Monday, August 5, 2013

No. 304 – Brother

Performer: Alice in Chains
Songwriter: Jerry Cantrell
Original Release: SAP EP
Year: 1992
Definitive Version: MTV Unplugged, 1996.

Alice in Chains’ Unplugged show on MTV hit me the way Nirvana’s hit pretty much everyone (and me, too). I had been a fan of Alice’s mostly through osmosis, but hearing the songs stripped down made me realize how great a band Alice in Chains was—even as Layne Staley headed inexorably towards what would be one of the least surprising overdose deaths in rock history.

This song makes me think of the summer of 1996, although nothing specific. I constantly listened first to the tape I made of the TV broadcast of MTV Unplugged and later the CD during one of the most stress-free times of my life.

It was post-Scott’s wedding, when I decided that I had no relationship with anyone on my Dad’s side of the family—the resolution all but ending all contact but also all conflict—and pre-homebuying, so I had no real responsibility during the day. It also was pre-purge in Business at The Dispatch but post-part-timer meltdown, so work was going pretty good.

Debbie and I were in a settled relationship—we loved our Gahanna apartment and renewed our lease. We constantly were exploring new restaurants, and I was gaining an appreciation for wine thanks to my subscription to Wine Spectator. Our circle of friends continued to expand through Debbie’s work. We also were closer to Steve and his soon to be new wife Katie. It was a good time in my life.

Besides, I had a crucial new piece in the guest room, which was quickly becoming more of a fully functional baseball room. Just before Alice in Chains blew my mind on TV, Debbie and I went to Atlanta to visit her aunt, whom I met for the first time—Dot.

Dot and I hit it off right away. She had been a Braves fan since the team moved from Milwaukee to Atlanta in 1966 and had been to every game for most of the next 30 years—including one particularly important one April 8, 1974. Naturally, we went to a Braves game during our visit, where I saw the biggest milestone I’ve seen at a ballgame—Fred McGriff hitting his 300th career homer. We got along so well that Dot bestowed upon me a very special gift at the end.

Early in our visit, Dot showed me and Debbie around the house. (Debbie hadn’t been herself for years.) In the basement, tacked unpretentiously to a seemingly long-forgotten bulletin board, was a poster commemorating Hank Aaron Day in 1974. Dot and her late husband attended that game, just as they had the record-breaker I referenced. The poster was a giveaway.

On the front is a montage of illustrations and photos of the Bamino and Hank and the numbers 714 and 715. On the back was a listing of all of Hank’s homers up to 715, including the date and the pitcher. It’s a cool collectable worth coveting.

Just before Debbie and I left, without any prompting, Dot took me downstairs and took down the poster, rolled it up and handed it to me. I was beside myself and effusive with gratitude.

The poster—soon pretentiously framed—promptly became a focal point of the baseball room. And when I added a certain bat a few months later, it became a full-blown Hank Aaron shrine, just the way Dot would’ve liked it.

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