Monday, April 30, 2012

No. 766 – Alone Tonight

Performer: Genesis
Songwriter: Mike Rutherford
Original Release: Duke
Year: 1980
Definitive Version: None

The apartment my senior year at Wabash was perfect not only because it was big and cheap—two of the most beautiful words in renterdom—but also its location. We were three houses north of the main entrance to campus, but I never took that route.

Instead, I would go around back, past the apartment where a retired Navy cook, whose name I’ve long since forgotten, lived with his gigantic cat, who, it seemed, was perpetually looking out the window in a daze. Back there was an alley behind the Lew—the Lew Wallace Motor Inn (yes, named for THE Lew Wallace, the guy who wrote Ben Hur and grew up in Crawfordsville).

The alley opened onto Wabash Avenue, the North border of campus, and a quick walk through the Arboretum would have you at Yandes Hall, where the radio station was. You could be to class—door to door—in 30 seconds if you pushed it.

We lived across the street from the head football coach, and, as I mentioned, just down the way from where the Lambda Chi fraternity had set up temporary quarters.

The Lambchops, as they were called, did things differently in a number of ways—the most obvious one being that their fraternity house was on an island, nestled behind Mud Hollow, where the baseball team played, and clear on the other side of campus from the main entrance.

Granted, clear on the other side of campus meant the opposite end of a large single block of streets—about a 10-minute walk—but the Lambda Chis were as remote as you could get at Wabash. Every other fraternity except the Tekes had at least one other fraternal neighbor, and the Tekes were on the Wabash block, almost next door to the Martindale dormitory.

Anyway, the Lambda Chis were rebuilding their house—a two-year project—so the fraternity procured a bunch of houses along Grant Avenue, the East border of Wabash. So the ones who didn’t make their own arrangements lived there.

Everyday we’d see them go as a group past our floor-to-ceiling windows on the other side of the street, and everyday Ziggy, Matt’s dog, would hear them, jump up on the green chair that we kept by one of the windows and bark at them. They’d wave and call, “Hey Ziggy.” And when convinced that she had chased them all away, she’d jump down off the chair and go strutting around the apartment, like, yeah, who’s bad?

How bad was Ziggy? Ziggy was a mutt who was about 3 inches and 3 pounds to the large side of being a purse pooch but didn’t know it. One day Matt and I took Ziggy with us as we played Frisbee golf through the campus. When I told Matt that the Phi Delts were coming through with the General, Matt immediately scooped up Ziggy and hid with her behind a tree, because he figured she’d go after the General if she saw him. The fact that the General was a massive Great Dane would have meant nothing to Ziggy. That’s how bad she was.

I couldn’t tell you what Ziggy was, because I don’t think Matt even knew. She was 10 the year she was a campus dog and was an integral part of my senior year experience. Having Ziggy around, thumping her empty bowl in disgust or barking at passing Lambda Chis, made sure that, even when Matt was away visiting his girlfriend or I was missing Beth, I was never alone.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

No. 767 – I Am a Child

Performer: Neil Young
Songwriter: Neil Young
Original Release: Last Time Around (Buffalo Springfield)
Year: 1968
Definitive Version: Live Rust, 1979

When we left our intrepid explorers, they were heading to the big, well medium, city near the Great Salt Lake. But I’m going to jump ahead to after San Francisco. I have a specific reason for making this time warp, so bear with me.

Dad and I camped out for the third and final time along Highway 1 just north of San Simeon and the Hearst Castle, which we planned to visit first thing in the morning on the way to L.A. There’s nothing like being lulled to sleep by the ocean, which was maybe 100 yards away from our tent. It sure beats the winds whipping your tent in the middle of nowhere in Colorado, but I guess that goes without saying.

Anyway, close to San Simeon, Highway 1 flattens out, so we weren’t far from the beach. The next morning, it was very foggy, and we hiked the beach alone for a while. It was the first time I had been to the Pacific Ocean, and it was remarkable how different it was from the Atlantic. The sand was different, the shells—what few there were on a beach devoid of other humans, were different—even the surf was different.

And the Atlantic, at least in New Smyrna Beach, sure didn’t have any kelp, which was strewn about everywhere on this beach. I’d never seen anything like it—strings of wilted yellow spinach that felt like hard plastic.

After a while, we put on somewhat decent shirts and headed to the Hearst Castle, which was memorable for an entirely different reason. The servants’ quarters alone were bigger than most houses I’d seen. The castle was opulent to the point of ridiculousness. I mean, who builds a dining room solely to fit the dimensions of the ceiling imported from Europe? It was crazy.

After sufficient gawking, we finished the journey to L.A. to stay with Dad’s cousin Jane, who lived in Santa Monica. We didn’t stay long there: I was more interested in seeing the country, not Hollywood or any of the other tourist trappings, so Dad constructed the trip thusly.

And we were going to stay only one night anyway, because I wanted to see a ballgame in San Diego. I had my choice of Dodgers or Padres, and I chose San Diego because I liked the Padres better. They had a bunch of decent young players, and it seemed they needed more support than the Dodgers. Truth be told, I also liked the funky uniforms they wore at the time, and I had to have a Taco Bell batting helmet to add to my collection.

As it turned out, we saw the Braves for the second time on that trip. We went to a Giants game in San Francisco, and the Braves were the opponent. The Braves were in the midst of blowing a 9-game division lead almost entirely during our trip, and the Padres’ game was particularly telling of how bad it was going.

With the Braves clinging to a one-run lead in the fourth inning, the Padres put runners on second and third with one out. The No. 8 batter was up and the pitcher on deck. Braves manager Joe Torre came out and ordered the intentional walk, so he could face the pitcher. My Dad and I looked knowingly at each other.

The pitcher came up and promptly ripped a single up the middle on the first pitch. Two runs scored, the top of the order came up and soon the Braves were headed to a blowout loss.

This was laughable, because we had seen EXACTLY the same thing happen not one week earlier in San Francisco. I mean, it couldn’t have been more identical unless the teams were the same: Braves up one in the fourth, the pitcher on deck, the No. 8 batter intentionally walked, the pitcher ripping a two-run single up the middle and the Braves on their way to a blowout loss. I’m sure Torre believed that lightning couldn’t strike twice in a week, but it did.

So where does this song fit into all of this? While we stayed with cousin Jane, her sons were home for the summer from college, and one of them—Doug, I think—was a big guitar player. That night, he played this song and Comes a Time, which I had been listening to Live Rust a lot on my Walkman during the trip. His baritone was at least one octave, maybe two, lower than Neil’s, but it still sounded good.

The West trip was the last thing I did before I headed off to Wabash for the first time. So, Doug’s voice on this song is the sound of taking my first step to no longer being a child.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

No. 768 – Calling to You

Performer: Robert Plant
Songwriters: Chris Blackwell, Robert Plant
Original Release: Fate of Nations
Year: 1993
Definitive Version: None

As I mentioned, my family has always been fans of the Indy 500. I took Scott to his first race in 1983, and within a decade, he had already caught up to me in number of visits to the track.

But his junior year at Ball State, presented a unique opportunity: He had met up with a group of guys who rented a house across the street from the new basketball arena, which we called the Dick Dome in commemoration of Dick Hunsaker, the coach at the time.

It was a ranch house with a finished basement and a back yard, and Scott quickly realized the setting would be perfect for a pre-race Memorial Day weekend barbecue in 1993. I’d drive down from Flint and Jin would drive over from Chicago (although I seem to recall that she stayed only for the barbecue after the race debacle of a year before).

This was going to be big not only because of the event itself but also because Scott wanted me and Jin to meet his new galpal, whom he had met at a house party the previous fall and then started to date in February. Scott couldn’t stop talking about her, and after his affliction by the alien woman, as I snidely called her after the fact, he could use a positive relationship situation. We were eager to meet her.

I came down Friday to help Scott with pre-barbecue preparations and party a bit and was greeted at the front door by Scott’s cardboard cutout of Danny Sullivan, which Scott had doctored up with a speech bubble that read: Danny sez Welcome Race Fans.

For those of you not in the know, Welcome Race Fans is a phrase that’s literally everywhere in Indianapolis—but particularly around the speedway—during race weekend. Just from that alone, I knew we were in for a good time as well as a proper tribute to the race.

Anyway, Scott had to swing by the Kinkos store near to the party area of campus to get some stuff he was printing out, and I saw that a record store was nearby. Naturally, I went in to see what’s what. I asked Scott: How about some new music for the party? Cool. Robert Plant had a new album out, and with Scott’s seasl of approval, that was what I got. Then it was back to the ranch (house) to get ready for the guests to arrive.

We’ll pick up the story there at another point, but this song—aside from being the lead track on the album and thus the first song we heard that day, of course—is one of those where I have several memories attached to it.

For example, I remember playing Fate of Nations for Dave on the drive to a card show or ballgame in Detroit—I can’t remember which—and Dave said of this song, “Did that have any words in it at all?” I remember that his response surprised me, because I thought he’d dig it as much as I did, and it was a further sign of the distance that seemed to be growing between us.

The memory that stands out the most, however, was when Debbie and I saw Page and Plant in Cleveland in 1995, and they broke out this song in the middle of the show. That was cool enough—I was surprised and pleased that they played something from Plant’s solo material, which I loved.

But what really made it was that in the middle, they took the song in a different but familiar-sounding direction. It took me a few seconds to realize that they had gone into the middle section of Carouselambra—a song Zeppelin never played live in the United States, of course.

They did the whole middle section, which is my favorite part, before bringing it back to Calling to You. If they had temporarily lost all the Led Heads by playing something that wasn’t Zeppelin, they got them all back right away. It remains one of my concert highlights.

Friday, April 27, 2012

No. 769 – Walk on the Ocean

Performer: Toad the Wet Sprocket
Songwriters: Glen Phillips, Todd Nichols, Dean Dinning, Randy Guss
Original Release: Fear
Year: 1991
Definitive Version: None

Even after the fall coed season, I wanted more softball in 1992. Dave knew about a church league that played near Fenton, and it was an interesting set-up: Three small teams would play a tricorner game.

Two teams would be in the field, one team at bat. When the team batting used up its three outs, the teams would rotate, so the team on the left side of the field would move to the right and take over pitching chores and the team that was pitching would bat.

It was great to a certain extent, because the teams played a max of five players to a side, so everyone played. After two seasons (summer and fall) of watching half the time from the bench, this was what I was looking for—I had more at bats in a single game than I had had in a month of coed ball. Also, because it was a men’s league, we actually could play to win instead of making sure everyone (i.e., enough women) had enough fun so they’d show up again the next week.

But it didn’t take long to see that our team, which usually consisted of me, Dave, John and a friend of Dave’s from church, wasn’t one of the better teams. All teams kept score. The teams that finished 1-2 among the three got to play on a different (and nicer) field. The third team played on the same field. We played on the same field most of the time. Oh well.

The field where we typically played had a reasonably short fence in left, and I thought I could reach it but never did. This, of course, was a source of constant frustration—particularly when guys on the teams we played against were jacking them over the fence all the time (and we’d have to go retrieve the ball from the forest beyond the left-field fence).

One of the best teams—I can’t remember if they were the eventual champs—had one player in particular who didn’t look like much but had a perfect swing. He’d just flick his bat with his wrists and launch ball after ball over the fence. After about the fourth home run he hit against us, I realized that if I ever wanted to hit home runs, I needed to change my swing and put more of an uppercut into it, like he did, to generate loft. Much off-season work was needed.

My abysmal summer season, when I decided to retire from pitching, wasn’t my pitching farewell after all. I didn’t pitch at all during the coed fall season and kept to that in the church league until I got tired of watching the other team trot around the bases. I studied the hitters and was convinced I knew how to shut them down. I tried to pass along my wisdom, but something was lost in the translation, so I took the mound myself the last inning. And darned if I wasn’t right.

My advice was to pitch them high. With their uppercut swings, they golfed the low ball out of the yard. Pitch them high, and those balls turn to pop ups, and that’s exactly what happened. I pitched a shutout inning—I want to say it was 1-2-3—a near-impossibility in that league.

Later I had another audacious pitching outing in that league. The one time we were on the big kids’ field, the other two teams were duking it out for league supremacy. We were clearly outmatched. And we really started to hear it from one of the teams, saying that we were costing them the chance to win.

Aside from the obvious fact that we were in the field against both teams, so it should make no difference, it wasn’t as though we were trying to screw up. And their whining seemed particularly bad form for team in a church league. So when they, unfortunately, took the lead late, I had had enough.

I took the mound and called Dave over for a conference. “I’m gonna dump it,” I told him. I’m going to give the other team nothing but fat, flat ones down the middle, and if I field anything I’m going to throw it into the outfield. Dave agreed to the plan in principle. And—shockingly—a 3-run lead went down to 1 in no time. (There’s no commandment that says Thou Shalt Not Dump Thy Ballgame Against Whiny Schmoes that I’m aware of.)

But when push came to shove, when the tying run was on base and two out, Dave just couldn’t do it—to his credit, I guess. He made the final out, and afterwards, I had to shake the hands of the aforementioned whiny schmoes in fellowship. I don’t know how hockey players do it.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

No. 770 – Come Talk to Me

Performer: Peter Gabriel
Songwriter: Peter Gabriel
Original Release: Us
Year: 1992
Definitive Version: Secret World Live, 1994

This song was the set opener when I saw Peter Gabriel twice in the summer of 1993, and the theatrical production was very memorable, with Gabriel starting the song in a red English phone booth and then struggling to pull the receiver with him as he walks down a bridge to another stage away from the phone booth. Finally he gives up and is pulled inexorably backwards to the phone booth where the song ends just as he hangs up.

If you’ve seen the video, it was taken on the European leg of the tour after Gabriel had brought Paula Cole on board to sing vocals. She was not part of either show I saw and the staging wasn’t as effective with her on the second stage singing to him as he came closer to her. It didn’t make sense.

Whatever, I still loved the live version, although my first encounter with it was not the best of times. I was unable to confirm this, but I am sure that the video to Secret World Live was aired on TV before it and the accompanying CD was released in record stores in 1994, and my recollection was that it was released my birthday weekend—or right about then. So I think of that time quite a bit.

I might have mentioned this, but I moved from Grand Blanc to Columbus on precisely my 30th birthday. I had left the Flint Journal the week before and had spent most of the past few days looking for an apartment. I found a good one, but I wouldn’t be able to move in until the 12th of the month. But I had to move out of my place in Grand Blanc right away.

So I went up one last time by myself with just Laura’s minivan and a cargo carrier on top and packed everything up in one day. I come from a line of great packers, and I made it all fit. I don’t know how, because there literally wasn’t an inch of space to spare anywhere. I have a picture of my arrival at Dad’s house with the rear lift gate up and the back resting very comfortably on top of the tires after the four-hour drive. You couldn’t fit a rolled-up poster anywhere in sight if your life depended on it. Jin, who was visiting from Los Angeles, has a great “yikes” expression on her face.

Because of that, we celebrated my birthday the next day. Scott came over from Muncie, where he was living after graduating the previous month from Ball State, and we celebrated with a yellow cake with chocolate frosting (yum!) and a present of a new papasan chair. (I had coveted Jin’s for years.)

Ted and Amy came over to visit, and we were laughing and having a great time watching a glorious hockey-fight video that Bill made me as a going-away present when the frivolity came to an abrupt end. The phone rang, and we learned that Meemaw had gone to the hospital, and this time she wasn’t expected to make it through the night. Thus endeth the birthday party.

She again defied the odds and made it to the next day, long enough to see all of her children once more. Grandkids were specifically disinvited to see her at the hospital, and that decision was fine with me, because I had already had a perfect parting with her, as I’ll relate at a later time. But on June 6th, two days after my birthday, the nearly decade-long death watch finally came to an end: Meemaw didn’t quite make it to her 80th birthday.

So I went from a welcome-home high to a funereal low—literally—in one week. Debbie later said she was so glad that Meemaw didn’t die on my actual birthday, but I didn’t see that it made much of a difference. I suppose, in retrospect, she probably was right.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

No. 771 – Stormy Monday

Performer: The Allman Brothers Band
Songwriter: T-Bone Walker
Original Release: At Fillmore East
Year: 1971
Definitive Version: The Fillmore Concerts, 1992

I had a day to kill before Jessica’s wedding in Colorado Springs, and I decided to spend it by driving to the top of Pikes Peak outside town. If it isn’t the highest drive of anywhere in the country I’d be surprised to learn of one that’s higher—and I’ll never take it. But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.

I can’t remember exactly how this happened—there must have been a party the evening I got into town—but I met a friend of Jessica’s and we kind of became a wedding couple (without any consummation, alas). Anyway, I asked her if she wanted to go with me to Pikes Peak. She accepted, but before I knew what happened, I had a third party in the car, and I have no recollection as to where she came from. If I had to guess—and I do—I’d say it came from the interesting roommate situation I had gotten myself into when I arrived in town.

Jessica had friends at the wedding who were from Europe and didn’t have enough money for a hotel room at the local budget joint where I was staying. So, being the good friend that I am, I said, sure I can take on a roommate. Just my luck, it was a dude; his girlfriend was rooming elsewhere. Anyway, the girlfriend wanted to see Pikes Peak, too, so she joined the expedition.

We started out early in the morning—well, OK, before lunch. It would be an all-day trip, first to get to the entrance to Pikes Peak and then to make the climb to the summit, 14,000 feet above sea level and about 8,000 feet above Colorado Springs.

Have you ever been on Highway 1? It’s a two-lane road that winds from the Oregon border to San Diego along the California coast, of course. But between Carmel and Santa Barbara, it’s cut right into the side of the coastline itself. It’s a breathtaking drive, and for large sections of it, there are no guardrails. If you’re driving south, you’re on the edge of the cliff: next stop, the Pacific Ocean—300 feet down. Anyone who wants to commit suicide could do so very easily along Highway 1. There are huge stretches where nothing is stopping anybody from literally driving right off the side of the road.

Now imagine the drop is something like 4,000 feet, and that’s the drive to the top of Pikes Peak. Oh yeah, throw in the fact that the hill grade is 10.5 percent in some spots. And did I mention that the last half of the drive—at least back then—was dirt and gravel? I didn’t find any of this out until we were already on our way up the side of the mountain, when it was too late to turn around. Does anyone feel like dying today? No? Well, then the car that I’m driving better make it to the top.

That part was very touch and go. The Magic Mazda had the power of two hamsters running on a wheel with one of the hamsters taking a break. While going uphill, I was concerned a couple of times that the car was going to come to a stop and begin to roll backward down the hill.

I couldn’t think about that—or the cars and trucks piled up behind me—so I kept my foot to the floor silently urging the car to keep going. It was going to make it. I can’t imagine there was much in the way of conversation going on in the car at this point, and I suppose any thought I had of wedding-couple consummation had long since driven off the edge of the mountain down to a fiery death.

And then suddenly, we were at the top. We made it! The temperature was about 20, maybe 30, degrees cooler, and I have a photo of myself on the top of the mountain—the top of the world—with my shorts, a jean jacket and a Minnesota Twins hat on.

The drive down was easy, just ride the brakes and let gravity do the rest—and make sure not to drive off the side of the road where there aren’t any guardrails, of course. That descent was a blur, but I don’t recall that I was nervous about the brakes giving out or anything like that, like I had been going uphill. Still, I was very relieved once we reached the bottom and both sides of the road had grass and trees on it as opposed to rocks and nothing else—and on just one side.

The Pikes Peak climb is the thing I remember most about my Colorado Springs jaunt in 1989, even though I don’t recall a lot of the details—like, for example, the names of my traveling companions. The wedding itself was very nice—and fast. I’m not sure I’ve ever been to a ceremony that was more brief.

As to how it was to see a former lover get married to someone else, it was totally cool. Jessica and I were essentially a rebound relationship for each other. It was good while it happened and fine when it ended.

And as for the Magic Mazda? Well, it made the drive home, but as soon as I turned off I-90 to get to my apartment complex a couple days later, the engine started making weird sounds. The shop I took it to the next day confirmed my worst fears: Transmission No. 2, age 1 year, was shot—$1,500 down the drain.

I wasn’t surprised. I knew I had driven it into the ground. But it got me to the top of Pikes Peak and back. It died a champion.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

No. 772 – Streets of Philadelphia

Performer: Bruce Springsteen
Songwriter: Bruce Springsteen
Original Release: Music from the Motion Picture Philadelphia
Year: 1993
Definitive Version: None

After I moved to Grand Blanc, I began going to movies again—particularly after I moved to sports when my evening schedule freed up. The closest theater was a Showcase cinema near the Courtland Center Mall in Burton (now closed).

By the winter of 1993-1994, I was going quite a bit. I had more money and lots of free time, and I didn’t have to rely on others to participate, unlike softball. Although the more obvious route would be to go up Dort Highway past the strip clubs to get there, I preferred to take what I called the back way, which was essentially unlit two-lane roads. It actually was more of a straight shot up from my apartment in Grand Blanc, and it made me feel as though I was far away from Flint though still attached somehow.

If the movie were long, I’d stop at Subway on the way and sneak in my dinner under my coat. I did this for Malcolm X and Gettysburg, which is still the longest movie I’ve seen in a theater, at four hours.

Philadelphia was one of the movies that I saw there during this time. It didn’t affect me as much as this haunting song by Bruce Springsteen. At the time, I had been fortunate to have danced around the periphery of the AIDS epidemic. I was going to Wabash when the whole Ryan White debacle took place, and I was in charge of the sports desk the night Magic Johnson retired from basketball after testing positive for HIV. And that was the extent of my “direct” involvement.

That’s no longer true. Although I still don’t personally know of anyone who has died from AIDS the way Laurie has, I have had as guests at my dinner table at least two people who are HIV-positive. I don’t know if it was Magic Johnson or this movie or just the timing of all the research, but HIV isn’t the hopeless situation that it was when this song hit the airwaves.

I suppose that’s something more worthwhile to attach to this song than just the vision of driving out in the middle of nowhere in the dead of night to see a movie.

Monday, April 23, 2012

No. 773 – Feel the Quiet River Rage

Performer: Live
Songwriter: Ed Kowalczyk
Original Release: The Distance to Here
Year: 1999
Definitive Version: None

Before I bought the tickets to the World Series, Debbie and I briefly debated about which game to get. MLB was going to present its All-Century team on the field before Game 2, so Debbie wanted to go to that game.

Certainly that was a draw, but Game 1 seemed like an obvious choice to me. It was on Saturday, so we could drive down that day and come back the next without having to take time off from work. Besides I wanted to go to the first game anyway to see the rosters of both teams toe the chalk before the game.

So we compromised to a certain extent. We’d go to Game 1 but stay in Atlanta and watch Game 2 there and come back on Monday.

Debbie’s particular interest in the All-Century team was her favorite player, Pete Rose, who had been named, and she wanted to see his return to a baseball field for the first time since he had been informally banned for betting on baseball in 1989. A lot of people in Ohio—and elsewhere—did, too.

Rose’s banishment was a sore spot for Reds fans. Rose WAS Cincinnati baseball, and fans called constantly for his return. Debbie was one of those folks. In fact, when we went to Cooperstown in 1996, she had me bring a Pete Rose card, so she could slide it into a crack somewhere in the museum, so Rose’s aura would be in the Hall of Fame. (Rose, of course, was forbidden from entering the Hall unless he paid the admission fee like the rest of us schmoes.)

I was a bit more pragmatic about it. I loved the Big Red Machine, but I wasn’t a Rose guy. However, I felt that Rose had been railroaded to a certain extent. Bill James in 1990 did a withering deconstruction of the Dowd Report—the foundation of Rose’s banishment—where James pointed out many holes in what appeared to be an open-and-shut case.

To me, the biggest hole was the lynchpin of the report’s physical evidence—the infamous betting slip. Without it, baseball’s entire case consisted of testimony by people who bore Rose a big-time grudge. The slip, supposedly in Rose’s handwriting, listed several games on certain dates in 1987 and whether the game was a W or an L. The one problem: The games didn’t line up. The schedule of games as jotted down didn’t correspond to a single day during the 1987 season.

And the best part was that the Reds game was wrong! The Reds were supposedly in Montreal, when in fact, it was the other way around. Now, anyone can make such a mistake, but the manager of the Cincinnati Reds? To me, it was impossible that Rose would get that wrong; therefore, in my opinion, the document was a forgery. So much for the physical evidence against Rose, right?

But that was beside the point as far as the All-Century Team was concerned. It seemed ridiculous for Major League Baseball to ban someone from the game yet invite him to participate in something that one of baseball’s primary sponsors established. The whole thing reeked of everything that had been wrong with baseball since Bud Selig had taken over earlier that decade.

So I wanted to see Rose honored if for no other reason than it exposed baseball’s hierarchy as the hypocritical buffoons that I long had suspected them to be.

We set up shop in Dot’s living room. I seem to recall that Debbie made dinner, although I can’t remember what, and we settled in to watch the festivities and then, hopefully, the Braves even the Series after the debacle the night before.

You might be surprised to learn that Dot’s TV survived that night. I was, because within 30 minutes, Debbie was ready to throw a brick through it. In fact, she wanted me to drive her down to Turner Field, so she could find Jim Gray and strangle him.

Of course, Jim Gray turned the proceeding into a circus with his hamfisted interrogation of Rose on the field after the ceremony. It was neither the time nor the place for such a line of inquiry. But the thing that got me the most—and continued to bother me on the subsequent drive home and for months after—was the certainty with which Gray operated. There was no doubt Gray believed Rose was guilty. The evidence was beyond reproach.

This was a theme followed by others in the media who defended Gray’s line of questioning if not the timing, and it drove me nuts. Did you actually READ the Dowd Report? I just pointed out one major flaw; there were many others. But it was like everyone bought the company line without question and parroted it to the letter.

Someone needed to point this out, and that someone needed to be me. An idea formed …

Sunday, April 22, 2012

No. 774 – Time Machine

Performer: Joe Satriani
Songwriter: Joe Satriani
Original Release: Time Machine
Year: 1993
Definitive Version: None

Being in the news business, as I was for 15 years (and more or less still am, I suppose), you’re always attuned to big events that happen in the world. But one I particularly remember took place almost right after this album came out in October 1993—Joe Carter’s World Series-winning home run.

It was a Saturday night, and I was the lead sports copy editor, which meant that I was in charge of laying out the whole section from a news standpoint and getting the section out on time. Getting the section out on time meant keeping everyone else on task and not watching too much TV at the appropriate times.

I had learned a harsh lesson about mishandling TV watching years earlier, so I was much more of a stern taskmaster in this regard—even though I never resorted to something so drastic as actually turning off the TV. That would be absurd!

The way World Series games had been going that year, it was likely that Game 6 would run long. But it seemed we’d have time to get it in all of the first edition, even if just a score. I wasn’t going to chance it. I designed a news hole across the top of the front page and got a dummy wire feature to fill the space as a backup. When the game ended, we could just quick-swap out the feature for a game story and make deadline.

It was a good night in terms of page flow, which had been another concern. It was no good if you made deadline but you had, say, five pages coming to prepress all at once at the end. In other words, you’d still be late even though you had sent everything with supposedly enough time to spare, because there were only so many paste-up people who could assemble the pages.

The college football page went about 10 and the agate followed, so by 10:45, the entire section was ready to roll. With the ballgame heading into the bottom of the ninth inning, there still was a chance that we might be able to get the final score in before 11.

I wrote a paragraph to the line and a headline based on the Phillies winning 6-5 and tying the Series at 3-3, which was the situation if the Phils could hold on for one more inning. I had it printed out next to the final pages—the front and the jump—and told paste-up to not do anything until I gave the word.

Sports moved its operations down to the hallway outside the newsroom where we could watch the game—now on in the newsroom—and be back in paste-up in just a couple seconds at a moment’s notice. I knew that we really could go a few minutes past 11 if we had a late-breaking story, so the debate began between sports and news.

Well, it wasn’t much of a debate as opposed to news pressing to get the pages out and me pushing back on that. To me, it was clear-cut: If the Blue Jays pull this out to win the World Series, that’s worthy of a slight delay. Dan, who was the news guy in charge of the Sunday section, disagreed. To him, 11 was sacrosanct, regardless of the poobahs’ policy. They weren’t there; he was.

In fact, he started pushing me at 10:46 when we finished the pages with the filler story. No way. If the game ends in the next five minutes, we’ll be fine. Rickey Henderson walked; the winning run was coming to the plate.

He pressed again. Dan, I have 8 more minutes. Paul Molitor got a base hit; the tying run was now on third, the winning run on first. Up steps Joe Carter. The count goes 0-2. And there’s Dan again at my shoulder. He was all but pointing at his watch. It’s 10:55. ARGH! I gave up. OK, send them. His smirk signified his little victory.

Literally not one minute later, Sean McDonough made his famous call on CBS: “Now the 2-2 … Well hit! Way back … and … GONE!! Joe Carter!! A Three-run homer!! And the winners and still champions the Toronto Blue Jays!!”

Now it was my turn to smirk. We still could have made it in on time. Not that Dan cared one way or the other, although I suppose he might have if I had run him through with my pica pull, which I was seriously contemplating at that moment.

So I sent everyone else in sports on their merry way and went back upstairs to wait for the game story. In retrospect, I should have stayed much later than I did—and made Dan stay late, too—to completely redesign the front of the sports page to get a huge headline and a picture of a jubilant Carter on his delirious romp around the bases in there for the late editions. It was a huge story, and we should try to get it in as many papers as we could.

But I didn’t feel like it. If the paper didn’t trust me enough to take care of proper business with an eye on what’s best for the paper, why should I care enough to go an extra mile on a Saturday night to make the paper look better?

That was, of course, the wrong attitude to take, but I was miffed. Besides, my pizza was getting cold and my beer was getting warm at the Horse. A full and proper followup would have to wait until Monday.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

No. 775 – Legend of a Mind

Performer: The Moody Blues
Songwriter: Ray Thomas
Original Release: In Search of the Perfect Chord
Year: 1968
Definitive Version: Live Bootleg, 1986

My residence dorm in Engelhart Hall at Northwestern was small. In fact, it was about three-quarters of the size of just my bedroom my senior year at Wabash. The dual-suite dorm had a shared serviceable kitchen and a full bathroom.

I remember my roommate well, but I couldn’t tell you his name. Mike, maybe? Anyway, he was an engineering student, if I recall correctly, and we never saw each other—even when we were both home. We kept the doors to our respective bedrooms shut most of the time.

After Wabash, this was a big switch for me. Maybe it’s the difference between being at a tiny school in a small rural community vs. being at a Big Ten school in a Chicago suburb, but I never kept my bedroom door closed the past two years—three if you count living in Dr. Herzog’s house my sophomore year.

And the community space at my Wabash residences was shared extensively. I always interacted with my roommates, whether studying, watching TV or just hanging out. The past two years at Wabash, unless someone had noted otherwise due to studying or whatnot, which at times was frequent, I took part in a group dinner, either as the cook or the bus service afterward.

I wanted to continue this at Northwestern, but Mike wasn’t interested. He was on his own schedule, and if he ever cooked for himself the whole time we shared quarters, it was when I was out, because I never saw him do it. I was in the kitchen frequently. I had been responsible for my own meals for the past three years, and there’s only so much money for a burger at the Scarlet Grill, so I had acquired a rudimentary menu of recipes that I would rotate on the days I didn’t feel like trudging over to Burger King.

My bedroom itself was just large enough to hold a single bed, a desk and chair, a dresser and a bookshelf and still provide enough floor space so you could move about but not need to go more than two steps to get to anything.

Unless I was really busy, Sunday afternoon and evening were my free time, and I developed a real routine for that time. I’d sit on my bed and play Strat-o-matic baseball while listening to the Bears on WGN. After the sensational 1985 season, I was so geeked to be in Chicago (well, close enough) during Bears season, and it was going to be another great year. So I’d tune in to a bit of the pregame show and then listen as Wayne Larrivee, Dick Butkus and Jim Hart took over.

Butkus was awesome. He was a dyed-in-the-wool homer, whose analysis consisted mostly of “YEEEEEAAAAHHHHH!” when the Bears did something good and “OMIGODOMIGODOMIGOD!!” when they screwed up. You had absolutely no idea what happened until Butkus was done and Larrivee would explain it. Hart wasn’t nearly as bad, but he was definitely a passenger on the Butkus Bears bandwagon.

After the game, I’d listen to the postgame Sportswriters show while I cooked dinner. The show was a forerunner of sports talk radio (minus the idiot callers) and frequently amusing—often in infuriating ways. I was a big Mike Tomczak fan—OSU boy, thrust into the fire when Jim McMahon went down for the year, did OK for a rookie but not well enough for the fans or the other critics. Every game, it seemed, was a deconstruction of how the Bears won despite Tomczak being worthless.

When that was finally over, I’d switch to the Loop for music. Usually on Sunday nights, they would broadcast a concert. I don’t particularly recall that it was the King Biscuit Flower Hour, but that would make sense that it was.

Anyway, early on, they broadcast a Moody Blues show from a recent if not current tour, and I taped the whole thing. This song was the first song in the encore (the other being Question, as I mentioned), and I can’t but help thinking about my weensy room, listening to the Bears, missing Beth while the L rumbled by my room and wondering whether I would even make it through my first quarter at Northwestern—particularly as the fall turned from brown to gray and the wind began to whip in more sharply off the lake. But that’s a story for another time.

Friday, April 20, 2012

No. 776 – Come Undone

Performer: Duran Duran
Songwriters: Warren Cuccurullo, Nick Rhodes, Simon LeBon, John Taylor
Original Release: Duran Duran
Year: 1993
Definitive Version: None

OK, I know that I should have a Yes song on 4-20, but Duran Duran (D-squared to my sister) will have to suffice for any burners out there.

Sometime in 1993—when this song was all over MTV and even Beavis and Butthead WEREN’T making fun of it—I embarked on my major baseball-card-collecting goal that continues to this day.

I had collected full sets since 1975 and had partial sets more or less going back to 1966. I suppose I always had some nebulous goal, like most collectors, that I’d collect everything back to the start of the modern era, which began with the birth of Topps in 1951. But given the absurdly high prices of pretty much everything from 1952 alone, that would be an impossible dream.

However, going back to 1957, when card sizes were standardized to the size that exists today seemingly was attainable. Only a few cards carried a book value of $1,000. It could be done at relatively low cost with a bit of patience and luck. What the heck: I’m not 29 yet; I have time.

And if I were going to collect all the Topps sets that fit neatly and uniformly nine to a side, 18 to a plastic sheet into a notebook, it made sense to actually put those cards into plastic sheets and notebooks to display them, right? So that’s what I set out to do. Every card show for a while, I bought boxes of plastic sheets and started going to Staples to buy notebooks to embark on this gigantic project.

I decided to start with the complete sets. But with the 1973 set, which I had recently completed on my own, I saw that I had a few cards from when I was a kid that weren’t display-worthy. With 1974, another recently completed set, I had even more. Now, I was no mintnik, but I did want decent cards—cards that didn’t have any writing on the front, any tape or thumbtack holes or any cards that were cut so badly that part of the next card on the printer sheet was on it.

The result was that I was going to have to perform some serious upgrading—more on some sets than others (the 1977 was particularly bad in terms of miscuts)—and my want list grew from a hand-written page to a computerized printout. And while we’re at it, if we’re going to do it right, I might as well add the wrappers for each year, too, so that was something else that I had to note and begin hunting for.

So when I had some time, which was often, I’d get out another box and put another set into the books. But I had no room in my one-room apartment for the notebooks, so they ended up under the coffee table in my living area. Now, you couldn’t stretch your legs any more when you sat on the couch

Hey, why not? It’s not as though I had people beating down my door to hang out and watch videos on my 15-inch big screen.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

No. 777 – The Feeling Begins

Performer: Peter Gabriel
Songwriter: Peter Gabriel
Original Release: Passion: Music for The Last Temptation of Christ
Year: 1989
Definitive Version: None

As I’ve intimated, my first two years in the newspaper game were known for their austerity. The reason for that was simple: I wasn’t making much. My first job, at the Michigan City News-Dispatch, paid me less than $300 a week; my second job, at the Daily Herald, paid me $350.

Once you took away the essentials—rent, food, gas, transmission repairs, cable TV—there wasn’t a lot left for anything else. During my first year, at the N-D, I saw only one movie in a theater—Big—and the only album I bought during that time was the aforementioned Surfing with the Alien.

But after the move to Herald City, I had a little more spending money—enough to occasionally add a tape here or there. I had to be judicious though because of one particularly large—and particularly stupid—purchase that I made after my move, as I’ll recount at a later time.

But Passion was a no-brainer. Jin had seen The Last Temptation of Christ, and one thing she particularly loved was the music, which was done, of course, by Peter Gabriel. This was news to me. Religion-themed movies aren’t my bag even in the best of economic times (Life of Brian being the notable exception, of course). Music was a different matter.

By this time, I had discovered Gabriel’s solo music, and So already was shooting up my list of favorite albums. I wasn’t hooked into the music scene as much then (due to money), but it seemed like an inordinate gap between the release of the movie and the release of the soundtrack, much to my chagrin.

When Passion finally came out around my birthday in 1989, I understood why: Gabriel had decided to go beyond a mere soundtrack and flesh out the music, so it could stand on its own. I still remember giving it a first listen in my Mount Prospect apartment, with its bad gold carpet in the living and dining room and being stunned how great it all sounded, even though there wasn’t a single lyric in the whole thing.

Years later, I read something in Rolling Stone that forever changed the way I thought of this album, however. I can’t remember the context—it might have been artists discussing their favorite albums by other performers—but I’ll never forget that Sarah McLachlan mentioned Passion as the best album to have sex during. As if she couldn’t be any hotter!

I definitely hear what she was getting at—particularly during this turgid opening song—and promised to file away that valuable piece of information for the next time appropriate time … the playing of Passion, that is, not the image of a writhing, nude Sarah McLachlan. No, I’d save that for a more (ahem) private moment of reflection.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

No. 778 – Spanish Castle Magic

Performer: The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Songwriter: Jimi Hendrix
Original Release: Axis: Bold As Love
Year: 1967
Definitive Version: None, although the version from Woodstock is pretty sweet.

I didn’t finally add Axis to my voluminous collection until later on during an intense period of money-grubbing, er, re-releasing of material by MCA records. But by the end of the Nineties, I closed the book on further Hendrix purchases. The reason was simple, and it didn’t have anything to do with the philosophical question of how many versions of Purple Haze can one person have, because the answer, of course, is you CAN’T have too many. It’s a trick question.

From pretty much 1993 on through the end of the decade, I bought every live album, every reconstruction of Hendrix’s fabled fourth album, every version of Woodstock I could find. And then I stopped, because I no longer could take the greed of Hendrix’s estate, now represented by Experience Hendrix.

Not that Hendrix, of course, hadn’t been exploited financially for a long time before that. I read once that he told his girlfriend that people around him were so greedy that he figured that after he died, they’d still send him out on tour, with a guitar strapped to his skeleton. So when Experience Hendrix decided to do something not too far removed from that obscenity, I threw in the towel.

Maybe you remember this story that came over the wire sometime around the end of the Millenium. Experience Hendrix, a consortium set up by Jimi’s dad and daughter after they wrested control of the Hendrix collection away from MCA, got the keen idea that Jimi’s final resting place didn’t properly honor the man. So they hatched the idea to dig him up and move him in a gigantic monstrosity of a mausoleum that played his music and hung personal mementos and would allow people to visit—for a price, of course.

This was an outrage.

I had been to Hendrix’s gravesite (a story for another time), and the beauty of it was its humility. Maybe you saw it yourself—in person or online—but it was a plain, gray flat-to-the-ground headstone, with his name and a Stratocaster inscribed. Hendrix was buried next to his mom, and the pair were surrounded by a sea of similarly humble markers in the Greenwood Memorial Cemetery at the south end of Puget Sound.

It’s quiet and peaceful—and respectful. When Scott and I went, a few others had left small tributes—flowers, a letter or two and even a demo tape of someone’s band. There was no graffiti anywhere. It was perfectly reverential, and I’m pretty sure Hendrix himself would have approved.

Experience Hendrix didn’t. No one was making any money off it, er, it didn’t properly alert guests to the legend of Jimi Hendrix. To its infinite credit, the cemetery board turned the proposal down flat. It was too huge, too garish and would create too big of a traffic headache.

I lost track of the story, but during the course of doing research, I saw that apparently the two sides came to some sort of a compromise. Citing “concerns from the cemetery that other nearby gravesites were starting to be damaged,” Hendrix, his mother and now father, too, have been moved to a separate site that’s a bit more dignified—and free.

But it doesn’t make any difference: Experience Hendrix hasn't and will never get another dime off me. And I’m pretty sure Jimi would back me on that.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

No. 779 – Vital Signs

Performer: Rush
Songwriters: Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, Neil Peart
Original Release: Moving Pictures
Year: 1981
Definitive Version: Grace Under Pressure Tour, 2009

As you might suspect from previous posts, I’m not anti-Napster, although I never used it. The best thing that “stealing” music has produced, however, is a release, well, OK, a trickle, of the hostages—music that you’d never know of unless you bought the bootleg.

Take the Grace Under Pressure Tour album for instance. It came out just three years ago, but I knew of it for almost two decades before then. Scott, who was a frequent shopper at Magnolia Thunderpussy back in the day when he was home from college, bought a bootleg from Rush’s 1984 tour and made a tape for me.

At about the same time that Scott sent me this tape, Flint was in the throes of Bulldogs fever. Or maybe that was just me, Dave, and Bill. Going to home games that inaugural season wasn’t enough. In fact, I preferred the road trips, and Dave and I accompanied Bill on one weekend jaunt to St. Thomas, Canada, on a Saturday and then Detroit (Fraser, actually) on a Sunday.

St. Thomas had a glorious barn, Elgin Memorial Centre (pronounced SAHN-truh in franglais) now a skating rink, where the wood seats hold two, like a love seat. A very outdated photo of Queen Elizabeth high above the ice stone-facedly watched the action, and the good folks of St. Thomas believed in thrift. If the inside thermostat was set above 40, I’d have lost a bet. You never took off your coat or gloves, and you could see your breath inside.

Dave and I sat in the corner, each taking our own seat (plenty of good seats still available) while Bill took up residence in the press box, which is to say, behind a fold-out banquet table with folding chairs that was more or less in the top row of the arena. (I mentioned that it was a barn, right?)

I seem to recall that although the score was close, the Bulldogs lost, which wouldn’t be a stretch. As I mentioned, they were brutal that year. The standout memory of the game, though, was when we went up to visit Bill during one of the intermissions, and he pointed out that one of the refs was Ron MacLean—THE Ron MacLean, you know, Don Cherry’s straight man on CBC? That one. As if he didn’t have enough professional excitement, now he gets to ref a Bulldogs game.

The next day, in Fraser, the start time was such that we hit Gibraltar in Mt Clemens for some card-show action beforehand. Dave and I took advantage of the typically bargain-basement Gibraltar-show prices to each buy a box of Donruss baseball cards for roughly 50 cents a pack. We spent the entire game—when we weren’t rooting on a good dahnce, of course—opening packs of cards and playing the stiff game, which involves determining who gets the worst player in a pack.

I can’t remember whether it was disgust at the lack of quality despite the now-buck-a-pack price of the cards, the whole rookie-card phenomenon, the putrid play of the Bulldogs or a combination of all of the above, but that day and that show made me and Dave reach a boiling point.

Everyone who wrote about card collecting during that time—and there were a lot—were stone shills for the industry. No one spoke for the collector who loved cards as a kid and collected because it was fun, instead of because they thought that some day they’d flip their collection to send Junior to Harvard. Heck, no one spoke for the kids. The only message was: buy mint, pay book, don’t play with your cards and reap the profits. Dave and I had been collecting for 20 years, and we had a slightly different viewpoint—one that we felt needed to be heard.

As it turned out, I just happened to have an in on the Flint Journal sports department, and a once-per-week card column seemed to be just the thing for a Friday edition. A week later, Card Collecting Corner was born to much mockery within the newspaper’s walls. Philistines!

Monday, April 16, 2012

No. 780 – Creole Dance

Performer: Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Songwriter: Alberto Ginastera (adapted by Keith Emerson)
Original Release: Live at the Royal Albert Hall
Year: 1993
Definitive Version: None

Emerson, Lake & Palmer always have been one of my favorite bands, and I can say that, because I first was exposed to them when I was 7. I make absolutely no apologies for this preference, although I took some ribbing about it from Dave and John while I was at the Journal.

Both New Yorkers, they were pro-punk, pro-alternative, very, very anti-prog rock. To them, ELP was the embodiment of pretentious art crap rock. Maybe, but so what? I embraced that mockery. In fact, when ELP released a two-disc retrospective called The Atlantic Years in 1992, I made a tape of the choicest bits and called it “Pomp & Pretension” with two critics specifically in mind.

(By the way, The Atlantic Years apparently is so out of print that Wikipedia, which typically is reliable—seriously—as far as its rock-release information goes, doesn’t make any mention of it. I just looked, for fun, and it takes you seven pages on Amazon before you find it. Heck, the rightly derided Love Beach comes up sooner than that.)

Up until that retrospective, I hadn’t listened to a lot of ELP lately, because, well, there wasn’t much to listen to: I had bought everything I had wanted by 1983. I upgraded Trilogy and Welcome Back My Friends … to CD, and there wasn’t really anything else. ELP had been dead for some 14 years at this point. But the retrospective had just enough different material on it, that I added that to the collection.

But I needed some preparation material, because I was going to be seeing ELP that summer. I couldn’t believe it when I heard they were back together. Seeing them live would be the realization of a dream that I had had while at college. At the peak of my ELP love, I dreamed that they were reuniting and touring. I couldn’t wait, but when I went, it was like seeing Spinal Tap only worse. (And this was while This Is Spinal Tap was mere words on sheets of Rob Reiner’s paper.)

They were in, like, a high-school gym; I was in the front row, and I didn’t care. They came out and went into some blistering bombastic song … for about five seconds and stopped cold because something was wrong with the monitors or who knows what. All of a sudden, the show broke up and no one had any idea what happened or why. It was like, something went wrong, and the band and crew through a hissy fit of Axl Rosian proportions. The dream was a nightmare.

But now ELP were reuniting for real: the tickets said so. It would be held at a small outdoor venue in Cleveland called The Nautica. Scott and I would be on the ground, about 15 rows from the stage. (This was in the midst of Scott’s glorious ticket-obtaining run.) I couldn’t wait.

I just hoped that the equipment held up this time.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

No. 781 – The Distance

Performer: Live
Songwriter: Ed Kowalczyk
Original Release: The Distance to Here
Year: 1999
Definitive Version: None

Debbie and I got up at the crack of dawn on Saturday. I had worked the night before till the usual 12:30 or so, and it would be one of my quickest turnarounds since the old Journal days in Flint. Debbie said she’d drive the first shift, so I could sleep more if I wanted. But how do you sleep when you’re heading to your first World Series game?

You don’t. Or at least I didn’t. I just put the seat back and chilled out as we began the nine-hour trek to Atlanta. It was light by the time we got to Cincinnati. Debbie would drive till about Lexington, Ky., and I’d take it from there. Having just made the same journey that summer, I knew the way, even after we hit the Atlanta metroplex, which only just seems to start once you hit the Georgia border.

Debbie’s aunt was excited to see us, not just to have us visit but also that her team—the Braves—were back in the World Series after a drought of three years. Some Braves fans might have been spoiled by the team’s success during the Nineties, but not Dot.

I just wish she could have gone with us, but her days of going to games had ended a couple of years before. At her age, it was too much of a hassle to deal with parking or Marta—the rapid-transit train. So she would watch from home as Debbie and I attended the game. I promised her I’d root extra hard for her at the game, which wouldn’t be difficult considering the Braves were playing the reviled Yankees, or Skankees, as I called them.

We got to Sandy Springs with plenty of time to spare before we had to get downtown to the game. As per usual, I wanted to be there as soon as the gates opened to have time to wander around, inspect the bunting and just get a feel for the event. I was beyond excited to be going to see my first major-league postseason game.

Before we left Dot’s house, Debbie had a surprise gift to bestow. I had packed my sweet road-gray Steve Avery jersey to wear, but Debbie didn’t think it was appropriate to go to a World Series game donning the togs of someone who no longer played on the Braves. So she bought me an authentic home Braves jersey, properly sized. Granted, no name was on the back, but how cool is that?

Per Dot’s advice, we took Marta downtown and a shuttle from the station to avoid the parking and expected traffic hassles, and there was a great electricity in the air. By now, the Braves were infamous for not selling out their playoff games, but the fans were fully back on board the bandwagon for the World Series. The chop chants were already starting to emanate from the parking lots, which filled up fast.

When we got to the gate, we were given a foamy tomahawk and two posters of Atlanta Constitution pages. One had a big picture of Chipper Jones, who infamously had called out New York Mets fans earlier in the year (and had been serenaded by chants of “Larry, Larry” the entire LCS against the Mets). The headline caption read: “That’s Mr. Larry, to you.”

The other one was a picture of an apple with a huge Braves tomahawk stuck it in and the words New York, New York above it. Yeah, the newspaper was holding the bandwagon’s reins.

Because we had attended a game at Turner, we didn’t have to walk entirely around the park to check out everything. There would be no on-field b.p., so we just hung out in the outfield section while we noshed on bratwurst before heading to our seats to catch all of the festivities.

Because I had bought in almost immediately when tickets went on sale—and I recall that face value was reasonable, like $65 per ticket—we had pretty great seats. We were in the upper deck, but in the first section, about four or five rows from the railing, and we were directly above Ted and Jane and the Braves’ dugout. That will work.

The pageantry was as hoped, with the huge flag unveiled on the field and the lineups of both teams being introduced with boos cascading down onto the field for every Yankee. Warren Spahn, Debbie’s favorite old-timer, threw out the first pitch.

The game was pretty good. Greg Maddux faced El Duque, Orlando Hernandez, and the two pitchers lived up their billing. Unlike in the regular season, there was no need for the p.a. system to fire up the crowd. It chanted pretty much from the first pitch on.

Debbie, who is part Cherokee, as I’ve mentioned, chopped right along, although she drew the line on me giving a scalp with my foamy tomahawk to Paul O’Neill as he stood unaware in right field—not because of the racial overtone, but because she loved Paul O’Neill, who grew up in Columbus. I didn’t care if he had gone to my grade school: He was a whiny little crybaby. I hated him, like pretty much every Yankee who ever has played the game. (It’s impossible to hate The Bambino or The Iron Horse.) The only time love and Yankee should ever be in the same sentence, in my opinion, is, “I love to see the Yankees lose.” I’m scalping O’Neill anyway.

Anyway, Mr. Larry roped a solo homer down the right field line in the 4th—the Braves’ first hit off El Duque—and the pitchers otherwise traded zeros for seven innings. When the Yankees came to bat in the 8th, not only was the score 1-0, but the hits were 3-1, Yanks. (Yes, Jones’ homer was the Braves’ only hit of the game to that point.) That’s a pretty good pitchers duel, right there.

But, well, you might know what happened next. Maddux fell apart against the bottom of the order, and John Rocker—much to any New Yorker’s delight, even those who detested the Yanks—poured gas on the fire. When the inning was over, so was the game: The Yanks were up 4-1. I gave O’Neill another scalp, because it was the right thing to do—regardless of the situation.

The Braves did bring the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the ninth, but Mariano Rivera, the cyborg, shut the door and like that my first—and until further notice last—World Series game came to an end.

It was anticlimactic heading back to Marta amid the rest of the downcast and very quiet Braves fans. Oh well, there still was Game 2 tomorrow. And we’d watch from Sandy Springs before heading back to Columbus Monday. Debbie was particularly looking forward to seeing Pete Rose on the field before the game …

Saturday, April 14, 2012

No. 782 – O Baterista

Performer: Rush
Songwriter: Neil Peart
Original Release: Rush in Rio
Year: 2003
Definitive Version: None, a near identical version on the R30 DVD from 2005 was dubbed Der Trommler.

O Baterista, of course, is just another name for Neal’s well-known drum solo, originally titled The Rhythm Method. O Baterista marked the first time that Neal incorporated a full Big Band finale into it and the last time that he included parts from Scars, which is one of my favorite Rush songs. (Spoiler Alert!)

I wasn’t looking forward to my 40th birthday at all. Sure, on the one hand, I had a job that was a blast, my book was proceeding apace, and I had just finished a very liberating year in Cleveland.

On the other hand, however, I was about to turn 40 with no real income, no house, no wife, no family and no real accomplishments. I was living at home with my Dad and stepmom fer crissakes! You might as well just stamp “loser” across my forehead. In other words, I was embodying every tendency of my Gemini-ness: I wanted nothing, and I wanted everything all at once.

But one thing I definitely knew I wanted was for no one to make a big deal out of my birthday—and I made it quite clear. If I were delivered a bunch of black balloons and got a bunch of cards that made reference to being over the hill, I would not react with the good humor that such sentiments might be intended.

It turns out that I had one of my best—and certainly one of my most memorable—birthdays of all time. It consisted of two parts. The second part, on my actual birthday, involved getting just a single birthday card, from Laura, with a very low-key sentiment inside.

More important, it said that my presence that evening was required at my favorite restaurant in town—the late, very lamented Handke’s Cuisine—for a birthday dinner. It would be just me, Dad, Laura and Casey. It turns out that was the last time I ever went to Handke’s before it closed a few years ago.

Anyway, I had an awesome dinner. I think I had rack of lamb, but I know for sure I had two of my favorite things regardless of the entrĂ©e: Handke’s Caesar salad, which had the romaine, dressing and anchovies in a fried Parmesean basket. You broke apart the warm basket and it all spilled out over the plate.

The appetizer was literally my favorite food item in the world: a bowl of angel hair pasta with Handke’s morel-mushroom cream sauce and a generous helping of morels. If I were able to, I would eat a whole pot of that stuff.

It was just what I wanted for my birthday, although I suppose I could have done without the suspense that Dad caused when he complained of heart palpitations. He insisted he was fine—he said it merely was a reaction to the quality of the liver and onions he was enjoying—but it was unnerving. It turns out that it was the first attack of the arrhythmia that he was able to control with medication and finally a stent implant two years ago.

Aside from the possibility that Dad might be having a heart attack on my 40th birthday, it was as low-key as I had wanted my birthday celebration to be. The first part was wilder: It involved going to see Rush’s R30 show at Polaris two days before.

When Rush announced the date, Scott got tickets for me, Dad, himself, Casey and a friend of Casey’s. Casey and his friend had never seen Rush. Dad had seen them a couple times. Scott and I were running out of fingers on which to count the number of times we’d seen them. (It was No. 9 for me.)

Our seats were near to the back of the Amphitheater. In fact, we might have been in the last row, as I recall, but we weren’t in the grass, and we were more or less centerstage. For the occasion, I wore the only actual present that I got that year. Dave had stumbled upon some clearance major-league garb, so for a song, he picked up two authentic black Diamondbacks warmup jerseys with Randy Johnson’s name and number on the back. Johnson was one of my favorite players—maybe even my favorite for a while. Such glorious apparel deserved a notable debut, and what could be better than a Rush concert?

I won’t bore you with the details, but it was an excellent greatest hits show. It was, until further notice, the last time I’ve heard them do parts of Hemispheres and Xanadu, which is enough reason alone to sing a show’s praises.

And it was the first time I had heard O Baterista after Rush in Rio came out, so I was geeked for it. The version at the R30 show was particularly memorable, because it must have been punctuated by at least a half-dozen “oh my God” salutations from Casey.

Yeah, I remember my first Rush concert …