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Arms.

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News item: The Hudson Sun and Marlborough Enterprise, two Massachusetts weekly newspapers with roots going back well over a century, have been closed down by their owner.

It was 1997, maybe 1998, and my college newspaper buddies were all out in the workplace getting their careers under way.

One of them, a sports journalist by choice, had landed as the sports editor of the weekly papers in Hudson and Marlborough, and possibly other papers as well. He was overworked and underpaid, and he enjoyed it, in the manner of young journalists everywhere.

My friend couldn’t cover every sports event in the two towns, nor could he afford to hire stringers to do it. So, for some sports, he relied on submissions from parents.

Pop Warner football was one of those sports. My friend had an arrangement with a father of one of the players, who would bring in handwritten accounts of the games. A scanning program would turn the guy’s handwriting into computer text. My friend would review the text for flagged errors — you know how Microsoft Word underlines possible misspellings and grammar flubs — and then lay it out for print.

(Why the dad couldn’t type the stuff remains a mystery to me. It would have saved a whole bunch of trouble. Anyway.)

One week the scanner made a mistake. It misread the loops and curves of the word “arms” for another word entirely — a real word, so Microsoft Word didn’t underline or flag it. My friend, who was used to looking for flagged errors, didn’t notice it either.

And so it was that a kickoff landed in “the waiting anus” of a schoolboy football player, rather than “the waiting arms.”

Yes, in print.

My friend was mortified, and probably convinced that the sportswriting career he’d dreamed of for most of his life was done.

I remember he had to sit through a tongue-lashing from a middle-to-senior editor type, which struck me as kind of a jerk move at the time. In retrospect, I guess you can’t make an error like that and not get a lecture from somebody … but at the time it seemed surplus to requirements, as one only had to talk to my friend for about 10 seconds to know how seriously he took the whole thing.

The Waiting Anus Incident did not end my friend’s journalism career. He stayed at it. The following week, he started reading every word of the scanned copy. Almost 25 years later, he’s still in the business, working as a regional editor overseeing the sports coverage of a group of daily papers.

And the weekly papers where he made his big gaffe? Those seemingly eternal bastions of the community, chronicling the ups and downs of local life, sheltering generations of young journalists in their turn? Gone.

Not sure if there’s a moral to the story, except maybe that we should not be judged based on the worst day we ever have.

Brothers, sisters, and Johnson.

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What’s new?

Well, sometime in the next month or so there’s gonna be another dime-a-card mail day. Some real mutts in this one. I look forward to introducing them to you.

Inspired by Caitlin Flanagan’s piece in The Atlantic, I am doing my absolute damnedest to stay off Twitter. How’s it going so far? I’ve cut down quite a bit, but not all the way.

Last night I discovered that the Internet Archive hosts a collection of programs and news footage collected by the University of Baltimore and it’s a gold mine of ’60s and ’70s aesthetics. Fun to page through. There’s a regional accent there, too, that I’m not too familiar with and can’t yet capture in words, but it’s there.

Among the most noteworthy of these programs is a 1979 show that brings together the Doobie Brothers, the Pointer Sisters, Earth Wind & Fire, Richard Pryor, and … Raymond J. Johnson Jr., who sort of acts out his novelty single “Dancin’ Johnson” while the Pointer Sisters sing backup for him. It’s about as bad as it sounds. (Not everything in the archive is a Baltimore production; this must surely have been a network special that somehow landed in the collection.)

johnson

It’s worth noting also that the complete programs (as opposed to the collections of news footage) often have inexplicable and incomplete snippets of other shows at the end. The Doobies-Pointer Sisters-Ray J. show, for instance, closes with about 30 seconds of a local current-affairs program called “The Bottom Line,” whose jazzy theme song will stick with me until I figure out what it is, and a couple random seconds of the game show “Name That Tune.” Who was making these tapes?

Another one of the news-film compilations includes a minute or so of Baltimore Blast indoor soccer and now I have a yen to watch Eighties indoor soccer. Wonder if any is on YouTube?

On the personal front, I managed to run 10 miles last weekend for the first time in a while, and once I get off this machine I’m going to try to do it again.

Last weekend I went to a library booksale for the first time in what seemed like forever and it was a tremendous pleasure. Lots of books on folding tables in a school gym — and, remarkably, a few of ’em weren’t the Twilight series. My most noteworthy purchase was History: America’s Greatest Hits on used CD for $1. So many hooks; you know them all. I have wondered for quite a while if their albums hide any similar mellow-gold classics that didn’t get released as singles, and I am freshly resolved to look into it.

The surprise pick-hit of History so far is “Woman Tonight,” which I wasn’t as familiar with when I bought the CD, since it wasn’t as big a hit as most of the other songs.

It’s usually a bad move when a pop band gets clever and tries to play games with the downbeat, but I like it here. The one, in places, is harder to nail down than the Baltimore accent:

Last night we ate Indian takeout to celebrate my younger son’s good fourth-quarter grades, and that was great as always. And Tropical Storm Elsa, while a soaker, was limited in other impacts, so I am home this weekend relaxing (and doing chores) (and, eventually, running) instead of having to work.

And that is massively appreciated.

Bored on the Fourth of July.

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People seem to like it when I live-blog stuff. So I’m going to choose a seasonally appropriate game from the Internet Archive’s collection of baseball broadcasts: July 4, 1965, Yankees vs. Red Sox at Fenway Park.

The Red Sox were two years away from glory and the Yanks were two years removed from it, so I expect this game to be pretty boring. But, hey, I’ve listened to American Top 40 shows from 1980, so not much scares me.

(I am not looking up the game results in advance, but if you want to, you can do so here.)

Here goes ….

# # # # #

No pregame show on this recording, alas; it starts with New York’s Bobby Richardson stepping into the batter’s box. The opposing pitchers are Boston’s Bill Monbouquette (6-9) and New York’s Jim Bouton (4-7 and possibly feeling the elbow pain that eventually pushed him to rely on the knuckleball).

Apparently Richardson led off the previous day’s game with a homer over the Green Monster in left field. He starts this one by settling for a single high off the wall. Tony Kubek is next, hitting .204, and he singles into center field. Three pitches, two hits. This is shaping up poorly.

The Yanks announcer, who I should recognize but don’t, says they scored 13 runs in the first game of the series and six yesterday. Tom Tresh flies to Felix Mantilla, who I always thought was a shortstop, but who the Sox had in center field this afternoon. (Quick check of Baseball-Reference: In 10 big-league seasons Mantilla played 326 games at second base, 180 at shortstop, 156 in the outfield, and 143 at third base. Go know.)

Elston Howard next, hitting .215, but with two homers in the past two days. The announcer runs through the Boston defensive alignment — and waitaminnit, Yaz isn’t in it. The announcer specifies that Boston outfielders Lenny Green and Gary Geiger are out injured but doesn’t explain where Yastrzemski is. Hmmm.

Billy Herman, the Sox manager, is playing regular first baseman Lee Thomas in left field and regular second baseman Mantilla in center. This really sounds like it’s gonna be a long game. Howard flies to Mantilla in center, who’s doing pretty well for a guy out of position.

Joe Pepitone (.267) draws a chorus of boos, then lines a double down the right-field line to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead. Hector Lopez (.234) up next. The Yanks will head to Detroit after the game for five games in four days. “A beautiful day, July 4, 1965,” the announcer intones, and I can almost feel it for a second …. and then Lopez grounds one through a hole for two more runs.

Roger Repoz next at .273 and the Red Sox bullpen is starting to stir. Monbo gets the first two pitches over for strikes, as he did on Lopez. Will he ever get the third out? Yes, swing and a miss, strike three.

Damn – no between-innings commercials! I was looking forward to hearing some vintage paeans to cool crisp Ballantine Beer.  Chuck Schilling leads off for Boston. The announcer mentions that Philadelphia’s Frank Thomas and Richie Allen brawled the other day; history has come down firmly on Allen’s side in that one. Schilling slices one down the right-field line that Lopez catches. 21-year-old Dalton Jones comes up; the announcer mentions the Sox are also playing two 20-year-olds, Tony Horton and Tony Conigliaro. Jones lines one at Lopez; two out.

Horton next; the announcer mentions his “chubby cheeks.” In the social media age, Horton will achieve YouTube infamy thanks to a 1970 clip of him batting against these same Yankees, in which he whiffs not once but twice against reliever Steve Hamilton’s eephus pitch, the “Folly Floater.” That, and other personal difficulties, are in the future at this point; in the 1965 here-and-now, Horton laces a single off the big green wall.

Mantilla is hitting next; he has a .324 average and is starting the upcoming All-Star Game at second base for the American League. He has 12 homers and 58 RBIs, leading the American League in the latter category. I couldn’t have told you that before I started listening. Definitely one of those guys you wouldn’t have guessed made an ASG (Scott Cooper might have been his Boston equivalent 20 years later.) Mantilla walks and Lee Thomas follows. Thomas loops a double between Repoz and Tresh in left-center and it’s 3-2 Yankees. Is this gonna be one of those five-hour Yankee-Red Sox specials like we get now?

The legendary Tony C, with 15 HRs and 36 ribbies, up next. Red Barber jumps in for a moment to say basically nothing about the Green Monster. Apparently there was a big story in Sports Illustrated a few weeks before about the Monster; wonder what it said that people didn’t already know. (Remember when SI was the biggest show in the national sports media business?) Hal “Porky” Reniff throwing in the Yankee pen. Tony C takes an unabashed swing and miss at a loopy curve and the side is retired.

Hey, a commercial! One of those jazzy numbers with a man and a woman trading lines about a cigarette that has “a real taste / that’s really there!” Turns out to be Camel. We pause for station identification, and it turns out we’re listening to WOKO Radio, Albany, New York. (There are a slew of Sixties Mets and Yankees games on the Internet Archive that were taped off their respective Albany radio outlets. A tip of the gin and tonic to the forward-looking dude or dame who made tape all those years ago and then kept it.)

Clete Boyer leads off by slapping a grounder between first and second for a base hit, running his hitting streak to 11 games. Bouton next hitting .107. How much you wanna bet he bunts? Whaddya know, he does — and successfully, too, on the first pitch.

Red Barber ducks in again with a holiday trivia question: How many places in the US is the flag flown 24 hours a day, and how many by custom and how many by law? This seems at first glance like the kind of weasel-question with little ultimate worth — the kind that doesn’t take into account lots of practicalities, like your neighbor who always flies it and will fly it until he keels over — but anyway.

Richardson grounds into a 5-3-6 double play — Jones fields his grounder and throws him out at first, and Horton fires back across the diamond to Sox shortstop Ed Bressoud covering third to get the lead runner trying to advance. Don’t hear those every day.

Red clarifies that the question does not apply to naval ships at sea; he says no. Boy, this question sounds dicier by the minute. Bressoud whacks a line drive between third and shortstop for a single. The announcer mentions the impending arrival of a shortstop hopeful named Rico Petrocelli. Wonder what happened to him?

Catcher Bob Tillman up next and the Red Sox have been “reeling and stumbling.” Tillman grounds to first and they get the force at second but not the double play. Monbo next hitting .094. Of course he tries to bunt, but unlike Bouton, he fouls it back. See, not everyone could lay down a perfect bunt in the old days. Monbo gets one down on the next pitch. Schilling grounds to Kubek; his throw to first is too late but Pepitone fires home to retire Tillman trying to sneak across with the run. The ol’ 6-3-2 putout.

Red is back. He explains that he was visiting Mount Suribachi on a USO tour and wondered where the US flag flies 24 hours a day. During a recent trip to Baltimore, he adds, he learned that the flag flies 24 hours a day at Fort McHenry and also at the “Flag House” where the first flag was (allegedly) made. He goes on to say that the flag flies at the Iwo Jima Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery; over Congress; over the USS Arizona memorial at Pearl Harbor; a dormitory at Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, that was used as a hospital during the Civil War; the town square in Taos, New Mexico; and at the war memorial in Worcester (he pronounces it “WOO-ster”), Massachusetts. In some of these places it’s a law; in others a custom. This is both a more interesting answer than I expected, and still totally unfulfilling — it smacks of casual research, and there’s gotta be more places than that.

Top of the third, Yanks 3-2, and I think the mystery announcer is Jerry Coleman. Kubek starts the third with still another single to right. Six hits off Monbouquette already. Coleman tells us Monbo is throwing more breaking balls than usual today. Tresh flies to Tony C in right, Howard strikes out, Pepitone … well, the audio falls into a pit at this point, but Pepi flies somewhere in the outfield and the Sox escape unscathed.

Red Barber takes over, pointing out that “no lead is safe.” He becomes difficult to understand — sounds like the leadoff hitter made an out — but I’m dedicated to my readers and I stay with it. The second out is a fly to right. Red mentions that the Yankees can reach .500 if they win that day, if I understand him correctly. If the Yanks win in Detroit and Minnesota, they’re back in it, he says. (They won’t.) Third out a routine fly to right.

Red mentions at the top of the fourth that the next portion of the game will be sponsored by Ballantine Beer. This game is really falling into a quagmire of mush; Red is difficult to understand. Red bemoans that the issue of The Sporting News he just got is already out of date because the teams have been moving around so much since it was published.

I realize that I don’t think I’ve heard anyone explain where Mickey Mantle is and why he’s not playing. Perhaps it fell into the mush.

Fourth inning and Thomas leads off with a double and Tony C follows with a home run that lights up the ballpark and gives the Sox a 4-3 lead. The roar for the local boy is rousing and full-throated; Red says the Sox fans are “in a sanguinary mood.” Johnny Keane yanks Bouton for Hal Reniff.

Barber and Coleman remind the Yankee faithful back in Albany that no lead is safe in Fenway Park and the Yanks can still rally. Coleman explains that the Monster has a screen on top to protect the city street and the stores that sit just on the other side of it. As it happens I was just on that street (Lansdowne Street) yesterday to drink IPA at a microbrewery. Small world.

Red rattles off a lengthy list of the newspaper reporters who travel with the Yankees. Makes one wonder how many New York reporters will be at Fenway for the next Sox-Yanks series. Maybe one-quarter as many as in 1965?

“In all the major league towns, if you had to pick one for summer weather, this would be it,” Red enthuses. The last two days in the Boston area it has been rainy and has struggled to get past 60 degrees. So be it; the old climate normal does not apply, anyway. Monbo walks and Schilling singles in the bottom of the fourth (we’re still in the damn bottom of the fourth, BTW.)

Jones “almost cuts the third-base coach’s head off” with a foul liner. (The third-base coach is Billy Gardner, who, spared, goes on to unsuccessfully manage the Minnesota Twins in the days of my childhood, fifteen-plus years later.) Jones strikes out to end the fourth.

Red, who I am warming to even as I struggle to understand him, tells us that major-league players, managers and coaches care little about averages. Instead they want to know who’s hot right now — who hit yesterday, who’s hitting today. Interesting enough insight. He then welcomes the listeners who are listening on car radios, coming in from the back yard, or coming in off the beach, to catch up with the Yanks. Stylish touch. Red also teases a column by Joe Durso in that day’s New York Times about the Yankees’ Pedro Ramos and his “Cuban palmball,” freighting every word with a gentle touch of something; perhaps Ramos was accused of loading up. Plus ca change.

Yanks go one-two-three in the top of the fifth – now an official ballgame. Red hands over to Joe Garagiola in the bottom half. (Rather a remarkable group of announcers worked for the Yanks in those days.) Garagiola discusses the Cuban palmball further, and it is indeed a rumored spitball. Sox go in order in the bottom of the fifth.

Garagiola teases Old-Timers Day at the Stadium on July 31, including Guy Lombardo and his orchestra. I think my grandpa went to one or two of those Old-Timers Days back in the day, as he left the programs behind. Garagiola teases that the Yankees ticket office is open tomorrow, and suggests the audience stop by to pick up their ducats. No Ticketmaster then. Musta been nice.

Yay! In the top of the sixth the audio perks up again. Let’s see if the game does also. Gil Blanco begins to throw for the Yankees; he appeared in only 17 games that season and only 28 lifetime. Wonder if he makes it in? Pepitone singles. Monbouquette, remarkably, is still in there battling for the Sox. A 5-4-3 double play squashes the Yanks’ hopes in the sixth.

Another commercial and it’s so tooth-achingly Sixties, with swinging horns and orchestra and a female narrator who bursts out singing. You can practically see her satin dress. It’s one of those Winston commercials; they taste good like a cigarette should. No thanks, ma’am, I like my lungs like they are.

Tony C leads off the sixth to a round of hearty cheers. A local boy, he was, and crazy gifted. He tries to bunt on strike one, based on God knows what absurd logic, then strikes out. There’s a whimsical downward lilt, an existential everyman musing, to the end of Garagiola’s sentences when he says things like, “Seems like every time there’s a called strike they want a new ball.” This is not entirely the style of the rah-rah storyteller I thought he was.

Reniff gets another K; Tillman bounces a double into the right-field stands; and Monbo, allowed to bat, strikes out also. Pinch-hit for your starter? Nah, he’s only given you six innings of work.

(The next portion of this game will be brought to you by your Atlantic dealer. As in gas. I think that was Amoco in my childhood. I could be wrong.)

Top seven. Still 4-3 Sox. Garagiola still talking up the Stadium ticket office. Plenty of parking and lots of good games to choose from. Washington will be in town after the All-Star Game! Yup, the ’65 Senators sure were Murderers’ Row. Repoz drives one to the fence in the center-field triangle but it’s caught by noted center fielder Felix Mantilla for the out. Boyer doubles into the gap in left-center.

Wheels are turnin’: Bob Tiefenauer is throwing for New York (oh, he’s a knuckleballer – please let him come in and wreak havoc!); Dick Radatz is up in the Sox pen as well; and pinch-hitter Ray Barker is coming up to hit for Reniff. God, this Yankees team was ordinary. Barker flies to Mantilla in center, who gets a bad break on the ball but recovers for the out. Richardson strikes out to end the seventh. 

Another jazzy-cute man-woman vocal duet: “Atlantic keeps your car on the go.” Atlantic gas makes your weekend extra magic, or something like that. Take a bow, Don Draper.

Yay again! Tiefenauer comes in in the bottom of the seventh. He pitched for three teams in 1965 and made 10 appearances with the Yankees; he was 35 at the time. He didn’t pitch a substantial big-league season until he was 32. Gotta love guys like that.

Garagiola hands over to Phil Rizzuto — how many famous announcers did the Yankees have under contract that year? I’m not the biggest Scooter fan but what the hell, I’ve come this far.

Rizzuto says this is Tiefenauer’s ninth appearance with the Yanks so his time there must have been running short. Scooter gives the attendance –17,291 — which seems to me to be pretty poor for a beautiful Fourth of July. Of course, the ’65 Red Sox didn’t give anybody a lot of reason to come out to the yard.

Rizzuto mentions that the Yanks are outhitting the Sox 9-8. Home plate umpire John Rice gets hit by two fouls by two hitters, one off the mask, one off the leg. Ouch. Horton doubles off Tiefenauer to tie the hit count at nine apiece. Ramos gets up in the Yankee pen; Rizzuto does not further expound on his palmball. Mantilla singles to left off the elderly knuckleballer. Horton beats the throw to the plate and the Sox are up 5-3. Maybe this explains why Tiefenauer headed out of the Big Apple not too long after. Pepitone leans into the dugout to snare a foul pop fly from Thomas to end the inning. Six more outs for the Sox. Can they hold it?

Monbo gets one out in the eighth, then gives up his tenth hit, a single to Tresh. I wonder how many starters in 2021 will give up ten hits in a game. Radatz up again in the Sox pen, Howard at the plate. He misses a home run by inches to deep left-center, setting Rizzuto off at full honk — but Tresh, somehow, fails to advance past second, apparently because he assumed it was a homer and took his time.

Mound visit! Radatz comes in to replace Monbouquette, who has only given up eleven hits. It sounds like the fans are booing but it’s tough to tell. His ERA is 5.56 – having an off-year, Rizzuto says, which must be why people are booing him before he’s even thrown a pitch. Radatz’s first pitch brushes Pepitone back; a pitch later Pepitone pops up to second base for the out. The sun is setting through my basement windows and it looks really nice. I could almost convince myself it’s 85 degrees outside rather than 55.

Lopez laces a ball directly at Lee Thomas in left field, who catches it. Yastrzemski who? Sox stave off a threat and hold a 5-3 lead going into the bottom of the eighth. Another jazzy Winston ad with male and female singers duetting. Were all ads following that cutesy formula in 1965?

Ross Moschitto goes out to play right field. He appeared in 96 games as a 20-year-old rookie that year but had only 27 at-bats — one of the weirder lines you’ll see. (Most of his appearances came as a late-inning defensive sub or a pinch-runner, if memory serves.) He made 14 more appearances in 1967 and then was done. Tiefenauer still on the mound. Line drive to right field – I’ve forgotten who’s even hitting — and “MOSCHITTO MAKES A BEAUTIFUL PLAY,” Rizzuto enthuses. A running one-handed catch low to the ground, apparently, and Moschitto ran almost to first base on the way in. Good job, rook.

Tillman pokes a base hit to center, right over second base. Radatz hits for himself, again to a chorus of boos, his very good years of the recent past apparently forgotten. Radatz watches a knuckler for strike three. We head to the ninth.

Radatz “is firing those little BBs up to the plate,” Scooter says as he faces his first hitter. He switches from sidearm to overhand and gets the third strike. Boyer up now and flies to left for the second out. Jake Gibbs, best remembered as the Yankee catcher Thurman Munson metaphorically pushed aside, comes up to bat for Tiefenauer. Radatz gets him on a high fastball too to clinch the 5-3 win for Boston.

Boy, that was boring as hell. Happy Fourth of July!

 

Less cowbell.

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RONK.

RONK RONK.

RONK RONK.

RONK RONK …

I still think about the Rolling Stones, from time to time, and my man Jim Bartlett got me thinking about one of my favo(u)rite moments in the Stones’ oeuvre — a moment you’ve probably not heard on the radio, or not more than a very few times.

His recent celebration of “Tumbling Dice” as his fave Stones tune led me to revisit the issue myself and conclude that the concise blast of muddy raunch that is “Honky Tonk Women” probably still tops my list.

“Emotional Rescue,” to no one’s surprise, is a very close No. 2 and may be No. 1 on some days. “Start Me Up” and “Let’s Spend the Night Together” are Nos. 3 and 4. “Miss You” and “Moonlight Mile” are probably fighting it out for No. 5. “Tumbling Dice” is a worthy selection too, and falls somewhere between No. 6 and No. 10.

Anyhow, one of the lesser-known pleasures of “Honky Tonk Women” is that it doesn’t start the same way onstage as it does on the record.

On the record, it starts with a cowbell (played by producer Jimmy Miller). Charlie Watts’ drums tumble in, joined shortly afterward by Keith Richards’ guitar, whose bent, grungy opening phrase sets the stage for Mick Jagger’s vocal to start.

The Stones could duplicate that arrangement onstage, if they wanted to. They were touring with a percussionist as early as 1975, and even before then, they usually had a pianist and a couple of horn players who could have picked up a cowbell.

Instead, live performances start with Richards vamping on the song’s guttural opening guitar figure — RONK, RONK RONK, RONK RONK — as Watts falls in underneath him.

And then he keeps playing it. Again, and again, and again. For what feels like months. RONK, RONK RONK, RONK RONK.

This arrangement dates back to the song’s earliest days. It’s captured on the band’s live album Get Yer Ya-Yas Out, recorded in fall 1969 and released the following year. On that version, Richards keeps the RONK RONK to a modest 15 seconds or so.

That proved to be not enough of a good thing. On this version — recorded in Fort Worth, Texas, on the 1978 tour — he rides the groove for a solid 45 seconds before he plays the cue to let Jagger in (along with Ronnie Wood, who sounds like he’s doubling the intro guitar phrase an octave or two higher):

Another example from the ’78 tour finds Keef in a slower mood. It sounds like he feints toward a start at 0:36, finds out his fingers aren’t in the mood, backs off, and then comes in as if spurred by an occult hand at the magic 45-second mark:

(Obligatory disclaimer: The video above, not being an official Stones production, could disappear at any point; I probably won’t put a lot of effort into replacing it when it does.)

This next video, from the 1981 tour, lets us in on a few important considerations.

First, while Jagger spends the first three seconds or so taking off his guitar, he’s onstage the whole time. This arrangement sounds like it’s a cover for him to step offstage so he can make a costume change, or get a drink of Gatorade, or yell at the guy running his vocal monitors. But it’s not. They’re camped out in that groove, not for practical or logistical purposes, but just ’cause they wanna be.

Second, you can see that the riff doesn’t even require Richards to use his left hand. He’s playing in open-G tuning, which means his strings are tuned to a G chord without his needing to finger them. He needs only his right hand to produce the RONK RONK. Indeed, with a little practice, he could theoretically mount the guitar on a stand and eat a meatball sub while playing the riff with his foot. That would be something to see.

(Richards cracks a smile at 0:45 of this video, as if to say, “How long do I feel like making Mick jump up and down tonight?” But then he comes down off the catwalk and plays the cue at 0:50.)

Usually, in the Stones’ world, concise is good. But there’s a delicious sense of anticipation in the extended RONK RONK that isn’t nearly so present in the studio opening. A long fuse has been lit, and 15,000 people (or 65,000) have nothing to do but wait for it to burn down.

S03E13.

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I’ve had this idea in my head since last weekend and am just writing it now. In part that’s because I had a crazy week at work. It’s also because I’ve gotten better at fending off the urge to write, I think.

I continue to dig up items of great interest and questionable legality from the Internet Archive … which only redoubles my digging there, as I’m convinced the whole shebang is going to fall afoul of a copyright suit one of these years and get itself completely disappeared.

As I type this, there are 938 episodes of Saturday Night Live uploaded to some user’s account. Some user’s account that’s not NBC, that is. Clearly, this account is a house not built to stand.

But that hasn’t stopped me from rummaging around in it while it’s there. I have, for instance, watched all three of the Kinks’ appearances and one of the Grateful Dead’s (the one from April 1980 with Bob Weir wearing the rabbit ears; I still have to catch up with the Dead’s performance from November 1978.)

As for full episodes: Faced with an embarrassment of riches, I went straight for the gold. Season 3, Episode 13, aired March 11, 1978. Guest host: Art Garfunkel. Musical guest: Stephen Bishop.

artie

Just as I used to live-blog American Top 40 episodes (and may yet again), I thought it would be fun to semi-sorta-live-blog this episode from one of SNL’s halcyon periods and see what I thought. Take the ride with me, if you want. For the time being, the show lives here; who knows how long it stays there.

Opening: After one of those crass “will not be shown tonight” special-presentation parodies, we take a left turn into “Modern Crimes,” a silent-movie parody with John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd as grave-robbers, Bill Murray as a daft cop, and Gilda Radner as a corpse with a secret. (Of course Gilda gets to deliver the end-of-sketch payoff line, which you all know.)

In a subtly subversive moment, one of Belushi’s silent outbursts is captioned, “Let’s Get Out of Here!” It’s clear from lip-reading that his actual line has more syllables than that, and one of them appears to be the word that did in Charles Rocket’s career less than three years later. It seems possible that Belushi could have been the first person to say “fuck” on Saturday Night Live — except he did it in a context where no one could hear it.

After Gilda comes alive, we roll to the credits, which in 1978 basically consisted of names and titles displayed on a big scoreboard-style computerized screen. (Oh, look, Andy Kaufman’s on this week too.) The Players follow: Aykroyd swigs from a paper bag, Jane Curtin grins winningly against a big-city background of twinkling headlights, Belushi and Laraine Newman both come up the subway steps and do double-takes, and Radner bites girlishly into an apple.

“Monologue”: Our man Artie comes out, boyish as ever. He picks up a mic and goes into “What a Wonderful World,” only to be interrupted by a burst of feedback. This brings Belushi up on stage to complain that SNL gets crappy equipment and poor treatment from NBC; he urges Garfunkel not to put up with it.

It seems to me that it might have been funny for Art the perennial babyface to join Belushi’s revolution. I imagine him destroying a Pepsi machine with a folding chair and then coming back onstage to howl and scratch his way through “Surfin’ Bird.” But, that’s not where the writers (or Art) went.

Instead, Garfunkel the trouper insists that it’s no big deal and the show must go on … whereupon Belushi turns heel and insults Garfunkel at great and biting length for his obeisance, his choice of solo material, and eventually even his hair. It’s funny, and it kinda isn’t.

The original SNL traced its comic roots to National Lampoon — a magazine famous for dragging counterculture icons like Mick Jagger, John Lennon, and Bob Dylan alongside Richard Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover — and this skit feels like an heir to that, with a revered ’60s youth figure not immune to the arrows of satire.

I dunno. My favorite part of the skit is still when Belushi finally packs off and Garfunkel, left alone at last, finishes “What a Wonderful World,” his voice caressing the chorus.

Commercial parody: A watch called the Kromega III, so complex it takes two people and three hands to wring the time and date out of it. Being old enough to remember the feature-laden digital watch as status symbol, I can see the humor, but you definitely have to be Of A Certain Age to get the gag in 2021.

Tomorrow with Tom Snyder: Unfortunately, I am not of an age to remember the TV host Tom Snyder. As a result, Aykroyd’s fast-talking, chain-smoking impersonation — accurate as it probably was in 1978 — soars several dozen feet over my head.

And as soon as I see that the face of Snyder’s guest is obscured in shadow, I can guess the gag of the entire skit: The guest’s identity is going to be inadvertently revealed and connected with the embarrassingly personal secret he came on TV to discuss.

The skit unrolls exactly as I expected. Since the gag is so predictable and one-note, the only other source of humor is Aykroyd’s Tom Snyder impression. And … yeah, we just went over that.

(For whatever reason, Aykroyd-as-Snyder is the first person on the show whose face I see and think, “Damn, doesn’t he look young?”)

Musical guest: Artie introduces his good friend Bish, who does his big hit “On and On.” It sounds pretty much like the record, right down to the pedal steel. There’s a rowboat at the front of the set for a sort of sub-Jimmy Buffett feel.

(In March 1978, Bishop had completed filming his memorable cameo in Animal House, although the movie wouldn’t be out until July. I’m guessing he’d already written and recorded the theme song, as well. Maybe he and his buddy Belushi traded shots of tequila backstage.)

“Miracle in Chicago”: My limited perception of SNL in recent years (since I stopped watching and started picking up tidbits on social media) is that the writers seem to love caricaturing Bostonians. The original show had strong ties to Chicago, though, which come through here. This skit features native Chicagoans Bill Murray as a construction worker and Belushi as a risen-from-the-dead “Mare” Richard Daley, with Aykroyd joining in as an Irish publican.

People with soft spots for all things Chicago (and white Irish Chicago, to be specific) probably found it hilarious; the rest of the country, maybe not so much. It seems in retrospect like the entire thing might have been an excuse for Aykroyd and Murray to take a couple of swigs of on-camera, mid-show beer.

“Roadie”: not sure if this skit has a formal title so I’ll call it that. Belushi plays a self-important, jerky KISS roadie who turns a string of would-be entrants away from the backstage door while the band performs. (Garfunkel’s appearance is priceless: He walks up with a parachute in hand and announces himself as Paul Stanley’s brother who serves in the Air Force and bailed out over the city specifically to come wish him happy birthday. He doesn’t get in.)

Belushi’s character is named Steve Parish, which is a rock n’ roll in-joke: The real-life “Big Steve” Parish was a Grateful Dead roadie for almost 30 years, whose responsibilities included keeping unwanted people at arm’s length (or further) from Jerry Garcia. The skit was supposedly inspired by a real-life encounter between Parish and SNL writers Al Franken and Tom Davis. Whether that backstory is a cool bit of pop-culture trivia, or an example of pop culture becoming inbred, self-referential and recursive, is a matter of taste.

(The bit ends, inevitably, with Parish trying to go backstage for a beer, only to have the venue’s security guard tell him he’s not on the list. As the camera pulls away from the resultant mob scene, we see an on-screen gag: “Coming up next … The Anorexia Cookbook.” Talk to me again about the genius of early SNL, won’t you?)

Weekend Update: Hershey Highway, the candy that’s turned America’s taste around for 50 years, is the sponsor. Seems to me that if the 1980-81 Jean Doumanian season of SNL had run with that gag, it would still be cited on the Internet today as a common example of cheap bad taste.

It’s not really fair to judge the topical part of the show through 2021 eyes … but some of the jokes here are still pretty funny, like the one about the corrupt small-town police force moving en masse to Philadelphia (a bit with much more regional authenticity and bite than that fantasia involving Mayor Daley).

Garrett Morris gets a “science” spot that’s screamingly unfunny; Bill Murray gets a smarmy “movie review” that he carries off well, perhaps his best moment in the entire show.

“All I Know”: Accompanied by a pianist and cellist (!), Art G. ditches the parachute and returns for a foreshortened rendition of his big 1973 hit. It’s drained of its original drama in this small-group version, but still gorgeous. Which leads directly into …

“Scarborough Fair.” Art pulls up a stool and sings a solo version of the old S&G chestnut, accompanied by acoustic guitar and cello. In October 1975, Garfunkel appeared on the second episode of SNL to reunite with Paul Simon on this and other songs; now, he gets the spotlight to himself.

I can’t help but miss the otherworldly harmony … but at the same time, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this version in sound or visual presentation. Let it be remembered: The dude could sing.

“Looks at Books”: A takeoff of the then-current best-seller Whatever Happened to the Class of ’65? features Gilda Radner and Bill Murray as their Nerd characters Lisa and Todd, plugging their book Whatever Happened to the Class of ’77? (Jane Curtin is marvelously shallow as the hostess: “Well, I have to admit that I haven’t read the book yet, but it sounds *exciting*!”)

I’m not sure whether the Murray and Radner characters are supposed to be mildly mentally disabled, or hideously socially awkward and also not tremendously smart. If it’s the first case, no sale; if it’s the second case, it’s a little more tolerable, if not all that funny.

Schiller’s Reel, “Don’t Look Back in Anger”: The famous black-and-white film short in which an aged Belushi visits the SNL cemetery, where all his peers are buried, to share their fates and muse about why he outlasted them.

The answer turns out to be, “‘Cause I’m a dancer!” — whereupon Belushi casts aside his cane and bursts into a triumphant dance to the tune of what sounds like Albanian wedding music. The last thing we see is Belushi, hands raised like a heavyweight champion, twirling in victorious circles as the camera pulls away.

Of course Belushi’s early death ensured a bitter and ironic legend for this segment. But even seen through 1978 eyes, as best one can, this is still a tour de force — weird, unexpected, audacious. It not only reminds us that we’re watching actors; it plots out the paths of their future lives, choosing one of their number as the narrator.

One of the books about SNL (Doug Hill and Jeff Weingrad’s, I think) claims that Dan Aykroyd’s colleagues weren’t jealous of his flights of fancy like “Bass-O-Matic ’76;” instead, they sort of quietly conceded that they would never have thought of anything so off-the-wall. I’d like to think that the cast took the same attitude toward filmmaker Tom Schiller’s production here.

Seen from the long view of 2021, the film has also done a 180-degree turn and acquired something of a happy ending: It reminds the viewer that, with the exception of Gilda Radner, all those Seventies cast members survived their live-fast-die-young years and, as of this typing, are still with us.

(Yes, a small voice inside my head pointed out, “Actually, George Coe’s dead.” But I’ve gotten a lot better at stifling that voice as I get older.)

Andy Kaufman: Introduced by Art in what must be the only time these two gentlemen shared a stage, Kaufman gets 10 minutes of network time to read from The Great Gatsby. I was prepared not to like it but I was won over. This is the Metal Machine Music of comedy, completely obnoxious and yet winning at the same time … and it blows a whole bunch of the SNL writers’ work this week into a cocked hat.

Including the next skit, a commercial parody (did they understand how obvious and poor most of these were?), in which pigtailed little-kid Gilda makes the acquaintance of “The ‘Looking For Mr. Goodbar’ Sleepytime Playset.” “Brings gratuitous sex and random violence into her little world!” I dunno: Does comedy require more than cheap irony, or is it just me?

“Crying In My Sleep”: Art G. sings a number from his then-current album, Watermark. A pretty enough toon, but maybe a questionable choice for 12:50 a.m. on a Sunday. He interpolates a little Everly Brothers on the tag; can’t remember if that’s on the studio version also. Probably.

Finale: There’s less than 10 seconds of it; Art says, “That’s all the time we have. Good night!” and we barely even see credits. The crowd at center stage seems smaller than usual, and only Garrett Morris engages with Art; I’d like to think the rest of the cast had the proper respect for Mr. Garfunkel, but if they didn’t, their loss.

And the saxophone, as it always does, carries us out.

 

Principles cheerfully abandoned.

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After spewing lots of Major-League-Baseball-is-dead-to-me hot air over the past year or so, I went to Fenway Park this past week, and with reasonable good cheer.

Through a work connection, I was offered four (very good) tickets to this past Thursday’s game between the Red Sox and Houston Astros.

I wanted to get back into a ballpark. I thought it would be a nice outing for my family, which doesn’t remember what outings are. And, more than anything, I wanted the colleague to know that I very much valued and appreciated their generosity. So we went.

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I still haven’t forgotten MLB for killing the New York-Penn League, and I still think Commissioner Manfred seems to have little grasp on the job. It still seemed like the right thing to do to go to the game. Perhaps I am a whore; I’m still thinking about it.

We stayed for seven innings, which was long enough to see all the runs in a 12-8 Red Sox win. It was a weird, slow, sloppy game, complete with an abundance of poor relief pitching, a couple of flaky disputed umpiring calls, and, at one point, some jerknose fan running onto the field.

(He made it all the way from the outfield to near the pitcher’s mound, and he could have attacked any one of several Astros players if that had been his thing. The security staff, IMHO, did not make itself proud in this case.)

There were about 24,000 people there, and they booed the Astros unmercifully, as crowds around MLB continue to do following the Houston sign-stealing scandal of a couple of years ago. I can report that profane chants from 24,000 people are not as entertaining as they were when I was 19.

Of course there were a bunch of strikeouts and a couple of long home runs, this being 2021. Jose Altuve, the Astros’ second baseman, somehow managed to golf a pitch over the Monster that was about eight inches off the ground. It didn’t even look like he swung the whole way through it.

(I’ve seen lots of homers during the power glut of the last few seasons. I’m not sure which kind is worse — the abridged half- to three-quarter swing that looks like it should send the ball about 250 feet but parks it in the bullpen instead, or the outrageous purpose-built uppercut Thor’s-hammer swing that ends with a guy standing stock-still watching a ball fly 440 feet as if that were still special.)

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So far I’ve just pissed and moaned. Did I like any of it?

Well, a busy and opinionated Fenway Park is one sign of a resurgent Boston, and that was nice to be part of.

The sounds and rhythms of baseball are always welcome.

Did I mention the seats were great? (There was also a restaurant on that seating level, and I splurged on dinner — the first restaurant meal outside our home we’ve had as a family since I don’t know when.)

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Houston is one of the most loaded teams in the major leagues and — after seeing only high schoolers and Little Leaguers play the game over the past 15 months — it was a pleasure to see two teams at the highest level of performance go at it, even if they weren’t razor-sharp on this night.

It was nice to be in the same building as Joe Castiglione, my favorite radio announcer, even if I couldn’t hear him.

I suppose it was also kinda nice to be in the same building as Dusty Baker. When I was nine years old, I owned baseball cards of Dusty, then a star outfielder with the Dodgers. All these years later, I still own the cards, and he is still in baseball, managing the Astros — or at least he is when he’s not getting ejected, as he was late in this game.

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I still don’t see myself buying Sox tickets anytime soon. But I think I can forgive myself a trip back to the ballyard — I’ll justify it as part of my celebration of the reopening of society, not to mention a reward for the nine-to-five grind (which is more like seven-to-six sometimes).

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Mail day again.

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Fortuitous circumstances might bring me back into a professional baseball park this week. Of course I will probably milk it for blog-content, if so. Don’t touch that dial!

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On a similar note, something — either a birthday present or a friendly work-related benefactor — put my grandpa in a nice-looking seat at Yankee Stadium one night in May 1965, and my writeup of that night has just been posted to the SABR Games Project.

My pace of cranking out new pieces has slowed somewhat. But I still have a lot in the pipeline, so I’ll probably have more to flog as time goes on.

The complete SABR Kurt Blumenau Historical Baseball Collection can be seen here.

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Still listening to new-to-me tunes; maybe soon I’ll write about ’em; but today we feed the blog with the results of our latest mail day.

I continue to patronize an every-card-costs-a-dime website on a periodic basis. It’s just the sort of friendly, low-stakes venue where I can indulge myself. I took essentially no notice of 10 to 15 years’ worth of Topps baseball cards at the time they came out, plus there are whole entire other universes I never knew existed (in terms of other sports and other card companies), so there are plenty of avenues to walk down without blowing big bucks.

I won’t shop there forever — diminishing returns will probably set in soon — but for cheap thrills, it’s still getting it done.

And you get to hear about my latest finds, treasures, and random obsessions:

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I went on a Seattle SuperSonics jag this time around. (I forget sometimes that the franchise doesn’t still exist.)

Every man thinks the sports uniforms of his childhood were the best … and to me, the Sonics’ green-and-yellow uniforms and their skyline logo were a small part of the massive spread of uniform coolness that was the 1980s.

I bought this card sight unseen, as indeed I buy many of them. (The website promises that all cards are in good condition, and they haven’t cheated me yet.) So I didn’t know I was getting a Larry Bird card until this Benoit Benjamin card showed up in the box.

It appears that Mr. Bird is standing in awe of Benoit Benjamin’s All-World talent. Let it never again be said that the camera never lies…

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English soccer was another jag this time around, as I discovered that a company called Pro Set had issued sets of Limey football players. (These cards don’t carry a specific date but I believe they are early ’90s, like circa 1991.)

I don’t think these cards are British in origin — the ones I have don’t seem to include British spellings or slang that might be proof that they were produced across the pond.

But if they’re not British, there’s a certain coolness in that too. That would mean the cards are relics of some wrongheaded North American card company’s attempt to bring British soccer to the American masses, a good 15 or 20 years before the game actually picked up real momentum over here.

My English soccer card orders alternated between legends (Paul Gascoigne) … players mentioned in Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch (Paul Merson, Bruce Grobbelaar, Imre Varadi) … and totally random unknown-to-me guys who had the most English-sounding names possible.

Like Perry Digweed (who played for the most English-sounding team imaginable, Brighton and Hove Albion)!

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Or Neil Pointon (who doubles down on his claim to Mr. Random British Dude ’91 by having a fabulous ‘stache.)

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Or Owen Archdeacon!

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Nigel Clough is the son of Brian Clough, a combative, booze-fueled, larger-than-life figure who is perhaps best described as the Billy Martin of English soccer (except he hung around longer and won more championships). Nigel played under his father at Nottingham Forest, but did so on his own merit: According to Wiki, he is the second-leading scorer in the history of this long-established team.

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From there we leap elsewhere in the British Empire, to another small company issuing sets on another sport that isn’t baseball.

A company with the curious name of Seventh Inning Sketch issued cards in the early ’90s for a variety of junior-level Canadian hockey leagues. I snapped some up, attracted by the seeming obscurity of the players, beavering away in provincial rinks a generation ago.

Seventh Inning Sketch’s quality control wasn’t the greatest, as shown by this card, which purports to show Maxime Peticlerc but very visibly and obviously shows his teammate David Pekarek.

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Three or four years after this card was issued, Stephane St. Amour (is there a Saint Love?) turned up on a low-level American team called the Jacksonville Lizard Kings. There is probably an entertaining oral history just waiting to be written about the Jacksonville Lizard Kings and the aspiring young Canadians who turned out to staff them — probably sleeping on couches in basements in Florida between paychecks.

(Do they have basements in Florida?)

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Moving to American soccer (!) for a moment, Branko Segota played for the hometown Rochester Lancers of 40 years ago before ending up in the indoor game. I remember Sports Illustrated running very occasional articles on indoor soccer back in the ’80s. The English, who play outdoors in the winter, probably laughed at the whole idea, but it looks in retrospect like it might have been fun to watch.

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Back to the comforting turf of baseball! At various points in the late ’80s, Topps issued Turn Back the Clock cards, commemorating noteworthy feats at five-and-zero intervals and featuring art from old Topps cards.

The 1972 card shown on this 1987 Turn Back the Clock installation was the last Topps card of Roberto Clemente’s lifetime. I’ll never own an original 1972 version, but this second-generation version will do.

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Similarly, there’s another tragedy here that (IIRC) is not mentioned on the card back. In the five years between the Kansas City Royals’ 1985 World Series title and the issuance of this Turn Back the Clock card in 1990, the Royals’ respected manager Dick Howser died of a brain tumor. I might have the original of the ’85 Howser card (I really need to catalog my collection one of these decades.)

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I was gonna send this back with a note that said “NOT ENOUGH BOKEH!” but decided I could live with it after all.

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Still have a weakness for the Topps Heritage card issues, in which Topps revives a card design from a long-ago year and produces cards of current players. This is a 2002 Heritage card (based on the 1953 Topps set) of Jeffrey Hammonds, a speedy outfielder who also passed through the Rochester Red Wings of my youth but never put it all together in The Show.

I think the original ’53 cards were paintings based on photographs, so it’s kinda cool that Topps kept the look almost 50 years later. The card backs are pretty faithful, too.

This year’s Topps Heritage cards mimic the gonzo 1972 Topps set; it’s on my list to track some down.

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And another Topps Heritage card (I think this is the 1963 or ’64 design) with a minor-league player.

Mr. Guerrieri’s bro-smirk here is kind of annoying, but he starred in the New York-Penn League in 2012 and that’s credential enough for me. He actually did make the majors in 2018 and 2019, and is in the Seattle Mariners’ minor-league system as I write this, apparently.

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Some cards from my childhood, too. This is 1981 Fleer Jerry Turner. A fine example of the dreadful photography to be found in the early years of Fleer and Donruss cards after they arose to challenge Topps’s monopoly in the early ’80s.

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I mentioned my love for ’84 Fleer last time I wrote about cards. It even extends to the implausibly cheerful Ben Hayes, whose major-league career was over by the time this was printed. Clearly, he has never been subjected to Diana’s Favorite Torture Chair.

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“Willie Stargell is the Pittsburgh Pirates; Willie Stargell is the City of Pittsburgh,” this 1982 card declared. “Willie Stargell simply was a joy to watch and a joy to know.”

I don’t understand the almost funereal tone — Stargell wasn’t done playing when this card came out — but indeed, by all accounts, he was a joy to watch and a joy to know. (Stargell, who died in 2001, is commonly credited with an oft-repeated and probably oft-butchered observation, along the lines of: “When they start the game, they don’t say ‘Work ball.’ They say, ‘Play ball.'”)

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More ’81 Fleer. Frank White is wearing one of my favorite uniform tops ever (see the note above about grown men’s attachment to the uniforms of their youth.) He was a classy and long-lasting player who is perhaps a little less remembered than he should be.

I always love looking at the backgrounds of cards, and there’s a random quirk of note here: The metric measurement on the outfield wall suggests that this photo was taken at Toronto’s Exhibition Stadium.

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More Topps Heritage, this time aping the classic 1954 set.

Mark Bellhorn, while nobody’s Hall of Famer, was part of one of my favorite postseason moments of all time. In the seventh and deciding game of the 2004 American League Championship Series, the Red Sox jumped out to an 8-1 lead over the Yankees. But in the seventh inning, the Yankees rallied for two runs against nemesis Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez, and the fans at Yankee Stadium were starting to stir and squawk and chirp and rumble hopefully about an epic comeback and the Ghosts of October and all that business.

And then Mark Bellhorn, playing second base for the Red Sox, led off the top of the eighth by golfing a pitch off the right-field foul pole for a home run — making it clear that, whatever firepower the Yankees could muster, Boston could match. 9-3, Red Sox.

Everybody in New York shut the frick up and stayed that way until the following April.

It was glorious.

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There was a short-lived “senior baseball” league in the late ’80s or early ’90s that gave a second playing opportunity to 30-something and 40-something ex-players. There are several sets devoted to the league and this is from one of them.

Ed Nottle was (and still is) a notable character, one of the more colorful of the class of men lumped under the term “baseball lifers.” As a pitcher he got a brief callup to the White Sox in the mid-1960s but never played in a big-league game. He went on to manage many years in minor and independent leagues, augmenting his income by singing at nightclubs and parties. Along the way, he managed to notch one solitary year of major-league service time, getting hired as the Oakland A’s pitching coach for the 1983 season.

From all accounts, he kept a sense of humor about himself and his vocation throughout his travels, which always counts for something with me.

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We’ll close, at long last, with some minor-league cards issued by a company called Classic Best in the early 1990s.

Mel Wearing is yet another guy whose ticket was stamped for the Rochester Red Wings for a couple of years. He never made it to the majors. But here, with his bulging biceps and a great Frederick Keys uniform, he looks like it’s only a matter of time.

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Hello there, ladies and gentlemen! Are you ready to rock?

Martin Martinez pitched three seasons in the minors, the latter two for the Class A Expos of Rockford, Illinois, otherwise known as the home of Cheap Trick.

There is much to love on his card, including his cap logo (an Expos logo with an intrusive, octopus-style “R”); the bare trees in the distance; and the ads for telecom companies and Little Caesar’s on the outfield wall.

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I can just about see Mike Farrell’s curveball by looking at his Classic Best card. It’s big and sloppy and somewhat erratic and — while he doesn’t know it yet — not quite convincing enough to get him to The Show.

Mike Farrell attended Indiana State University, which gives him something in common with Larry Bird, who opened this blog post about five hours ago. That would be a fine place to stop, but I’ve got one more.

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I saw the Geneva Cubs play once, in 1992. I’ve seen the summer college-age team that now occupies their old ballpark several times, and wrote about it in this space many years ago.

That’s probably Geneva’s McDonough Park in the background behind Douglas Metunwa Glanville, an Ivy League graduate (Penn) turned major-league hopeful. He made it, playing nine years in the majors — six of them as a regular. He has since become an insightful and entertaining commentator on the game.

Why end with him? Just as a reminder, I guess, that — while the cards themselves might or might not be worth anything — the dreams behind these weird pieces of cardboard I collect occasionally do come true.

Five for the Record: George Harrison, “This Song.”

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A recurring feature in which I take something I enjoy but have not thought deeply about, and force myself to state five reasons why I like it.

Today’s subject: First single from ex-Beatle George’s Thirty-Three & 1/3 album. Released November 1976. Reached No. 25 on the U.S. Top 40.

And here’s why I like it:

1. Ol’ Brown Eyes is back. “This Song” features what has to be one of the strongest, most assured, and most enjoyable vocal performances of any George Harrison solo record. Among other travails, Harrison had recently come through a “Dark Hoarse” period in which laryngitis audibly affected his singing. Here he sounds delighted to have his pipes back, and it’s a pleasure to listen to him sing, especially when he slips into falsetto at the end of key lines (“don’t infringe on anyone’s copyright, so…)

Extra points to George for writing the “square/rare/bear” rhyme into the last verse, so we get to hear Hari’s peculiar Scouse pronunciation of that particular phoneme — hard to capture in words, but almost something like “squahr.” You can take the boy out of Liverpool …

2. While my guitar gently … shuts up? Harrison’s doleful, multitracked slide guitar was always a feature of his solo work, and deservedly so. The lead lines from “My Sweet Lord” and “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)” are classic examples of the kind of hooky, memorable guitar statements George did so well.

Here, though, he gives it a rest. Outside of the first 15 seconds, when a quietly chugging rhythm guitar can be heard, you’d be hard-put to spot any guitar at all for most of the song. Harrison’s trademark slide playing, as best I can tell, is absent. There’s a brief (and totally unnecessary) guitar solo at the very end of the album version; I think it’s cut out of the single edit, and that’s no loss.

To build a song around something other than your core instrument, and leave your familiar solo instrumental voice out of it, is a step outside the lines. George Harrison, superstar guitarist, made the right choice here.

3. The Man can’t get him down. When rock stars sing about legal entanglements or business matters, they run a good chance of coming off as pissy. George had already been down that path a few times by the time “This Song” came out. 1973’s “Sue Me Sue You Blues,” inspired by the lengthy legal wranglings surrounding the Beatles’ breakup, has a tired bitterness that overwhelms its snaky funk. And 1967’s “Only a Northern Song” — George’s droning, acrid musical complaint about the dispensation of his song publishing — must surely rank among the least substantial and most disposable of the Beatles’ officially released music.

But, on “This Song,” George gives vent to the legal frustrations from his “My Sweet Lord” infringement trial in a winning way. The tune is irresistibly bouncy, and rather than grumble, George sounds like he’s smiling his way through adversity, drawing power from the absurdity of the case. It works. More people oughta try it.

4. Recursion! “This Song” is a song entirely about itself. It exists to defend its own existence. There is no other content or message.  Ceci c’est un song, Rene Magritte might have described it.

George wasn’t the first songwriter to ply self-referential waters and call attention to his song-as-song. He wasn’t even the first ex-Beatle: Earlier that same year, his old friend Paul McCartney had a mammoth hit with a love song about love songs.

In still earlier examples, Elton John’s “Your Song” comes to mind. So does Jim Croce’s “I’ll Have To Say I Love You In A Song.” (And, once again, “Only a Northern Song.”)

But in those cases, the song carries an additional message to the listener, or to one specific listener anyway. “This Song” doesn’t say anything about love, or hate, or anything else. 

It ends with the words “there’s no point to this song;” and if I didn’t like so much of the rest of it I would probably bash George for self-referential laziness. But in this context it fits. There isn’t a point to “This Song.” It’s pure shiny pop surface, and a neat trick for the Quiet Beatle to pull off.

5. Not ready for prime time. “This Song” gets an extra coolness point or two for its association with the early Saturday Night Live. George was the first of the ex-Beatles to associate with the show: On the November 20, 1976, episode, he taped two duets with host Paul Simon and contributed promo videos for “This Song” and “Crackerbox Palace.” (He also provided a hilarious conclusion to Lorne Michaels’ Beatles-reunion gag, describing his one-quarter share of Michaels’ proferred $3,000 as “pret-ty chint-zy.”)

A live performance of the song might have been cool. In its absence, we get a relic with its own distinctive worth — a video clip in which George exercises his sense of humor.

Like a lot of things from the early Saturday Night Live (still known as NBC’s Saturday Night at that point), the clip has a hit-or-miss quality. The shots in which George doesn’t appear are mostly stupid — heavy with mugging, drag, and gratuitous cheesecake.

(Harrison is often linked to Monty Python: He financed Life of Brian, and Python’s Eric Idle provides the screechy female voices on “This Song.” But this clip reminds us that his sense of humor was also shaped by years of exposure to the broad-side-of-a-barn British comedy that preceded Python.)

On the other hand, the shots in which George appears are pretty good. My favorites are George earnestly working the jury, Bible in hand, and George strumming his guitar while handcuffed to a police officer. This last is perhaps a pretty good summary of how it felt for him to try to create new music after the unexpected legal backhand of the “My Sweet Lord” trial.

 

Sweet bird of paradox.

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More to spit out some other night, but I’ll check in with news from the latest rabbit hole.

A couple posts ago, I made reference to finding some stuff that probably shouldn’t have been posted but is, and, against my better nature, taking full advantage. I may as well fill in the blanks. Any who want can also jump aboard; or, if publicity gets the stuff taken down or locked down, that’s just as well too.

Among the many radio shows (online and terrestrial) that post stuff to the Internet Archive, there’s one called Radio Free Crockett that seems to specialize in themed tribute programs — one artist, style, or record label at a time.

These programs tend to take the form of lengthy playlists, filled with dozens and dozens of tracks … often, the contents of multiple complete albums. To get the flavor, check out their Linda Ronstadt, Carole King, George Harrison, or Ringo Starr playlists — not to mention their Meters playlist, which appears to consist of just about everything the legendary New Orleans funk specialists ever recorded.

These tributes become problematic when you scroll down and notice that all the tunes are downloadable in MP3 format. Starting the playlist on Track One and letting it run while you work is one thing … but if you want to basically help yourself to a free copy of Ex-Beatle George’s Thirty-Three and 1/3, or Carole King’s Wrap Around Joy, or Linda Ronstadt’s Prisoner in Disguise, there ain’t much to stop you.

Anyway, my first stop amidst the riches is the John Lennon mix, which stops short of offering any complete albums but offers a substantial selection from all of his post-Beatle recordings (not counting those weird experimental/electronic releases he put out when Apple Records was throwing away money).

I’ve read about Lennon’s solo career at some length, and I’ve heard the hit singles, as well as a few side-scraps here and there — like the Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band album (on which he plays some eyebrow-searing free-form guitar underneath his wife’s vocals) and the 1972 concert at Madison Square Garden (taped by my brother and I off a Westwood One radio replay in the mid-’80s; a filleted version was later issued as the Live in New York City album.)

But I’ve never owned or known any of the solo albums. And, given Lennon’s stature, I’ve always wondered what I was missing. So I’ve snagged the 1973-74 Mind Games and Walls and Bridges material for more extended consideration — read: listening in the car, during such points that I’m in the car.

(And yes, I have run the MP3 of “Meat City” through Audacity, slowed it down and reversed it, and it does indeed say what the Internet says it does.)

I have to do more listening before I have anything half-coherent to say about this period of JWOL’s work. Mostly I’m struck by:

  • A certain muddy sound and feel to a lot of the songs. On the dreamier songs (both “Mind Games” and “#9 Dream” come from this period) it works. But the harder rockers feel … muddled? Overstuffed? Lacking in high-end or clarity? All of the above?
  • The oft-remarked-on edge in Lennon’s lyrics. He was not a particularly happy bunny during this period (was he really one ever?) and even the love songs contain the sort of confessions of pain and vulnerability that people don’t usually put into love songs. And then there’s “Scared,” which begins with a pair of wolf howls and proceeds from there into raw paranoia.
  • The deceptively cheery Elton John collaboration “Whatever Gets You Through The Night,” which sounds like one of those rare singles on which everyone’s having a fantastic time. It starts at 80 mph and it never slows down. I could write an entire post on this one alone, and might just, one of these days.

For the time being, if you want to check any of this out … well, the link’s up top.

Days off.

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I was overdue for a vacation, and here are some highlights from the first two of the salaryman’s three days off. Probably shoulda taken the whole week.

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I put in a pair of blackberry bushes at my old house in Pennsylvania and always liked having them around, so I’m duplicating the experiment here. Took me a couple of stops to find a blackberry bush. Even the fancy-schmancy locally owned nursery didn’t have any — maybe they’re not supposed to grow around here or something. But eventually I found a couple at Lowe’s, tucked suspiciously among a pallet of clematis, and here we go.

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Planted some other stuff today also.

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Yesterday I did something I’d wanted to do for a while – hiked Mount Watatic, a small (1800-foot) mountain right up against the Mass./New Hampshire state line. The distant landscape-bumps in this picture make me think I was looking north toward New Hampshire when I took it. On a clear day you can see the Boston skyline to the east; I got a picture but won’t post it here.

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Oddly, there are not one but two U.S. Geodetic Survey markers at the top of Mount Watatic. I thought they were usually more spaced out than that. (Perhaps one marker is for some other survey; I didn’t look at them both closely, although I took pix of both.)

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The New Hampshire state line is 1.3 miles from the peak of the mountain so I walked there as well. The state line is marked at several points on the Wapack and Midstate trails, including this granite slab that marks the meeting point of three towns and two states. (“A&A MASS” means Ashby and Ashburnham, Massachusetts, while “NI NH” means New Ipswich, New Hampshire.)

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Another marker of the state line, over my shoulder, which looks as if it was made with one of those ’70s woodburning kits like my brother once had. (I never did. Guess they fell out of vogue. Or my folks just didn’t trust me with a hot iron.) I appear content to have temporarily thrown in my lot with New Hampshire, perhaps because it is closer to Montreal.

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Maybe most noteworthy of all: I do enjoy a good plate of tacos on a day off, not to mention locally brewed beer. So from Mount Watatic I drove to the Gardner Ale House, maybe 10 or 15 minutes away in the city of Gardner, Mass., where I undid any benefit from my hike by enjoying a small glass of English bitter, a pint of porter, and a pair of Korean beef tacos.

(The tacos were pretty good, setting aside the fact that I’m not usually into quite that much beef at once and didn’t really grok what I was getting into.)

I realized early on that this was my first meal out at a restaurant in … literally, I don’t remember how long. We’ve ordered out and brought food home once in a while but I don’t remember the last time I physically parked my arse inside a restaurant to eat and drink. 

They were still requiring masks when not stuffing your face. But with today’s CDC announcement that the fully vaccinated can stop wearing masks in many settings, I suspect that might go out the window soon. It feels like the move toward something resembling “normal” is gaining speed. (Of course I hope we don’t all end up regretting it, but that seems to be where we’re going.)

I feel a need to do something epic tomorrow with my remaining day off (Vermont?) but I’m thinking this plate of tacos and this pint of beer might end up being the most memorable part of the vacation.