Wednesday, April 30, 2014

No. 36 – Witch Hunt

Performer: Rush
Songwriters: Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, Neil Peart
Original Release: Moving Pictures
Year: 1981
Definitive Version: None, I guess. I have the version from A Show of Hands in my iTunes playlist, but the one from the Time Machine Tour makeup date 8-23-10 is pretty excellent, too. I actually prefer Alex’s entirely new solo at the end of that version but not enough to call it definitive.

As I write this, last night I participated in a national Rasmussen survey. The next poll you see about who might win in fall 2014 or whether Americans approve of the direction the nation is headed, know that I was one of the 1,100 or whatever surveyed.

We were fixing dinner, and Laurie hates to answer the phone in the evening. She usually hangs up right away, and she just hung up on some recorded call a minute before the phone rang again. This time I said I’d get it, and as soon as I heard the recording say it was Rasmussen conducting a survey, I was hooked—not only because I know what it’s like to be on the other end of the phone in such a situation, but also because I felt honored that someone randomly selected my phone number to become part of the political flotsam.

So I said what I thought: President Obama is doing OK all things considered, that actions speak louder than words, that most politicians lie to get elected, that politicians DO NOT favor consumers over business and that the Dems are more trustworthy on everything except war policy and immigration (where NEITHER party is trustworthy). After I told her what the call was, Laurie said she was glad I answered instead of her.

Believe it or not, that segues nicely with the following question: How did Witch Hunt, an obscure track on Side 2 of Moving Pictures become my favorite song off Rush’s greatest album? Timing, which is typical, and the lyrics, which is odd because I’m a music guy first and foremost when it comes to liking a song.

You can have the most incredible symphonic music beneath the most insipid lyrics, and I’m all in. I mean, look how many Genesis and Yes songs are on this here list. However, you can write the most meaningful lyrics ever, and if the tune doesn’t grab me, I could care less. I mean, no Bob Dylan songs made this list after all. But … Marvin Gaye did.

I’d known Witch Hunt since I got into Rush in the early Eighties, of course, and it was one of the songs on A Show of Hands that led me to buy the album and thus begin my Rush renaissance at the end of that decade. But I never really heard the song, and thus the lyrics, until the late Nineties. I had no idea how relevant this song really was until the impeachment of Bill Clinton.

THAT was a Witch Hunt in the most fundamental way. And, yes, although there are always two sides to every story, the side that feels differently is wrong. Idealistically, yes, the president lied under oath about an affair he had. Practically … so what? How is that relevant to his job? The presidential oath promises to properly execute the office and uphold the Constitution. Where exactly did he say he’d never break a single law?

But more important, Clinton never was going to be expelled from office. Regardless about how you felt about “the crime,” the votes simply weren’t there in the Senate to convict, and anyone paying attention would have seen that right away. So to force the country through a presidential impeachment was a huge waste of time and money—ironically, courtesy of the party that says it values financial restraint above all else.

But force the issue the Republicans did, so I had this song running through my head on an endless earworm pretty much through 1998 to the start of 1999. Business had the circu … er, the trial on TV every day at The DIspatch. As soon as the bosses left for the day, I either turned it to ESPN or off. I knew it was history in the making, but I didn’t see the point. The outcome was as certain as that of a rom-com … and with just as little humor and more boobs on display.

I guess in retrospect the impeachment did accomplish something in that it created the environment that made it more possible for George Bush to win the presidency in 2000. Al Gore felt he had to run away from Clinton’s—and his—record so he wouldn’t similarly be tarred and feathered with charges of immorality.

I’ll leave it to you to decide whether that was good for the country, but in thinking about Bush’s actions in office, keep this little civics lesson in mind: Lying about having extramarital sex is an impeachable offense. Lying about the rationale for starting a war that killed 4,400 U.S. soldiers is not.

If only Rasmussen had asked me about THAT …

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

No. 37 – Black

Performer: Pearl Jam
Songwriters: Stone Gossard, Eddie Vedder
Original Release: Ten
Year: 1991
Definitive Version: All Night Thing, 1992. This version includes a snippet of Hunger Strike by Temple of the Dog, but the thing that makes it the only version of Black you need to have in your songlist is how Pearl Jam played it that night. It’s slower and bluesier than the original on Ten, which makes the emotion of it more raw, as though Eddie’s flaying open your heart and showing it to you.

If the Karaoke guy at the White Horse had Black on his song list, I would’ve gotten up there every week back in 1993 and tried to capture the motion of the version on All Night Thing. Fortunately, he didn’t, so I didn’t make as big an ass of myself as I could’ve. Unfortunately, the song came back around to me a decade later.

So, to recap the situation at this point at the end of January 2003: Our intrepid hero, on the brink of departure from his hometown for the second time, suddenly had found himself entangled with a superhot 21-year-old newspaper intern AND a superhotter ballerina of indeterminate age. (I’d guess late 20s.)

Well, let’s cut to the chase. I suppose it’s no spoiler alert to say that this was going to end up badly. I knew it was going to; I just didn’t think it would be only a week later and at the same time. They say fame is fleeting for a reason.

Faiza, the woman who played the role of Dakota at Dockside Dolls, went by the wayside first. As directed, I called her Tuesday. To be honest, I was shocked somewhat that both the name and the phone number she’d given me the previous weekend (good ol’ No. 40) were real, but they were.

She was driving home to Ypsilanti. Ypsi? What the hell are you doing living in Ypsilanti and working in Columbus? She said she had family in Ypsi and stayed with a friend when she was in town. Visions of her staying with me danced in my head, although I’d have to figure out how I explained that to Shannon. Well, I’ll worry about that later.

However, Faiza said she drove a Jeep, and I could tell that was true, because it was hard to hear her with the wind whipping around in the background. OK, I said, I’ll call you later. She said to call her tomorrow.

I did. This time she was at her other job, which seemed like a desk job in a business that seemed to have the sheen of legitimacy, but again, it was a bad time to call. She was in the middle of something. Let’s try again another time.

Now, I didn’t want to keep calling her, because I didn’t want Faiza to think I was being a pest. All I was trying to do was speak with her long enough to set up the agreed-upon lunch date, but we never got around to it. I called her only when she told me to.

But … I’d been around the block enough times to wonder whether I was getting the brush. My wonder turned to certainty, because she stopped answering the phone. I knew she recognized my number, so she was avoiding my call. I stopped bothering after a couple of attempts. If she wanted to get back to me, she knew where I was. She didn’t.

Well, she couldn’t avoid me at the club, so I went back another week later, but she wasn’t there that night. I was told by another dancer that Faiza had been there the previous night, so I knew she wasn’t dead at least. I didn’t expect anything, but I was curious as to why she led me on to the degree she had.

I mean, I know why she did in general, because that’s what strippers do: They lead on their clients to extract more money. My guess is Dakota might have been just a bit more drunk or high than usual the night she took it further than she really wanted by giving me her number. When she sobered up and realized what she’d done, she just blew me off in a way to make it so we’d never see each other again, which we didn’t.

As a matter of fact, I’ve been to the ballet only once since. It was in 2007 with Tim after catching a ballgame at Peoria when we went to Big Al’s, which was a bizarre experience in that, in Peoria, it’s like a regular bar in that groups of women were there just to get drinks. At a strip club? Really?

Anyway, Shannon lasted a bit longer—two whole days longer. The next week, when she was back at The Dispatch, I went out of my way to avoid her at work—in keeping with her request to keep things on the down low. When the weekend came around, however, she had some bad news for me.

I had a pretty good idea what it was. Yes, she told me, she didn’t want to see me any more. She had a big dose of buyer’s remorse, she admitted, blaming it entirely on the age gap. Telling her that I wasn’t looking for anything more than to just have a little fun wasn’t persuasive enough, and that was that.

Actually, Shannon wasn’t the only one who had buyer’s remorse, at least in one respect. I made a really poor tactical move the previous Monday. She wanted to talk to me on the phone—just chat, nothing serious—as a study break, and I was more than happy to give it to her. At one point, she asked whether I wanted to come down that night to see her … and I said no.

In retrospect, that was a bad call, but here’s the deal at the time: It was about 10:30 when we talked. If I had left right then, I wouldn’t have arrived till 12:30. She was complaining about being feeling overworked and under the weather, so she might not even be awake at that point. I turned down Shannon’s invitation, because I thought that was the last thing she needed—and she agreed. I told her I’d see her the next weekend—and she agreed.

Maybe Shannon was right about the age difference. Had I been 25 at the time, I would’ve made the drive without a second thought. Older, more mature me thought it best to give her her space and wait till the weekend. Even older me now thinks I should’ve gotten while the getting was good, but that’s the benefit of hindsight talking. At the time, I didn’t regret my decision. It just didn’t work out.

What sucked most about all of this—aside from the fact that I was left wondering why the stars in somebody else’s sky couldn’t be mine, of course—is that the timing was such that I couldn’t turn in my 30 days’ notice until the end of February now. So I not only had to put off my move to Cleveland for another month, but I also had to stick around … long enough to see Shannon’s next guy. I suppose it wouldn’t have been so bad if he weren’t 10 years younger than I was yet looked 10 years older. Wait … really? You’re dumping me for HIM?

I also got to find out from a third party that she knew about us from Shannon and that she had helped Shannon sort out whether she wanted to continue our fling. The third party, although meaning no offense, I’m sure, let me know beyond a shadow of a doubt that she was NO advocate for my position. Her words still ring in my ears: “But … he’s just so … Will.” Thanks for that and for betraying your “friend’s” confidence.

I couldn’t wait for March to get here.

Monday, April 28, 2014

No. 38 – Day of Reckoning (Burnin’ for You)

Performer: Robbie Robertson
Songwriters: Robbie Robertson, David Ricketts
Original Release: Storyville
Year: 1991
Definitive Version: None.

I loved this huge, ethereal ode to desire on the first listen. I remember visiting Jin in Chicago soon after Storyville came out, and she said she had this song on audio in one of her editing bays, and the underlying synth at the beginning just filled the entire room.

Day of Reckoning speaks to me of Jenna and how badly I wanted her, both before and after we got together. Unfortunately, I’ve burned up all my Jenna stories already. Fortunately, most of my favorite songs apply to various situations, because I’ve listened to them constantly. That’s certainly the case with Day of Reckoning, which I included on the first Laurie Tunes tape I made in 2004 and was listening to a lot when I was in Cooperstown in February 2005.

My time in Cooperstown was as idyllic as you imagine a three-week trip devoted to baseball research at the Shrine of Baseball would be. However, it came uncomfortably close to an untimely end.

A few days after my arrival just before Valentine’s Day, I was heading out to the Hall of Fame library in the morning when … my car didn’t start. The engine didn’t even turn over. What the Hell … ?

I recalled the night I arrived. As I closed in on Cooperstown, not fully aware of what I might find in the way of creature comforts, I stopped for gas. When I came out of the station after paying, I saw what I thought was a drip beneath my car. I looked, and there seemed to be a small puddle, but I didn’t see another drip, so I figured it was nothing.

Now in Cooperstown, I looked again under the car. Sure enough, a small puddle, like at the gas station, had formed underneath.

My heart sank. I’d have to have my car towed to a mechanic, which killed the day at the library, but that was the least of my worries. I couldn’t afford a large repair … at all. I had no idea what the damage was, but if repairing my car ran into the hundreds, I’d have to cut short my stay.

I went to the owner of Countryside Lodging, where I stayed, and told him my problem. He said, hey, I got a friend who’s handy with cars. Why don’t I call him and have him take a look? If he can’t fix it, he’ll tow it for you. Uhh, OK. Meanwhile, if you still want to get into town, my wife’s going in an hour or so. That certainly was very generous of him.

I couldn’t stay long, because I had to be back in the innkeeper’s wife’s car by the time she left town about 3. I was glad to be at the library, but I struggled to keep my mind on my task. All I could think about was the potential expense.

But, like my previous experience with a car that wouldn’t start in Upstate New York (good ol’ No. 597), I dodged a bullet. The friend not only WAS able to identify the problem—a bad connector wire to my battery—but he also was able to fix it. The leak? Just my wiper fluid. He threw some duct tape on the container and refilled it. The innkeeper said he’d collect for parts—$92.

I was overjoyed at my relative good fortune—that I could stay. I couldn’t wait to tell Laurie about it. There was just one problem: I couldn’t call out on my landline phone, and because my suite was built into the side of the hill, I couldn’t make calls on my cellphone from inside my suite.

To use my cell, I had to go outside, which meant I had to bundle up snugly if I would be outside for longer than a minute, which I would if I were on the phone with Laurie. Oh well, sacrifices must be made for the greater good.

Everything else about my stay was, to coin a term, idyllic. It snowed one night, just a light dusting, and in the morning, I discovered that the snow was so cold that I could see each individual snowflake on my car. A little puff of breath made the snowflakes scatter about like leaves. Instead of telling Laurie about that, I hand-wrote a letter to better fit the mood.

My weekdays were spent almost entirely at the Giamatti library. The Giamatti library isn’t so much a library as it is a small office, with a few tables where you can pore over research files and a few microfilm readers. Every morning, I’d be let into the Hall of Fame by the security guard—for free!—and proceed to the library after first making a stop at the Johnny Bench and Babe Ruth plaques to pay proper homage. Then I’d set up music on my computer and get cracking.

The first week or so, I went through the transaction cards for the players I wanted—about 200—on microfilm. When I was done with that, it was on to the clip files. I was there from the time the door opened at 9 to the time they’d kick me out, at 5—never breaking for anything more than the bathroom if necessary. I had too much to do and too little time to do it to spend it on anything else.

After the first week, I was such a regular the staff just kept my files next to their desk, so they didn’t have to get them in the archives each time. They’d just wheel the cart of folders over to my station while I was setting up for the day.

I was at the Hall of Fame when the veterans committee vote was announced in 2005. That was cool in that when the vets shut out everyone AGAIN, the library staff and I spent time talking about the process and the candidates. Needless to say—but I’ll say it anyway—being at the Hall of Fame when a Hall of Fame event was taking place was really cool.

The first weekend I was there, I went to the Hall of Fame to just go as a tourist and see everything. It was different from the last time I’d been in 1999. A major reorganization of the entire museum was underway, so a lot of stuff was out of the display cases, which was a bit of a bummer.

A bigger bummer was how crowded everything was that weekend. After having Cooperstown practically to myself for a whole week, I had to share it with a throng of Red Sox fans. I thought maybe that’s just the way it went in the winter—Cooperstown was crowded on the weekends—but I found out in town that tickets for the annual Hall of Fame game at Doubleday Field, which featured those very same Red Sox, went on sale that day. Ah, bad timing then.

The next weekend, Cooperstown was only slightly less uncrowded than during the week. I didn’t do a lot of buying due to a lack of funds, but I did a lot of shopping that weekend. I bought a couple of things for myself, but mostly I bought gifts for Laurie—a crystal autographed.

Naturally, my three weeks flew by, but, surprisingly, I was ready to go home then. I wanted to see Laurie again, and I got everything accomplished I wanted to accomplish.

Just before I left, I finally took a lunch break. Another researcher was there, and it was an older gentleman I’d met through SABR during my time in Cleveland. When his stint came to an end, a day before mine, he ordered pizza to celebrate with the library staff, and they invited me to join them.

We sat in a conference room off the main floor of the Giamatti library—technically where I wasn’t allowed to be—taking baseball and eating pizza. It was a perfect capper to what had been, well, an idyllic time in an amazing place. If I never make it back to Cooperstown, I couldn’t wish for a better final visit.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

No. 39 – The Song Is Over

Performer: The Who
Songwriter: Pete Townshend
Original Release: Who’s Next
Year: 1971
Definitive Version: None.

Based on the title, this really should be my No. 1 song, shouldn’t it? It’s too bad there are 38 songs I happen to like better than The Song Is Over. Oh well.

I knew this song for a long time, of course, but I never got into it until I made my Lifehouse album, courtesy of Scott, in 2001. Then, it just clicked. The Song Is Over sounds like it should be the ending of something big—the perfect coda following the revolutionary climax of Won’t Get Fooled Again.

It’s no surprise that, as far as I know, The Who never tackled this one live—certainly not in their heyday. The Song Is Over is all subtlety, and The Who doesn’t do subtle on stage.

The song was over for me and Debbie on April 3, 2001. Until Laurie, I was with Debbie longer than anyone else. But whereas I can tell you in great detail—and did, as a matter of fact—about the actual breakup with Beth or Melanie, I don’t remember much about the day of the actual breakup with Debbie.

To a certain extent, I suppose, that has to do with the fact that it wasn’t a complete surprise. I certainly was given clear enough warning the previous November, when Debbie tried to break up with me the first time (good ol’ No. 783).

In fact, here’s something I’ve never told anyone before. For our Christmas tree in 2000, we had a scroll ornament where you’re supposed to write what you expect for the next year and then open the scroll the next Christmas to see what you predicted. I didn’t say, but I certainly thought, that we would be broken up by Christmas 2001. That, of course, was correct, but after the New Year, things had been better between us, or so I thought.

I remember some of that April day pretty well, probably because it took place on Opening Day. I took the day off work to watch baseball. I even wrote an entry on BBT’s forum that set the scene at home.

I took over the family room. I was on the floor with my new computer, still setting it up to a certain extent. I had the TV on ESPN, and I had a box of Upper Deck MVP cards ready to open. I remember being a little miffed that I didn’t get a card of the hot rookie, Ichiro Suzuki, figuring that that would cost me a pretty penny to pick up as a single if Topps somehow didn’t get him in its set.

Debbie had come home from France the day before. She was a bit miffed that I bought myself a new computer—particularly when I said I did it because I felt a bit sorry for myself being alone. That just re-emphasized that she really wanted me to go.

I might have mentioned this, but the France trip was a huge source of friction and possibly the final straw. I didn’t go, because Debbie set up the trip with a friend. If I went, one of us was going to be the third wheel. I thought I was doing the right thing by letting Debbie go on the trip with her friend. I was wrong.

When Debbie got home, however, I didn’t get the sense right away that anything was wrong. Debbie worked Opening Day while I stayed home to watch baseball. After she got home, the day was a blur.

I don’t remember when the breakup talk began, whether it was over dinner or at bed. I think the latter. I don’t remember what was said. I’m sure I probably was upset, but unlike with Beth and Melanie—and everyone else, really—I also had no place to go, which made it anticlimactic. This was my house, too. I didn’t even sleep in the guest room.

What I remember, however, was the aftermath. I had to get out of there and clear my head. I called Scott and told him what happened. He was stunned, even if I really wasn’t save for the timing. I said I needed to come down for the weekend. He readily offered the futon in his guest room / computer room.

I drove down Saturday, and he, Shani and I went to a wings place—not BW-3—whereupon I told them everything that happened, what was said, things I’ve since forgotten.

Ultimately, I think the reason I wasn’t as upset as maybe I should have been was that Debbie couched the breakup as … not final. If November had been the warning shot across my bow, this was the glancing blow, not meant to sink the entire enterprise. Oh … you were serious about that?

I didn’t sleep much that night. Although it was true that Debbie and I had grown apart somewhat over the previous 2 years—and I had a lot to do with that—I decided that I didn’t want it to end. OK, if she wanted me to change, I’ll do it. I didn’t fight hard enough to win back Beth or Melanie when that happened. I was going to do it right this time.

The next morning, Scott and Shani were surprised to see me up and about before they were. But I was energized. I thanked them for being my sounding board, but I was going to head home, I said. I was going to try to win Debbie back.

My plan was basically to beg for another chance and grovel as much as necessary to accomplish my goal. I stopped at a grocery store to buy flowers. All I had to do was wait for Debbie to get home from wherever she went that day (another detail forgotten), and I’d convince her to take me back.

(To be continued)