Put me in, Coach!

For better or worse, September ushers in the end of the regular baseball season.  As the boys of summer begin wrapping it up and the ivy on the outfield walls goes from green to red, we anxiously anticipate playoff games, Pennant winners and the World Series.

I never impressed the girls by playing Little League or high school baseball so I never could place myself in the protagonist role of Bruce Springsteen’s Glory Days, a 1984 song in which the Boss used baseball as the basis for reminiscing and recapturing the spirit of his youth.  In high school I’d chosen instead to play guitar and sing in a rock ‘n’ roll band, like Bruce, but without the baseball connection and with only a fraction of the talent.

  Bruce Springsteen – Glory Days (1984)

It just might have been Glory Days that inspired me to buy a new baseball glove, oil it up and try out for the City of Janesville’s adult softball league.  It was April 1985, a year after the release of the song and long past high school.  I was director of the Janesville Public Library and had been invited to join the Tramps, a ragtag team comprising journalists from the local newspaper, some who covered the library beat, and a couple of city employees.  It turned out to be the most fun I’d had in years.

rookie0001That first season with the Tramps, I did well enough to earn a 1985 Rookie of the Year title and receive the coveted pasteup of a mock newspaper article written by the sports editor himself.

softball0001Exhilarated by my successful debut on the diamond, I spent the winter months working out, even taking up jogging during the noon hour instead of eating sandwiches and potato chips.  (I saved those for after jogging.)  By the following spring, I was itching for softball to begin.  Tuesday, April 1, 1986 marked the first scheduled day of softball practice beginning promptly at 4:30 p.m. in the open field between the library and Marshall Junior High School.

I was running late, finishing up a report for the library board.  Closing the office door, I quickly changed into jeans and a sweatshirt, grabbed my glove, donned my cap and headed out the door.  I slipped my cleats on before stepping out on to the soft, wet turf.  The weather had been cloudy and misty all day.  There was a chill in the air which made me grateful to have that sweatshirt.

The guys were already shagging fly balls as I trotted out to center field.  Ironically, I was singing John Fogerty’s 1985 song Centerfield to myself on the way there.  I turned to face the batter who was peppering the outfield with lines drives and grounders.  Then came a fly ball heading just to my right.  I took a few paces toward the spot, planted my right foot in the soft grass and turned.

A loud snap echoed off the building as I crumpled to the ground, shooting stars projected on the inside of my closed eyelids, pain coursing through my leg.  When I finally opened my eyes, faces hovered over mine telling me to “just lie still,” and “the paramedics are on their way.”  The medical crew asked permission to cut open my pant leg so they could examine me.  I could barely speak, so I simply nodded.

injuredI’d torn the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) inside my right knee along with the miniscus.  Surgery, recovery and rehabilitation replaced softball that summer.  I was, however, able to attend one last game in late July.  It felt good just to sit on the bench with my teammates, even though my leg was immobilized and I still had crutches with me in case I needed them.

On the field, an argument with the home plate umpire resulted in one Tramp being ejected from the game.  Down to a skeleton crew already, the roster now showed only eight Tramps for the bottom of the final inning.  With the Tramps behind by only one run, the game would be forfeited if a ninth player wasn’t named.  I was the only other guy on the bench.  Coach Mike asked if I could just stand at the plate and swing at the ball.  I said, “What the hell?  OK.”

I was on deck when the batter ahead of me popped out.  Hobbling to the batters box, I held a bat and stood there awkwardly for a minute, while the entire defense moved in closer, ready for the easy out.  The pitcher must have felt sorry for me though.  He tossed me a perfect pitch.  Even as I swung gingerly to avoid twisting my knee, aluminum connected with leather in a line drive to the gap in right-center field.  I took off hobbling toward first base where to everyone’s surprise, including my own, I was safe!

Now what do I do?  The guy after me also hit a line drive.  I hobbled toward second base, but before I’d taken five steps he was gaining fast and shouting, “Run!  Run!”  Well, I couldn’t run and he finally realized my predicament when the shortstop tagged second base and then tossed the ball to first where he was declared out.  That was game.  The Tramps lost by a run.  I, on the other hand, recorded a single for my only at-bat that season.

At the fall team dinner, I was awarded a batting trophy, the only team member to have achieved a perfect season hitting record.  “Oh, put me in, Coach.  I’m ready to play, today…”

softball0002 John Fogerty – Centerfield (1985)

Eclipse

And everything under the sun is in tune.  But the sun is eclipsed by the moon.

Surrounded by darkness, an explosion of colors pierced the air as if the northern lights were suddenly and fully ablaze from above.  A mild hallucinogen might have enhanced the experience.  It was no ordinary Eclipse.  That natural phenomenon typically isn’t accompanied by any sounds short of ambient traffic noise or, if you’re lucky, the early evening chirping crickets confused by a sudden onset of dusk.  Or perhaps the ever present chattering of locusts.

No.  It was no ordinary Eclipse.  This Eclipse would be repeated nightly for several weeks or even months.  And it would be accompanied by virtually the same sounds each time.  The wailing of voices.  A steady beat of drums accentuated by an occasional cymbal crash.  A rhythmic shrieking of electric guitars.  The heavy thumping of a bass guitar, along with a sometimes lilting, sometimes bellowing Hammond organ.

This Eclipse emanated from a stage upon which stood four men and one woman among towering stacks of electronic boxes powered by massive watts of amplification. The colored lights from above were among the first of the laser light shows whose wondrous spectacle would only improve over time.  A man made Eclipse to be sure.  In many respects, no less stunning than the natural phenomenon itself.  In both instances, holding a rapt audience in awe. Just as an Eclipse is supposed to do.  Just as Pink Floyd intended it.

There is no dark side of the moon really. Matter of fact it’s all dark.

Pink Floyd – “Eclipse” (Live at Wembley Stadium, 1974)


Irish Eyes

With few exceptions, Sylvia and I among them, it’s all Irish eyes at Milwaukee’s Irish Fest this weekend. We accompanied my former Notre Dame classmate and Irish pal Frank to opening night .  Thursday evening’s preview session stepped off with newcomers to the festival, Barrule, a trio from the Isle of Man comprised of bouzouki, fiddle and accordion.  Their blend of Manx jigs, reels and songs provided a pleasant opening to this celebration of Celtic music and culture.

Barrule

Another new band at the fest is Runa, in whose blend of traditional roots music and contemporary Irish folk songs we heard hints of bluegrass, jazz and blues.  When They deftly wove verses of My Girl into a Gaelic song, the audience responded with even greater enthusiasm.  We’ll definitely hear more from Runa as we seek out their extended performances over the weekend.

Runa

A longtime favorite, whose appearance marks their 20th anniversary on tour, is Solas.  I first heard Solas on the radio some years ago. Their haunting cover of Jesse Colin Young’s Darkness, Darkness sent shivers down my spine and the rest of their preview performance last night exceeded my expectations, blending both traditional Celtic music and contemporary original compositions.   I’ll be seeking out more Solas during the remaining days of the festival…

Solas

…and I’ll be keeping my eyes (and ears) peeled for more great performances like these.

Fun with Electronic Music

A few evenings ago I was sitting in the garage, settled into one of those folding camp chairs, enjoying the warm summer evening and sipping from a bottle of cold, locally crafted beer.   A white Chevrolet drove slowly by.  As it passed, I could hear some pounding drum beat accompanying electronic music.  The car pulled into a parking space around the corner from where I was sitting. A young couple on their way home from work got out and walked past me.  As we glanced at each other, I asked them who I’d just heard coming from their car stereo.

They stopped, and just for a second I’m almost certain they thought I was just some “get off my lawn” grumpy old man who was about to give them crap about their loud music.  Just as quickly they realized that wasn’t the case and that I was really interested in whose music I’d heard.  Smiling, they responded “Alice in Wonderland.”  That’s what I thought they said, but the quizzical look on my face only served to broaden their smiles as they spelled it out, “A-l-i-s-o-n” Wonderland.  I thanked them and they continued their walk home.

The Internet is a wonderful tool for researching a name in the music world.  I already had my tablet with me in the camp chair, just starting on a collection of Ernest Hemingway’s short stories I’d downloaded earlier that day.  Hemingway would have to wait.  Instead I Googled “Alison Wonderland.”

Alison Wonderland, whose given name is Alex Sholler,  is an Australian-born “DJ,” a disc jockey in its truest form.  Otherwise known as a turntablist, Alison is a musician who mixes music and sounds to create electronic dance music (EDM) or “trip hop.”  Regardless of what label it goes by, it sounded pretty good to me, so I checked out some clips of her work.  This clip is from her track called “Run,” released in 2015:

(Alison Wonderland – “Run” [clip])

Some time ago I might have mentioned the first album of electronic music I bought way back when I was in high school.  It was the eponymously titled Silver Apples.  Here’s a clip from the opening track, “Oscillations,” released in 1968:

(Silver Apples – “Oscillations” [clip])

No one I can recall in 1968 ever referred to this as electronic dance music.  In fact, it wouldn’t be polite for me to repeat what some of my friends called it back then.  In spite of my half-hearted insistence that it was really worth a listen, my plea fell mostly on deaf ears.  It certainly wasn’t anything to which we felt compelled to dance along.  Today, if I was a DJ, I’d slip a little Silver Apples into my dance mix just to see if anyone would notice.  It just might sound like this:

(Alison Apples – Runscillation [mix clip])

Makes you wonder if Thomas Edison and the pioneers of volts, watts and amps ever imagined dancing to the blips and beeps they discovered.  I suspect they’d be blown away for sure.

Elusive Butterfly

“Across my dreams with nets of wonder, I chase the bright elusive butterfly of love.”  —Elusive Butterfly by Bob Lind.  1965.

Butterfly Mountain

Quite often, while I’m deeply engrossed in a news article or a gripping novel, I’m confronted with a word that derails my train of thought and causes it to sidetrack into that great stockyard of song titles from my past.  It happened twice with the same word today.  First, reading a New York Times article about the “elusive” goals of a certain political party.  Within minutes, a “one-word prompt” message shows up in my email, devised to inspire writers to create a story around today’s word, “elusive.”

I took that as a sign.  Both times the word appeared, my wandering mind sped like an out-of-control locomotive to the song Elusive Butterfly by folk singer Bob Lind.  I was in high school.  It wasn’t one of the “cool” songs I was supposed to like.  But I remember seeing Bob Lind perform it on Shindig or Hullabaloo, one of those 60s television teen shows, and pictured myself sitting on a stool, guitar in hand and stage lights all around as I watched Lind play and sing.

I still do that.  I did it again today.  And all it took was one word.  “Elusive.”  An apt description of my thoughts and how they’ve been shaped by music.   Now, back to my regularly scheduled thinking.

(This could have been the performance I watched so long ago:  Elusive Butterfly by Bob Lind.)

 

Drive

1984.  My marriage was breaking down.  Who’s gonna tell you when it’s too late?  We’d just bought a big old house in an historic neighborhood.  Who’s gonna tell you things aren’t so great?  It was only two blocks from where I worked.  You can’t go on thinking nothing’s wrong.  Was there anyone in whom I could find comfort?  Who’s gonna drive you home tonight?

Divorce papers were signed on the auspicious date of March 4th.  Who’s gonna pick you up when you fall?   Friends were conflicted by just who’s friend they should remain.  Who’s gonna hang it up when you call?  I only needed a shoulder to lean on.  Who’s gonna pay attention to your dreams?  Just someone who could listen for a moment.  And who’s gonna plug their ears when you scream?  I struggled to find meaning in my work.  You can’t go on thinking nothing’s wrong.  I brought home an old wooden desk and office chair that my dad once used.  But who’s gonna drive you home tonight?

Work was a burden.  Who’s gonna hold you down when you shake?  I desperately needed a friend.  Who’s gonna come around when you break?  I longed for a new companion.  You can’t go on thinking nothing’s wrong.  She danced into my life.  Who’s gonna drive you home tonight?  She drove me home.  And stayed.

(Drive by the Cars.  Released July 23, 1984.  Words and music by Ric Ocasek.)
Listen to Drive by the Cars here:

Buy it here

Darkness, Darkness

Last night I was playing my guitar, plucking out and singing the old Youngbloods song, Get Together. You know how it goes.

“C’mon people now,
Smile on your brother.
Everybody get together,
Try to love one another right now.”

And this morning?  While those lyrics still represent a deep desire, they’ve been displaced temporarily by others from the same songwriter.

Darkness, darkness,
Long and lonesome,
Ease the day that brings me pain.
I have felt the edge of sadness,
I have known the depth of fear.
Darkness, darkness, be my blanket,
Cover me with the endless night.
Take away, take away the pain of knowing,
Fill the emptiness of right now…”
–Jesse Colin Young, Darkness, Darkness