is a first. Usually my students describe the essay as quaintly funny, in an old-fashioned way. They enjoy it, and find it relevant to their lives. Who doesn't struggle with self-image? Some students have described it as "David Sedaris-like" (although Sedaris seems to have less cachet for twenty-somethings now than he did a decade or so ago.) The revulsion of this semester's class to Benchley threw me, and I had to regroup. They liked the essay—quite a bit, in fact—but it made them very uncomfortable, and they felt that what other generations of readers might've found droll or whimsical in Benchley's tone, they find somber and self-destructive. "This is a cry for help!" one student protested. "I feel like I want to do something for him," another offered. The majority of the class felt that Benchley was a really sad guy, beset with body-image woes, suffering in a crass, surface-dwelling society. One woman said she wanted to slide her therapist's card to him on the sly; another was pleased to see a man writing about vanity and vulnerability, traits stereotypically associated with women. Their responses, as always, varied with their experiences: one woman said that she grew up in a home without many mirrors ("it was a thing") and so felt Benchey's feelings especially keenly; another wondered on the effects of their generation carrying thousands of images of themselves on phones, and of the daily anxiety of unasked-for taggings in unflattering photos. This, times a thousand.

My students weren't being humorless about this, or overly earnest. Most of their comments were offered with half-grins, yet their reactions were authentic; no English Major posturing here. It's fascinating to me how different generations read and react. My students admittedly couldn't imagine how a literate, pre-Second War audience would respond to the essay. One particularly bright student suggested that since her generation of twenty-somethings is so attuned to trigger warnings and danger signs of depression, it's apt that they would read "My Face" with a diagnostic eye, open to signs of toxic self-deprecation or mental illness that might be helped with counseling (or medication). Another bright student suggested "LOL I Hate My Life" as a subtitle to the essay. Another said the essay reminded her of Louis C.K. in its darkness and relentless self-scrutiny. Benchley, dark! Fascinating. My students keep teaching me, and I'm grateful for that.

My dad owned three of four Benchley books, and I have fond memories of sitting with my family in the living room after dinner, and my older brother reading Benchley aloud, and all of us falling over ourselves laughing. I guess that in another fifty or so years a group of college students might respond very differently again to "My Face," perhaps on the pendulum swing back to identifying with Benchley's laid-back, witty tone. Who knows. I wonder what Benchley would make of all of this.

Monday, October 16, 2017

"Oh, I feel foolish!"

I'm in love with this ticket-scalper-buying housewife from Westchester County who comes in on her own to see the Rolling Stones at Madison Square Garden on July 25, 1972. She was among the fans interviewed outside of the Garden by Dick Cavett for a special episode about the Stones' NYC shows, broadcast on ABC on August 11.

I really hope that she went to a bootleg showing of Cocksucker Blues later.

Dick Cavett: Are your children with you?

Woman: No, they're at home.
C: Where are you from?

W: Port Chester, New York.

C: Are you a housewife?

W: Yes. Mother.

C: And you're going to the concert?

W: Mm-hmm.

DC: How did you get tickets? And how many?

W: I bought one off the street.

DC: Hold on to it, because people have been known to get them away from people.... Are you going or are your children?

W: No, I am. They're going tomorrow night.

C: Do they know you're here?

W: Yes. I hope [laughs]

C: Is your husband a Stones fan?

W: No. No.

C: Just you?

W: And my children really turned me on to the music and that's why I grew to love it and that's how come I'm here. Oh, I feel foolish! [laughs]

C: You shouldn't feel foolish. Do you have a poster of Mick Jagger up in the kitchen or anything?

W: No [laughs]

C: Nothing like that. You just like the sound.

W: Yes, I just like them. . . .

C: Would you want to meet Mick Jagger? I can't arrange it, but if you did do you have any idea what you'd talk about?

W: I have a son that reminds me of him. [laughs]

C: How old is the son?

W: He's eight-years old.

C: But Jagger's twice that old!

W: Ah, just something about him reminds me of him. I have a few children, and he's just different from all all the rest.

Screen grab of The Dick Cavett Show via Decades

Friday, October 13, 2017

Let 'em Play

Major League Baseball should be ashamed of itself. The replay decision that overturned the on-field, rally-killing call of Cubs catcher Willson Contreras's pick off of the Nationals' Jose Lobaton was a disgrace. Among the pleasure of watching sports is seeing athletes hurl their bodies through air and control those bodies in elegant, often breathtaking ways. "Professional sports have a powerful hold on us because they display and glorify remarkable physical capacities," Roger Angell wrote, "and because the artificial demands of games played for very high rewards produce vivid responses,” Athletes are bigger, quicker, stronger, and more agile than I am or will ever be; watching them play at the elite level, I expect that they'll test their limits in entertaining ways. One of the remarkable aspects of baseball is how well-designed the game is: the dimensions on the field, notwithstanding the varying distances of the outfield fences and the recently (1969!) lowered pitching mound, have remained unchanged for decades. It's astounding that a player in 1923, after hitting a grounder to third, would hustle down the first base line and just beat—or not—the throw to first, and that his larger, faster, and stronger counterpart in 2017, hustling, in theory, still faster, would also face a split-second decision at the end of that same ninety feet. What a perfectly designed game!

When a player dives back to first in response to a lightning-quick pick-off move, he by definition hurls his body through air, and occasionally his foot or leg will come up off the bag even after he's arrived safely. That's physics. That's poetry. It's not a mistake. It's a body moving through space. Instant Replay should be used to reverse bad calls and obvious mistakes made by the umpires and players—it should not be used to penalize a player for being six feet and an inch and weighing 205 pounds and, against gravity and with brutally-honed instincts, lurching to his left to touch a bag and—for an instant—lift off.

Simply because we have the ability to micro-zoom and freeze a chaotic moment of intensely competitive sport, must we apply it on every occasion? Baseball is played by humans and umpired by humans; why must technology supplant the naked eye on the occasions where a leg lifts off of a bag for a slit-second of time after the runner clearly reached the bag, as observed by the first base umpire from a few feet away? Baseball is applying an unprecedented, hyper-realistic standard of physical play if it permits replay on such microcosmic instances of athletic competition. It does a disservice to the talented, hard-working players and umpires, to kids watching, to fans, to the game. I know it's unlikely that replay will be refined, but I hope that in this off-season someone in New York suggests a re-think. The game is too beautiful to be policed—reduced— by a high-definition camera. Let the boys play.

I was texting with my brother, who was at the game and didn't have access to the replays I was watching. I thought I'd cool off about this overnight, but nope.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

"Flash & Crash"

I've always loved the brutally raw sound of Rocky and the Riddlers' garage stomp "Flash & Crash," released on the Seattle-based, Jerden-affiliated Panorama label in 1966. Recently, Ric Ulsky, who played organ on the song, contacted me at my YouTube channel, 3 Chord Philosophy. I asked him for any memories of the session:
I remember it being very exciting. An actual recording studio! Wow! Plus I was the youngest member of the band so I was even more excited. It was 1966 technology. I believe we were in a 2 track studio downtown Seattle. Jerry Dennon was the Producer, I'm pretty sure. Carnie Barton was the engineer, I think. Hell, he was old then. He just sat there reading the paper and eating an orange. I was playing a Farfisa through a 147 Leslie and a Sears and Roebuck Silvertone amp. Hell of a rig for those days.
Hell of a sound. Turn it up, if you dare.

Photo of Rocky and the Riddlers via Pacific Northwest Bands

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

How it Feels

Mourning a musician you've never met is inevitable and complicated. I can't say that I'll miss Tom Petty, the man; I never knew him. His family, friends, band mates, and musicians who've played with down the years—one in the same, at the end of the day—will miss him, and I feel awful for their grieving that begins today, and will never really end. What I and millions more are grieving is the end of a generous and supremely gifted musical career, a career that gave deep pleasures to so many in so many different ways  during so many eras. Petty will never write or sing another song. That hits keenly today. I didn't pay close attention to his career from the late 1990s onward, but his songs will stay very close to me. It's always been my impression that Tom Petty was the Great Leveler. Put a handful of music fans of different stripes in a room—a Rockabilly obsessive; a garage rock hound; a Punk/New Waver; an MTV kid; an Indie Rock stalwart; a millennial streaming Classic Rock into Hip Hop back to 60s AM hits; college kids raiding their parents' music collections; drunks, stoners—and I'm pretty sure they'd agree on Tom Petty. His greatest songs were formalist gems that were so true and clear-eyed about what it meant to be alive that they cut across bias, taste, and generations, as all great popular art does. I hope that he knew this. I hope he knew how it feels.

The timing of one's fandom is crucial. I was a teenager by a few months when Damn The Torpedoes came out in the fall of 1979, and his songs—the hits, especially—scored that year and the next in graphic, indelible ways. The backing vocal on "Refugee" sounded exactly like a friend's voice, the same timbre and tone; Petty and his band were familiar already. And when I'd listen to the mumbling verses in "Here Comes My Girl"—so masculine in their bitter, shrugging defenses and talky inarticulation, on guard against powerful sentiment and emotional surprise—and then the lyrical melody bloom in the chorus, Petty, moved, singing at the top of his register, the room and the song lighting up with her and her presence, I had everything laid out before me, a lot of which I'd experienced but hadn't named: crushes; love; lust, the power of intimacy; looming adulthood; surrendering; all in one song. Thanks, Tom Petty, for this song and so many others.

My buddy Marty owns a cabin in West Virginia overlooking the Cacapon River. We'd fantasize about inviting Petty to hang with us for a weekend—jamming to tunes; drinking beer and smoking weed; laughing; busting on politicians and talking rock and roll; just hanging out. So many fans have adolescent fantasies like this, but with Petty we could actually picture it, see him in front of us hanging onto the deck, peering into the trees below, a half grin on his face, making some crack, the way we couldn't imagine Keef or Prince, or even Bruce. We knew, somehow, that we'd all get along, that he'd put his fame and fortune beside him and just chill. Ridiculous, I know. But his songs and low-key demeanor made the fantasy tantalizing, asked that we keep him close to us. We'll miss you, Tom. Rest in Peace.

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Playoffs are Here

As are my fearless predictions. Making an educated case about the Wild Card games is akin to judging a four-course meal on one bite, but I'll go with momentum and, in the case of the Yanks, home-field advantage. Same with my picks for the Divisional and Championship Series.

I, again, have no horse in the race. I'd like to see the Nationals win it all for my Dad, brother, and longtime buddies back in Maryland. But the 'Stros and Dodgers feel right to me to play for it all. Not a controversial prediction, I know, and anything can, and will, happen. Here's to taut, well-played games and each Series going to a decoding game! Play October Ball!
Yankees > Twins

Rockies > Diamondbacks

Indians > Yankees
Astros > Red Sox

Dodgers > Rockies
Nationals > Cubs

Astros > Indians

Dodgers > Nationals

Astros > Dodgers in 7

Photo via Time: "University of Pittsburgh students cheer wildly from atop the Cathedral of Learning as they look down on Forbes Field, where the Pittsburgh Pirates are playing the Yankees in the 7th game of the 1960 World Series...". George Silk—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

Friday, September 29, 2017

Winding down...

I couldn't attend the White Sox's final home game last night. They close out the year in Cleveland, assured of losses numbering in the 90s. That's OK; this was a rebuilding season, and the foundation for the structure assembled over the next couple of years feels surprisingly sturdy at this point. Highlights of the season: Jose Abreu continued his steady, workman-like march toward the category of elite sluggers; Avisail Garcia had a career year; Tim Anderson got better and more consistent; Matt Davidson caught more good luck than bad; a couple pitching prospects stepped up.

White Sox announcer Jason Benetti and the team said their goodbyes:


Being at Guaranteed Rate Field for Abreu's unlikely Cycle on a few weeks back was a personal highlight for me; the amped-up excitement at the park is something I'll carry with me as a low murmur over the off season. Speaking of the off season, there really isn't one anymore, and I don't know how I feel about that. The long wait between the end of the World Series and the start of Spring Training has, like so many delays in contemporary culture, been eradicated, or replaced 24/7 with loud data. Great for baseball writers, researchers, and obsessives, but I'm not so sure that even devoted fans need this much baseball—videos; blog reports; off-season feel-good stories; "Hot Stove" talk, and the rest—between November and February. I'll eat it up over the cold, dark days, but not without some wistful looks back at the off season years when I was a kid, when Eastern Seaboard snow and endless gray figuratively smothered anything baseball-related until the Spring thaw, when, deep in the Sports section of the Washington Post grainy, black-and-white photos began popping up of ball players in white unis and bright sun.

Anyway, the playoffs start next week and I am psyched. Predictions coming once the Wild Card game participants are settled. The White Sox open next season against the Royals on March 29 at Kauffman Stadium. See you here.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Bangs on Rock & Roll, ctd.

In 1980 Lester Bangs wrote Blondie, a idiosyncratic biography of the band then riding high on the commercial wave of "Call Me." Bangs famously cared little for the book that he saw as a hack-work project to make some dough. (You can find decent-priced copies at Amazon and elsewhere.) Neither Greil Marcus nor John Morthland excerpted Blondie in their respective collections of Bangs's work, though Marcus acknowldges the book is "scabrous" and "crackling."

In 1992 Clinton Heylin did, in his criminally hard-to-find Penguin Book of Rock & Roll Writing. In the passage Bangs revisits a favorite topic, the anti-virtuosity of great rock & roll, its democratic call to arms to anyone with the nerve and style to pick up an instrument. By 1980, Bangs had traversed this subject many times, but it's always great to listen to the man hold forth on the lo-fi power of rock & roll and punk. "The point is that rock & roll, as I see it, is the ultimate populist art form, democracy in action, because it’s true: anybody can do it," he writes.
Learn three chords on a guitar and you’ve got it. Don’t worry whether you can "sing" or not. Can Neil Young "sing"? Lou Reed, Bob Dylan? A lot of people can’t stand to listen to Van Morrison, one of the finest poets and singers in the history of popular music, because of the sound of his voice. But this is simply a matter of exposure. For performing rock & roll, or punk rock, or call it any damn thing you please, there’s only one thing you need: NERVE. Rock & roll is an attitude, and if you’ve got the attitude you can do it, no matter what anybody says. Believing that is one of the things punk rock is about. Rock is for everybody, it should be so implicitly anti-elitist that the question of whether somebody’s qualified to perform it should never even arise.

But it did. In the sixties, of course. And maybe this was one reason why the sixties may not have been so all-fired great as we gave them credit for. Because in the sixties rock & roll began to think of itself as an "art-form." Rock & roll is not an 'art-form"; rock & roll is a raw wail from the bottom of the guts. And like I said, whatever anybody ever called it, punk rock has been around from the beginning—it’s just rock honed down to its rawest elements, simple playing with a lot of power and vocalists who may not have much range but have so much conviction and passion it makes up for it ten times over. Because PASSION IS WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT—what all music is about.

In the early sixties there was punk rock: "Louie, Louie" by the Kingsmen being probably the most prominent example. It was crude, it was rude, anybody could play it, but so what? It’ll be around and people everywhere will still be playing it as long as there’s rock & roll left at all. It’s already lasted longer than Sgt. Pepper! Who in the hell does any songs from that album anymore? Yet, a few years ago, some people were saying Sgt. Pepper will endure a hundred years.

Photo of Lester Bangs via San Diego Reader; photo of Debbie Harry via Medium.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

"Little things remind me of you"

From dive bars to neon clubs, Honky Tonk to New Wave, bourbon to blow, heartbreak knows no genre.

single (1965)

I just came in here from force of habit
I don't intend to spend too much time in here
But I saw you headin' for the music
And if you play A-11, there'll be tears

I don't know you from Adam
But if you're gonna play the jukebox
Please don't play A-11

This used to be our favorite night spot
And when she was here it was heaven
It was here she told me that she loved me
And she always played A-11

I don't know you from Adam
But if you're gonna play the jukebox
Please don't play A-11

(words and music, Hank Cochran)


 single (1982)

So I saw you in the pizza place
You were with another girl
It was a crime it was such a disgrace
You really shattered my world

Little things remind me of you
Cheap cologne and that damn song too

Don't put another dime in the jukebox
I don't want to hear that song no more
Don't put another dime in the jukebox
I don't want to hear that song no more

Then I learned the treacherous end
You were with my best friend
Ain't got no class ain't got no respect
My broken heart will never mend

Don't want to hear that song no more No! No!
Don't want to hear that song no more
Don't want to hear that song no more No! No!
Don't want to hear that song!

(words and music, Bobby Orlando)

Jukebox photo via Wikipedia Commons.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Field Recordings at Open Stacks

My April 1 reading from Field Recordings from the Inside at the Seminary Co-op Bookstore in Chicago is up at the Open Stacks podcast. You can listen here. While you're at, swing over to Spotify and crank the playlist I created as a companion to the book, a romp through (most of) the songs, bands, and artists I write about in the book. Link here.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Jose Abreu hits for the cycle

Abreu moments from launching a homer to center.
I was on hand last night at Guaranteed Rate Field for Battle of the First Round Draft Pick. The White Sox and the San Fransisco Giants own the third- and second-worst records in baseball, both peering with mixed feelings at the cellar position and dubious compensation. Although Sox General Manager Rick Hahn has thus far done a terrific, and to many surprising, job of restocking the franchise's depleted farm system through trades, the team can use all the help it can get. The Sox didn't help out themselves last night, crushing the Giants 13 to 1 behind an improbably sterling performance from beleaguered starter David Shields, who held the Giants to one hit through six and a third innings before surrendering a homer to Nick Hundly. Shields made the Giants hitters look foolish and over-matched all night, hitter after baffled hitter trudging back to the dugout hanging his head ("muscle memory," my buddy Dan quipped.) The Sox bats were hopped up on a cool, windy evening, all six of the home runs no-doubters. I hadn't heard such loud contact the park in a long, long time.

By the far the highlight of the game was Jose Abreu hitting for the cycle, only the sixth White Sox player to do so (the last was Jose Valentin, in April 2000). Coming to bat in the eighth, Abreu had already slugged a homer to deep center, driven a double down the left field line, and looped a little single into shallow left. What was ridiculously fun and improbable about the cycle was how steeply the odds were stacked against Abreu: a triple his hard to will; Abreu's a big guy, the opposite of swift; he fouled the second pitch, a 94 mile per hour fastball, off his foot, a real stinger that brought out manager Rick Renteria and team trainer Herm Schneider. All Abreu did was laser the very next pitch, another fastball, to the gap in right-center. As he rounded second I, and thousands of others, yelled "He's gonna go for it!"—he slid into third just ahead of the throw. I've never seen a player hit for the cycle, and to see one of my favorites do it—improbably!—at his home park was a thrill I won't soon forget. The White Sox scoreboard operator seemed a bit overwhelmed by all of the clangorous contact throughout the night—the Sox rapped out eighteen hits—and didn't acknowledge Abreu's feat, only flashing on the big screen a GIF of an applauding baseball.

Just as well. Abreu's a modest, go-to-work guy. He smiled and caught his breath while standing on third, and received the mauling of congratulations in the dugout, a celebration I was fortunate to be able to see form my seat just above the visitors' dugout. Another night at the park for the low-key and gifted Abreu, only this time it was historic.


It was Tim Raines Night last night. Dan and I were somewhere between the Craft Kave and our seats when Raines threw out the first pitch, but we were each clutching out Raines figurine, courtesy of the team. The scoreboard ran a terrific career-spanning video montage of Raines running, hitting, cashing into walls, and mugging it up in various dugouts. Truth be told, "The Rock" excelled during an era when I wasn't paying much attention to baseball; distracted, I didn't find my way back from my late-70s/early-80s love affair with the game until roughly the mid-90s, when Raines left the White Sox for the Yankees. I'd missed him, but I love the fact that's he's heading to Hall, and that the team for which he played five of his twenty three seasons would so fete him. A fun night all around.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...