RSS Feed

Heroes and trips.

Posted on

Went running tonight past a house that had a number of books and magazines piled up at the curb for trash day.

One was a small red book with a large title rendered in all lowercase letters: “heroes for my son.

It seemed sort of forlorn and sad, regardless of whether it was the dad throwing it out (a baby-shoes-never-worn situation?) … or the son (“no thanks, Dad, I’ll pick my own heroes”) … or maybe even the daughter. (“Dad wanted a boy and he bought this book and I was a girl and he gave it to me anyway,” little Braydenita says, rolling her eyes.)

I also wondered whether the book came pre-filled with heroes — and whether they leaned toward the General George Patton side of the spectrum, or the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. side of the spectrum — or if it was a book of blank pages for the dad to fill with his own inspirations.

I did not stop to seek any of the answers; I just kept on running.

When I run, am I running away from death, or toward it?

# # # # #

The Internet tells me the book was published in 2010 and was a best-seller. It comes filled with heroes of the socioliberal variety. Of course there is a follow-up for daughters — no author of a successful book ever leaves a sequel on the table.

I had two sons age 10 or under in 2010 and yet I was never aware of this book, nor did anyone ever see fit to give me a copy. On one level it’s just as well; it doesn’t sound like my cup of tea. On a different level, it’s another of a lengthening list of examples of mass American popular culture motoring off in other directions while I sit in one place.

# # # # #

6705446701_3014f41354_o

(art for art’s sake)

# # # # #

A little while ago an old friend of mine posted his yearbook page to Twitter. He went to one of those small private schools (graduating class: 43) where all the seniors get an individual page to fill with their own coded twaddle, and he shared his page. It was — and I think he would acknowledge this — filled with coded twaddle.

(There were 300 or so kids in my graduating class, so we each got a portrait and a senior quote limited to a certain number of characters. Longtime readers will recall that Neil Peart and Jesus Christ accounted for the largest percentage of these senior quotes. Each copy of the yearbook also came with a stapled packet of senior wills — half a page per student — which is where we put our ration of coded twaddle. Hopefully at least a few of the copies have fallen out and gotten lost over the decades.)

Anyway, after glancing over my friend’s page, I noticed that the photo included a small portion of the next page. I could tell that my friend’s classmate, anonymous to me, had included a timeless classic-rock lyrical reference:

“What a long strange trip it’s been — Dead”

I was struck by the thought that tens of thousands of American kids — maybe even hundreds of thousands — have slipped that line into their final yearbook entries since “Truckin'” was released in November 1970.

Which makes it a shared delusion of titanic proportions. No 18-year-old has any idea what a “long strange trip” is. It doesn’t matter whether you’re headed to college and work, or the military and work, or just work. Over the next 60 years, it’s gonna get a whole lot longer and a whole lot stranger. An 18-year-old hasn’t even left the starting blocks yet.

And the more affluent their community and surroundings, the more absurd the reference becomes.

What, you got loaded and drove around town? Got chased by the cops out of a house party? Smoked a joint and then went to work at KFC and collapsed giggling in the walk-in cooler? Had your boyfriend’s younger sibling unexpectedly come home while you were stealing an intimate moment? That’s only strange if you’re blinkered enough to be unfamiliar with the millions of other people who have also done it, or done something similar.

(This is not to suggest that the hotel room-backstage-onstage-taxi-plane-hotel room-backstage-onstage-taxi routine of a touring rock band is all that strange either. Indeed, its mundanity has frequently been commented on. And the Dead’s trip would get considerably longer and stranger after they celebrated it on vinyl. As of November 1970, they hadn’t yet gone on hiatus and come back again, dropped the “Phil and Ned” bleepblorp madness on stadium crowds, played at the Egyptian pyramids, temporarily lost their lead guitarist to a diabetic coma, or had a Top Ten hit. The Dead still have a better claim to the phrase than any suburban teenager, though.)

I give even more points to those insouciant youth who credit this snippet of unearned wisdom to “GD,” “Dead” or some other shorthand.

As an anal-retentive reader of liner notes as well as a Deadhead, I would credit it to either the Dead’s lyricist, Robert Hunter, or to the four credited co-writers, Hunter, Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh and Bob Weir, who allegedly worked out the song while sitting together beside a hotel pool on the road. Lyrics were firmly Hunter’s domain, generally speaking, and I don’t think the latter three contributed on the lyric side, but … well, well, well, you can never tell.

The casual credit to “Dead” bespeaks a certain unfamiliarity with the details — nay, an active disinterest. That’s the kind of credit given by a person to whom “Truckin'” is just another song on classic-rock radio, wedged in between “Barracuda” and “Don’t Fear the Reaper” and “Teach Your Children” and “Turn The Page” and “Never Been Any Reason.”

That’s the kind of credit given by somebody who’s mentally rifled through the bag of Party-Hearty Rock Songs, the bag of Mysterious Rock Songs, the bag of Potentially Transgressive Rock Songs, and the bag of Mildly Profound Rock Songs, and opted for the last.

No matter. America’s legion of Long Strange Trippers has lived and learned. They are part of the broader population every day, teaching algebra and writing parking tickets and selling insurance and coaching Little League. They are older and wiser. More so than I, perhaps.

Maybe they know whether they are running away from death, or towards it.

Rockin’ the hospital.

Posted on

The past and present and future collided in new and interesting ways this afternoon, after I’d run ten miles and bought the week’s groceries.

I think I’ve mentioned here in the past that I sometimes go walking in an old mental hospital in the next town over. It closed maybe 20 years ago, and now the town owns the grounds and buildings, which are available to the public as a giant park. People bring dogs to run around, and it abuts trails and open land and the Charles River.

This situation, however clement, can’t stay as it is forever. The buildings are getting older and the land is valuable. Plans are in place to turn two of the old buildings (one of them a chapel) into an arts center and convert most of the rest of the buildings into housing.

I’ll miss the freedom to stroll the grounds once the complex goes residential. (I assume much of it will be closed once that happens, or at least it won’t be as freewheeling-open as it is now.) But, again, it can’t stay as it is forever. I’ve been fortunate to have access to it as it is now.

Anyway, the people behind the arts center are having a series of free concerts on the lawn this summer while they restore the interior of their two buildings. The second in the series was today, featuring seven or eight performers, and I went over for a while to listen.

They opened the old chapel building to the public, and for the first time, I went into a building on campus (the others are locked and boarded.) It appeared to be in decent shape, with a stage on one end and an old wooden floor.

A couple had brought their young kids into the darkened interior of the chapel — probably to keep them cool, as it will approach 90 degrees in the area today — and they ran circles around the floor, with the young girls swooping in and out and through the squares of light from the overhead windows. It was a cool effect; you shoulda been there.

IMG_3766Inside the chapel. (My flash kicked in; it looks brighter than it was.)

IMG_3775

The first band I saw was called Salem Wolves. They’ve been at it since 2015, apparently. Their bio says they once shared a stage with Diarrhea Planet, which sounds like it merits some kind of award for valor.

They had a guitarist and bassist who mostly stood there, and a drummer who worked and sang and occasionally yelled, and a guitarist-singer who mach schau‘ed to the extent the little stage would allow.

They were loud, no-frills, a little punkish, and I liked them fine — enough, even, to come out of the (mostly full) shade and stand on the (mostly empty) lawn for much of their set. If the band was gonna give it up in the sunshine, the crowd oughta do the same, I figured.

They also, in flashes, gave me that nagging feeling that with two or three like-minded compatriots I could probably get up at a venue like that and do something similar. I’ll find something to lay down on until the feeling goes away.

IMG_3756

IMG_3763

IMG_3749

The next two bands … well, things got a little weirder.

The first was a guitarist-singer named Gatch. (He was subtly explicit in his stage remarks that he was Gatch, not that they or we were Gatch. I assume the distinction means something.)

I saw a trombonist getting ready and I feared the worst — please, Christ, let this not be ska. It wasn’t. It was yacht rock! In addition to the ‘bonist, Gatch’s band included a keyboardist using a nice warm Seventies Fender Rhodes patch, as well as a percussionist with congas and shakers, working out on mildly funky love-grooves that reminded me of Boz Scaggs.

The set bogged down, IMHO, in some mid-tempo meandering in the middle; I was not particularly left wanting more, although they were good musicians.

IMG_3774

After that came a four-piece from Worcester called the Blue Light Bandits … and damned if they didn’t strike me as yacht-rocky too. Gently funky muso music, well-drilled and flawlessly professional, with mildly extended chords and clean three-part harmonies and the guitarist playing nimble, glassy-toned Fender Strat solos.

I imagine if you had gone to see one of those one-hit wonder bands from American Top 40 countdowns from the late ’70s — like Player or Ace or Toby Beau — they probably would have sounded like the Blue Light Bandits.

I’m trying not to read too much into two bands on one stage on one afternoon … but as I left I wondered if “Baby Come Back” was the spiritual parent of the music people go out to venues to hear in the year 2022.

I don’t know what I expected, but it wasn’t that.

IMG_3785

The return of the Dime Brigade.

Posted on

Another order from the dime-a-card website showed up the other day, six months after I ordered it.

I believe the website to be a husband-and-wife spare-time operation, so I did not pepper them with constant inquiries or demand instant service — just an occasional discreet inquiry. And, in time, my box showed up.

I know, I know. You don’t care about the weird dregs I harvest from the dusty corners of somebody’s card-filled basement.

But since we’re together, we might as well stay. So let me make you some introductions …

IMG_3648

Andy Tracy was one of the better players the Lehigh Valley IronPigs fielded in their first few years, when they were chronically lousy. He was a big first baseman whose walkup music was “Frankenstein,” and from time to time he’d belt one into the beer garden beyond the right-field wall. This card dates to 2000, the year Tracy played 83 of his career 149 big-league games and hit 11 of his 13 career big-league homers.

IMG_3688

Jonathan Pettibone’s days as a major-league prospect, and as a Lehigh Valley IronPig, are, sadly, well behind him. Injuries derailed his career after parts of two major-league seasons (2013-14) in which he played 20 games.

He lives on in my kitchen, though, thanks to several pint glasses with his name and likeness that were handed out at an IronPigs home game almost a decade ago now. Those glasses — plus a similar set featuring fellow prospect Domonic Brown — were the best ballpark giveaway I’ve ever gotten; they’ve served my family well.

I’ve got some stout I’m trying to drink off. There’s a decent chance that after I run tomorrow night, I will fill a Jonathan Pettibone glass with the ruby-dark goodness and take my time enjoying it … rolling it around on my tongue while I contemplate the silhouetted outline of a promising young man, arm cocked, winding up for delivery.

IMG_3685

On July 3, 2009 — coming up on 13 years ago — I road-tripped to Batavia, New York, to see a Class A New York-Penn League game between the Batavia Muckdogs and the Jamestown Jammers.

I took a photo of the lineups that day, vowing to check years later to find out how many of the players made the majors. I regret to report that Jamestown’s left fielder, Sequoyah Stonecipher, never got past Class A ball.

Xavier Scruggs, a big-bopper first-baseman type with Batavia, did make it for 50 games spread over the 2014-2016 seasons with the Cardinals and Marlins. Scruggs’ name might not seem quite as memorable as Sequoyah Stonecipher’s, but it’s always stuck in my head — I might have overheard people talking about him as a prospect.

I took a flyer on searching the card website for his name; and wouldn’t you know it, there he was, on a card from 2015. Nice seeing you again, Xavier.

IMG_3656

And here’s a minor-league favorite from an earlier stage of my life. Bob Bonner played extensively with the 1980s Rochester Red Wings teams I remember from boyhood. For those not from Rochester, he is known for appearing alongside Cal Ripken Jr. on Cal’s highly coveted 1982 Topps rookie card, which, suffice it to say, goes for more than a dime a card. I once wrote a SABR Games story about the last game of Bonner’s career; after retiring he gave his life over to Jesus and became a missionary.

IMG_3666

A couple other names from Rochester minor-league days. Randy Cunneyworth’s 40-year career as a player, scout, and coach included parts of seven seasons with the Rochester Americans — five at the start, two at the end. He coached the Amerks, too, and is in the team’s Hall of Fame.

Torrie Robertson I remember as a visiting player with Hershey and Adirondack, though he apparently played a single game in Rochester in 1990. (His brother Geordie did seven seasons with the Amerks and was a teammate of Cunneyworth’s for a while. Geordie was probably the Robertson I was really looking for when I found this card.)

According to Wikipedia, Torrie Robertson is (and will now always remain) the Hartford Whalers’ all-time penalty leader with 1,368 minutes. The back of this card from 1990 puts it nicely: “Torrie isn’t one to fill the net with pucks … He’s never led the NHL in penalty minutes, but not for lack of trying.”

IMG_3657

Darren O’Day, apparently, used this card to pay tribute to the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” video by sporting the world’s most artificial-looking mustache. (A quick search of the Trading Card Database suggests, remarkably, that it must have been real, as at least one other card shows him sporting it. Nowadays he wears a full beard like everyone else.)

Hey, remember the time I wrote a post about various vivid pop culture memories I retain from the fall of 1982? Darren O’Day wasn’t even alive for most of them: He was born on October 22, 1982. We’ll say no more on the subject.

IMG_3662

No American sports league would ever dream of making a former player a commissioner. The commissioner represents the owners’ interests, and an ex-player might, you know, make a decision that favored the serfs in some way.

Meet Randy Ambrosie. After nine seasons as a guard in the Canadian Football League, he now serves as CFL commissioner. (Apparently he is not the first ex-player to lead the CFL.)

Not only is he a former player, but he also served as secretary of the players’ union! In American sports leagues, the owners would collude to plant a bomb in his trunk or a whore in his bed to keep him from rising to power. But in Canada they do things differently.

Alas, social media leads me to believe that the CFL is struggling, and faces multiple challenges that Ambrosie has thus far been unable to resolve. I root for him all the same.

IMG_3649

While we’re on the subject of rancid, self-serving management practices: This card (from 2014, if memory serves) mentions that Colin Kaepernick grew up studying Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham, and followed in Cunningham’s footsteps as the leader of a new generation of footloose quarterbacks who can hurt you with the run.

Remarkable, how such a promising young man from such a proud football tradition could go so long without a job offer. Hell of a thing, as the guy who plays Richard Nixon so uncannily on Twitter would put it.

IMG_3669

While Rochester was a hockey town at heart (and probably still is), my firsthand interest in hockey was most strongly kindled when I went off to Boston for college.

In the spring of my freshman year, the Sabres tabbed young Tom Draper as their starting goalie for a first-round playoff series against the Boston Bruins. (Their starter was hurt.) Draper played the entire series and did quite well, even posting a shutout, but the Sabres lost in the deciding Game 7.

I watched most if not all the games in the room of a good friend who had a TV, fascinated by the matchup of my native region and my future adopted home. Watching that series increased my knowledge and appreciation of hockey, and it continues to hold an outsized place in my imagination.

Draper played only 19 more NHL games after that series, none of them in the playoffs.

IMG_3677

Time to break away from the four major sports for a bit. Three of these cards were issued in Canada for the 1992 Winter Olympics (it says something that I no longer remember where that even took place … was that Albertville, maybe?). The fourth, of American freestyle skier Emily Cook, is considerably more recent.

Why’d I spring for these? I dunno. A dime isn’t that much, and the Winter Olympics are so much more interesting than the Summer Olympics, and I’ve never heard of any of these people. (A Google search suggests that none of them medaled, though a few of them went to more than one Games.)

IMG_3659

IMG_3663

I’m really not that much of a fan of cards that show musicians. It feels wrong. But from time to time I go for them anyway, when the cheese factor or the weirdness factor outweighs the wrongness.

A trading card of Clarence “Frogman” Henry is just a wonderful idea on its face. Same with a card of Teddy Pendergrass. Cliff Williams, AC/DC’s longtime bassist, deserves a card in the same way that a guy who’s been a bullpen coach for 30 years deserves a card. And a card of Rick Wakeman with an outrageously bad mullet? What could be wrong with that?

IMG_3674

I wonder if the rappers pictured on the official Yo! MTV Raps card set (issued in 1991) made anything from it. I certainly hope so.

Stetsasonic I picked up mainly because I remembered the name from someplace; I couldn’t hum (or rap) any of the tunes.

Public Enemy, on the other hand, was a favorite of my older brother’s, and I still remember snatches of a number of their songs. They had an aura of legitimacy and authority that nobody else could quite touch, it seemed. They were smart, and they weren’t afraid of much, and they were done putting up with BS, and their songs slammed.

Anyhow, as any teenager with half a clue in 1991 could have told you: Chuck D and Flavor Flav were the rappers in Public Enemy, and Terminator X was the DJ. Or, in the timeless title of one of their songs: “Terminator X Speaks with his Hands.”

IMG_3678

Justin Bieber speaks with his hands.

IMG_3689

Back to sports. The XFL was an allegedly “extreme” pro football league, a joint venture between the World Wrestling Federation and NBC, that was supposed to mix the drama, color and backstory of pro wrestling with the straight on-the-field action of pro football. It crashed after a single season.

Thankfully, it left cardboard evidence like this card behind … so that Americans need never forget that behind the “extreme” label often lurks hot air and delusion.

“Touchdown Tommy” Maddox, at least, had enough talent to crawl out of the wreckage and play in the NFL; as per Wiki, he is one of four players who won championships in both the XFL and NFL.

IMG_3686

In 1990-91, former NHL player and future NHL coach Ted Nolan was employed in his first coaching position, coaching young players with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League. I’ve left his card at large size so you can appreciate all that’s going on:

  • The two men to the right of the card look like one has just told the other a bitter truth — such as, perhaps, that their jointly owned trucking business is bankrupt. You decide which of them has just delivered the hard truth, and which of them is digesting it.
  • The kid at lower left in the baseball cap appears to have a long white tube raised to his lips; I would think he was shooting spitballs at the players, if he weren’t close enough to the bench for them to come pound the tar out of him.
  • The young woman at left with the bangs is, by 1990-1991 standards, not difficult to look at. (It is possible on further examination that the long white tube-thing is actually in her hands, and the kid in the baseball cap only appears to be holding it to his mouth. I guess I wasn’t really looking at her hands before. We’ll move on.)

IMG_3680

These are only some of the Montreal Expos I bought. While there are still Expos to buy, I will buy Expos.

I’m pretty sure the team card at center is a 2004, which would make it their last; they moved to Washington, D.C. the following season. Also, while I usually prefer real stadium backgrounds on my cards, there’s something understated about the all-gray Jose Vidro card that works really nicely, though it might or might not come through in this picture.

IMG_3671

IMG_3673

The 1993 Leaf card set featured distinctive backs in which the players were overlaid on photos of their home teams’ cities. Most players got some sort of skyline, with Florida Marlin Walt Weiss shown here as a representative example. The back of California Angel John Orton’s card … well, I’ve not been to Orange County, but I’m not sure this does it justice.

IMG_3692

Henricus Nicolas van den Hurk collected eight major-league wins between 2007 and 2012, ranking him third all-time among pitchers born in the Netherlands. He is 11 wins behind Rynie Wolters, and 279 behind Bert Blyleven.

IMG_3684

I have a mini-shrine to Carl Yastrzemski in my basement, so I’d been wanting to pick up a card of his grandson, Mike, currently playing with San Francisco.

As I write this, Mike is second all-time among major-league Yastrzemskis in hits (3,109 behind Carl), homers (390 behind Carl) and games played (just 2,955 to go, lad!)

Mike does boast a few achievements of his own. In the bobtailed 2020 season, he led the National League in triples with four, a feat his distinguished grandpa never managed. And he is the first person to wear the name Yastrzemski on a major-league uniform, as the Red Sox never wore names on their backs, home or away, during Carl’s 23 seasons.

IMG_3668

IMG_3679

IMG_3681

Fun with coaches! From top to bottom: NFL, Major Indoor Soccer League, and NHL. Rick Dudley’s pseudo-Jeff Lynne look takes the honors here. Richard Williamson’s Buccaneers were dismal, to the point where the Pro Set logo does player No. 17 an honor by blocking his face and identity.

IMG_3670

Old ballplayers playing out the string with unfamiliar teams. Rick Cerone was an Expo?

IMG_3660

It was a big deal when I was in sixth grade for everyone to write a “country report.” You picked a country, ravaged the encylopedia and other sources for everything you could find out about it, and wrote what seemed in sixth grade like a long and comprehensive description. Nowadays, of course, you could do the whole thing — much more thoroughly — in an hour on the Internet; if this assignment still exists in my elementary school, it has presumably been adjusted to account for changing times.

Anyway, I picked Monaco for my country report; much of my color on the generally obscure little nation came from an article in National Geographic that predated my birth. I might have liked to have this card at the time, as it shows Elderson, a defender for AS Monaco Football Club.

(Of course I have no idea whether Elderson or AS Monaco actually exist. Wiki assures me they do. Good enough for my report.)

IMG_3696

Still awake out there?

IMG_3651

This card from 1992 assures us that “baseball players like to have fun at the ballpark,” with a photo of New York Mets David Cone, Jeff Innis, and John Franco imitating football players on special-team duty.

(David Cone was a five-time All-Star and a Cy Young Award winner who led the National League in strikeouts in 1991 and 1992. I imagine his manager just about soiled himself when he saw a picture of the superstar pitcher putting his arm and shoulder at risk in such a daft bit of pregame byplay.)

The wording on the back of the card – which is all caps, FWIW — concludes: ‘EVEN THOUGH WORK IS SERIOUS, THIS SHOWS YOU CAN HAVE FUN AT YOUR JOB.’

Oh, yeah, work. That’s coming up tomorrow, isn’t it?

I guess I’ll stop now.

A toast to the ghosts.

Posted on

My younger son graduated high school in Massachusetts this past Thursday, and his ghost graduates in Pennsylvania tomorrow night. (That’s Monday, June 6, though who knows when people will read this.)

As regular readers know, I uprooted the family and moved from PA to Mass. three years ago after my younger son’s freshman year in high school. His older brother was out and in college already.

I wasn’t thrilled about putting the younger kid through that change, but I had faith that he was outgoing enough to make friends in a new town. Evidence suggests this came to pass.

His former classmates in PA spent a few more days in harness this year than he did in Massachusetts, but they are finally preparing to close the book on their educational association tomorrow night.

Amid all the best-years-of-our-lives nostalgia, I wonder if any of them have thought of him. I’d bet at least a few have. He was part of their story for quite a while — kindergarten through ninth grade, and as far back as day care for a few kids — even if he didn’t hang around for the end.

This got me to thinking about the kids who showed up for part of my K-12 journey and then skipped out.

I can still bring a bunch of their names, a few of their faces, and a handful of their destinations to mind, well over 30 years since I was last in the same building with them. (I count eight or nine of them in the class photo shown here, which is included mostly as art for art’s sake and was selected chiefly because I already had it in the blog’s media library.)

There were military brats (even in a not especially military town); and kids who ditched public schooling 2525875123_2937c63de8_c(1)in favor of private; and kids whose dads got transferred out of state; and kids whose folks got divorced and split town.

Presumably, there were also at least a few kids whose parents had the same kind of bone-deep negative reaction to Rochester that I ultimately had to Pennsylvania and made the same kind of mid-career jailbreak.

(For the purposes of this contemplation I am excluding foreign exchange students, because they’re really not a core part of the story of a graduating class. Although none of my classmates died while I was in public school, I would exclude those unfortunate cases from this line of thought as well. Tragedy should have its moment of silence, but right now I’m focused more on the mundane … those kids who took their juice boxes and lunchbox pies to Albany or Harrisburg or even just across town, and continued to exist there and struggle with spelling there and be really good at shooting free throws there.)

One of my ghost-classmates (he moved partway through high school, maybe to Chicago?) made a dramatic reappearance in the class narrative at our 20th reunion. I wasn’t there, but I’m told he showed up out of the blue, publicly apologized to a girl he’d treated poorly back in the day, kissed her hand suavely, and asked for forgiveness.

That might end up being the final reunion my class ever has, so if any of the others who moved ever aspired to reconnect and settle any scores, they may have missed their chance. Any ghost-classmates who want to apologize to me for kicking my ass in elementary school knock-hockey can contact me care of my agent.

Another kid who switched to the local Jesuit high school after eighth grade made a less successful, but equally memorable, appearance at my high school in our senior year. He had money from some combo of family wealth and investments, and he turned up in our high-school parking lot one day after school in a sports car, apparently intent on impressing his old classmates. He was nonplussed to find that those people he encountered weren’t all that excited to see him again.

Anyway: It won’t happen, but I think every graduating class’s yearbook ought to include a “ghost page” with the names and/or old school portraits of kids who moved out between K and 12. After all, the story of a graduating class does not belong only to those who walk across the stage.

(This principle is much broader than high school graduating classes. Will the story of the Beach Boys belong to the final group of people who ever take a stage as the Beach Boys? Is the story of the Montreal Expos the exclusive property of the ragged bunch of ballplayers who last took a major-league field in Expos uniforms? Is the story of a house that’s slated for demolition simply the history of the last family who lived there, during their years of occupancy? Heavens, no.)

The Ghost Page would be extra work, and no doubt there would be some misspelled names and mis-attributed photos here or there.

But it would cement those kids’ cameo roles in the shared history of the class, and settle a whole bunch of later arguments after the Class of Two-Thousand-Whatever starts to lose its collective memory: “That kid … the one who moved to Seattle in sixth grade. What was his name?”

It might also help resolve the misconceptions that will arise after some ill-informed, starry-eyed member of the Class of Two-Thousand-Whatever starts incorrectly insisting that the kid who sat in the corner in fifth grade staring at his shoes is now the leader of a multiplatinum pop-punk band. (You know how that stuff gets started; wouldn’t it be great to have a tool to end it?)

And while my son probably couldn’t care less about being included on a Ghost Page, some of those kids who (got) moved might kinda like the idea.

Who knows? Just another intriguing theoretical that won’t become reality.

Tomorrow night, when the graduates in Pennsylvania walk across the stage at Lehigh University’s basketball arena, my younger son will probably be in his room or on his video game system, unwinding from a summer shift of work.

Perhaps he will think of them.

Five for the Record: 2022 Topps Heritage.

Posted on

One of the more popular things I’ve written in recent years, at least by the modest standards of Neck Pickup, was a Five for the Record entry that first criticized Topps’ famously sloppy 1973 baseball cards, then identified five good ones from the set.

I mentioned a while ago that I’d bought a nine-pack box of Topps’ 2022 Heritage set, which reuses the 1973 design on cards of current players. This set has its own issues with photography, but by and large I like the cards I got. So I decided to do a follow-up Five for the Record with five 2022 Heritage cards that make me happy.

1. Hans Crouse. Ever since I moved out of the Lehigh Valley I’ve been a lot less familiar with Phillies prospects than I used to be. I’m sure Hans Crouse, a young starting pitcher from California, would not have been a complete stranger to me if I’d pulled him from a pack in Pennsylvania.

His card makes my love-list because you just don’t see too many players named Hans in baseball these days (there are several Latino guys named Hansel, but not many Hanses.) I would like to think his teammates call him Honus, or even Dutch, though probably nah.

There’s also something jaunty about his arm-swinging, foot-flipping follow-through that reminds me of Killer Joe Piro, cheerfully lindying his way through partner after partner at some long-ago New York City ballroom.

Finally, I covet cards of people who only made brief appearances in the bigs, and Crouse’s major-league career thus far consists of seven innings across two games.

Crouse is only 23, so he quite likely has more starts ahead of him, and I wouldn’t want to jinx his future career. At the same time, if those two starts are the only ones he ever gets, I won’t like his card any less because of it.

(As a side note: The position silhouettes used on the bottom right corners of 2022 Heritage fronts are the same, or mostly the same, as those used in 1973. I think the pitcher avatar’s throwing arm looks unnaturally long, then and now. Look for yourself.)

IMG_2967

2. Ronald Acuna Jr. A significant number of 2022 Heritage cards seem to consist of posed shots taken in front of green screens and later laid atop generic baseball backgrounds — a shortcoming I’ve grumbled about before.

I was pleasantly surprised, though, to see that a significant portion of 2022 Heritage does consist of action shots. I couldn’t give you a percentage breakdown, but the set is not the complete green-screen festival I feared it might be.

As a good representative of the more successful action shots, here’s the Atlanta Braves’ gifted outfielder (and 2018 NL Rookie of the Year) Ronald Acuna Jr., rumbling around the basepaths, no doubt on his way to powering yet another freaking win for the freaking Braves (who I’ve been tired of since about 1998.) He appears to be a young man in a hurry.

This one also provides a nice contrast to 1973 cards because it allows you to see just how much the trim and fittings of a major-league uniform have changed — from Acuna’s earflap helmet, to his hand and forearm wear, to his starry socks, all the way down to his orange shoes.

IMG_2966

3. Soler’s Home Run Leaves the Building (World Series Game 6.) Topps sets from the 1960s and 1970s often included single cards dedicated to each game of the previous year’s World Series. They made for interesting variety: While player cards are devoted to a full season’s work, a World Series game card is dedicated to one solitary moment, or at least one solitary two-hour slice of time.

Alas, they phased that out not long before I started collecting. So, as I started to learn more about baseball cards, these World Series game cards seemed like a cool vestige of times past, like the cards they used to issue of the league presidents back in the Fifties.

(The 1972 World Series was one of the greats — a full seven games, and six of them decided by only one run — and the ’73 Topps set dedicates a card to each game and a wrap-up World Champions card. Some of them are cool, like this one, and this one. Of course there’s an error, too.)

Anyway, while I’m sick of the Braves’ success year after year, and while home runs are just about the most boring play in the sport in the year 2022, and while I paid no attention whatsoever to this game at the time it was being played, I was still pretty happy to pull a World Series game recap card out of a pack.

IMG_2964

4. Brian Goodwin. Topps has been known to mess with the fabric of space and time in the past through the use of file photos. For instance, there are documented instances of Topps cards as late as 1969 using photos taken at New York’s old Polo Grounds … five years after the old ballpark was torn down.

(This all-time classic marks another posthumous cardboard appearance by the Polo Grounds. The subject commands such warmth and attention that you don’t notice the backdrop unless you’re looking for it.)

Anyway, 21st-century retro/turn-back-the-clock promotions present still another way to throw different times and places together.

What we have here is Chicago outfielder Brian Goodwin wearing a throwback 1983-style White Sox uniform — the Sox uniforms of my childhood — in a photo taken in 2021, printed on a card designed to mimic 1973. What year is it again?

IMG_2965

5. 2021 Rookie Pitchers. Multi-player rookie cards are always great — and especially so when they represent a team at the bottom of the standings, because the natural tendency is to look at them and think, “who are the scrubs they’re rolling out this year?”

Zac Lowther, Spenser Watkins and Mike Baumann combined to make 30 appearances for an Orioles team that went 52-110 — yet another in a stream of sad tanked seasons for what used to be major league baseball’s pre-eminent franchise. Together they compiled a 4-11 record and a 7.82 earned-run average.

Perhaps one or all of them will develop into successful major-league pitchers. (The first cardboard appearances of Pete Rose, Tom Seaver, and Mike Schmidt were on this type of multi-player rookie card, after all. Once upon a time, people pulled those cards and said, “who’s that?”)

Or, maybe none of them will ever pan out, and this card will remain a curio of … well, of the scrubs the Orioles rolled out in 2021.

IMG_2968

Buried in semiquavers.

Posted on

Time to come out and say it: Between CDs, digital recordings, and vinyl (which I haven’t spun in months — heck, I haven’t even plugged in my stereo in months), I possess way too damned much music.

Given that music is not disposable and is meant to be repeatedly revisited and savored, I could acquire nothing I don’t already own now and have more than enough to chew on for the rest of my life. The combined musicians of the world could down tools tonight and never come back and I’d still have more music than I could ever truly appreciate.

(This reckoning might or might not include the other audio ephemera I’ve collected — like radio airchecks, audio of old news broadcasts, and radio broadcasts of baseball games.)

But I’m not here to tell you I’ve gotten rid of any. No, I’m here to tell you I just loaded up on more.

Two weeks ago the library in the next town over held its annual booksale. The CD tables were considerably hipper and more interesting than they usually are at these things. I picked up a bunch of CDs — 13 for $13. Some were two-CD sets but it made no difference to the checkout guy.

This weekend it got even sillier, as the library held a $5-a-bag everything-must-go sale. My $5 bag probably had 30 more CDs in it (as well as three token books — gotta feed the eyes as well as the ears).

I knew I was just dooming my tiny house to swell with more crap. But … music. Cheap music, as in less than 25 cents a throw. Who could deny the appeal?

The first time around, I focused on stuff I had not previously owned or heard. The second time, I bought some stuff I already love on vinyl but wanted to have for the car, as well as additional new friends.

I intentionally left a few CDs there the first time (like Horsesin hopes that some 15-year-old would come along, make a new discovery, and have their mind blown. It seemed greedy to keep the pleasures of these albums to myself. The second time around I gave in and bought one or two of them, leaving some others on the shelves.

It occurs to me now that today’s 15-year-olds probably don’t even have CD players, and so a secondhand copy of Horses, Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter, or Kick Out the Jams would do them no good anyway. Well, what the hell. It was a nice thought.

Anyway, here’s some of the the stuff that’s new. Most of it I haven’t gotten to yet. So it’s too early to say how much of this stuff is better than Night in the Ruts, and how much isn’t.

(The car is still my principal place of listening, and I’m only in it three days a week, plus I generally favor propulsive rock over atmospherics when I am going to and from work.)

Anyhow, I might not list every last new acquisition here, but I’ll list a whole bunch of them:

Utopia, Anthology 1974-1985: What Todd Rundgren was up to for a while. I’ve listened to a lot of this and it pains me to say I really don’t like it all that much. There might be grounds for further comment somewhere down the line.

Can, Soon Over Babaluma and Landed: The kings of hypnotic German space jams carry on after the departure of vocalist Damo Suzuki. The first one is OK, not as good at first listen as their best, but I’m not done evaluating it yet.

Mike Oldfield, Tubular Bells: I know nothing about this one except four foreboding bars of music. Let’s see what the rest sounds like.

King Crimson, Red, USA and Three of a Perfect Pair: The first two I own on vinyl and really like; the last one comes from another period of the band’s evolution I recall fondly.

Roxy Music, Manifesto: One of two records by this marvelous band that I wanted to hear but haven’t yet; I was pretty jazzed to find it on the first day in the final bin I looked through. All I need now is Country Life and, the way things are going, that will find its way into the Destination for All Music (read: my basement) one of these months. Oh, yeah, I listened to this, and it’s def better than Night in the Ruts.

Sun Ra, Space is the Place: I have one of Ra’s voluminous output of albums and rather like it (or liked it when last I listened, which was a little while ago.) Sure, I’ll take some more.

Lightnin’ Hopkins, Smokes Like Lightning: I love how this guy would just make up songs on the spot, while throwing off his rhythm section like a bucking horse. If it didn’t feel a little too much like cultural appropriation I’d do a Bandcamp album that way sometime.

Great Lake Swimmers, New Wild Everywhere: I heard of ’em someplace (Wiki?) and they sounded simpatico so I took a flyer. I got the bonus edition with a second disc of all the songs done acoustically. Sure, why not? I didn’t have enough to listen to. The liner notes thanks the Canadian government for financial support.

Ryan Adams and the Cardinals, Cold Roses: I bought this b/c I’ve never heard much Ryan Adams, and b/c I thought my old favorite Neal Casal (a former sideman of Adams) might be on it. He isn’t. I’ll check it out anyway.

Chris Robinson Brotherhood, If You Lived Here You Would Be Home By Now: Neal Casal’s on this one. Do I still love the CRB now that I know they’ll never come back?

Crosby and Nash, Wind on the Wire: I expect this to be full of charming harmonizing with the occasional decent hook, and that’s all I require for 25 cents. Crosby is quoted in the liner notes talking about what a “total goddamn joy” Nash is to work with; notably, Nash does not return the favor.

Stephen Stills, Illegal Stills: I was kinda hoping for Stills’ disco album, Thoroughfare Gap, but I’ll take this for cheap instead. My first firsthand attempt to understand this most famous and yet so ultimately uninteresting of performers. Features guitar and vocals by Donnie Dacus, who two years later gamely tackled the ill-starred task of replacing Terry Kath in Chicago.

Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Weld: Completing the CSNY foursome with the wildest, raggedest outing of any of them. I thought some portion of this was recorded at the show I attended in Buffalo on Neil and the Horse’s 1991 tour, but Wiki doesn’t have show-by-show recording credits for the album, so maybe not.

Yes, Progeny: Highlights from Seventy-Two: In 2015 Yes released a box set of seven full shows recorded in October and November 1972. This is a trimmed-down accompanying piece — a two-CD set of highlights. I listened to this in the car going to Hartford the other day and it sounded sweet; Steve Howe’s guitar, in particular, is a constant revelation (no Chuck Berry licks for him.)

Van der Graaf Generator, H to He, Who Am the Only One

Belle & Sebastian, The Boy with the Arab Strap: I have gotten two or three B&S recordings out of libraries and have a quiet soft spot for their brainy, pale, literary brand of British pop.

Ursula Deutschler, William Byrd/Harpsichord Works: This one was a library CD; it has a stamp-card on the back with checkout dates as far back as January 13, 1993. I’m always game for the tinkly sounds of a harpsichord.

Jerry Garcia, Legion of Mary Vol. 1: A chronicle of the funk and soul band in which JJG participated in late ’74/early ’75. Other members included Elvis Presley’s drummer, Ron Tutt.

John Coltrane, Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album: Trane and his classic quartet from ’63. Unreleased, until it wasn’t. Can’t possibly be all bad.

REM, Document and Accelerate: Statements from the early and late periods of a band I didn’t figure out how to like until far too late. The wife has some early REM on CD but Document is not among them, I’m fairly sure. (If it is I have wasted a quarter.)

Tower of Power, Back to Oakland: An old Blumenau family favorite.

Nuggets: Yup, the definitive garage-punk Sixties collection, assembled by Lenny Kaye, who of course played guitar on Horses.

Jeff Buckley, Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk: Demos and early takes from the work-in-progress Buckley left behind at the time of his untimely death. Grace at its best is a remarkable record (a former college newspaper colleague tried to tell me at the time but I never listened then — sorry, Tricia) so I’m willing to check this out.

Mahavishnu Orchestra, Birds of Fire and Visions of the Emerald Beyond: I should be past Seventies fusion by now, but I’m not.

Bob Dylan, Slow Train Coming: I left a bunch of Zimmerman on the shelves, including several of his worst albums, but took this one. If nothing else I can put “Gotta Serve Somebody” on repeat.

Small Faces, Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake: Legendary concept album by British Mod popsters. Always heard about it, never heard it – until now.

Boards of Canada, Twoism: We’ll see if I still like these flaky-retro Scottish brothers, or if Music Has the Right to Children is all the BOC I need.

Fairport Convention, Unhalfbricking: I left Liege and Lief there but picked up this one, a landmark in Limey folk-rock. Liner notes and packaging minimal; I hope that doesn’t herald poor sound.

Grand Funk Hits: Owned this on vinyl years ago; traded it in; got a weird feeling that it would more than make up for the 25 cents I was spending on it. I can see this getting more car airplay than I care to confess.

XTC, The Compact XTC: The Singles 1978-1985: I should really just buy the full records, and indeed have in two or three cases.

Herbie Hancock, River: The Joni Letters: Nothing wrong with catching up with big famous acclaimed records years after everyone else has forgotten them.

Opeth, Ghost Reveries, Heritage, and In Cauda Venenum: My brother likes (and recently went to see) this Swedish band, which started out doom-metal and then went prog. I hope these CDs fall into the latter bag, rather than the former.

Jefferson Starship, Freedom at Point Zero and Winds of Change: A weird, weird piece, here. It’s a twofer set of two Starship albums, but they’re not consecutive, as 1981’s Modern Times came between Freedom at Point Zero (1979) and Winds of Change (1982). The liner notes are short, fawning, and apparently translated from German. The music, I’m sure, sucks; the very first song is the dreadful “Jane.” And yet … two albums together for 25 cents is 12.5 cents! That’s, like, less than gumballs cost nowadays.

I should probably also mention here that I’ve also been burning some stuff onto CD that I only own as digital files, and have listened to a tiny tip of the iceberg there. These albums include Sparks’ Terminal Jive (trying to decide if it works better as performance art than as actual music) and Leonard Cohen’s Death of a Ladies’ Man (dreadful).

I’ve got some listening to do … more than I already had, then.

It’ll end in yawns.

Posted on

Sometimes the only way to kill a creative idea is to complete it.

The idea of writing a declarative ’70s Top Forty — like, the best 40 songs Casey Kasem played that decade, with a separate blog post for each song — has been knocking around my head long enough that I’ve realized I can’t wish it away. So, despite my general nagging nostalgia fatigue, I’ve been taking steps to make it real.

In the past week or so, I’ve re-read the song lists from every AT40 countdown of the ’70s (except the countdown of June 29, 1974, which any fan knows is b0rked) and compiled a list of every song that pressed my mental “like” button when I read its title. Songs that pressed the happy button two times or more were listed in bold. I started in December 1979 and worked my way backward to the launch of AT40 in July 1970.

(Yes, I could have just confined myself to compiling a list of bold favorites — the real golden gassers — since I have many more than 40 of them. I guess I wanted the full list. Its purpose will reveal itself to me with time, no doubt. When the listener is ready, the radio shall appear.)

For the weeks between January and mid-July 1970, when there was no AT40 yet, I looked up the countdowns in Billboard magazine. For the weeks when Casey was playing a special instead of the regular countdown — like “Biggest Female Stars of the Rock Era” — I did absolutely nothing, because my commitment to this entire stupid construct only goes so far.

An interesting thing happened:

In 1979 I wrote down 40 song titles, including eight bolds. I thought there would be fewer as the years went on, if for no other reason than I would get tired of staring at charts and typing. Instead, the opposite happened: The 1979 and 1978 lists were the shortest, and the ones between 1971 and 1974 the longest. The 1972 list is almost three times as long as 1979’s.

By the end, I was wondering whether I hadn’t applied a different set of criteria to the 1979 and 1978 charts. But I’m not going back to review them. My prior comment about this entire stupid construct remains operative.

(And anyway, the exact number for any specific year is a little wiggly. Remember, I worked backward. So a song whose chart run spanned, say, 1974 and ’75 will be listed in ’75 — because that’s where I first encountered it, fading off the chart in February ’75 — rather than 1974, when it might have reached its chart peak.)

The total playlist for my mythical ’70s jukebox: 715 songs, 291 bolds. Clearly, if I’m gonna do this thang, some threshing is in order. The questions that face me include:

Should I try to model my dream countdown after the mix of a real AT40 — i.e., moderately eclectic, with a little country here and a little R&B there, and a novelty record here and something catchy from Australia there, and a credible representation of ballads?

Or should I simply make it the 40 songs I feel I like best — in which case it will probably be 25 funk/Philly Soul jams, 10 hard rock/prog rock songs, and five Chicago songs?

Should I make any mock-mathematical attempt to quantify or calculate the respective glories of each song? Should I try to award points and demerits? Or should each judgment be purely subjective, the product of extended meditation on the universe?

How much does camp count for? This decision will determine whether “Heartbeat, It’s A Lovebeat” comes in at No. 38 or No. 289.

How much does backstory count for? “Love Is The Drug” would have been bolded anyway; but the fact that I’m on a long-running Roxy jag, and this was Roxy’s only venture into the Forty, adds something to my appreciation of the song.

Given that I’ve probably written about my 40 favorites before, what new can I possibly say about them when their turn comes up? This will not be the first bridge we come to.

We’ll see. Maybe the process of exposing this idea to light and thought will wash it away like Lysol. I need to reach a sorting method I like and agree with if I am to proceed.

More to come, maybe.

An emendation.

Posted on

In the seemingly long-ago posts here where I used to review ’70s American Top 40 broadcasts, I used to regularly make fun of Linda Ronstadt.

In a hit-radio setting, it always seemed like she was tackling songs (“Heat Wave,” “Back in the U.S.A.,” “Tumbling Dice”) that had been more than adequately served in the hands of their originators.

Well, I had to do some work-related interstate driving yesterday, and Ms. Ronstadt’s 1974 album Heart Like a Wheel was among my musical companions.

And I feel obliged to publicly state: That’s a really, really good record.

The country is good honest country, not bad cloying country. The big pop hits are probably the two I liked most of hers anyway — “You’re No Good” and “When Will I Be Loved” (the latter of which improves on the original with a good dose of spit and fire, and gets in and out in two minutes).

She also does the cheatin’ soul anthem “Dark End of the Street,” which seems to me to be a singer’s song — one of those tunes that gives a really good singer an opportunity to go to town, no matter their gender or home genre. It’s like a gorgeous country house available to anyone who’s earned the keys.

Suffice to say that Ms. Ronstadt earns the keys. (That marvelous falling-all-over-itself guitar solo doesn’t hurt matters either.)

I wonder what other wonders lurk amidst Ronstadt’s Seventies body of work. I might have to look into that before my next car trip.

Counter-countertake.

Posted on

I owe some clerk, juggins, or dogsbody at the Supreme Court a heartfelt thanks.

As I attempt to wean myself off social media, the recently leaked draft decision (you know which one) has helped me immensely. I’ve barely been on Twitter at all the last two days, because I’m 100 percent not interested in getting smacked over the head with people’s takes and countertakes.

(Is the erosion of personal freedom and individual rights worth getting strident over? Sure it is. I just don’t feel like being hosed down with it.)

I stay in touch with an old friend via Twitter messaging and that’s the hook in my mouth that keeps me there. I feel like I’m getting more and more comfortable with not sharing any of my own useless commentary in 240-character chunks with the world at large. I’m at the post-rarely, delete-mostly stage.

Will it keep up? I can only hope.

# # # # #

If you were to discover two bookmarks in the same book, would that tell you that the book in question must be well-loved? Or would it tell you the opposite, given that the book had clearly been put down half-read at some point and never resumed?

(This is the sort of worthless observation I would post on social media. And yes, it is inspired by actual events.)

# # # # #

The ceaseless Internet nostalgia factory today coughed out a revisit of The NFL Fun Book II, which I bought at a Scholastic book fair in 1981 and read numerous times. It was an interesting forty-five seconds to browse through it again. The NFL was fun, once. Or maybe I was just a kid attracted by the bright colors and creative wordmarks and didn’t know better.

# # # # #

CD of the nonce: Chick Corea’s 1968 Now He Sings, Now He Sobs, which I bought for my dad many years ago and then ended up with when he ditched his CDs.

Been there, said that.

Posted on

Another of those little stopoffs that used to make the Internet fun slipped away at some point a few years ago while I wasn’t looking.

I’m thinking of Says-It dot com, the website where you could drop any text you wanted onto a church sign, a McDonalds marquee, a lobby letterboard or a concert ticket, and get a small watermarked photo in return. (A site called Says-It dot org promises the same functionality, but doesn’t actually produce the pictures.)

Of course you could always crop the watermark off, at least most of the time. This left you an outside chance of momentarily convincing an unhip or inattentive social media follower that there really was a KFC sign somewhere that said ” ‘CARRY ON WAYWARD SON‘ ROCKS! ROCKS! ROCKS!!!!!!!!!!!!”

(Remember when deepfakes were fun? I guess these were more like shallowfakes. They were still fun.)

4298214835_baa416298a_o

I haven’t been to Says-It in years. Something brought it to mind the other day, and I thought I’d go see if it was still hanging out in cyberspace. It wasn’t.

I remember going there well over a decade ago with my then-young (and not-really-wayward) son. We spent a sustained amount of time over several sessions churning out absurd, meaningless signs to make each other laugh. I probably shoulda been teaching him some useful life skill, instead. Ah well.

Anyway: Some of these are mine; some of these are his; they bring back fond memories; some of them still make me laugh, and that’s more welcome than ever.

I hear the voices when I’m dreaming … I can hear them say:

4298214441_c8ae4c8900_o

4298960088_051574c628_o

4298960560_82892369e0_o

4298960346_da47b591d9_o

4298959406_3e757c7e4c_o

To this day, one of our Saturday-night dinners of choice is sometimes referred to as “puzza.”

4298214685_1a07a32400_o

4298960206_5e7a515f93_o

4298214273_a107983992_o

4298214763_513899e587_o

4298214327_7e1c2a1ecc_o

4298214089_a147da157f_o