Saturday, November 30, 2013

Bush League

Maybe it was the bit of sun leaking through the gray today, but I thought back to my two (only) proud moments playing CYO—Catholic Youth Organization—baseball when I was a kid. I had no arm so I usually played second. Never a big fan of competitive team sports, I liked baseball so much that I put up with the nerves and anxiety that came with Saturdays during the short season. I remember well the pit in my stomach watching my mom wash my jersey and stirrups. Some glory: I was playing second one day when the batter hit a sharp grounder back to the mound; the ball ricocheted off the pitcher's left leg—there was an audible thwack and ouch! from the mound—and headed directly toward me, one of those funny, weird baseball bounces. I fielded the ball cleanly and threw to first in time. I remember my manger's relieved, and probably surprised, cheers for me all too well. The thing is, I wouldn't have had a chance fielding that "screamer" if it'd missed the pitcher, though any remotely decent fielder would have. My UZR was, shall we say, meager. On another Saturday, only nine of us kids showed up on the blacktop at Saint Andrew the Apostle, and so I was guaranteed a start. (I was just as happy to warm the bench.) Sometime in the middle innings I was at the plate when the pitcher—who looked like he was already shaving—threw high and tight and socked me in the ribs. I actually "went down." But, hero that I was, I got up, brushed myself off and hobbled melodramatically to first, insuring that our team wouldn't be forced to forfeit the game. We probably lost anyway. My two proud diamond moments: blind luck and grim necessity. There were worse ways to spend sunny Saturdays.

Baseball Boy Ceramic Figurine via Etsy.

Monday, November 25, 2013

My Favorite Skips

Like millions, I grew up with the U.S. Capital Records' versions of the Beatles albums, cobbled-together, inflated rip-offs of the band's more considered U.K. releases. In retrospect, though I wince at Capital's crass bowdlerizing of the Beatles' original output, I've always loved the liberal echo in the mixes perpetrated by the Capitol Records engineers under the supervision of executive Dave Dexter, Jr. The sound on The Beatles' Second Album is muscular and loud, and George Martin's EMI Studio mixes are tame and thin by comparison. I'm happy that I lost myself in my rec room rocking chair to these rowdy mixes.

My favorite albums aged as all records do, accruing skips and pops and scratches. To this day I cannot hear "You Can't Do That" without unconsciously bracing myself for the epic scratch that comes during the second middle-eight (during "and if they've seen you talking that way..."). For years I lived with that scratch, and many others on many other albums, and it's become a fading emblem of the analog era, a blemish that's become part of the song itself, literally embedded in the grooves, figuratively as aspects of Memory's Mix. Those growing up with digital files won't know the agonies of skips and scratches, though corruption will, of course, manifest itself differently.

The Beatles' Second Album was released on April 10, 1964. Can you hear the scratch at 2:02? I can. Viva vinyl.

Image of 1960s record player via Fine Arts America.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Holy Rollers Rockin' In A Killin' Machine

Regrettably, I've seen the great Bodeco only once, in 1993 at Stache's on High Street in Columbus, Ohio. The band was late getting to the stage because when their gig time arrived they were eating at a cheap Chinese restaurant up the street; someone from the club had to go fetch them. After they paid their bill and wiped their mouths, they hit the stage and tore it up: I didn't know who Bodeco was, and that show is still one of my favorites. What I learned later: the band—the line-up that night was Ricky Feather, Brian Burkett, Wink O'Bannon, Jimmy Brown, and Gary Stillwell—hails from Louisville, Kentucky, and their name derives from "Bo" of Diddley and "'deco" of Zydeco. And that's all you really need to know. Bodeco plays muscular, gut-bucket, funky, 12-bar rock and roll, greasy, honest, and fiercely propulsive, led by guitarist and singer "Shaggy" Feather, who growled into the mike at Staches that night like he was pissed off but determined to have a blast. The groove Bodeco lays down is insistent and raw, but loose and swinging. That night in Columbus I picked up the album they were supporting (1992's terrific Bone, Hair and Hide) and since then I've snatched up everything. There are many bands who lock in to a rootsy, retro, lo-fi sound and mine it for all it's worth. Bodeco is great because their songs (about half of which are instrumentals) and ensemble arrangements—including Latin-flavored bongos and shakers as well as over-driven blooze and rawk guitars—are so guileless and timeless and invested in age-old rock and roll values that kitsch and retro stylings are beside the point. Bodeco plays the real thing as passed down from blues to rockabilly to Link Wray to the Swamp to Bo to the Meters and back, leading with spirit and affection and fun. They're playing out and about still, mostly in the south.

Whenever I need to press re-set, I reach for Bodeco. It's probably a good thing that the band hasn't released many albums. Their slim but pulsing oeuvre hasn't overstayed its welcome, indulging eternally in a Platonic, bad-ass, trance-inducing groove.

Here are some faves. Pour a Wild Turkey and turn it up.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Buon Compleanno, Marty Scorsese

"It seems to me that any sensible person must see that violence does not change the world and if it does, then only temporarily."

"My whole life has been movies and religion. That's it. Nothing else."

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Drunkest Man I Ever Saw

The drunkest man I ever saw was on Meserole Avenue in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. I was staying at the YMCA on Meserole below Manhattan Avenue. I left the building in the early afternoon and turned west; I got a block or so away when I heard a commotion, swearing, raised voices. Violence in the air. An apartment door opened and two men dragged another onto the street and dropped him like a canvas bag. He staggered to his feet and yelled after the men but they'd already retreated into the apartment. I watched as he swerved in place for several moments in a slow, demented twist-dance, and then tried to walk. He couldn't go three feet without falling to his knees. He'd haul himself up again, but he moved like a marionette puppet orchestrated by a cruel puppeteer; he'd stagger, thin arms reaching wildly in front and to the side, as if searching for walls in the middle of the sidewalk, and then fall to a crouch, steadying his wobbly knees; then drop; then bellow and lurch up again. He was tall—well over six feet—thin and bony, with a shock of white hair. He was undoubtedly Polish. I could leave the Y and walk three blocks in any direction and not hear a word of English. There was something in his relationship to the other two men: was this the dire result of an all-night card game? The brutal end of a three-day binge? On the sidewalk, he looked as if he might fall and die at any moment. I'd never seen a man so far away from his own body. He resembled a human being in outline, but in behavior and tone seemed wild, imported from another universe. The tensions between his body chaos and his vain attempts to remain standing wrote a kind of surreal playlet. He managed to get halfway down the block before he dropped for good, with an audible thud and groan. Not knowing what to do, absurdly and childishly fearing a reprisal of sorts from the men who kicked him out, I turned the other way onto Guernsey Street, heading toward the water. An hour or so later, I saw that he'd made it to a front stoop of a building a block or so down Meserole. He was rubbing his head, muttering something. I'd turned away from this staggering misfit of a drunk, wondering if I'd seen a human being in his final moments alive. A circle of instability and recklessness spread from him, and I'd turned the other direction so as not to get caught in it. What did I fear? The man attempting to reach out to me. The graphic, destructive melancholy of high-noon abasement for which I had—for which I have—no words.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Abandoned, Ctd.

South 1st Street. DeKalb, Illinois

The F. Landon Cartage Company was a successful Chicago-based trucking business. How this tiny office—I think that's what it is—ended up by the side of the road south of DeKalb is beyond me. "Go First Class."

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Sam & Dave's "When Something Is Wrong With My Baby"

Sam & Dave recorded Issac Hayes's and Dave Porter's "When Something Is Wrong With My Baby" in Memphis in November of 1966. The song was issued as a single on Stax Records early in 1967, backed with "A Small Portion Of Your Love." There are times when a song can tell you something that you didn't know you knew. When I was maybe twelve or thirteen I bought Sam & Dave's Soul Men for a quarter at a garage sale. I knew "Soul Man" from the Blues Brothers, and I dug the 60s' lime green colors on the cover, the mod design, and especially Sam Moore and Dave Prater's pork pie hats and peg-leg suit pants in the photos on the back cover. The vinyl was terribly scratchy, but the songs grooved wonderfully: "A Rich Kind Of Poverty," "The Good Runs The Bad Away," and the title track were irresistibly funky and warm, sincere-sounding to my teenage ears. These guys are singing truths: I understood this without really understanding. The love songs on Soul Men were sung with such lived-in urgency and desperation that I believed them, though I had no experience yet with romantic love.

These songs prepared me for "When Something Is Wrong With My Baby," a delirious ballad that I wouldn't hear for many years. By then I'd been in and out of a long, vexed relationship that I'd let linger for too long, mistreating my girlfriend in childish, self-centered ways. She certainly deserved none of it; I should have broken up with her earlier than I did. Now, when I listen to "When Something Is Wrong With My Baby" I hear something that I never heard during all the years of that relationship. I feel as if I've known Amy for years, even before we met, and the devastation I share with her when she's down—when she's unhappy, embarrassed, frustrated—is lived-in, ancient, frightening, glad and heartening. The simple but enormous lesson in the song—when your loved one is down, you will be too—was a lesson I acted out before, dutifully, and with good intentions, but onstage, in front of footlights. When I heard the song after being with Amy for a while, my knees went out: yes, this is love, helplessly.

Sam & Dave sing this knowledge with deep gratitude. They address their singing to an unknown other who might be doubting the relationship, because "she's no good." They respond, "she's my woman and I know I'm her man." Their confidence is palpable, and moving, and, as in all of their greatest performances, Moore and Prater sing as if they're one man, navigating between the conflicts and harmonies every one endures, the tenors and baritones of being alive. And one line always grabs me: "Oh, you just wouldn't understand." They're signing to the doubters, but as I listen they're singing to me in the earlier relationship, that kid. You just can't understand yet....

If you're in a relationship and you're not sure if it's the right thing, listen to this song. It will tell you.