Saturday, March 1, 2014

No. 96 – 2112

Performer: Rush
Songwriters: Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, Neil Peart
Original Release: 2112
Year: 1976
Definitive Version: Different Stages, 1998.

I took my niece Leah to her first baseball game and her first performance of The Nutcracker but not her first rock concert. Scott took her—and I couldn’t make this up—to see Rush in 2012 and 2013.

At the end of the second show, Scott suggested they move over to the edge, so they could make the sprint to the car and avoid the inevitable traffic jam at the end, but Leah said they could leave now. Why? Well, she said, as Scott told me later, they’re going to do Tom Sawyer, which I’ve heard 3,000 times, and 2112, which goes on for, like three days. To which I responded, how is that a bad thing?

If she thought the compressed version of 2112, which on the Clockwork Angels Tour included the Overture, Temples of the Syrinx and the Grand Finale, was long, what would she have thought in 1996/1997 when Rush played 2112 in its entirety for the first—and so far only—time?

I was stunned, sitting up in the rafters of the Gund Arena in Cleveland as they blew through the whole thing. At the end, I just turned to Debbie and said, “Aw, let’s just leave now. Nothing’s going to top THAT.” We stayed, of course.

After Different Stages came out, 2112 became a regular play—all 21:22 of it. I couldn’t and still can’t believe that Rush didn’t foresee the missed opportunity here. Although it’s broken up on the CD into individual segments, if you splice the whole thing together—as I have and everyone should—the time comes to 21:22.

How could they not make it come out to 21:12? And they could have. The music is over, and even Geddy’s announcement of a mid-show break concludes at the 21:06 mark. The final 16 seconds is just fading crowd applause. It wouldn’t detract at all from the recording to have faded the crowd sooner. Oh well.

Well, an epic multipart song deserves an epic multisection entry complete with introduction, story and grand finale, amirite? It just so happens I have one, and this one has a happy ending, just like the song. (I always thought 2112 had an unhappy ending, which made the song much cooler, in my opinion.)

In September 1999, at the height of my 2112 love, Dave and I went to the final game at Tiger Stadium in Detroit. We went to the last game at Comiskey Park in 1990, but Tiger Stadium had become our home park. I suspect that due to having season tickets for several years, I’ve seen more games at Wrigley Field than any other ballpark, but if I haven’t, that distinction belongs to Tiger Stadium. Besides, going to a Tigers game together, around my 26th birthday, was the first thing we’d done together. We had to go to the last game.

Dave got the tickets, and I drove up to Flint on a Sunday after an incredible Reds victory that seemed to propel them into the playoffs (but didn’t, of course). The next day we went to the Tigers game.

I don’t remember much about the game, which the Tigers won, except that Rob Fick hit the last home run in the ballpark, a titanic grand slam off the light tower in the right field in the eighth. What I remember the most, from our perch high up in the upper deck in the left-field corner, was the postgame ceremony.

Whereas in Chicago, the ceremony consisted of Chicago police thundering onto the field to deter any would-be scrappers from tearing anything up, in Detroit it consisted of former Tiger greats sprinting in from center field in full uniform to form a human chain to hand off the flag after it was lowered for the last time.

It seemed everyone was there, including Cecil Fielder—an original Wonka—and Kirk Gibson, who sprinted out of the center field gate before sliding in the outfield to the delight of Tiger fans. Dave and I tried to guess who would be the last one out. I thought Al Kaline, the greatest living Tiger, but instead it was Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell together, which seemed symbolic. Friends and partners forever linked, like me and Dave.

Eleven years later and 102 years before the liberation of the Solar Federation of Planets, I thought it would be a keen idea to celebrate the 20th anniversary of my friendship with Dave by doing a Tigers game preceded by a card show at Gibraltar. Just like old times. Dave immediately agreed.

I drove over to Grand Rapids from work on a Friday in June 2010. The next day would be the big one. We got up early so we could make the four-hour drive to Mt. Clemens, and although the final stretch along Rte. 59 was different—can you believe how much this area has built up in the past decade?—it was comfortingly familiar.

Gibraltar looked pretty run down, and although the Mt. Clemens Gibraltar never had been as crowded as the one in Taylor, south of Detroit, the parking lot never seemed this sparsely filled either. Well, that’s everyone’s loss. Dave and I had no preconceptions that the card show would be what it was, because we could see that card shows, in general, were smaller than they used to be. But we had no idea how decimated Gibraltar truly was until we walked inside.

Back in the early 90s, the card show took up a quarter of the entire flea-market building and stretched from wall to wall, with about 300 tables. That day in 2010, it was less than half that size, with only a couple rows of tables—perhaps 40 in total, maybe less. It was like going to a bad high-school gym show. Wow.

Even worse, the other half of the former card-show area, which was far more well-attended, was a gun show. The great Gibraltar, where I met my boyhood idol Johnny Bench back in 1992, was dead.

Heaving a sigh, we sadly smiled and decided to try and find some joy in Detroit. (That wasn’t said sarcastically.) We had a lot of time to kill before game time, so Dave suggested we go to where Tiger Stadium was before it finally was demolished in 2009. A few memorabilia stores remained around there. OK.

I hadn’t been since the final game in 1999, and I couldn’t believe how empty everything felt and looked. The only thing left standing was the barren center field flagpole and some wrought-iron fencing along Michigan Avenue. We parked in an empty lot where the VIPs used to park across Cochrane Avenue from the stadium and walked over to the site before going to the stores, which, surprisingly, still seemed to be open. (Cars were parked behind them.)

Seeing the infrastructure without a stadium was a little spooky, but, like I said, no one was around, so I didn’t feel unsafe. The lot had a chain-link fence around it, and I noticed a gate where the left-field corner where Dave and I sat for the final game used to be .. and … it was OPEN!

Yes, the gate was open slightly. I didn’t know whether it was kept locked and the last person forgot to lock it or just not locked—I think the former—but it didn’t matter. We took another look around. No one was anywhere to be seen. OF COURSE, we were going to go inside.

I loved visiting the remains of Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, but this was far cooler. I was surprised by how well kept Tiger Stadium’s field was despite the fact that the stadium was gone. The infield dirt still was there, as was the pitcher’s mound. The grass was surprisingly short and relatively weed-free. One got the sense that with just a bit of work, you could have played a game that day.

We hiked to the mound for nutty pics and then to home plate. We trotted out imaginary home runs. Mostly we just looked around and soaked it all in.

A few piles of concrete debris remained, so, naturally, we grabbed a couple of small pieces of Tiger Stadium before we hiked to the flagpole, upon which someone inscribed “RIP Ernie” in tribute to the late, great Ernie Harwell. It was so quiet, it was hard to believe that this once was the site where I sent Sadie Bluehair into apoplexy one loud, misty night back in 1990.

Taking one final look around, Dave and I left to hit the stores. Only after we left did I realize the golden opportunity we truly missed. Dave no longer travels with a wiffleball bat and ball in the back of his van like when we first started hanging out together. How glorious would it have been to actually PLAY an inning on the grounds of freakin’ Tiger Stadium?! Sigh … It still was a great moment.

The rest of the evening was anticlimactic. The Tigers played the Arizona Diamondbacks, and Dave and I wore our black D-back jerseys. I could look up who won, but that was absolutely beside the point. The point was that Dave and I were together again, just like old times, and that being at Tiger Stadium was once again the highlight.

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