Monday, March 5, 2018

The Was of 1s and 0s

Today I was thinking idly, and a little indulgently, about an impossibility. What if there were Google Street View images of the past? You could select a year and virtually stroll down the street of your childhood house, the 1s and 0s and intrepid Google cam-car filling in all of the blanks in your memory. You'd be startled by the puniness of the trees and shrubs and by the low-scale development, the behemoth size of the gas-guzzling cars, the blocks of favorite stores long-abandoned, or fields and forests leveled for today's homes, condos, strip malls.

Then I learned that this has happened, in a limited way, and that I was, again, lost in the solipsism of generation bias. Four years ago, Google opened its archives back to 2007, gathering "historical imagery from past Street View collections" to create a "digital time capsule of the world." I think it's very cool that, if, say, a half century from now people will still be able to archive Street Views of the 'hoods from their past, have a kind of digitized, click-by-click home movie, the audience of which will vary dramatically from spectator to spectator, from this neighbor to that neighbor, from this kid who grew up on the block to that one who lived there for just that one summer.

The force of the awakening of details long forgotten might be overwhelming—most of us lose to memory the vividness of childhood and adolescent backgrounds, the specifics replaced with recreations, some streets elongated, some shortened—and I'm not sure I'd want to actually access the past this way. But this is the new normal: future generations will have the means of visually exploring every inch of their past in ways that earlier generations could only imagine. But because nostalgia means the overwhelming desire to return home, it's always worth reminding myself that that home is redefined with every passing day. It probably means more as recollected than as was.

Image via Pinterest

Sunday, March 4, 2018

It's an art

As I've written about the last couple of seasons, I'm keeping my eye on Chicago White Sox third basemen and designated hitter Matt Davidson. I think that I learn more about baseball—its difficulties and challenges, as well as its occasional transcendent moments—by watching a single player over the course of a season or more. (I'm this way with teams, too; I'm regularly impressed by friends of mine who have League-wide knowledge of many teams over the course of a season.) When I was a kid, I followed Ruppert Jones because, living in suburban Washington D.C., Jones, a Seattle Mariner, was far enough away for me to project my love on the game onto, and he could live in my imagination. I rarely if ever saw him play, but followed his stats in the newspaper. He was mine.

It's different, of course, with Davidson. I'm an adult now and can see beyond childish attachments to a player (which still occur!) to be able to gauge what in a player 's approach might be emblematic of the game and its grown-up challenges. Davidson intrigues me because he's pretty ordinary, relatively speaking: he's not a feared slugger nor was he ever projected to be; he's an average fielder; he runs OK. In short, he'll probably struggle in some way, everyday, to maintain his presence in Major League baseball; he'll have hot streaks and go off on offensive tears like every player at this level is capable of, but he'll eventually regress, as they all do. Watching Davidson is my annual lesson in Major League Baseball Is Hard, Even For The Ones Who Make It. That he has a good shot to become the team's starting third baseman says as much about his tenacity and drive as it does it says about the White Sox talent and depth at the position.

In the Chicago Tribune, he spoke about his goals this year. “Seeing results gives you confidence,” he said. “Ultimately, I want to improve on that. I was glad I was able to show a little bit of what I can do. I still feel like there’s more to do.” He added:
It’s an art. All the greatest hitters, that’s something they have. They swing at strikes instead of balls. A good starting point is staying in the zone that you want and being ready to hit that pitch only and not trying to hit too many pitches. If somebody has a nasty slider it’s a ball … you can’t hit for the most part. The thing is, (it’s) not swinging at balls out of the zone, it’s swinging at pitches in the zone.
Late in the piece, Davidson reveals that he's a fan of former White Sox Paul Konerko. So was I.
“(Konerko) would never settle for not perfecting his swing,” Davidson said. “Pitchers are so good now, you have to be so precise on every swing and every pitch of the at-bat. You can’t give up (on) a pitch because that might be the one good one you get to hit.”

Paulie is a great player for Matt Davidson to emulate, someone to whom the game never seemed to come all that easily, someone who seemed to almost visibly wear (as Roger Angell might say) the difficulties of playing baseball consistently well at this level. Here's hoping that Davidson learns patience, at the plate and at every other place in the park.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Lost in the turn with Van Halen

I wrote an essay on Van Halen's monumental "Panama" from 1984 for March Shredness, Ander Monson's literary tournament of hair metal songs. It was a blast to write, and I'd appreciate your vote. Among other things, I weigh in on Eddie Van Halen's extraordinary guitar playing in the song:
A self-described “tone chaser,” Eddie takes his guitar to exhilarating places in “Panama,” as he does in his best work in the band. Isolated, his playing assumes dimensional shape—raw, rousing chords in the intro and chorus, lidded-cool idling during the verses and the breakdown, and swooping, diving leads and fret board tapping in the solo. I marvel every time I listen: his playing has so much personality that it’s a band in itself. Eddie’s rightfully lauded as a mold-breaking lead player yet, as the only guitarist in Van Halen, he’s also the rhythm player. What’s remarkable is how he alternates—morphs, really—between lead and rhythm in any given song. He was hardly the first to pull off this style—there’s a reason why Eddie is spoken in the same breath as Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page—yet coupled with an outrageous frontman, the giddiness of the songs, the blend of raw rock riffing and pop hooks, and the mass, international commercial successes of his band, it sounded, looked, and felt as if Eddie was doing something new.

Check out the turned-to-11, spandex-clad, hair-sprayed First Round bracket here.

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