Mar 192013
 

Phil and Don? No, Phil and Joe.

Phil and Don? No, Phil and Joe.

So much sad and disheartening news floating around on my longer-than-usual evening browse through Facebook tonight: Bobbie Smith of The Spinners died. I grew up loving that band. Just this evening, in fact, while driving home from a long client presentation through a wintry mix on the New Jersey Turnpike, one of their songs came on the radio. That’s right, I was listening to sports-talk radio, got sick of hearing people talk about stinking college kids wearing t-shirts under their tank tops and their basketball tournament, which dudes who barely graduated from high school foam at the mouth over in hopes of winning $200 in an office pool. I hate the sight of college basketball players wearing of a t-shirt under a tank top. It’s not right. It’s sad. It’s like watching fat kids in the pool with a t-shirt sticking to their fat rolls. Who are they kidding? You’re playing basketball, kid: wear a tank top! (College football players don’t know how to wear their uniforms either, with their exposed calves…It’s even extended to the NFL, with the whole sleeveless Look. Come on, man, I want to watch big men pound each other as much as the next guy, but I don’t want to see a 360-pound lineman’s fat rolls being squeezed out from his armpits.) Anyhow, I got sick of the March Madness talk and flipped through the couple of music stations I have saved. The Spinners played, and I sang along to whatever old Spinners tune it was the oldies station was playing. (Next they played “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” and I bailed. That’s not an “oldie!” That’s the musical equivalent of a t-shirt under a tank top.)

I also read that a guy named Jason Molina died. The name rang a bell. At first I thought he was one of those bearded, mediocre folk-rock dudes who manage to appear on The Tonight Show and other major outlets despite seeming to have generated no organic buzz. Like that Ray Montaigne (sp?) guy. His music’s all right, but you’re telling me there aren’t 2 bearded, mediocre folk-rock dudes in any music scene who couldn’t draw the same amount of people to a club as him? What do I know? Upon further investigation I was reminded that Molina was the man behind Songs:Ohia, an actually good folky band I first learned about through a contribution to a tribute album on which my band appeared. I thought their contribution was the strongest of the batch. This story was especially sad, sadder than the fat kid jumping into the pool in his sopping wet, skin-tight t-shirt. Molina was 39 or so. His body gave out from drinking.

In contrast to these stories I took a modicum of delight in news that Michelle Shocked spouted off on some hateful anti-gay rant at a recent show in San Francisco, I believe. She declared that “God hates fags,” or something like that, and expressed a fear of gay marriage. Much of her audience walked out. The club shut down her performance, and 8 of her next 11 scheduled venues canceled her coming appearance. My mild sense of delight was in no means related to the content of her shocking new beliefs but in the fact that I never liked her music, her entire schtick, and all the people who bought into that schtick in the mid-’80s or so. She was at the fore of a wave of “serious” artists whose stance seemed to be way more important than their music. Too many of those artists struck me as being props for people who couldn’t take a stand of their own. It was “package-deal” music. “I’ve got no beef with homosexuals,” God said when informed of Shocked’s comments. “I simply never found Michelle’s music that interesting.”

The musical discussion that really made me stop and think, however, came from Crystal, the wife of a Townsman, and a former contributor herself, in fact. I hope she and her husband don’t mind me reposting her status:

Quick! Think of a song that makes you happy. Putting together a playlist for someone. I’ll start, Joan Jett’s Bad Reputation…

I wanted to chime in and play along, but you know what? I’m not sure that any song actually makes me “happy.” All the favorite songs that came to mind that make me feel the wonder of life and the cosmos, or whatever, inevitably make me feel a little sad as well. Not sad in an I’m-drinking-myself-to-death way or even sad like the kid in the pool in his t-shirt, but a little sad at the knowledge that the beauty of the song I’m hearing cannot last forever. Maybe it’s like that orgasmic state some French thinker dubbed la petite morte.

This past Sunday the over-35 men’s baseball team I joined with 16 other guys from my town had its first outdoor practice after a few weeks of indoor batting and pitching practice. We’ve played a Fathers Day game for fun the last dozen years or so, and this year the organizer of that game suggested we join a real league, playing 17 real hardball games. It was sunny at 9:00 am but only 34 degrees. For the first time ever I wore a batting glove on my glove hand while taking fielding practice. As a kid I never wore batting gloves. I thought they were wimpy, kind of like wearing a t-shirt under a basketball jersey. I don’t have the callouses I used to have, so I’m now wearing batting gloves. After an hour of fielding practice we split up in teams and played an intra-squad scrimmage, just a couple of innings. I got to pitch!

As a kid, control was never my thing, neither physical nor emotional control. I was the wild left-hander who would gesture at the umps, stomp around the mound, and occasionally manage to get kids out solely because I was left-handed, kind of crazy, and fearless. I wanted to be nasty and over-powering like Bob Gibson, who flew off the mound after every pitch. I was merely nasty and incapable of following through without falling toward the third base line. I never had much stuff.

As I got older and fatter and calmer, I realized I could throw a decent knuckleball, better than the knuckleballs other guys in their 30s could throw while having a catch for fun or warming up for the yearly Fathers Day game. When I turned 40, my wife and the wife of Andyr sent the 2 of us to Phillies Phantasy Camp, where we spent 4 or 5 days doing nothing but playing baseball under the watchful, ball-busting eyes of phavorite Phillies phrom our youth. It was a blast, and my half-decent knuckleball did the trick more often than not. It also generated a lot of laughs, which was a relief, because I was afraid my teenage hothead self would re-emerge in my then-40-year-old body. The knuckleball is a tremendous pitch for the aging baseball player. It’s probably the sports equivalent of musicians who get into playing the ukelele or country music or some other “timeless,” stress-reducing instrument or style of music. I’ve yet to discover my musical knuckleball.

Skip 10 years later to Sunday’s scrimmage: the catcher wanted to go over the signs with me. “You’ll recall,” I told him, “I don’t have a lot of stuff. I’ve got my fastball, which is no longer that fast; my knuckleball; and a split-fingered change, or forkball.”

“Do you like to throw the knuckler when you’re ahead or behind in the count,” he asked. I wanted to say, “When I’ll get the best laugh,” but I don’t know this man well enough to break out my idea of a joke yet. I do get a great sense from this guy: he reminds me of my Babe Ruth League catcher, who would become my first guitar partner, under my tutelage no less! That guy, Mike, had a general “catcher’s personality”: confident, a little bossy, but fun. He was the only catcher who could visit me on the mound and get me to calm the fuck down and have fun pitching. I looked at my new catcher and told him what was really on my mind: “I trust you. I’m in your hands. You call the game as you see fit.”

My first goal was to throw strikes, and throw strikes I did. The batters did their job, hitting the strikes: 3 singles in a row scored their first run. My catcher ambled out to the mound. “How about we start the next few batters with your knuckleball, try to screw them up early in the count?”

I was putty in his hands. Before he even put down his signal we both knew what was coming. I got the first batter after our talk to pop up a knuckleball to shallow rightfield. The second baseman couldn’t handle it, but that was cool. We are all old guys out there. That will be me drifting behind the first base bag or in the outfield soon enough. I started off the next batter with a knuckleball. He barely tipped it before tipping his hat to me for that crazy pitch. A couple of pitches later I struck him out on a knuckleball. I knew at that moment that no matter what else would happen that I would sleep like a baby, with visions of that knuckleball dancing into the catcher’s mitt. The next 2 batters, including their most feared hitter, lunged at knuckleballs and both popped up to the shortstop. If getting through that inning on pure slop wasn’t enough, I also went 2-for-2 at the plate, twice singling with 2 strikes on me. The early successes felt sweet, even knowing that they were setting me up for some spirit-crushing failure later in the season, when the games count.

I arrived home absolutely elated at the morning’s experience. Perhaps this is how my friend feels when she hears Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation.” I still can’t think of a song that makes me feel as giddy as striking out my friend with a knuckleball did. Does that mean I love sports even more than I love music? Does that mean that I take music too seriously? Or life, in general? Regardless, 10 minutes after my triumphant return home to a wife and 2 sons who couldn’t care less about my on-field exploits the muscles in my legs just went dead, like guitar strings snapping. I’m still hurting. It’s especially hard to walk down steps. Last night I popped Tylenol like Tug McGraw did for weeks during the Phillies’ 1980 postseason. “I must have nothing left of my stomach lining,” I imagined myself saying with a straight face. I had to sleep with my left left propped up under a pillow. As I dozed off I imagined presenting “my” catcher with one of those over-sized knuckleball catcher’s mitts.

I’m still incredibly happy.

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  36 Responses to “Get Happy?”

  1. It wasn’t “quick,” as my Facebook friend requested, but as a follow-up to last night’s meditation I finally happened across a childhood favorite that still brings nothing but happiness: “Hitchin’ a Ride”!

  2. Like you Mr. Mod, no song that makes me happy is coming to mind. Regardless, if no one makes another post in this thread, your essay is fantastic. (Pince-nez exception: “couldn’t care less”, not “could care less”.)

    Sad about Bobbie Smith. These musical deaths are coming at a daily pace. What will be the biggest, saddest R&R death to come? Dylan? Macca? Jagger? I guess saddest isn’t the right term. That could be Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga, “youth cut down in their prime”. What will be most reported on? Who will make the most magazine covers? I’d guess Bobby.

    • Thanks for the Pince-nez! Corrected.

      The coming problem with the eventual deaths of McCartney and Jagger will be people’s difficulties with feeling warm to those legends. Their musical achievements are undeniable, but they’ve spent the last 30+ years squandering whatever role they might have played in the culture. Jagger has contributed exactly NOTHING to the soul of our culture since the early ’80s. McCartney has spread a little more good will, but it always seems calculated to help him catch up to all that Lennon left by the natural power of his personality and then his early death.

      Dylan has remained “true to himself” – and us. Although we’ll remark that we never got to “know” him after he’s gone, he left us all in the dark with a consistent lack of self-regard.

      Among R&B artists, I think the losses of Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder will be felt deeply. Personally, I’ll shed a little tear the day Jerry Butler leaves us – an icy teardrop.

  3. And, speaking of oldies stations, I’ve noticed something interesting about the one here in Hartford. It’s no longer even advertising itself as an oldies station. It’s more like hits of the ’70s, 80’s, and ’90s, i.e., mostly unlistenable as far as I’m concerned. But later at night, especially on weekends, it’s still what I would call oldies. So I’m assuming market research shows that oldies fans have insomnia…

  4. A short list of songs that always make me happy:

    Good Lovin – the Rascals
    I Stand Accused – Elvis Costello version
    Center of Gravity – Yo La Tengo
    You Ain’t Woman Enough to Take My Man – Loretta Lynn
    Come Around and See Me – The Raspberries

    But I’ll grant you that the melancholy song list is much longer.

  5. “Union City Blue” – Blondie
    “Going Down to Liverpool” – The Bangles
    “Absolute Beginners” – David Bowie.

    That’s it. No other songs make me happy.

  6. 2000 Man

    Great essay! I really enjoyed it. I don’t know of any song that just makes me “happy.” I’m usually happy, I think my favorite songs get me excited or make me think or feel something unexpected. I think if it’s music I like it makes me happy, even if it might be sad or depressing music to some other people.

    I know I’ll be kind of bummed when Mick Jagger dies, even though our relationship will stay exactly the same (that is, I know him the same way I’ve known him forever, and he doesn’t know me at all). I think a lot of rock n roll fans will be sad when Chuck Berry goes. He’s the last of the true royalty of Rock N Roll. I know, Little Richard and Jerry Lee are still here, but Chuck is the original guitar hero, and on a mor epersonal note, the first Rock N Roll my mom ever heard, which flipped a pretty great switch in my DNA which makes me happy when I hear guitars!

  7. I just came across one of my favorites which fits the bill – Kenny O’Dell’s Beautiful People –

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tvnmPX4bmJ0

    And I learned from youtube that he wrote Behind Closed Doors.

  8. “Let’s Go” by Richie Valens.
    And hang in there with the baseball stories and musical knuckelballs.

  9. ladymisskirroyale

    In case you need to reference a list of things that lead to the feeling of cheer, may I recommend Ian Drury’s “Reasons To Be Cheerful, Part 3” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qcjh1a9Yoao

    Cheddar cheese and pickle does it for me every time.

    Also, a pince-nez regarding la petite morte, which refers to the act of orgasm, not the post-coital state.

  10. Your essay was quite poignant, thoughtprovoking but since I’m worried about my drs. appt the last thing I want to do is think about is something morbid. No offense. So instead I want to concentrate on songs that make me happy.
    1.”You can’t sit down” Dovels. Dad did the arrangement.
    2. “We Can be Heroes” David Bowie
    3.”I Love Music” Ojays. Music is so diverse from Bach to Rock.
    4. “Ain’t no stopping us now” McFadden and Whitehead.”
    5 “Treat Her Right” Roy Head and most other versions especially George Thorogood, Springsteen, Bon Jovi.

  11. mockcarr

    Did you ever wonder if the fat kid maybe just had a sunburn? Just a thought.

  12. BigSteve

    The other night at our music trivia game, the host played the Flamin’ Groovies Shake Some Action. All you had to do was name the artist, and not every team knew it. Know-nothing whipper-snappers. Anyway that song always makes me happy.

  13. diskojoe

    Every time I hear “Shake Some Action”. I wonder why it never made the Top 40 like “I’m On Fire” did, especially considering how inspid the single charts were at that time.

    As for songs that make me happy, first up would be “I Can Hear Music” by the Beach Boys, which has always made me happy since I first heard it as a lad, which is pretty ironic since it was the 1st BB hit that Brian had nothing to do with. Another song from that era would be “Good Morning Starshine” by Keith. Then comes two songs from the summer of ’66, “Summer In The City” by the Lovin’ Spoonful, who did a bunch of songs that make me happy & “Summertime” by Billy Stewart. They all remind me of the good things in my childhood.

  14. hrrundivbakshi

    Sly & the Family Stone’s “Hot Fun In the Summertime” pretty much always makes me happy.

  15. The Kings “This Beat Goes On/Switching To Glide.”

    And I was also a lefty short on both temper and talent. But I went with the forkball (what the hell? It was the late-70s, I lived in Chicagoland…it was all about Bruce Sutter, Wilbur Wood be damned). But because I never learned to release it properly with the thumb giving it that forward spin, it came out just as dead as a knuckler. My coach dubbed it a “faux-kler,” which of course my teammates and I bastardized into “f@#$ler.”

    aloha
    LD

    • misterioso

      High five! I am listening to “This Beat Goes On/Switching to Glide” right now, in your honor. And I am happy.

      • “Pulp Fiction” deleted scenes include that query on whether folks are Elvis People or Beatles People. I’ve wondered if this song separates “This Beat Goes On” People from “Switching To Glide” People, and if the separation has anything to do with its straddling of the 70s/80s…”Beat” refs on the side of Beat poetry and friends you can mobilize with just one call, Beat Club, constructed around a classic bloozy riff…then Switchin to a more 80s (Tuesday) Point Of View built around the All-Important Weekend drenched in synths, begging to find a way out of this hole ya know?

        Or I’ve had a couple-a pops too many and will simply crash out rather than continue to complicate your rather straight-forward happiness!

        aloha
        LD

  16. misterioso

    Mod, further to your point about college sports uniform issues, remember back in the 70s when some college football players sported those super-short, cut-off shirts, baring their mid-sections? (Do they still do that? I don’t watch much college football anymore.) That was goofy. I have a mental image of, say, J. C. Watts or the immortal I.M. Hipp in that look.

    • aaaaah, I.M. was an imposter wannabe on the cut-off T movement! BOOMER! Check out the ESPN doc on Marcus DuPree. Now we know from where Madonna got her inspiration.

      More recently the move seems to be not having pants, leggings, pads beneath your knees. “Better your knees than mine,” I say

      All Hail Jamelle Holieway!

      aloha
      LD

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