Sunday, January 25, 2009

The "It's in the Past" Defense

Mark McGwire, whose apparent steroid use may keep him out of the Baseball Hall of Fame forever, may have an even greater legacy than prodigious home runs. When he spoke before Congress almost four years ago, McGwire, rather than testify to the issue at hand, simply said, I don't want to dwell in the past. It's every defense attorneys dream argument. "I'm sorry your honor. Though my client may have killed and eaten his victims, we prefer to move forward. Any investigation into his past serves no purpose, whatsoever."

Much discussion centers around whether Obama will prosecute perpetrators of torture. There is clearly an ambivalence voiced, both an unwillingness to "look backward" but also a nod that real crimes can't be unaddressed. At his Senatorial grilling, Attorney General nominee Eric Holder forcefully stated that water boarding is torture. With that announcement, how can this administration and its Justice Department not prosecute people who have committed, what they admit, is a crime. What would it say about equal justice under the law if Obama did not go after torturers and those who ordered those acts.

I have to say, infuriating though he is, Chris Matthews has been very serious about prosecuting. If, he postulates, we could go after the Abu Ghraib underlings, why can we not go after the men at the top who ordered these acts. Bush and Cheney left office positively boasting about ordering torture. Not investigate? It's absurd. And those who followed policy? The "just following orders" defense was not good enough at Nuremberg. If we are truly a nation of blind justice, and that is debatable, how can we afford not to stand up for that basic principle.

In an incredible moment of absurdity, Bob Woodward, who built his career on an investigation of a criminal presidency, voiced his opinion on The Chris Matthews Show that it would be unwise for Obama to prosecute. He has, after all, a country to run. How far our morality has sunk since Woodward made his bones searching for justice.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

You Never Forget the First Time

New music is new music. If you were lucky enough to hear Elvis in '56,or The Beatles in '63, or The Clash in '77, then hats off to you. But the utter joy and thrill of hearing the opening harmonica line of Please Please Me is no different if you heard it now for the first time, in 2009, than over four decades ago. Sure, some like to claim credit. We know that line, "Oh, I was into U2 when Boy came out and after that they sucked." Yeah, fine. I don't know where that gets you and I don't see any liner notes in tribute to your great taste.

All this is prelude to a discussion of my new favorite album, 1963's Night Beat by Sam Cooke. It's an album that showcases Cooke's voice, with the perfect amount of accompaniment. No lush orchestration, no cheesy backup singers. Drums, bass, guitar, piano and organ provide rock solid support for the Cooke sound, which is indescribable. Words like pure and soulful, are true enough, but not nearly sufficient. That he is emotional but not manipulative is also a fact. That his singing feels personal at the same time it touches you deeply, all the while sending a warm feeling that he is having a good time, may be getting closer. You can almost see a sly grin on his face as he sings.

Little Red Rooster as sung by Howlin' Wolf is downright dangerous. Little Red Rooster as done by The Rolling Stones, is pure teen swagger, a facade of aggression thinly masking their obvious nonthreatening skinny whiteness. Little Red Rooster as performed by Sam Cooke is the confident cool of one who rules the roost. No doubt about it. With 16 year old Billy Preston wailing away on organ throughout, a funny sycophant egging him on bar after bar, Sam Cooke is the biggest cock around.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The One United States Fantasy

Who is it that actually believes, deep in their heart, that this nation is not blue, not red, but simply united? Who is it that truly thinks we have entered a post-racial, post-partisan era? Is it the throng who gathered on the Mall, stood for hours in the freezing cold to be part of the indisputably historic and much welcome Inauguratsion of Barack Obama? Can’t be those people, whose wave of boos at the sight of George W. Bush on the scattered Jumbotrons took on physical proportion as it swept from back to front over the crowd. That is not rising above petty politics people!

Surely, the red-blue schism will change. This nation’s voting patterns have never stayed completely constant. The solid South that is now the last bastion of GOP strength was once, pre-Voting Rights Act, the rock on which the Democrats rested their national hopes. Excepting Pearl Harbor and 9/11, has this country ever, ever, not been riddled with division?

First it was big states v. small states, then Jefferson’s Democrats v. Adams’ Federalists. For cryin’ out loud, we had a Civil War! North v. South still remain, in a more peaceful form, and slave-owner/slave-master evolved into plain old black v. white. The divide even crossed our Northern borders, with the great battle which pitted Lynyrd Skynyrd v. Neil Young.

There’s always been rich v. poor, right Christians v. wrong Christians, all Christians v. Jews. Real Americans couldn't stand those dirty immigrants, like the Irish. Once the Irish were established, they as Real Americans couldn't stand the Italians and the Jews. Workers v. owners became a long standing battle, first with union victories then with conservative led union bashing and dwindling numbers of card carrying members. In the 1960’s the Generation Gap, young v. old, deeply split parents from their kids on the Vietnam War, drugs and music. And don’t get me started on East Coast v. West Coast rap, which took the lives of ‘Pac and Biggie.

And so it goes. This country will never rise above its internecine squabbles. We never have and never will. Yet, we keep going, sometimes with strength, sometimes weakly, but persevering and succeeding. Isn’t that, when all is said and done, what makes these United States so great?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Searching the Past Not as Pathetic as I Thought

When a long time college friend became insistent that I join Facebook, I was sort of shocked. Why would I give a crap - everyone I wanted to stay in touch with I did. Or, if I hadn't, I eventually sought them out. I'm definitely not going to put any personal information out into cyberland. Not my style. And then I thought, why the hell does he think I would even be the kind of person who wants to be on Facebook.

Well, it always pays to trust a friend, especially one of more than 25 years. It's not that I want everyone to know my business. That's still reserved for those I choose to share it with. But reconnecting to people that were part of your life for many years, maybe a deep part, maybe not, is more than I expected. Granted, I expected nothing. But, we all know that there are lots of people from our past that we hold only positive feelings for. Why not see how they are?

It's interesting to me how people feel about their status in other people's memory. We all go through it, and all start our messages the same way - "Don't know if you remember me but..." The reality is, unless you're some sort of crazed stalker, we all hold each other fairly equally in our collective minds. To think that someone you went to school with from 4th grade through graduation would not know who you are is kinda crazy. Do you think the friends that were part of the stories you tell your own kids over and over again don't remember you? They do. Just think of everyone you can recall from those years and the amount of detail you can put behind it. Got it? Well, they think the same of you. And when you're lucky enough to get a picture, and you can see the teenage kid in the face of a 46 year old, admit it, you feel like you still have a bit of youth on your side.

So have at it. Join up. And I heartily recommend going through your high school yearbook. Unless you really were a closet case, and those are extremely rare, there's at least a handful of people who will tell you with great honesty and passion that the 1980 version of you was awesome. Find those people and get in touch. you'll see that they still think you're pretty decent. Who doesn't need to hear that every once and a while?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Yesterday's entertainment highlights

When you start with a package sticker that says The New York Times says the CDs enclosed are the greatest recordings ever, let's face it, the bar has been set pretty durn high. So how good is last year's Unreleased Recordings of Hank Williams. It's pretty friggin' great.

That 54 tracks by Williams would be unavailable for so long is something of a national scandal, though not as horrific as the popularity of Marley & Me. Recorded for a morning radio show sponsored by Mother's Best Flour, these faux live shows, are crystal clear and riveting. The boys, though pretending to be live, are certainly lively. Songs end with hoots of "Good one Hank" providing the end punctuation. Williams introduces some songs with personal references, my favorite being a shout out to "Brother Moon Mullican" before the band tears into a slightly racist take of Cherokee Boogie.

As someone who spends entire days in front of the computer (hey, I'm doing that right now), I appreciate the announcer thanking Hank for playing for the show's "shut-in friends." Thanks boys.

Watched The Wackness last night. A fine movie that hits some surprising chords. Set in 1994, the movie's soundtrack and dialogue is replete with the period's hip hop slang. Great tunes from Wu Tang and Tribe Called Quest, as well as a min-sub plot on the greatness of Biggie. (There must be something in the ether that is making Notorious B.I.G. high on the comeback trail. A forthcoming biopic is the biggest of the lot, but The Wackness paves the way). That high school whities are spouting the lingo is a point of hilarity always simmering below the surface. Josh Peck does himself credit with his performance, and his star turn allowed me to drive my son crazy with my insistence on mispronouncing Peck's show as Jake and Drosh. That's another point of hilarity, though mine alone.

A memorable movie has to contribute to my personal lexicon, and Olivia Thirlby's quote that Peck's character needs to "focus on the dopeness and not the wackenss" are truly words to live by. Hold them close.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Out with the Old, In with the Old

Shopping at Wal-Mart is number one on my list of dread activities. This feeling seems to be shared by every other male of the species. You can see them all - the dour cart pushers, muttering to themselves, or spouting low volume invective at their wives. I don't go for the outward hostility, at least I don't think I do. Ask my wife. But I do have a very tangible feeling at some point, usually about 20 minutes into the superstore session, where I feel my internal organs sink. What I imagine is a trapdoor opening beneath them sending them speedily down the chute of misery.

A trip to Wal-Mart was on our schedule for yesterday. Prepared for the worst, we went our separate ways, my wife to the store proper, me and the boys towards the media section. I never get anything at the store. It's usually cheaper online. How can I buy a book at Barnes & Noble for $10 more than I know it's priced on Amazon? The answer is I can't. But yesterday, Wal-Mart had a $5 rack of DVDs and we went to town. The purchases - School of Rock, Almost Famous, Fargo, Shawshank Redemption and an Airplane/Top Secret combo.

I think I see what's going on. Pushing everyone to Blu-Ray players and discs means getting rid of that old regular DVD technology. It'll work; it always does. One of my sons bought Pineapple Express for $30. OK, it was his money. I've seen this all before, when CDs arrived on the scene and LPs were forced out. For those who have read the blog with any consistency, you know I'm still in the record buying business. When CDs came, the long-player was almost 40 years old. Everyone had a turntable and records. There was a business goal to get rid of store inventory, but no inherent reason for people to shed themselves of their personal collections. You'd hear people say, "I won't be able to get needles," or "CDs are cool." Well, CDs were alright, portability alone giving them value. But the disappearance of turntable technology? Damn, you can buy parts for Model T's for cryin' out loud. It was the perfect business and media joint venture. Don't keep those scratchy old albums. Progress!

I made out fine. Not only was record buying a much less crowded experience, but friends gave me their entire record collections. Sure, I would have to weed out the Loverboy discs, but there were always great additions - instant Kingston Trio collections, live sets of Lester Young, Otis Redding originals, Beach Boy albums on Brother Records. My already large collection has doubled over these years.
And now what do we read? 2008 was the rebirth of records? Manufacturers are issuing new releases in album form and college kids have discovered the joy of spinning vinyl. Hey, I could have told you playing a record and reading liner notes on a full-size album cover was fun. My wholesale acquiring of records from friends may peter out as their children find that they want their folks old Beatles and Led Zeppelin albums. That's fine. I'll survive.
For now, I'm happily taking all DVDs. Just don't tell anyone that Blu-Ray players play old DVDs and play that at near Blu-Ray quality. That'll just screw up my plans.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Unpublished excerpt from "When Baseball Met Hollywood"

Last year I worked on a proposed book on the marriage of West Coast baseball and Hollywood. Whether this work will ever see the light of day via the regular publishing process is a mystery. But why let it sit forlornly on my computer. I will run pieces sporadically. Enjoy!

Long Distance Call

What did the average group of unchaperoned teen boys do for fun on a lazy Saturday afternoon in a typical All-American suburb of the early 1960’s? If you were watching Leave It to Beaver in June of 1962, then you know that the excitement of making a phone call without parental permission was high on the list of thrills. Theodore “Beaver” Cleaver and cohorts found themselves in this enviable position in the episode “Long Distance Call.”

Jerry Mathers, as “The Beaver,” was nearing fourteen years old when “Long Distance Call” was taped. It’s late period Beaver all the way – Mathers’ scamp days were well behind him towards the end of season five. Now firmly entrenched in teen hood, his scratchy voice and awkwardness is impossible to ignore. Yet, even in the throes of puberty, Beaver is treated like a younger child. He declines to join his parents on a weekend visit to the dreaded Graysons, surely a cheek-pinching, “look how tall you are,” older couple. Wally will also be absent from the house, as he is helping out the editor of the school newspaper. Beaver displays a growing worldliness, as he correctly guesses his older brother is in it because the editor is most certainly a girl. Even Wally comments on how much his little brother has grown.

Gilbert Bates and Alan Boothby, Beaver’s pals, come over to hang out. June Cleaver lays down the law for her baby boy. No roughhousing and, should the television be turned on, the volume must be held to a reasonable level. Where does that leave three energetic young boys? You can almost see the light bulb over Gilbert’s head as he stumbles on an inspiration. What could be more fun than making phone calls? Indeed, what could be more fun? The squat, tow-headed Gilbert proceeds to demonstrate.

First, the meat market. Gilbert asks the butcher, get ready for it, if he has pigs’ feet. Sure he does. If you think Gilbert is going to say something like, “put on your shoes and no one will notice,” well you are a shrewd wit. Next the grocery store. The pudgy prankster places an order, capping with a request for a large “amata.” “What’s ‘amata’?” Well, you know how that goes. Even Beaver feels he’s too mature for this brand of juvenile humor.

When that bout of merriment falls flat, the idea of calling someone famous gets discussed. Who should it be – Pat Boone, or John Glenn? Tough choice, but then the boys notice the headline of the newspaper. Don Drysdale hit a home run to defeat the Giants at Dodger Stadium. That’s the guy! A long distance call to Dodger Stadium is in order. How much long distance? Hard to say, as the mythical Mayfield is in a state unknown. Also unknown is the game in which Drysdale hit the game winning blast, He hit no home runs in 1962 and, though he hit five the year before, none came against the rival San Franciscans.

Now that the target has been chosen, the finances must be accounted for. Alan has 75 cents, Gilbert a quarter and Beaver can pitch in .35. That’s got to be enough to call Los Angeles from wherever USA. Wally barges in right before the deed is done, resulting in the telephoning trio pasting angelic grins on their faces until he leaves. Beaver is uneasy about it, a funny feeling playing around in his gut. Yet, they persist.

Gilbert gets through to Dodger Stadium and asks for Big D. He says that Gilbert, Beaver and Alan are calling. No, they aren’t a law firm, he tells the operator. She patches them through to the clubhouse, where Drsydale is showering. So they wait. And wait. And wait. Finally, the Dodger right-hander picks up and chats amiably with the three fans. Beaver, tongue-tied, can only asks Drysdale one question – “Do you spit in your glove?” Drysdale displays his best “aw

shucks” attitude. Beaver also asks Drysdale that if he ever makes it out to Dodger Stadium, would the future Hall of Famer autograph his glove. Sure, the pitcher responds, what model is it? Beaver replies that it’s a Warren Spahn mitt, perhaps indicating that Mayfield may be in Wisconsin, a Mayfield existing just northwest of the home of the Milwaukee Braves.

Drysdale, ever the responsible adult, does warn the boys that this call may cost them more than they think. They aren’t worried, but once they hang up an unsettling feeling arises. They call the operator. Now the crisis, the kind of disaster that could fill 30 minutes of 1962 sitcom time. Don Drysdale’s hygiene habits that caused the longer delay had cost the boys $9.35! Plus tax! Beaver wants the money that every committed before the call was made. Just like a PBS pledge drive, the obligations are hard to collect. Alan won’t pay .75, if Gilbert pays only .25. Why did they wait for the shower to end?

The boys run outside when the adults return and conference. Say nothing to anyone and wait until the bill comes. That will buy some time. Remember “Don’t say nothin’.” Easier said than done because when Kenny, a schoolmate, flaunts an autographed picture of Speed Brophy the race driver, Gilbert wants to, nay, has to, talk about Drysdale – and he does. Kenny is skeptical of Gilbert, who must have a track record of deceit, but when Beaver backs up the story, Kenny is convinced. After all, Beaver would never lie. He’s a hall monitor!

Kenny’s father happens to be a reporter for the local paper. Now the secret will be out in a big way. Wally notices that Beaver seems to be sleeping poorly, clearly weighed down by the horrible secret he is keeping from his father Ward. Beaver asks if dad ever got really mad at Wally. Wally relays how mad Ward got when Wally charged a buck’s worth of gas when he and Lumpy ran out. Ward was less peeved about the money than that Wally didn’t tell him. Beaver is clearly shaken up and comes clean to Wally. Wally doesn’t believe him. Clearly, the status of a hall monitor means nothing to a man of the world like Wally Cleaver.

When the paper arrives, the bad news is there in black and white. “Local Boys Talk to Famous Ballplayer” is the headline in the second section. Clearly a slow news day. Ward sighs. He is not pleased. Gilbert and Alan arrive. Mr. Bates relays through his son that Mr. Cleaver could do to Gilbert whatever he saw fit. Same for Alan. It is odd that both boys’ parents would leave punishment of their children to another father. Who knows what Ward is capable of? The mischievous boys are remorseful. Alan desperately suggest that Drysdale contributes some money to the call. That doesn’t help matters.

Ward goes pretty easy on the boys, ordering them to work in his garden one hour a day for a week, a short sentence on the Cleaver chain gang. Was it all worth it? The glory of talking to one of the preeminent ballplayers of his time in return for the slight punishment of yard work. Beaver cuts to the core of the matter. Talking to Don Drysdale was just not worth having your dad think “you’re a little sneak.” Another lesson is learned. Admit your mistakes. Oh, if Beaver had only lived in a time of unlimited minutes. Paradise!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Wrong fight over the Wrong Senator

How is it that today's Democratic leadership has developed the uncanny knack of fighting the wrong battles? Take the Senatorial mess.
Regardless of Governor Blago's seemingly slimy ways, he is the presently unindicted sitting Governor of the state of Illinois. In this role, he has legally appointed Roland Burris to take Obama's vacant seat. By all accounts, Burris is solid and in no way would be anything but a solid Democratic voter in the Senate. Of course, Harry Reid is out to prevent him from taking office. Why would he want to take a legally appointed, solid supporter of his agenda? Remember all that talk about getting to 60 Democratic Senators and how each individual was crucial? Not so much it seems. Would Reid be so strident against any Blago appointment? How about if Caroline Kennedy happened to be a Chicago resident and was chosen? I think not.
In Minnesota, Al Franken has now been certified as the winner. Now, Norm Coleman has every right to go to court, in the same way Franken had the law on his side when he refused to cancel a recount even when old Norm asked him to. BUT HE IS THE CERTIFIED WINNER! Why wouldn't Reid be fighting tooth and nail to have him sworn in. Because the Republicans said they would filibuster? So what. The Dems might have the votes to override the filibuster. Except for Burris, of course, who they are preventing from getting in the club. Why aren't the Democrats fighting to get Franken his seat? It boggles the mind.
Back to Blago. The idea that an official under suspicion of crimes, though unindicted, should be disallowed from performing his Constitutionally designated duties is interesting. Can you count how many times Reid has stood up to Bush and Cheney, who have subverted the law and thumbed their noses at the Constitution? Let's just say it's close to zero.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Collecting thoughts

I had never seen the Damn Yankees green LP cover before. Paul Lukas, old college friend and creator of Uni Watch, took me to Sound Fix, a record store in Williamsburg a few weeks back and they had a small $1 box by checkout. Not too much that caught my eye, until I spotted Gwen Verdon looking over her shoulder bathed in a sea of green.

Most collectors, I assume, get the same pang I get when something new comes forward. It's a sort of ESP - you simply know at your now tingling core that what is in front of you isn't in your possession. So with the green cover. I only have the red version.

Thoughts on collecting are as varied as the people who collect. Everyone collects and each approach is unique. Some jump from interest to interest quickly, which to me subverts the entire ethos behind collecting. It takes endurance. Then again, there is no separating how one collects from their value system. I have collected the same things since I was a kid - baseball cards, books and records. Of course, that makes those items worthy of collection and, in a general way, define me.

My approach has always been more on accumulating, less on rarity and "mintness." Finding the green cover is a perfect example of that. OK, I did look on eBay to see if it was a true find, and it is pricier than the red. That the copy I have is less than perfect and has a split cover makes it no less valuable in my eyes. A few years back I bought a lot of Porter Wagoner records and the former owner had written on each cover the date and place of purchase. Rather than diminish their value, this increased their worth. Thinking of the person behind the albums, diligently recording for his own mental database the history of his purchases struck a chord with me. I too am someone who marks their time by what and when they got stuff.

There's a scene in High Fidelity where the main character reorders his record collection autobiographically to chart the course he'd taken. Isn't that what collecting is, really, reflecting on what we were and what we hope to be?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Unpublished excerpt from "When Baseball Met Hollywood"

Last year I worked on a proposed book on the marriage of West Coast baseball and Hollywood. Whether this work will ever see the light of day via the regular publishing process is a mystery. But why let it sit forlornly on my computer. I will run pieces sporadically. Enjoy!

Dennis and the Dodger

After the initial burst of TV cameos following his valiant pitching during the 1959 World Series, it took Sandy Koufax two years to get back on the small screen. Leading the Dodger staff with 18 victories and pacing the National League in strikeouts (269) during the 1961 season resurrected Koufax’s abbreviated theatrical career.

Which leads to Dennis and the Dodger, airing May 13, 1962, during the penultimate season of the show’s four-year run. That All - American scamp, Dennis Mitchell (played by a now slightly too old, pre-pubescent Jay North), striped shirt peeking from his overalls, slingshot dangling from his back pocket, romps through the ideal small town of Anywhere, USA. Middle-class, white Christian America, still stuck in a 1950’s time warp. So what‘s a nice Jewish boy like Sandy Koufax of Brooklyn, New York, doing in a place like this?

From the vantage point of the present, it’s an alien world. The opening scene shows Mrs. Wilson, wife of Dennis’ neighbor, the besieged “Good Ol’” Mr. Wilson, is at Mr. Quigley’s store, purchasing sulfur and molasses for her hubby’s spring tonic. What the hell is she talking about? Quigley knows, a fellow traveler in this mysterious world with its secret elixirs. It seems Wilson is headed out on a journey, a journey made necessary by actor Joseph Kearns’ exit from this world in February of 1962. Quigley, played by Willard Waterman, took up his role as Dennis’ foil. Waterman had filled in before, taking over as The Great Gildersleeve in 1950.
And now the plot unfolds. With Wilson out of the picture, the boys need a new baseball coach. In a nice touch of humiliation, Dennis and Tommy run through a list of possible replacements, Quigley nowhere to be found, until he fabricates his baseball prowess, specifically in turning a bunt into a home run. The boys’ look on in zombified disbelief. Turns out, the credo “The business of America is business” spurred Quigley. Lying to preserve a buck, he had to volunteer himself because, as he later tells his wife, he couldn’t let Schneider, from the market across the street, become coach and steal customers. Plus, there’s the potential advertising on the team’s jerseys. Ah, capitalism!

And, as so many intrepid capitalists do, Quigley then turns to the government for a handout. He enters the Mayor’s office, as the Mayor is huddled in conference over how to get in contact with Sandy Koufax, and asks if the city would buy the boys uniforms. Of course, the financially astute Mayor realizes there is no money in the budget for uniforms, but, like any good small town politician, suggests a bit of backroom horse-trading. If Quigley could get Koufax, whom Quigley has never heard of, to get the Dodgers to play a springtime exhibition in their fair city, well, then, the Mayor would certainly do what he could to help with the uniform problem. Plus, the Mayor dangles another promise in front of Quigley, the chairmanship of the Welcoming Committee, if he pulls off the Dodger game. Why Koufax? Sure, he’s a famous pitcher, but more importantly, he’ll be in town visiting his Aunt.

Quigley’s Bears, little walking advertisements for his market, get together for practice. While Quigley goes into a ridiculous old-timey windup, a figure emerges from the left, coolly walking behind the team’s bench. It’s Koufax, clad in a dark sweater, white shirt and gray slacks. With his right leg on the bench, the camera gives us a close-up, his face attentive to the proceedings on the mound, a movie star handsome witness to the sandlot happenings. He stifles a laugh as Quigley’s first attempt hurdles over the backstop, but when Dennis duplicates the absurd pitching form of the Coach, the great lefty must step in. In his ignorance, Quigley is unaware that this is Sandy Koufax. Dennis knows.

In the midst of all the mugging and “Gee whiz” dialogue, Sandy is the most natural of all. Surely no actor, he at least seems like a human being, rather than a 3D cartoon. He looks at Quigley with bemusement mixed with wonder, as if seeing something at the zoo you’d never heard of before. Just what was this strange species? The boys are awestruck and offer the coaching position to Sandy, much to the chagrin of Quigley, left behind in the hubbub. He stands alone, apart from the team as they lineup for a team photo. Mixed with his personal sadness is a slight bitterness that the money he invested in shirts for those little ingrates will be for naught. Mrs. Quigley quips that Koufax would probably open a grocery store, which only wounds Quigley further.

We meet Aunt Harriet, the reason for Sandy’s presence in town. How Sandy Koufax ended up with a prim gray haired WASP of an aunt is left unexplained. More off the wall is when old Auntie waxes on about nice and polite Hack Wilson, the single season RBI champ with 190 in 1930 (since corrected to 191). Wilson, known as one of the games all-time drinkers, was a long way from demure. She rocks and knits as they wait for Koufax to finish shaving. Turns out Harriet was a semi - pro hardball player, although no mention is made of the All - American Girls Professional Baseball League of A League of Their Own fame. His manhood challenged, Quigley goes into a tall tale of a fictional ball field exploit, swinging the bat just in time to clout Sandy on his invaluable left arm. Harriet leads the wounded Koufax out of the room as the forlorn Quigley whimpers.

Quigley’s out as potential Welcoming Committee chair and just when things look bleakest, Dennis and Dad come to the store beseeching the erstwhile coach to return. Not willing to be replaced by Aunt Harriet, Quigley returns as Sandy shows the boys the fine points of the slider. Now clad in Dodger jacket and cap, Koufax is surrounded by Bears caps, the B’s reminiscent of the Brooklyn cap he once wore. As Quigley tries to gain the upper hand over the more knowledgeable Harriet, on the scene to remind him of his inadequacies, he steps into the batter’s box, not realizing that Sandy is on the mound.

And there he is. Jacket off, in a gray sweatshirt as the camera zooms in on his grip, a four-seam fastball. Quigley’s face is a bug-eyed mask of fear, like that of so many National League batters. Sandy stares in as little Tommy gets ready to receive the pitch, and even on this generic little league field, Koufax looks wonderful, his windup and delivery a thing of beauty. Mr. Mitchell fills Sandy in on the exhibition idea and the Welcoming Committee, and Sandy lays one in, a final attempt to hit Quigley’s bat, which it does for a home run, trickling its way to the street. “One of the longest I’ve ever seen,” says Koufax to the Mayor, who has arrived on the scene to put Quigley down. Gallantly, Koufax rises to Quigley’s defense and promises to deliver the Dodgers on the condition that Quigley is named chairman of this disproportionately important Welcoming Committee. Koufax delivers a jibe at Walter Alston with a snicker, although the reality was that Alston was never kind to his talented young southpaw. All through this Koufax seems to be having fun, a true laugh peeking through the falseness of the script.

Friday, January 2, 2009

800-mile musical musings

Just got back from a road trip to Chicago. The drive is short enough to go straight through, just long enough to wear you down. While the iPod was plugged in a few times, the background was mostly provided by XM Radio (I guess that's Sirius/XM Radio, post-merger).

We flip between a few major channels, from classic rock to classic punk/New Wave, with occasional stops at older country, current alternative, hip hop and garage rock. On this trip I discovered that the sounds of Yes, always grating, can nearly drive me to the point of hitting someone. They are excruciating and their iconic status is lost on me. Art rock in general is my least favorite. It's not that I have complete disdain for pretentiousness, a little never hurts and is present in most artists' work. Which leads me to Peter Gabriel.

Early Genesis is a favorite of my wife's. Lamb Lies Down on Broadway - yecch! I even can't really latch on to the argument that Gabriel's Genesis is better than Phil Collins' Genesis. Though the choice is one between a kick in the head and a kick in the crotch, my tendency is toward Collins' era, since I lean toward vacuous pop. Gabriel doesn't drive to me lash out physically, as does Yes (it's odd to be so angry at such a positive word). He does push my queasy button and the headaches his music produces for me are identical to those I get driving on a gray rainy day, listening to news radio. If I still got carsick I would carry a bottle of ginger ale for the times Biko or I Have the Touch come on. We did catch the latter. It's almost not a song at all and the lyrics are ridiculous, as arty prog-rock tends to be. That's him above, singing into his pistil. I admit to liking Shock the Monkey though. For my readers, you'll remember a previous post on my simian obsession. I prefer the German version, Shock Den Affen (I believe). The great tune isn't marred by comprehensible words.

Poetry is where you find it. I love Dylan (below), always have, but I never truly accepted the idea that his lyrics, his poesy, were to be seriously considered among the greats. I won't argue against it though. It seems to me sometimes deep, most times witty with a huge helping of words arbitrarily connected for little reason. In Martin Scorsese's No Direction Home, the best scene is of Dylan outside a London shop scrambling and re-scrambling the words on a sign until they are rendered meaningless, or meaningful, depending on your mood. We listened to Blonde on Blonde with little comment. We also listened to the new Conor Oberst CD. Oberst, lead singer of Bright Eyes, is another in the long line of new Dylans. I like it a lot. Karen pointed out that his lyrics were a parody of folk singing. But were they? They really aren't far from Dylan, just absent the years of praise and elevation to godlike status.

Just one more thing. I missed the last week of the NFL, but did get to see the wrap on the Jets. My post of a few weeks ago called it all. Glad to see the mopey Favre end this way. Firing Mangini was the only thing to do. Who to hire now? I hear rumors of Bill Cowher, but why stop at a living legend for a coach? In typical Jet fashion they should go for the big name, one way past his prime. I suggest the corpse of Vince Lombardi. No one is more hallowed in the game's history and it would give the New Yorkers a high profile leader. They could prop him up in his coffin on the sidelines, just like Morgan Freeman (below, pre-decease) outside the saloon in The Unforgiven. It may drive some fans to a rage, just like the one Bill Munny (Clint Eastwood) was driven to at the sight of his friend dead outside the bar. It would get a lot of press though, and that is what the Jets are after. Winning championships is for the Giants.

That was truly a Long Distance Runaround from the beginning of the post!