Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Bedford Avenue and the Caroming Homer

Ebbets Field, and Young Motors and the neighborhood beyond right field.
Top photo via the Tampa Tribune; middle photo via Sports-Venue; bottom photo via @OTBaseballPhotos
In an anonymous "Talk Of The Town" segment in the October 3, 1953 issue of The New Yorker, Peter Bunzel, Richard McCallister, and Brendan Gill collectively consider the fate of the home run balls hit over the right field fence at Ebbets Field. The Brooklyn Dodgers were a few years away from decamping to the West Coast, the field itself a bit further from demolition, but no one knew this yet. In describing how a home run ball caroms down Bedford Avenue and into its businesses, the writers unwittingly paint a portrait of a vanishing species: the neighborhood ball park.

"You know how, when somebody hits a home run in right field at Ebbets Field, Red Barber describes the ball as clearing the fence and descending upon Bedford Avenue?" the writers begin casually. "Well, with the [1953 Yankees-Dodgers] Series descending upon us, we got to wondering what happens to all those out-of-the-park balls, so we went right over to Bedford Avenue and found out." What they discover isn't terribly surprising: a home run ball is worth some dough among the kids gathered outside the right field fence. "The best customers for souvenir baseballs are fathers eager to take something home to junior," Bunzel, McCallister, and Gill report. The player most likely to hit a homer for junior? Duke Snider.
A month or so ago, the Duke hit a home run over the right-center field scoreboard that wrecked a window at Young Motors, a Plymouth-De Soto salesroom on the far side of Bedford Avenue. The Duke may have been taking it sort of easy that day. Ten or twelve times a summer, when he really puts his back into it, he knocks letters off the Young Motors sign, several feet above the show window. Everybody at Young Motors roots for the Duke, though. Glad to have the sign and window go in a good cause.
Hopeful glances upward.
From the September 26, 1953 issue of The New Yorker
The "Talk of the Town" piece is packed with evocative details from the 'hood like this, the most remarkable—relative to today's game of distanced, multi-millionaire players—involving Dodger's Service Station at the corner of Bedford and Sullivan Place, just beyond the right field fence, where "nearly any first-class left-hand wallop is apt to end up hopping among the pumps. (Because the grandstand at Ebbets Field serves as a shield for the left-field corner, most of the halls that land outside the park are hit by left-handers)." One of the station attendants related a particular great story:
...a couple of years back, and as sure as he was standing there, a home-run ball went through the roof of a convertible he was servicing, out the side window of the convertible, then rolled through the open door of the station and ended up against the belly of a cat who was asleep there and didn’t even bother to wake up-—just curled her paws around the ball and went on snoozing. 
The roving reporters are then startled, when, "as the attendant was telling us these things, who should arrive in a powder-blue Cadillac but [Dodgers pitcher] Preacher Roe, with [pitcher] Carl Erskine on the seat beside him. 'Hi ya, Preach!' the attendant cried. Preach said to fill her up."

Such stories make it too easy for me to grieve the loss of neighborhood parks like Ebbets (the site of which I recently visited); I can ignore the growing economic, urban, and cultural developments that ultimately made small town fields undesirable among owners (and many fans). But it's fun to think back to a time when many parks were built in cities, the dimensions of the outfield often oddly configured to the pre-existing streets and blocks themselves. There is still Fenway Park and Camden Yards, of course, and Wrigley Field, where a home run can bounce down a tree-lined street and end up on a front porch (or through an open door), but far more parks than not have substituted endless parking lots and easy-on/easy-off freeway access for ball-snuggling kitties and friendly, fill 'er up players, who might need you to check the oil while you're at it, thanks.

From the Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Digging around a bit, I discovered "Dodger Outfielder Snared Homer 100 Feet Outside Ebbets," by Paul Gould in the November 18, 1952 Brooklyn Daily Eagle (left). In his article Gould describes an incident very similar to what The New Yorker discovered a year later.

The story went like this: Dodgers fan Dick Williams, his injured shoulder in a sling, had parked his car at Dodger's Service Station, as many fans and even some Dodgers players did, and before he ventured into the park stopped to chat with the service station's owner, Adolph Friedel. "The third inning has just started when a roar—only too familiar to Dick's ears—cascaded across Flatbush [Avenue]. A home run was obviously on the fly."
The two—WilIlams and Friedel—had been chatting in front of the huge plate glass window. At the the burst of sound, they instinctively looked up. Sure enough, the ball—-smacked by [Boston Braves rookie Eddie] Mathews off Joe Black—was taking wing and heaving to. A second before it could crash into the window, Williams leaped high and with his good hand speared it.
But Matthews never knew of the off-the-record play and the Dodgers don't—until now— the bill they could have gotten far that window, some 400 feet from home plate. On another occasion, in practice, Rube Walker did smash it and the Dodgers paid. Cheerfully, too, as they are covered by insurance.
The article ends with another reason why neighborhood parks may have vanished. Friedel, a huge Dodgers fan, nonetheless witnessed a less happy side to local Dodgers adulation:
...dozens of kids black out his business by lining up to catch homers during the game and hundreds, afterward, swarm on the sidewalk for autographs. Business is shot.

"It's murder," Friedel muttered. "Gad, I love those Dodgers, but it's murder, that's what."

Monday, December 28, 2015

"Polo Grounds," Rolfe Humphries

Rolphe Humphries
Critic, poet, and translator Rolfe Humphries was born in Philadelphia in 1894, mentored a young Theodore Roethke, wrote six books of poems and published four books of translations and numerous poems, articles and reviews in his lifetime, won awards including Guggenheim and Academy of American Poets fellowships, was a first lieutenant machine gunner in the last year of the first War, taught high-school Latin in San Francisco and New York for three decades and then at Amherst College, and died in Redwood City, California, in 1969. According to a biography at the Poetry Foundation, in his poems Humphries "explored loss and the natural world."

He was apparently a baseball fan, too. One of his poems was devoted to a New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers game at the Polo Grounds, and ran in the August 22, 1942 issue of The New Yorker. In dramatizing an utterly ordinary mid-summer inning of baseball, Humphries (manfully resisting sentimentality but sometimes succumbing, it must be said) names many players on the '42 New York Giants team (Jurges, Witek, Mize, et al), and many ball players who by mid-century were long gone. He considers a well-executed infield play, and the several moments it takes, and then the game's languor, and an afternoon, and time, and this:
                                        The shadow moves
From the plate to the box, from the box to second base,
From second to the outfield, to the bleachers

Time is of the essence. The crowd and the players
Are the same age always, but the man in the crowd
Is older every season. Come on, play ball!
Loss and the natural world, indeed.

The Polo Grounds, mid-1940s

Photo of Humphries via John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.
Image of Polo Grounds via Etsy.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Bobby Bare and Tales Old as Dirt

As underrated singers go, Bobby Bare is golden. For much of his career in country music he flew under the radar relative to his starry peers and didn't enjoy much crossover success on pop, but he cut consistently terrific material in the 1960s and 1970s, and made regular appearances on the Billboard Country charts, including several Top Ten hits ("Detroit City," "500 Miles From Home," "Four Strong Winds," "Streets Of Baltimore," among them). Like many talented (and less so) country singers of the era, Bare benefited from Nashville's Music Row, enjoying top-shelf songwriting even as his record sales slipped in the 1980s. His deep, affecting voice, crooning style, and choice of material are rich and cosmopolitan, possibly too hard to box-in for country music radio programmers and promoters to get behind him and maintain his star power over decades.

My introduction to Bare was watching his son, the kaleidoscopically talented Bobby Bare Jr., play a great show several years ago at the Iota Club in Arlington, Virginia opening for The Bottle Rockets; afterward, I started tracking down his pop's records. In addition to possessing one of my all-time favorite album titles, (Margie's At) The Lincoln Park Inn And Other Controversial Country Songs, released in 1969, contains several standout cuts capturing Bare's wry, adult phrasing and forlorn world view (though none, from our Twenty-first century perspective, are particularly "controversial"). The sad, waltzing title track, written by Tom T. Hall, was a number four hit for Bare and is quintessentially Hall in its downbeat, tried-and-true subject made fresh and memorable by narrative details. Hall frames the song with the image of an upstanding, Scout-leading father fixing his son's bike—in between, we learn the real story, that the man's been cheating on his wife at the Lincoln Park Inn with Margie. The song's about borders: between husband and wife, churchgoer and priest, wife and mistress, father and son, adult and child, teacher and student, home and hotel, decorum and desire. Old, old territories, but in Hall's and Bare's hands the tale feels like a fresh wound. The musicianship, by Nashville's ace studio players, is superb, characterful and restrained, and the orchestral strings avoid smothering the sentiment with melodrama. The singer idly wonders at the damage he'd cause by speaking the truth about infidelity to a group of young kids, and the song's final moments—poised as the fatal instant between doing right and doing wrong, yet again, as the singer's low on cigarettes and knows that's the perfect excuse to head to the Inn—suggests the endlessness of moral failings.

Speaking of which.... The last song on the album, the beautiful, devastating "Rainy Day In Richmond," written by Jerry McBee, Dan Lomax, and Billy Large, makes a move familiar in country music, wherein the cheater becomes the cheated, the distance between the two griefs etched in stone. Behind a deceptively light Latin beat, the singer's followed his girl and her lover during their "hour of fun" to the "love nest they had found." He stands in disbelief and finally must turn away from the painful truth, underscored by the gloom of the day's weather. There's no indication in the lyrics that the singer himself has sinned—but the gap between the first and last song on an album side is small, finally, when those songs are sung by the same person. Bare looks in two directions, one facing sin, the other facing heartache, and he's grown-up enough to recognize, if not voice, the irony of his resentment blending with his guilt. What I love about a great country song is the way it evokes a timeless place with daily ingredients: his girl's and her lover's "hour of fun" take place on the tawdry, squeaking beds in Richmond's version of the Lincoln Park Inn. There's one in every town. Always has been. Always will be.

Producer Chet Atkins (left) and Bare in the studio, sharing old stories.
Photo from back of (Margie's At) The Lincoln Park Inn And Other Controversial Country Songs.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Dave Dudley Ain't That Lonely

There's something comforting about a Dave Dudley album, which might be odd considering that every song on it is about departure and freedom tinged with regret as sung by a lone wolf. But then the old, bright-red Mercury label brings me back home. Dudley's 1969 album One More Mile, produced by the legendary Jerry Kennedy, is hardly unique to the singer's cannon: DD sings about the road and its lure. The title track is another winner from the venerable hand of Tom T. Hall, and was another hit for Dudley, peaking at #12 on the Billboard Country Chart in June. Dudley kept dogging it, one song at a time:

But the deep cut I like on the album is unique in that Dudley himself wrote it. Usually an interpreter of others' songs tailored to his style and subjects, on the folky, Johnny Cash-esque "But For Me It's Not" Dudley takes the wheel and, though the chorus is a bit awkwardly phrased, the song feels genuine and lived-in. Ironically, Dudley was injured in a car accident in 1960; that incident didn't seem to dampen his love of the road (and the Billboard-charting singles didn't hurt, either, of course). The statement-of-purpose lyrics of "But For Me It's Not" are terrific, as evocative of wind whistling through an open window as the song's fine, finger-picked acoustic guitar (probably played by Kennedy) and pistoning brushed snare (courtesy of the great Buddy Harman) are evocative of lightness and movement. Here are some striking lines:
Well I see a lotta pretty girls everywhere that I go
And sometimes I wish I had one for my own
But I never found one who share everything I ain't got
I can't understand why everybody wants a home and there they stay
Ain't they never heard a robin near a highway at the break of another day?
Well when I die I wanna die a standin' up
Near a highway sign that's pointin' out the rock
Where I can watch all the folks in my backyard livin' it up
Now for some that might be lonely but for me uh uh no it's not

"When I get back to normal, everything is gonna be alright," Dudley sings on another good one on One More Mile—it's a tune about a guy who's been drunk every day since his woman left. But once he's back to normal.... Poor Dave: he's always on the road between here and there.
Contemplatin' (detail from back cover of One More Mile (1969)

Monday, December 21, 2015

Aerial Shot of My Adolescence: Wheaton, 1975

Google Maps and Street View and their competitors may have put printed maps to bed, but sometimes an old photo can hold more wonders than the digital domain. In the Washington Post I came across the above photo of downtown Wheaton, Maryland from 1975, and if you squint really hard you can see me—right there between HIGH'S and Wheaton Pharmacy in the Wheaton Shopping Center, which was basically two blocks of stores. (The giant black arrow points to a site mentioned in the article.) If I'm not actually there, I'm there in spirit. This photo captures the town I grew up in in loving, grainy detail: you're looking east down University Boulevard at the intersection of University and Georgia Avenues, a couple of blocks from the house on Amherst Avenue in which I lived until I was twenty-two (my house is behind the apartments, at the top of the photo). In the center of the image is Anchor Inn, a seafood restaurant that stood for decades; across the street is the IHOP, still there, amazingly. Just out of the frame to the right is the Wheaton Newsstand, a regular, beloved stop on my allowance walk, and long-gone, the kind of musty, narrow candy, magazine and newspaper store that's vanished from the American landscape.

You've indulged me long enough. Here's an excerpt from "34 of 86 Stories" which ran in Passages North this year, a piece I dedicated to Alfred Kazin who wrote A Walker In The City, one of my favorite books. I take some measure of my own, dearly-held adolescent walks through my hometown; some locations appear in this photo. It's nice to have as a document against my fading memory.
Into Wheaton Newsstand with its two, narrow, dimly-lit aisles and aromatic blend of cut-rate cigars, Farmer’s Almanacs, and baseball cards, across busy Georgia Avenue and a stroll down the alley to Barbarian Bookstore where I’d devour a Mack Bolan Executioner novel (while keeping an eye out for the store owner—when he’d duck away I’d fearfully check out the stack of 1960s and ’70s Playboy and Penthouse magazines), peek above the rush of traffic on Viers Mill Road toward Wheaton Plaza, head back to High’s for a cherry or a raspberry Slush Puppie and sit on the low-brick wall along Hickerson Drive and slowly, deliciously open a three-pack of Topps baseball cards, then head next door to Planter’s Peanuts to gawk at the rows of chocolates and peanut brittle and adult-only gag gifts, stroll the comic book and gift aisles of Wheaton Pharmacy, avoiding the school supplies, and, heading back home, throw a nervous side-glance into Rose’s, the shadowy old-man bar at Amherst and University, while listening happily for the dings chimed by the cars rolling over the black hoses at the Shell gas station across the street. I was heady with the aroma of oil and gasoline which brought back family trips to far-away, exotic Ohio and the rest stops where we’d eat a packed lunch on picnic tables next to the rumble of idling eighteen-wheelers and the distant roar of Interstate 70. Maps and legends. An expedition. An afternoon.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

What Might've Been on the South Side

I was reading about Orioles Park at Camden Yards recently when I came across a mention of Phillip Bess, a Professor of Architecture at Notre Dame who in 1987 and '88 was the director and principal designer of the Urban Baseball Park Design Project of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). In 1986 and '87 Bess and his associates conceived of a ballpark to replace Comiskey Park ("The Baseball Palace of the World"), the decades-old Chicago White Sox home which was slated for demolition at the end of that decade. The White Sox, after securing $200 million in public financing, and aided by some legislative jostling by then-governor James R. Thompson, chose to go with the design firm HOK Sport—currently named Populous—which famously designed Oriole Park and, more recently, the new Yankee Stadium, Minneapolis' Target Field, San Francisco's AT&T Park, Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh's Heinz Field, Houston's NRG Stadium, and the recent renovations of Chicago's Wrigley Field.

Baseball fans are well aware of the criticism that the new Comiskey Park received when it opened in 1991, the year before the beloved Camden Yards opened its gates. (Comiskey was renamed U.S. Cellular Field in 2003.) Recent changes and renovations notwithstanding, "The Cell" will likely always suffer from comparison to the more aesthetically-pleasing, nostalgia-inspired ballparks that came after it. Bess's proposal would have been—was—an intriguing blend of old and new, what he imagined as a "neighborhood ballpark" for the 1990s and beyond. He proposed constructing a field on the grounds of what is currently Armour Square Park, just north of the old Comiskey (with home plate facing north toward the Chicago skyline), surrounded by mixed-use residential and commercial properties. What's more, the old Comiskey field—it's now a parking lot between Armour and U.S. Cellular—would've been saved and re-purposed in and as a new public park.

Here's an image of Armour Square Park in relation to U.S. Cellular:

I'm coming very late to Bess. I vaguely remembered his proposal. I moved to Illinois after the new park opened, so I missed the local angle, and, regretfully, I never caught at a game at the old park. Many have written about him, and in reading more I'm struck, as many have been, by the opportunities missed by the White Sox and the city of Chicago in passing on the plan, flawed as it was in places. (Bess later wrote City Baseball Magic, published by Knothole Press in 1999, in which he expands on his baseball park design ideas.) In a 2001 interview with White Sox Interactive, Bess said, "Most of the developers and city officials I spoke to thought I was crazy to be proposing this kind of development in that neighborhood,"
but in light of Chicago's housing boom of the past decade I don't think they would find it so crazy now. It would be near a ballpark, and was convenient both to the expressway and to public transportation that takes about 10 minutes to the Loop. This works pretty well at Addison and Clark, and I thought it could work at 35th and Shields.
He added:
Armour Field or something like it would have been better for both the White Sox and for the South Side. There's been a lot of new residential development east of the Dan Ryan around IIT, and Armour Field and its proposed ancillary development would have meshed neatly with all this activity without blowing away the neighborhood to the south of 35th street the way the New Comiskey did. But unfortunately, there was little or no thought given to how New Comiskey might fit into its neighborhood.
I've written before about enjoying watching games at U.S, Cellular, especially since renovations lowered the upper deck, added a canopy, and introduced other pleasing changes; much of the criticism against the park is exaggerated and spread reflexively. But after looking at Bess's proposal, I can only imagine how rich and extraordinary his park might've been had his vision been embraced and executed by Jerry Reinsdorf, the White Sox owner. The feel and the culture in the streets surrounding the park might've been greatly massaged, encouraging more of a pre- and post-game desire to stroll the neighborhood and soak in the heady, warm zones between family and game, home and park, front porches and turnstiles. I drive in from DeKalb for Sox games, escaping the congested, place-less I-90 as soon as I can and take a pleasingly slow, left-turn/right-turn drive through surrounding neighborhoods to U.S. Cellular, but the journey is a brief one, and ends in a giant parking lot next to rows of Porta Potties. After the game I'm on the Dan Ryan Expressway before I know it, sitting in a car, surrounded by other cars, pointed west.

Here's Roger Angell from his "Midterm" essay in the July 16, 1990 issue of The New Yorker, on the coming new Comiskey:
In recent summers, the Cubs have been successful on the field but vastly more so in the national media (they may now be looked upon as the sun-dried tomatoes of baseball), with homages everywhere to their ivied walls and fanly folkways, and then a great national hand-wringing over the desecration of the shrinelike Wrigley Field by the infliction of night games and floodlights. Sox fans, in the same interval, saw their franchise very nearly snatched away to Florida, and, indeed, kept in town in the end only by means of a deal, worked out between the owners and the city, and the Illinois legislature, that will deprive them of their own ancient and beloved ballpark at the close of this season. The new Comiskey, a tan concrete pile now looming over the old park like an aircraft carrier moored beside a frigate, is being plugged by the Sox ownership as “an old-fashioned ballpark wrapped around state-of-the-art customer conveniences,” but my quick visit to the half-finished construct was not reassuring. Old Comiskey, which went up in 1910, may be beyond saving, but its strong flavor—part settlement house, part gazebo—will not travel easily, even across the street. Some of the While Sox rooters to whom I made inquiries about the new project expressed mild optimism, delivered with an accompanying shrug—a gesture suitable to a two-game winning streak in April. Sox fans never expect the best. 
Oh well. One can wonder.

The old tenement house coming down in 1991. (Top photo via Ballparks of Baseball, bottom photo via flickr.)

Here's a site devoted to the Armour Field proposal, and some images from Bess's plans.
Drawing by Rael Slutzky, and at top of post (1987)

Comiskey Park at 35th & Shields looking northwest
Armour Field and Comiskey Park looking north

All images except Google Maps via After Burnham.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Only So Many Chords: The River Keeps Rolling

Bruce Springsteen's exhaustive 1979-1980 sessions for The River resulted first in The Ties That Bind, a ten-song album that Springtseen offered Columbia Records in 1979 and then pulled, The River, the well-known, five-times Platinum double-album released in 1980, and now The Ties The Bind: The River Collection, a multi-disc gathering of all of the songs he and the E Street Band arranged and recorded during the mammoth sessions at The Power Station in Manhattan. A few of the songs were issued as b-sides in the 1980s, many in 1998 on Tracks; many appear for the first time. Listen on Spotify here.

The songs that will be new to most listeners are a fascinating, amped-up blend of inspiration, drama, mediocrity, and melodrama. Even the average songs— "Living On The Edge Of The World," "I Wanna Be With You," "Night Fire," "Chain Lightning," "Restless Nights," the instrumental "Paradise By The 'C'"—are enlivened and made urgent by excitable playing, and by arrangements that top spirited harmonies with bright keyboards, propulsive percussion with inventive drum or guitar patterns. And Springsteen—who turned 30 during the sessions—sings absurdly passionately throughout, even on the more generic numbers. Which is what I love and find moving about this collection: even when he's obviously pulled out his favorite rock and roll album from the 1960s and rewritten the third song on the second side, Springsteen's song sparkles because of his youthful hunger for and love of the music that inspires him.

What song's going through his head? Bruce at Asbury Park, 1979. Photo by Joel Bernstein
There are some real cool songs here: "Meet Me In The City" is a hidden classic, an anthem the subject of which Springsteen's visited many, many times but which here sparks with thrilling, Top 40 immediacy. (How and why this was left off of The River is beyond me. Springtseen has made some amends by releasing the song as a single to promote this set.) Ditto with the urgent, desperate "Dollhouse" and "Roulette," the latter a song well-known to Springsteen devotees, "Ricky Wanted A Man Of Her Own," the rollicking and exciting "Where The Bands Are," and the complex "The Man That Got Away," which sounds like Springsteen had been listening to some Graham Parker. Any bar band toiling in mediocrity in the late-1970s would've killed to have one of these buried Springsteen songs to release as their own single. Such was the potent, magic talent The Boss sweated during this hard-working, productive era.

Here's Springsteen and the E Street Band performing "Meet Me In The City" on Saturday Night Live on December 19. He's a bit hoarse, and looks a little uncomfortable finding his way into the song. Could be his age, could be that the song's underrehearsed at this point. Either way it's still his:

There are only so many chords. Bruce knows that, and in the 1970s he renewed, shuffled, and powered those chords in such dynamic, emotional, desperately romantic ways that they sounded fresh in his and his band's hands. This is some great rock and roll. "You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch") is one of my favorite Springsteen songs, and so I was especially keen to hear the radical re-working of the tune that appeared on the original The Ties That Bind album. It's a close race: the Sun Studio-reverb, stop-start arrangement kills, but finally the barreling version on The River, both anchored and sent into lusty overdrive by Gary Tallent's eighth-note bass playing, wins by a hair—the ones on the back of my neck that still stand when this killer rock and roll song comes on.

The Ties The Bind: The River Collection reminds me of something that I wish Bruce would go ahead and do already: rewrite the Nuggets album. He can bury it for another couple decades if he wants to.

Photo of Springsteen via 1stdibs.

Monday, December 14, 2015

No Need to Explain: Nicole Panter on Punk Rock

Southern California-based writer Nicole Panter (left) has worn many hats: she managed the Germs in the late-1970s and co-created and wrote for Pee Wee's Play House; over the past several decades she's worked as a script editor, film critic, essayist, photographer, and teacher of screenwriting at the California Institute of the Arts. She hasn't moved in punk rock circles since the early 1980s, but in 1993 penned "fuck you punk rock/1977," an exhilarating, autobiographical micro-essay on the lure of punk rock, its community and its self-explanatory reason for being. In 266 words, Panter describes her vital connection with rock and roll, and, because the piece is in touch with what A.R. Ammons calls a "non-verbal source," she also moves back and forth in time, writing about, and for, anyone at any time who's felt marginalized, alone, ugly, and who's craved an outlet—electric or otherwise. I discovered this gem in Evelyn McDonnell's and Ann Powers's anthology Rock She Wrote; the piece originally appeared in the Fiz 'zine in 1993 and was collected in Panter's own Mr. Right On and Other Stories in 1994.
Imagine the exhilaration of knowing that you are part of something that is completely and utterly new and different. Imagine that all your life you have felt cut off from the rest of humanity at the most elementary level—you do not communicate well with others. Imagine feeling so lonely and twisted that at times you have really, really tried to kill yourself, even though you were just a kid. Imagine that the people who were supposed to love you, your family, have Continually and deliberately brutalized and betrayed you in ways other people couldn’t begin to imagine. Imagine that you are at the end of your rope. Then walk into a room where for the first time in your miserable, horrifying life, you feel a part of things. These people understand you because these things have also happened to them. There’s no need to explain your silence, your shyness, your need to get totally obliterated every night of the week and to maybe fuck some really cute boy against a wall in a dark corner of the club without ever asking his name and then go dive into the sea of bodies pogoing. There’s no need to explain the way this music, this noise, makes you feel. There’s no need to explain why, when you get dressed every day, you do everything you can to make yourself look as ugly on the outside as you feel on the inside. There’s no need to explain your hurt or your anger or the damage you feel because it is perfectly self-explanatory in this place, in this music.
Detail of photo of a Sex Pistols show, by Dennis Morris. Via Rolling Stone.

Image of Nicole Panter via flickr.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Printers Alley in Lurid B&W!!

I recently came across this passage in Mick Farren's evocative "Live from Nashville: A Limey at Large in Music City USA," which originally ran in New Musical Express on November 13, 1976 (above) and was later collected in Barney Hoskyn's great The Sound and the Fury: 40 Years of Classic Rock Journalism:
Once upon a time, Printers Alley was Nashville‘s red light district, overflowing with razor fights, shootings, drunken cowboys, crazy fiddle players and golden-hearted whores. Today it's been relatively tamed. (Why have red light districts always been tamed by the time I get to them? The last one was apparently Bangkok, and now even that’s going down to the communists.)
     Today all Printers Alley has to offer is topless bars, strip joints, and country night-spots where hopefuls in the Tammy/Dolly/Johnny school are trying to make a name. It’s the kind of place where you get the feeling that if a girl don’t make it fronting a band she’ll probably slide down to stripping or cut-price, executive-special, happy-hour relief massage.
     That is, it's safe but sleazy—like the punters want.
I was, of course, intrigued. Digging around, I discovered this terrific photo series on Printers Alley that ran online at The Tennessean a while back. Allure and sleaze, low-rent neon glamour and desperation, strippers, the joys that happy hour promises and snatches away, George Jones and Johnny Paycheck—it's all here. Great stuff. Check the link above for photo credits, and more images of legendary Printers Alley.

New Musical Express image via ebay. All other photos via The Tennessean. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

End-of-the-Year Roundup

This year I explored more Origin Stories here and (aided and abetted by great artwork by Liam Golden) here, wrestled with Elvis Costello's 650-page memoir, drove a Brand New Cadillac, lived bafflement, clarity, and malice with Costello, Sam & Dave, Patsy Cline, and Peter Handke, wondered (again) about a blurry family whom I can't shake, pitched in with tips on How To Write About Music, and trailed singer and songwriter Greg Cartwright through his many changes.

I also talked with and about archivist and collector Jim Linderman in The Birth of Rock and Roll, and chatted about Jerry Lee Lewis and music with Patrick Yarber here and John Wisniewski here.

Thanks to everyone who read and to the editors who gave these essays/interviews/pieces/whatevers their homes. See you in 2016.

"Origin Stories" art in The Rumpus by Liam Golden