Monday, September 25, 1995

Dave's Manifesto

Nobody out, nobody on, batter hits a grounder to short. Blinkey, the saddest clown in the whole damn circus, playing catcher, follows through on his duty and runs with the batter down to first to back up the throw. The batter flings his bat back. The bat twirls barrel over handle, past the baseline, and though Blinkey tries his best to deflect it with his arms, the thick aluminum barrel still strikes him on the forehead.

Had Blinkey been a lazy player and remained squatting behind the plate, the bat would not have hit him. Still as he woozily finished out the game, he marveled at how sometimes when you do your job the little things can go unnoticed. He had already saved a couple of errant throws earlier in the season, yet most catchers weren't quite so conscientious in performing all the tasks of the position. He understood however, for a team to be successful the importance of all members of a team contributing all the little "extras" that made up the difference between winning and losing. And thus he didn't mind the throbbing inside his head. It was all part of the job in the name of teamwork.

Later that night, as he sat in his aluminum sided apartment contemplating what to make for dinner in his stainless steel pan, Blinkey wearily removed his makeup mask, one that had grown more and more into a face of stunned disbelief. The mask still cloaked his face in decency even though Blinkey, the saddest clown in the whole damn circus, had dropped out of the spotlight long ago. He glanced through his cupboards and his wheezing refrigerator. The milk was sour, the cheese moldy; the bananas had gone brown and the shrimp salad was rancid. Upon further reflection, all he owned, all he was holding on to shared the exact same expiration date! Who would have thunk it?! Everything had gone bad at once! Blinkey now was the most unlucky clown in the whole damn circus!

The store was too far away and thus it struck him that what he wanted was quite out of grasp both in time and distance. What was in front of him was frustratingly as out of reach because of its expired dates, as that which lie far far away. He went to bed that night with a bump on his noggin, cold, hungry and a wee bit disoriented.

He had wanted to call up one who was many miles away, still traveling within the greatest show on earth. He still saw her in all that was beautiful. He knew that her words would give him a different perspective on the way things were going than he could think of by himself. But he had no idea where the show was, and how he could ever reach her again if he ever had in the first place. Did he regret not being out there? No not really. Maybe she would even have been proud of what he was accomplishing most days.

Blinkey did soundly sleep unlike most nights which were spent restlessly tossing and turning. He was tired and perhaps the benefit of his injury was that his head was truly in a different time and place than normal. The image of the flying bat etched its way through his mind. Slow motion. By the time his alarmed buzzed in the morning, he had almost been able to convince himself that his head didn't hurt. He still had his job to do and that was all that mattered these days.

Smile Blinkey, he said to himself. Teamwork, TEAMwork, TEAMWORK!!! The tasks of his job did energize him. He knew whatever he felt, he needed to do his work because what he did had an impact on those around him. That in itself made him feel a little better. It may not have been like the game he had been involved in the night before, but a job was a job, a role a role, and this was his duty now. He turned on his computer and checked his Internet mail. The mask he wore certainly could continue to shield him and prove most effective. Flying bats flew by the wayside, expiration dates continued to pass and go but Blinkey wobbly as he now felt, would continue to press on. He thought about the way things had been going and he began to laugh like he never laughed before. He laughed so long. So long.

Monday, September 18, 1995

Infinity Goes Up on Trial

Those of us who are now experts at the game of golf, can tell you the most intriguing thing about the game is that you can hit bad shot after bad shot, hole after hole, but it's that one good shot, the one that you stroke just right, that keeps you going. For just that instant instance, everything falls into place, and all seems perfect.

The game of golf began in Scotland. Don't think it merely a coincidence that many years later, I decided to attend Macalester College, a college with proud Scottish traditions. Those who know me well know that I'm nothing if not a golfin' fool. There is after all, a certain female player on the women's side of the PGA, with whose career I have closely monitored over the last few years and wondered what might have been. Indulge me now if you will, back to another day, another time.


Once upon a time, a much simpler time, a boy could wake up earlier than usual on a Saturday morning, amble out into the streets, and find himself a good parade to watch. There was marching band music forever swirling in the air, with floats filled with smiling local celebrities throwing candy to the onlooking kids, and kings and queens with their screw in a light bulb waves riding in shiny convertibles. These were days when most people didn't know what a FAX machine was, when a PC was something as wacky and as far into the future as the OJ Simpson trial. These were days when people didn't wear high fashion designer sunglasses, but rather, on a sunny day they would place their hand to their forehead in a mock salute, creating their own mini-visor. Those who were too lazy to do even that would do the next best thing, they would squint.

It was a gentler time when a boy could be smitten with a girl, creating a wave of creativity never again matched. So smitten was this certain boy, that he was equally as miserable as he was happy. He felt sublimely, infinitely inspired. But as is so often the case in these mini Romeo and Juliet sagas, the romance never quite blossomed the way the boy would have liked. And to add to the confusion, the boy soon also became infatuated with the young lass' sister. So for the one and only time in his young life, the boy now was interested in two members of the same household.

The two sisters were of a different variety. The older was serious, an excellent student with a quiet determination that impressed the boy. She was musical, graceful and possessed all the traits poets throughout the years have written about. The younger was more cynical, spunky and athletic. She teased the boy's sense of humor, chiding his silliness while at the same time encouraging it. The only common connection the boy felt for the two sisters was the inescapable feeling that through all the other faces and souls he encountered on a daily basis, somehow these two knew him without him having to verbalize his thoughts and feelings. There existed a certain fizz between them.

There really isn't much more to the story between the boy and the two sisters. They went their separate ways and the only thing that remained were a few motivated memories of the times, a lingering feeling of remembering how he once used to feel, plus an occasional news clipping about the younger sister who sort of established herself as a competitor on the women's professional golf circuit.

There were many, many years in between, but meanwhile, the boy found another who somehow ties into the mixture of the fizz. Her encouragement and humor take him back while at the same time pushing him gently ahead to accomplish all that is left to accomplish. Like the two sisters, she speaks his language, and best of all, understands it. After a shared golfing outing last week, he as always, thanked his lucky stars for her continuing friendship. Together they moved forward striving for a common goal. At times one of them would land in a trap, in the wilderness, but somehow they always managed to find their way back on to the course. The flags might have marked a final destination, but there was still much, much more ahead. Inspired, infinitely inspired.

Monday, September 11, 1995

Bye Bye Now Amy

This past week history was made. The record for the most consecutive baseball games played by one player, two thousand one hundred and thirty, held by Lou Gehrig, was surpassed by Baltimore Oriole shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. For the longest time while Ripken was pursuing the record I for one, remained unimpressed. What's so damned impressive about just doing your job by showing up everyday? Why should that be recognized? But the more you think about it, the more impressive Ripken's streak is. For the past thirteen years, day in and day out, he has done his job in a quietly effective way. Most of us would do well to accomplish the same.

The reverence toward its own past is one of the reasons baseball remains our national pastime. Certainly there have been flashier records broken over the years: Hank Aaron blowing by Babe Ruth's career home run record; Roger Maris beating Ruth's single season home run record; Pete Rose steady pursuit of Ty Cobb's hits record; and Rickey Henderson overcoming Lou Brock's single season and Cobb's career stolen base record; these are all records of outstanding skill and ability. Ripken's consecutive game record is one more built on determination and endurance than sheer talent. Yet to play every game for thirteen years means you have to be good enough for the team to want you out there. Ripken is a steady fielder who yields a better than average bat for a shortstop. He is a consistent player, one who may not impress with flashy plays, but one who also never hurts his team with untimely mistakes.

Thirteen years ago, I was the original wiener boy, fumbling my way through high school. All these years later the one thing I have retained is my wienerability, but most everything else has changed. To think that there has been an athlete who every summer has gone out day after day, night after night, and has played one of the most difficult positions, and played it damn well, is admirable. Steadiness, longevity and dependability are traits all too rare in any field these days.

Thirteen years. Wow. For me the only comparable streak during that time was I didn't miss an episode of Late Night with David Letterman for the show's first six seasons. That's an impressive amount of TV watching if I do say so myself. And because of that streak, an inner growth occurred. Back in 1982, one of Dave's shows featured two guests- Bob Dylan and Liberace. I had just bought my first Dylan LP, Infidels, and was lukewarm toward the artist. His appearance on Late Night didn't really change any of that. It was a unique performance to say the least. Letterman allowed Dylan to play three songs (an unprecedented amount of the show's time); Dylan agreed to appear as long as he didn't have to talk to Dave.

Thus with a certain irony, the first song performed was a cover of Sonny Boy Williamson's Don't Start Me Talkin. The backing band, comprised of members from the group the Cruzados, tried its darndest to keep up with Dylan's lead. It was a ragged performance and I remember thinking at the time, "Who is this guy, and why is Dave fawning like a gap toothed idiot?" The next song, License to Kill was unrecognizable from the version on Infidels. Since this was my favorite song on the LP, I was a bit taken back. The last song, Jokerman again was very different than the version I had heard. To top it off, while the band was still playing, Dylan swaggered out of the camera's sight as the band repeated a riff over and over, grabbed a harmonica which was not in the right key, wandered off camera again, only to reappear with another harmonica to close out the song in a stumbling chaotic way. I couldn't wait until Liberace reestablished some calm to the show. Had it not been Dave, I probably would have turned off the set.

Thirteen years later, as I re-watch Dylan's appearance, I have a much different reaction. The strength of Letterman's show was the ability of Dave to come up with bits that broke through the usual TV frames. No other musical guest has done the same thing as electrically as Dylan did on that 1982 night. His singing is mesmerizing. His guitar playing and the screeching harmonica, counters with the rest of the band who is just trying its best to keep up and not let the whole thing fall apart. As he often does, he is playing on the edge, taking us all to that unknown place. The fire in Dylan's eyes, his awkward stage presence, it all makes for hypnotizing TV viewing.

Yes indeed thirteen years is a long time, an eternity in many ways. As Ripken rolls on, and continues his amazing quest and durability, it brings comfort to know that among all the incredible changes that time brings, there are still things out there that never let you down, that never leave, that you can always count on, and yet you can still look at things differently and appreciate something today that you might have overlooked yesterday.

Monday, September 4, 1995

Love and Mercy

The difference between the old images of a young Brian contrasting with the current version of what's left of the man is stunning. The effects of the breakdown, the years of drug abuse and the depression of professional and personal heartaches, show a man who has a hard time with his speaking, with his motor movements and whose thought patterns seem a bit scattered. Yet when listening to new versions of some of Brian's better songs, seeing the therapy and meaning of music to the man, and the musicianship that obviously still exists, one senses there is still something great underneath the shell that remains.

The one hour length of the documentary prevents any in-depth look at any specific period in the story of Brian's life. We learn of the Beach Boys rapid rise to stardom, of Brian's troubles with his oppressive and competitive father, and his own private obsession with musical perfectionism and the need to recreate for the world the complex sounds that rang in his head. Perhaps the most interesting part of the story is Brian's breakdown following his artistic differences with the rest of the Beach Boys and the thundering failure at the apex of his creativity, the legendary Smile.

Was' direction at times, also gets in the way. His decision to film the documentary in black and white and the off framing of some of the interviews comes across as distracting and pretentious. The musical re-recordings of some of Brian's most moving songs, are frustratingly shown in short clips. It's great to see Brian sing some of his old songs, particularly a stunning Caroline No, yet disappointing that none of the songs are shown in their entirety, and are marred by the quick cut style of an MTV video. Parts of Brian's life are glazed over in all too obvious ways. When talking about Brian's troubling relationship in the 1980's with his psychiatrist for some reason the decision is made not to identify Eugene Landy by name. Thus we hear people speak of "the guy" who dominated Brian's contact with the others in his life. Besides Carl, none of the other Beach Boys are interviewed. Brian's daughters, Carnie and Wendy are interviewed for an all too short period of time at the very end of the documentary. Indeed, one of the most uplifting parts of the documentary is when Carnie and Wendy back Brian on a rousing version of Do It Again.

A comparable problem is found in another current documentary about an artist of our times, Crumb. Both documentaries use intellectual analysts to describe the importance of non-conventional artists' work. This analysis is condescending and silly. We don't need the cultural elite trying to justify the relevance of Brian's or Crumb's art. We can judge for ourselves the tortured genius of both men's work. Great art speaks for itself. If there is one thing I Just Wasn't Made For These Times makes clear, it is that Brian's music comes from some deep place within all of us that transcends pain and time.