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Clubs.

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Major League Baseball is about to throw open the gates for another year … and for some reason I am especially interested in baseball (at all levels) this spring.

So, to celebrate the big moment, all three of my readers get treated to something new — my rankings of the 30 Major League Baseball teams, from worst to best.

Now, these rankings are not performance-based. They bear no relation to how the chin-bearded, baggy-pantsed young men who fill these 30 sets of laundry will actually fare when the bell rings.

No, they’re based on sentiment, and slop, and geography, and perception, and half-forgotten baseball cards, and accumulated lore dating back 40 years or more.

I can’t really explain why I like the Twins more than the Dodgers any more than I can explain why I listen to Black and Blue more than Let It BleedBut I’ll give it a shot and see what comes out, anyway.

OK, then. From basement to penthouse:

30. Atlanta Braves: I got heartily sick of them during that 12- or 13-year period when, like automatons, they dominated the National League East. I’m also not a huge fan of the inherent racism in their name (really, folks — Native American names and imagery are overdue to go), nor of the craven, undemocratic way in which they moved out of a perfectly good stadium into the lily-white suburbs and stuck the residents with a bill that is forcing them to rethink libraries.

Basically, everything Atlanta Braves pretty much sucks.

29. St. Louis Cardinals. I hate the Cardinals’ success too. I hate the hype their fanbase has been given as the best/smartest in baseball, which is nonsense. As a kid, I always found them bland and featureless — the sort of team whose baseball cards you would unload on your trading partners, if only you could find a trading partner who gave a goddamn about the St. Louis Cardinals. Plus they were boring on the field: They’d have one guy who hit 20 homers and everybody else would bunt and steal a lot.

In fairness, I have kind of a geographic blind spot when it comes to the Midwest: I don’t feel any great connection to most of it, nor do I appreciate its many high points. So the Cardinals probably suffer in my estimation as a result.

28. Texas Rangers. Has this team ever meant anything to anybody anywhere?

27. New York Yankees. I bet you were wondering where somebody who loathes extended excellence so very much would rate the Yanks. I hated hated hated ’em as a kid, and am not tremendously fonder of them now. Any year they get bumped out before winning the World Series is cause for celebration.

26. Cincinnati Reds. Simply the most boring team in the world. Except for the 1970s Big Red Machine, they have never had an identity.

Perversely, I might have become a fan: An old friend of my dad’s moved there in the early ’80s. I recall him inviting my family to visit, and mentioning a Reds game as possible entertainment. Alas, we never went, so no magic night that would have turned me into a Reds fan at first sight — like Nick Hornby had with Arsenal in Fever Pitch — ensued.

25. Arizona Diamondbacks. I don’t hate them, per se, but this team could go away tomorrow and I wouldn’t care. Having read about the long-term unsustainability of the city of Phoenix, I do wonder if they’re running their ballpark with water piped in from three states away.

24. San Diego Padres. The only points they get are for the brown-and-yellow uniforms they once wore, and to which they might someday return.

23. Colorado Rockies. Been there; nice park; great state; the team itself has failed to impress any special personality upon me.

22. San Francisco Giants. Again, great city; nice enough ballpark. Just never got attached to the team itself, which seems to plug on every year in its plain old uniforms of orange and black.

It feels to me like San Francisco’s history of holy weirdness has never really attached itself to the Giants. The individuality of, say, Anchor Steam Beer or the Jefferson Airplane has no reflection in the city’s ballclub.

21. Tampa Bay Rays. Great uniforms, at least, and I do enjoy their dingy old dome from a distance. (The only thing better than a brand-new dome is a dingy old one.)

20. Los Angeles Dodgers. Mike Love’s team. Nice ballpark; great history; I would have rated them higher during my formative years. They lose points because I don’t care for the city, I guess. (Unlike the Giants, the Dodgers are very much a reflection of the culture of their adopted city, but in their case that’s not a positive.)

I used to think the Dodgers’ uniforms looked clean and crisp and classic, but worn in the current baggy style, they now look just about as cheesy as everybody else’s.

19. Cleveland Indians. I hated ’em when I was a kid because they seemed so downtrodden and pathetic. (A lack of glamour is usually a selling point to me, but somehow it wasn’t in this case.) They’ve climbed somewhat in my estimation over the years — but again, they have to find a path forward and away from the Native American imagery. Then they’ll move up on this list.

18. Pittsburgh Pirates. I’m glad the city has rejuvenated itself; I remember the mid-’80s, when Bill James was comparing baseball to British soccer and suggesting Pittsburgh be relegated to the minors and Louisville promoted. Glorious ballpark here, apparently.

I’m somewhat spooked by western PA people’s unswerving allegiance to Pittsburgh. They’re practically Texan in their attachment to their home city, and it puts me off. I also seemed to get a higher-than-average number of Pirates cards as a kid, when the team was lousy; I’m still swimming in Doug Frobels and Manny Sarmientos and Sammy Khalifas.

17. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Fabulous uniforms when I was a kid, and I coulda maybe become a fan, except, again, I dislike southern California (or my cliched personal perception of same) too much.

16. Boston Red Sox. I’ve seen the Sox play more games in person than any other team, and have concluded they’re not really likeable at their core. They used to be grumbly, pissy, chip-on-the-shoulder underdogs with a not-distant-enough history of racism; now they’re the Yankees in a grungy, fan-hostile old ballpark. (Plus they gave the world “Sweet Caroline;” they lose points for that too.)

They would be lower on this list, except they mean something to people who mean something to me, so I hope they win occasionally.

15. Chicago Cubs. Great ballpark. Neat city that I’m slowly warming to. Glad they finally won the big one. They were too content to be lovable losers for too long, and the stink of that hasn’t totally cleared yet.

14. Miami Marlins. It says something about me that I am still charmed by the fact that Charlie Hough pitched there. The original teal unis were pretty cool, as was Joe Robbie Stadium in its old baseball layout. Current incarnation of this bunch is a joke but somehow not enough to put me off.

13. Oakland A’s.

12. Seattle Mariners. Sailors! You gotta love sailors. Their rating here is based almost entirely on the early ’80s, when they played in that awesome dome and dressed cool and sent me a big team poster and a media guide in the mail after I wrote to them once. I will always be a little bit of a Marinerd thanks to that.

11. Chicago White Sox. A high school friend of mine got their games on cable, and we would watch because it didn’t seem like anyone else in the world in 1990 cared about the White Sox. I even bought a cap with the curly-C logo, which I still have someplace. There was/is evidence that my grandma liked ’em. The particularly cool guy in my dad’s college band grew up liking ’em. Boss Daley liked ’em. Plus, the Cubs are for tourists. 😉

10. Washington Nationals. It’s a weird thing: Many of my perceptions are based on childhood, and baseball wasn’t being played in D.C. when I was a kid, but it feels right and natural and necessary that it be played there. These guys would rank higher if they were still the Expos, or if they had a more colorful nickname than Nationals.

9. Milwaukee Brewers. They’re named after beer, for cripes’ sake. And they had Gorman Thomas! And … the Rust Belt! And that fabulous ball-and-glove logo! And the ’82 Series, which is one of those Northern equivalents of the Lost Cause!

Somehow these guys get a pass on the Midwestern stigma that lays low Cincinnati and St. Louis and Cleveland. Yeah, I think it must be the beer.

8. Houston Astros. Y’know how Texas is half-cool (great music! Tex-Mex food! natural beauty!) and half-horrible (Bible-thumping! Lots of guns! 20,000-seat high school football stadia!)? Somehow the Astros embody the cool half of Texas to me while the Rangers embody the other half. Anyway, I love their use of orange and their connection to the space program. As a kid I once wrote a poem about the Astrodome even though I’d never set foot inside it. (Yeah, don’t ask.) To top it off, those tequila sunrise uniforms were and are classic.

7. Minnesota Twins. Despite my aversion to the Midwest, Minnesota — snowy, liberal, north-facing, hockey-loving — seems like a place where I could get along; and perhaps that’s why I rate the Twins so highly. They also score points for invariably great uniforms; for their complete lack of glamour or flash, even when they’re winning; and because of that ineffable and unending coolness that reflects eternally on teams that employed Rod Carew.

6. Toronto Blue Jays. You’d think these guys would be higher, given that I have the typical American fascination with Canada. I even have a Blue Jays cap I bought at Rogers Centre. Unfortunately, on the two occasions I’ve been there, I’ve been verbally assailed by (a) an asshole scalper, and (b) several asshole drunk fans. It’s gonna take a great third visit — if I give it one — to turn that around.

5. Detroit Tigers. Classic unis, great fans. Plus I have the typical American fascination with Detroit. If you don’t love the Detroit Tigers … well, you are simply incapable of love, my friend.

4. Kansas City Royals. Dark blue is my favorite color and the Royals have always deployed it well — when they weren’t wearing their even-more-gorgeous Seventies and Eighties powder blues. I love the sound of the word “Royal” because it sounds deep and solid and rich and … royal.

In my lifetime, Kauffman Stadium has gone from one of baseball’s newest parks to one of its oldest. My heart goes out to anyone else trying to wring a few more years out of 1973-vintage infrastructure. Gets harder every year, dude.

3. New York Mets. I was a Mets fan for many years of my youth, in which they went from lameness to world champions. (Eventually I would get a sense of the drama surrounding them, as it surrounds all New York teams, and that would put me off a little bit. I don’t like drama much.)

The libraries of my childhood seemed to have every book every written about the 1962-’69 Mets, all of which I inhaled. Some of those attachments linger, even though the history stories that charmed me are now fifty-plus years old.

2. Baltimore Orioles. The parent club of my hometown Rochester Red Wings, back in the day; I saw a bunch of future Orioles stars before they were stars. In the era fetished by so many of us bloggers (say, 1964-84), these guys were the absolute case study in how to run a ballclub, and I’d love to see them get back to the “Oriole Way” someday.

Also: Great history, great baseball town, chronically beautiful uniforms. They benefit from my East Coast bias. And Camden Yards is the finest ballpark I have ever visited — it looks like it’s been there since 1920, but six-footers can sit comfortably and watch the game from anywhere in the park. If you offered me a ticket to any big-league park I’d choose Camden.

1. Philadelphia Phillies. They’re just survivors. They’ve never become too bloated or smug when they win (like, say, the Yankees), and they’ve never created a cult of suckitude around themselves in their down periods (hi, Red Sox and Cubs.) They’ve always dressed great, and from time to time they play that way as well. A solid, classy, historically deep choice.

And to top it all off, they’re Art Garfunkel’s team.

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Half my age.

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Three-some years ago, a former HS cross-country and track teammate summed up his running goals in a blog post titled “Half My Age Will Be Fine.”

There was other stuff in there as well — a lesson about realizing when your goals are arbitrary and unrealistic, and how to let them go.

But the bit I seized on involved my friend’s goal of running 5K times that were half his age or less. It seemed like a cool thing to be able to do. And my friend was an excellent runner in high school, so I figured that any running goal he adopted must be a serious and worthy endeavor.

(The comment I left on his post indicates how far from said goal I was in November

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Me, last fall.

2014.)

Fast-forward through 2017, when I lost a lot of weight and ran a lot of miles, and stop this past Sunday at the West End St. Patrick’s 5K in Allentown … where I actually managed to run a 5K time that was half my age.

Here’s how I do the math. A little bit of figures-lie-and-liars-figure is required here, but not much:

  • Half one’s age for a 44-year-old would be 22 minutes.
  • Half one’s age for a 45-year-old would be 22:30.
  • I am 44 1/2 (and then some), so half my age must be 22:15.
  • I ran 22:10.

(Searchable results live here, for those demanding proof.)

Having pulled this off, I have indulged in ice cream each of the past two nights … not exactly setting the stage to run half my age again.

But, so be it. I have the satisfaction of knowing I did it.

The fragile vanity of the middle-aged salaryman is appeased.

Don’t look to me for coherence.

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In the brief interregnum between snowstorms I was able to get to the first weekend college baseball of the year — always a big deal around here.

Over in Bethlehem, Moravian College did battle in a doubleheader with Catholic University of America, which is apparently a ranked team in whatever division it calls home.

I surprised myself by staying through the wind and cold to watch the entire (seven-inning) first game, which Catholic won 3-2. I hadn’t thought I was jonesing that hard for baseball, but I guess I must have been. It felt good to watch the choreography of the warmups — third baseman whips to second, who whips to first, who tosses to short, and like that.

Both teams played well, with relatively few errors or slop. The final out came on a bang-bang play at the plate that could have tied it for the home team. It made for a dramatic final play … and I was content not to watch extra innings.

As always, I indulged my hobby of taking amateur photos of the game.

I am the last person in America (here I go with that again) who buys digital point-and-shoots; as my old Kodak has finally bit the dust, I had a new Canon to break in. It seems to work acceptably.

I’ll post some of the better pix here, just ’cause that’s what I do, and also because it will give me something to look at at work on Wednesday while six to eight inches of snow pile up outside.

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Warmups.

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Did I mention the new camera has a fisheye setting?

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Out.

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No. 14 has just hit one off the scoreboard in right to bring Moravian within one. As close as they got, alas.

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The game’s last play. Single to the outfield; Moravian runner on second tries to score …

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… and doesn’t.

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As the smoke clears and the players drift away, the catcher still has the ball in his glove.

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When Ancient Train has hit ol’ Transient Horse.

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Spent the past week working extended hours dealing with the aftermath of two nor’easters. I was so greatly relieved that the weekend came that I don’t barely even mind that it’s almost over already. (I work in a business that is greatly affected by heavy weather, and last week, we were.)

On Wednesday, as the second nor’easter threatened, I brought Dick’s Picks Volume 23 with me as my commute music in the morning — unsure at the time whether I’d be able to get home that night.

The threatened storm turned out to be just a few inches where I live, and as I drove home uneventfully, I credited my personal survival to the mojo from a good long fall 1972 version of “Playing in the Band.”

The Grateful Dead were not your average band; they had powers. I will brook no argument on this.

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I am the last American who listens to Chuck Mangione’s Feels So Good album for pleasure, and last night I did just that while I was cooking a quick, dirty, and not entirely successful jambalaya for dinner.

The title song is the one everyone remembers, but it’s the second song I usually walk away humming — maybe because it consists almost entirely of two melodic parts that repeat themselves in turn, again and again and again, for 10 minutes.

Mangione gave the song the quintessentially Seventies title of “Maui-Waui” … but he could just as easily have called it “Good Morning Grand Rapids,” so thick is it with the kind of breezy, unremitting pleasantness one associates with morning TV.

When it finally winds down, one expects it to be followed not by upbeat cop-show theme music, but by a recipe for quick weeknight beef stroganoff and a weather report.

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Other than that, the main music on tap lately has been Gord Downie’s 2001 album Coke Machine Glow. I’m just about burned out on it but it’s probably good for one or two more spins before the Dead take over for a few.

It’s pretty good, and is the kind of entertaining boho mishmash you’d expect the poetry-minded frontman of a guitar band to dish out on his first solo album.

There’s some spoken-word, some accordion, a little pump organ, a little Spanish-classical guitar-sliding, a bunch of wiry ’50s tremolo guitar, and lots of countryish acoustic guitar and mandolin. (Also, one of the funniest and most unexpected Fenway Park namedrops ever committed to tape.)

None of it is particularly complicated, and it’s the sort of record to make one think, “I could do this, or something like this.” (At some point I probably will. Forewarned is forearmed.)

The pick hit — conveniently placed second in the running order after the introductory spoken-word bit — is the droning, scuffling “Vancouver Divorce.”

No idea whether Downie’s choice of Vancouver signified anything — like, whether it’s the Canadian equivalent of Reno, or whether it just sounded good.

I do understand at least one of the references in the song, though, thanks to a famous Saturday Night Live alumnus who also happens to be a Hip fan. You can see his take on things here.

Music for the end of winter.

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I’ve been listening to a whole bunch of classical music lately — like this collection of Scarlatti’s sonatas for harpsichord, and this recording of the Boston Symphony tackling Mahler’s Second, and this overly chatty BBC production on the music of 17th-century British composer Thomas Weelkes.

Meanwhile, spinning on the stereo have been some Shostakovich pieces for trio, as well as Switched-On Bach.

I bought six LPs at the Bethlehem Public Library’s recent “punk rock flea market” — it’s a long story — and all six were classical, including a four-LP set of Wagner’s Die Walkure, one-quarter of the legendary Ring Cycle.

(That’s gonna be a deep, deep dive. I might have to get mononucleosis, just so I can go on the shelf long enough to pay it my undivided attention.)

But while I enjoy putting on classical music, and keep dipping into it, and get something out of it, I find myself powerless to write very much about it.

I perceive classical music — especially the old-school stuff — as being constructed according to Rules and Practices that are as arcane to me as, say, the rules and practices of civil engineering.

And just as I couldn’t write anything intelligent or incisive about the Tappan Zee Bridge, I can’t write anything intelligent about Scarlatti’s sonatas for harpsichord.

(Actually, I could write something about the Tappan Zee Bridge. I gather the new one is open or will soon be. I may have occasion in the foreseeable future to use it several times a year.

So: Huzzah! Malcolm Wilson, somewhere, beams.)

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That accounts for my at-home listening, which represents half of my available music time.

The rest is my commute. And that’s been pretty well owned over the past two months or so by one CD in particular — the Tragically Hip’s Phantom Power.

(Coming in a fairly distant second in the Winter Commute Sweepstakes is Little Feat’s Time Loves a Hero, which has an excellent Side One but dies a few hundred deaths on Side Two. Third place is cumulatively occupied by a pile of Grateful Dead shows, mostly from the first half of the Eighties. And yes, in my 11-year-old Honda, CDs are still how the music happens.)

I chose Phantom Power as my ticket into the Hip because it had two of my favorite songs of theirs. Some subsequent Googling suggests I might have lucked into one of their best records. Always nice to put a foot right when you step blindly.

I’m not entirely sure what to write about this album either. The Hip punch and pummel, rather than swing, while the late Gord Downie is his loopy, charming, mostly lucid self over the top.

I think it’s a very good record (better than Night in the Ruts, which is the standard yardstick around here) and I can hum you most of the songs, and yet I can’t put my finger on why it’s been in my ears so much. Somehow it feels to me like a wintry, pinched, stuck-inside kind of album.

When I got up in the morning and put on my tuque and scarf and gloves and drove through the gathered dark to work, Phantom Power just seemed to fit. Same for the late afternoon, when the tuque and scarf and gloves went back on, and I drove back through the gathered dark to get home again.

(Maybe the whole thing is just a cheap mental association brought on by the Hip’s insurmountable Canadianness, and my knowledge that the album was recorded during a legendary ice storm. I’ve been guilty of cheap mental associations before.)

Anyway, I’ll be interested to see if I reach for this one as often in spring, summer and fall, and what I think of it if I do. It might actually move the speakers just as nicely with the windows down.

My other new favo(u)rite song is “Fireworks,” whose first verse — a memoir of falling in teenage love, set to the backdrop of the ’72 Summit Series — is priceless, and whose ending ain’t half bad either.

I also love the way Downie’s voice drops down onto slippery ground on the chorus (“When the little sensation gets in your wa-aa-aa-aaay”) and then finds its equilibrium again. By conventional vocal standards he has no business chasing those lower notes but he goes after ’em anyway:

Downie’s first solo album, Coke Machine Glow, arrived in my mailbox today. Will it be the sound of my spring? Time will tell.

John Diefenbaker, somewhere, beams.

Thirteen ways of looking at four naked guys in a hayloft.

One of the best things I ever did to assure myself blog-traffic was to post a snapshot of the gatefold image of Grand Funk’s We’re An American Band, as part of a long-ago appreciation of said album.

The photo shows our heroes posing naked in a barn full of hay and American flags. The associated review has been one of my top three or four most-viewed posts every year since it went up, driven by search terms like “grand funk railroad album cover naked,” “mark farner nude” and “grand funk inside cover nude in barn.”

I don’t believe the output of Grand Funk gets much critical thought nowadays. It’s seen as disposable. Trash, even.

Yet, like a restaurant critic lingering over a box of Cajun Extra Crispy, I am drawn to deep consideration. What does this pic say about the people who made it, the people who bought it, and the society that birthed it?

And so, we have another in our very, very occasional series of Thirteen Ways posts … and if it gets me a few more clicks, more’s the better.

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The band shown in this photo is locked in a high-stakes legal struggle with its former manager, Terry Knight. In a sign of the extreme acrimony between them, Knight had tried to seize the band’s equipment immediately before a sold-out show at Madison Square Garden in December 1972.

These kinds of artist-vs.-manager scraps have a curious tendency to land in the manager’s favor … and if online recaps are to be believed, Knight walked away from this one having stripped the band naked (in the John Lee Hooker sense of the phrase).

Perhaps the underlying context to this beefcake display, then, is Grand Funk reveling in its hard-won freedom.

You can have our gear, our publishing, even our button-front boot-cut Levi’s, they seem to be saying. But you can’t have our band, and you can’t have the magic spark that makes people line up around the block to buy tickets to see us perform. Money? Oh, we’ll make that back. Watch us.

Seen through that looking-glass, Farner’s cockeyed Cheshire-cat grin is the smile of a man for whom living well is the best revenge.

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Don Brewer at far left, meanwhile, is harder to read, with an expression just this side of the Mona Lisa. Is he smiling? There’s just a hint of one, but really, that look could go in any number of different directions.

Methinks the drummer was Freddie King’s fiercest competition in those all-night poker games Brewer sang so profitably about. Of the four members of Grand Funk, he displays the best poker face.

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For Craig Frost (second from right in the photo), the downside of being a rock n’ roll star is kicking in in a hurry.

Not that long before, he’d achieved every rock musician’s dream: He’d been asked to join a world-famous, platinum-selling, arena-headlining band.

Not only that, he’d been brought in as an equal. On later Grand Funk albums, he’d even get a look-see into the songwriting, a perk not made available to every rock n’ roll New Guy (viz. Taylor, Mick).

And now, the Fickle Finger of Fate has knocked on his dressing room door, and whatever voice you imagine goes with it has intoned: “Well, son, here’s something you didn’t know: You’re gonna have to take your clothes off. Yes, all of them. Yes, in public. Yes, you can hide Wee Willie Winkie, but that’s about all. If that don’t suit’cha, you’re welcome to go back to playing Wednesday nights at Bud’s Lounge in Owosso.”

In the gatefold shot, Frost is the only member of the band not looking into the camera. I’m not sure what he was looking at. Hopefully not the door.

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How d’ya think they determined the relative positions of each band member in the photo? Did they draw straws? (The aforementioned new guy gets the back row to himself, which might or might not be coincidental.)

Farner, the most athletic and conventionally handsome of the four (in my humble hetero opinion), has the least showing … while bony Mel Schacher, who looks like he just straggled in from four years’ service in the Confederate Navy, leaves almost nothing to the imagination.

If the intent of the shot (in full or in part) was to impress people with their manliness, they coulda set it up better, is all I’m sayin’.

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On a related note: I’ve always imagined that Grand Funk’s audience skewed heavily toward young men. They just seem, from a distance, like that sort of band.

With that in mind, I wonder if anybody — like maybe some mid-level record company type — sat down with them and said: “Uh, guys? I dig what you’re trying to do here … but the people who buy 70 percent of your albums won’t. In fact, they might be pretty aggressively put off by near-full-frontal male nudity. We’ll fly you anywhere in America you want for a reshoot. Ogunquit, Anchorage, you name it. Just pick a place. And pack a change of clothes.”

And then he went back to his desk, took a double dose of Bromo-Seltzer, and tried to massage the throb out from behind his temples, like Phil Spector in Tom Wolfe’s classic profile.

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Sitting bare-arsed on a haybale doesn’t look any too comfortable.

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Ever since I wrote my first entry on this, I’ve been trying to draw the straight line that connects “American” and “naked.” How did the album title trigger the gatefold concept, in other words? How does “naked” connote or support “American”?

I’m not sure nudity — or broader, related metaphysical concepts like letting it all hang out — was particularly symbolic of 1973 America. The Woodstock dance-naked-in-the-field stuff was done, while streaking hadn’t quite arrived yet.

And on the metaphorical level, America’s chief executive was heavily occupied at that point trying to cover shit up with both hands — pursuing what one of his top aides memorably called “a modified, limited hang-out.”

There might be no thematic connection between the title and the photo at all, of course. Maybe this most seemingly literal-minded of bands is actually playing a trick on its audience, willfully muddling its narrative, defying expectations.

Not for them the obvious Seventies presentations — like dressing up like Western outlaws for an album called Desperado, or dressing like phantom patrolmen for an album called Dream Police. They’re much more prankish and creative than that.

(Admittedly, this narrative would be easier to swallow if Grand Funk had shown similar creativity in other aspects of its presentation … like if they’d tried playing in something other than 4/4 time every once in a while.)

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As I pointed out last time around, the obvious group photo for a self-proclaimed American Band would be heading up a small-town Fourth of July parade.

Indeed, I find such a photo so obvious that I could practically see it in my mind while out running earlier tonight … four longhairs dressed (yes, dressed) in rock-star finery, at the head of a bunch of baton twirlers and sousaphone players, while little kids sit on the curbside waving flags and pinwheels. Maybe something like the gatefold of Music From Big Pink, except with paraders in place of next of kin.

That could have become the definitive Grand Funk image, if such a thing exists, and maybe even a classic of Seventies rock-star iconography — the kind of thing they sell on T-shirts at 21st-century Target stores near you.

I wonder if such a traditional American Band-type photo even occurred to them, or if they went straight to the nudity.

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The gatefold shot of We’re An American Band might not have been “American” in any rigidly defined way, but it represented something of a thematic culmination in Grand Funk’s personal evolution.

They’d posed in caveman loincloths on the front cover of 1971’s Survival, then shirtless on the gatefold of 1972’s Phoenix. Like Sally Rand, they’d perhaps come to realize there’s only one place to go when you’ve taken almost everything off.

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The only clothing or accessories visible on the gatefold are Brewer’s necklace and bracelets (dig that topaz number! I wouldn’t take that off for a nude photo shoot either) and Farner’s rings.

Brewer’s stone-encrusted bracelet says Southwestern/Native American to me — and what could be more American than that? — while Farner’s highly visible wedding ring betokens conventional American values of homestead and family.

See, these guys really are the American Band. You just have to tear your eyes off their bodies to notice.

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Somewhere, in a used-record bin, there’s probably a copy of the album whose original owner glued the gatefold shut so he wouldn’t have to look at the naked guys. (He would have had to slit the side of the jacket open to get at the vinyl.)

And there must have been at least one American household where Junior left the album sitting out on the hi-fi by mistake, and Mom or Dad or Uncle Jerry picked it up just to see where the kids of ’73 were at, and then spit their coffee far enough across the room to singe the Pekinese.

“I didn’t fight for that flag so those longhairs could … could …” and Uncle Jerry searches for something to convey his anger, as he realizes the longhairs aren’t actually doing anything with Old Glory except sitting naked in the same room with it.

(Well, OK, maybe one thing. Farner appears to have taken one of the flags and stuck it sideways into the haybale in front of him so it pokes straight out … maybe, only slightly perhaps, if you have an active imagination, at phallic level. But you have to look at the photo for a lot longer than Uncle Jerry would have before you see it.)

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From The Naked And The Dead Dep’t.:

Two-plus years after this photo, the four members of Grand Funk posed in coffins for the cover of the Born to Die album. (I’m assuming that photo wasn’t a cut-and-paste job, like the cover of All The Girls In The World Beware!!!!)

Which album cover do you think was more uncomfortable to shoot?

Which would you find more unsettling to pose for?

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Forty-five years later, Brewer, Schacher and sidemen still tour under the Grand Funk name. Farner performs as a solo artist, while Frost is the longtime keyboardist in fellow Michigander Bob Seger’s Silver Bullet Band. The long-ago album with the curious gatefold photo has been certified platinum.

The members of Grand Funk have probably signed copies of the album by a thousand backstage doors and during a thousand lunches at Denny’s.

(Do you think they’ve ever told some autograph seeker, “You must have me mistaken for someone else, ma’am. Now get that dirty picture away from me!” just for fun?)

What do you suppose they think — if anything — when that gatefold opens up in front of them yet again and they see their younger selves in the raw?

Maybe “I really should have smiled,” for starters.

Faced.

I recently rejoined Twitter under my own name, having quit shortly after the election (you know which election.) The things I didn’t like about it are already grinding my gears, but the things I missed are already sources of pleasure.

Tonight’s discovery via Twitter is Save Your Face, a music site that does some fabulous Grateful Dead-related stuff (and also some fabulous stuff related to other artists, but we’ll leave that there for now.)

Proprietor John Hilgart specializes in “shortlists” — condensed versions of Grateful Dead concerts, particularly from the golden era of 1972-74.

They’re not always all that condensed — for instance, Hilgert’s cut of 8/24/72 Berkeley runs almost two hours. But I still say it’s a service to humanity for a knowledgeable Deadhead to shave these shows down a little bit to all-killer, no-filler status. Even fans don’t always want to listen to every minute.

He’s also assembled what looks to be a wonderful three-LP (or three-disc, or whatever) set of songs written by Jerry Garcia, as performed by the Dead.

The intent, he says, was to compile a mix that would show off Garcia at his peak, so any listener walking into the room would understand his talent as a singer, guitarist and songwriter. I haven’t heard it yet, simply because the idea sounds so marvelous that I’m intentionally delaying the pleasure.

(If you remember my long-ago posts about Hofheinz ’72 and the Phil and Ned jams, well, those are both represented on Save Your Face too. How ’bout that?)

I didn’t really need to be introduced to more sites to stoke my music-hoarding jones, but I have been anyway, so three cheers for that.