I don’t know if I have ADD or not. It’s a relatively new term. Attention Deficit Disorder. They used to just call you “fucked up” and be done with it. These days they want everything to be treated with a pill….and before they can prescribe a pill they need to name names.
Whatever. I get bored easy. I don’t mind saying it. I hate to repeat myself. I write songs mostly. It’s pretty much the only thing I’m good at. I’ve written hundreds of them. Mostly just for me to sing with a lone guitar. But sometimes (like my record “Teen Angst and the Green Flannel“) I’m wanting them loud. Sometimes I’m telling stories and sometimes I just pining for something or someone that ain’t mine. Sometimes I got something specific to say, and sometimes I’m not sure what I’m saying until I say it. But the truth is I’m much happier with a guitar in my hand than without one.
Kris Kehr is a friend of mine. Musicians aren’t normal. We move around a lot and aren’t very good at day to day things like keeping in touch. So the fact that Kris and I have seen each other probably 3 times in 13 years isn’t that big a deal. We drop each other notes and listen to each others songs and sometimes are in the same zip code at the same time and sing some songs together. We’ve got some things in common. He’s a monster talent with a minimal ego….a Neil Young and Dylan freak who can pick up a broom and make music out of it. He’s also a brand new father with a heart of gold. Sleep deprived, in other words. Perfect pickings.
We’ve decided to write some songs together. And make a record. There’s no rules or timeline. We just agreed that it sounded like a good idea and started exchanging ideas. He sends me lyrics. I send him lyrics. He puts mine to music. I put his to music. We each have little recording studios in our basements. I send him demos. He sends me demos. In the meantime he’s incredibly busy with other things and so am I. But we make time for each other because that’s what friends do. Music is in his blood. It’s what makes up my veins. The fact that each of us has to deal with other things is a bit of a nuisance, but bills must be paid and all that stuff.
One of the songs we’ve co-written is called “Daddy’s Old Guitar” and Kris has already made it part of his solo shows. Kehr has a repertoire of about a million songs so to crack his set list ain’t easy. I’m proud of it.
Neither of us has any idea where this ride is gonna take us. We may write 10 songs. We may write 50. We may talk daily. We may talk once every 6 months. We live 90 miles away from each other. I’ve got 2 daughters to his one. The days of jumping in the car and conversing the old fashioned way are long gone. In truth we’re both old but won’t admit it. We’re both a little weary but that ain’t nothing a distortion pedal or a great hook can’t hold at bay….at least for a while. He’s a Deadhead. I’m a Drive-By Truckers devotee. We both passionately believe that if music can’t fix what ails you than what ails you ain’t worth fixing.
You got a better idea about how guitar players should spend their spare time, I’m all ears.
In a bit…
I think about my late father a lot. Every few years I re-read Roger Kahn’s “The Boys of Summer”. It makes me smile.
Kahn’s book is in the baseball section of stores. But it’s so much more.
It’s the story of fathers and sons…..of newspapers and newspapermen, of living with staggering gifts when you’re young, and seeing those gifts disappear before you reach middle-age. Thus, it;’s a story of aging, gracefully perhaps, but often flat out against your will.
It was my Dad’s favorite book. The Brooklyn Dodger’s were his favorite team. Pee Wee Reese was his favorite player. As I type these words I’m wearing my vintage Brooklyn cap and my Pee Wee dark gray away jersey. I’m thinking of Ebbets Field and Flatbush Avenue and Billy Cox at third base trapping grounders between his small glove and the dirt, like a man trapping a bug. I’m thinking of Snider desperately trying to hang in there against southpaws. I’m thinking of the peculiar genius of manager Charlie Dressen inspiring his troops in the 8th inning….”keep it close, I’ll think of something”. He often would, Oh but these Dodgers drove Charlie mad some days…”I wish they wuz all Reese’s and Robinson’s” is how he summed it up.
Jackie. The only man who could have done what he did. As much a pioneer as Martin Luther King. Just happened to be the most exciting ballplayer who ever lived. Could beat you with his bat, his glove, his legs, his mouth, or his fists. And he did it all while facing down America’s original sin. Died young. Hair turned white. His burden killed him in the end. But he opened the door, and it can never be closed. He belongs on the side of a mountain.
And Pee Wee. The southerner who grew up with racism ingrained in his DNA. But Pee Wee was a strong man, and strong men could flush out such things with their own common decency. And so one day on the field deep in the south, with Robinson being subjected to the most vile abuse small minds could muster, Pee Wee wanders over to second base and puts his arm around Jackie, his friend. The southern boys went crazy….calling Pee Wee “nigger lover” and worse. But that was that. A turning point. Robinson wasn’t alone anymore.
I don’t think there were 2 baseball men my Dad admired more than Jackie and Pee Wee. And my Dad loved Brooklyn. Talked to me about those afternoons, when for 65 cents you could sit in the grandstand and watch Furillo throw from deep right field to third base……with no bounce. The ball on a line….like a 300 foot fastball. Or Campy hit the ball a mile with that squat, weightlifter’s body that seemed impervious to….well anything. Rex Barney on the mound. He might throw a no hitter and strike out 10 or last 2 innings and walk 6. It was said he pitched like the plate was high and outside. But it was said he could throw as fast as Feller too.
I know why he loved the Dodgers. I know why he loved Kahn’s classic book. My father was the most decent man I knew. He was my Pee Wee. My Jackie.
And I’ll never stop missing him…
In a bit..
There’s always been a part of me that enjoys reading about baseball more than actually watching baseball. I’ve got stacks of baseball books. Everything from the history of the Brooklyn Dodgers to an exhausting 300 page tome written about a single game (Good game though….the 75 World Series classic when Fisk hit the home run to end it in the wee wee hours). I’ve read every word Roger Angell and Roger Kahn have ever scribbled. Great writers both, their talents so undeniable they would have undoubtedly been literary giants regardless of what they chose to write about. The fact that both men chose baseball says a lot about how epically human and endlessly fascinating the game is. (If the 2 Roger’s don’t wind up in the Hall of Fame I’ll be stunned, although Gil Hodges isn’t in so there’s no accounting for taste)
Yet there’s part of the game itself that sometimes seems almost too leisurely. Your eyes can start to glaze over watching batters stepping in and out of the box, dressing and undressing themselves between every pitch, which is thrown by a pitcher who feels the need to step off the rubber and rub the ball like an un-hatched egg every 60 seconds. Long gone are the days of the 2 hour game. Long gone are the days of a pitcher finishing what he started. Long gone are the days when a guy would hit a home run and simply put his head down and run the bases, as opposed to admiring his own handiwork as if he’s never seen anything like it. Ever. Long gone are the days when a pitcher could throw inside without some .220 hitter taking umbrage and charging the mound. Long gone are the days you could buy a beer and a hotdog for less than the cost of a new hardcover novel. Three hour games are common. Four hour games are not that rare. Baseball players only need to worry about playing baseball. The rest of us have work in the morning.
Plus there’s always the sneaking suspicion that what you’re watching has been chemically altered. The greatest ballplayer I ever saw was Barry Bonds. Then we all discovered we weren’t really watching Barry Bonds at all. And they all came tumbling down. McGwire. Sosa. Clemens. Rafael Palmeiro and his infamous wagging finger. Now everyone is a suspect.
But still we come back. We somehow convince ourselves that it won’t happen again, or that it’s not still happening now. Or both. Or maybe we just don’t care. Hell, wasn’t that McGwire/Sosa duel heartwarming stuff? Didn’t watching Clemens throw harder at 40 than he did at 20 make you feel like a lazy ass? How many gym memberships did Roger inspire? Who remembers the 2011 National League MVP anyway?
Still, the history hooks us and won’t let go. I actually remember Willie Mays with the Mets. I grew up with Pete Rose and Johnny Bench and George Brett and Carl Yastremski and Bucky Dent breaking the hearts of New England in that one game play-off…..a game that I saw as a kid because it started in the late afternoon….TV ad revenue be damned. Imagine that? I nearly caught a Mike Schmidt home run ball in my first ever game, more thrilling because I was about 450 feet away in the upper deck of left field. In flight the ball looked as if it was shot out of a cannon. I don’t think I’ve ever been more awed in my life. A few years later I saw Schmidt hit a fly ball that conked off the roof of the AstroDome. I was non-plussed. I’d been watching him bludgeon the houses on Waveland Avenue when he visited the Cubs and Wrigley field for a long time by then. These guys seemed capable of anything. So what if I got to meet Mike Schmidt after he retired (at a golf tournament….he could hit it a country mile by the way….but mostly crooked) and the guy turned out to be aloof and arrogant. Being in the heads of countless grown-up 10 years old might make one cranky after a while. Especially after surviving Philly fans.
What is it that I want from this game? What do they players owe me for my allegiance?
Fall is in the air. I’ve accumulated a summer’s worth of patience. It’s time to start watching baseball again.
In a bit…