Monday, July 25, 2005

Rock 'n' Ichiro

What does a guy do when he hears the news that his celluloid soulmate has married a bad ass biker? He hits the road and heads for Cleveland where baseball meets rock and roll. That's what.

Trying to console myself I remembered last year as I sped past the age of 40 it occurred to me that there have been two life long loves of my life, baseball and rock and roll (although truth be told I was around ten when I fell in love with baseball and it was about a year later when rock and roll rocked my world). The two have been there for me ever since in times of joys or troubles whether it be as a kid listening to the Beatles while watching ex-Twin John Verhoeven serve up another gopher ball or now days when I've been woken up most mornings for the past two years to Lou Reed singing "Stephanie Says" and the first thing I read every summer morning are the box scores to all the baseball games from the previous night.

Of course no one enjoys being psycho analyzed more than I do and perhaps there was some subconscious meaning in my decision last spring to buy a scooter shortly after I heard Sandra Bullock was dating a guy with an impossible to top name (Jesse James) who wears his tattoos like battle scars and who drives one hell of a hog. But even if had I wanted to make one last appeal to Ms. Congeniality's heart I would have been smart enough to know that I couldn't compete with James on his terms. If Sandra's movies have taught me nothing else, they've taught me I have to be myself in order for others to fully appreciate me. (See Hope Floats, Two if By Sea, Practical Magic, or any other Bullock movie)

So with the news of the shotgun wedding I got out of town. Quite frankly I'm not sure I could have married Sandra after I suffered through Ms. Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous. But as if to remind me you really can never out run your troubles, on my flight to Cleveland I was seated in front of the most annoying child ever born. The kid made explosion sound effects nearly the entire flight, kept kicking my seat and asked his dad (who was mostly ignoring the kid's existence) "Does Cleveland have mountains?" "Why is it raining?" I couldn't wait to get off the plane and into a cab of a cabbie who seemed to have an involuntary twitch (or maybe he was just perpetually shrugging).

I settled into my motel room and was comforted a bit that the pink bathroom tile was an exact match with that which came with and remains in my house. Exact same hue. There was also a photograph on the bathroom wall that was beguiling. Could be a flower, could be a mutant plant, could be a butterfly it was hard to tell and my imaginary friend was just as perplexed and intrigued as I was. For breakfast I ordered corned beef hash and eggs. The gay waiter came back a little later and said they were out of hash but that the cook was chopping up potatoes and corned beef. The homemade mixture was quite tasty.

I headed for the ball park the first chance I got which was two nights after I arrived in town. Jacobs Field is designed the way every baseball stadium should be built. The atmosphere is festive, the sight lines flawless and the venue is a living testament to the notion that baseball is meant to be played outdoors on a warm summer night rather than in a sterile football studio. There were a few things that I wasn't used to in attending the hundred or so games I've gone to in the Metrodome over the years. First was I had ballpark sushi for dinner. It was tasty and it didn't kill me. The biggest challenge was getting the bland wasabi out of a ketchup packet. Next the first batter of the game, Kansas City's David DeJesus, lofted the second pitch of the game right toward my right field bleacher seat. The home run ball hit the back of the outfield wall, bounced up right to a horizontally large fellow two seats in front of me. That ball had my name written all over it. Finally, this strange water started falling from the sky and they had to call the game as the field crew got a tarp on the infield just before the skies really let loose.

The next morning I picked up a copy of the Cleveland Plain Dealer and turned to the sports section. There it was, a photograph of the home run ball and if you looked really closely behind the large fellow who ended up with the ball you can see my arm and green T-shirt. A couple of days in town and I already was in the news.

My time at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was only cut short by my own time constraints. I ended up spending over four hours there and I could have spent many more. The outside of the building is impressive, steel and glass and shaped like a pyramid. The inside though is even more impressive. I entered thinking I'd get a standard version of rock history interspersed with famous mementos. That's what I got but by the time I saw the purple jacket Prince wore in Purple Rain, the smashed bass guitar of the Clash's Paul Simonen, Madonna's bustier, Roy Orbison's little red Corvette, John Lennon's childhood newsletter (with his wickedly funny prose), a series of Bob Dylan concert posters (a concert in 1965 cost $2.50), a full Devo uniform, a Breeders' setlist scrawled in Kim Deal's handwriting, an outfit worn by Rick Allen, Def Leppard's one armed drummer (made me miss my three legged cat Thompson), the recording console used by both Jimi Hendrix and Barry Manilow, Neil Young's handwritten lyrics for "Heart of Gold," and oh so much more I couldn't remove the goofy grin that was plastered on my face. There are a lot of things in life you figure you'll never have the chance to see. I saw many that are on my own personal list at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. All of it was a fine reminder that the closest I'll ever get to being an authentic rocker is imitating the constantly back and forth moving of Atlanta Braves pitching coach, Leo Mazzone.

After wandering around the exhibits (with this seldom seen goofy grin mind you) I must say I was parched. Thus on my way back to the motel I stopped for a beverage. I stopped in the House of Blues. Looking at some literature at the bar I noticed that Shelby Lynne was playing there that evening. The bartender was asked how much tickets for the show were. She said she might have a free ticket, wandered down to the end of the bar and re-emerged with that ticket in hand. Turned out she had been given comps and couldn't make the show. Cool.

The venue itself was great- sorta First Ave like with its elevated stage hidden by a big movie screen and the majority of the watching spots being of the standing variety in between the stage and the soundboard. There were a bar stools and tables off to either side.

I had bought the opening act, Raul Midon's CD just before I had left town. The New Mexican singer/songwriter is nothing if not dexterous and creative on his guitar. He's a virtual one man band using the instrument both melodically and rhythmically. His fingers are lightening quick and he even does this thing with his voice that sounds like he's being accompanied by a trumpet. When I first heard him I was reminded of Stevie Wonder and it was only later I found out Midon too is blind.

Shelby Lynne hit the stage around 9:45. She's a petite thing with a flock of blonde hair that kept falling over her eyes. Her band provided a simple, sometimes sparse backing with a slide guitarist, a bass player and a drummer. Yet they kept up with Lynne who mixed several different genres, from country to blues, from jazz to harder rock, from gospel to swing, seamlessly.

An early highlight of the night was the third song, "Where Am I Now?" from her new CD Suit Yourself. The song happens to be the best new song I've heard this year, a quiet, contemplative lament that Lynne sang with eyes closed and so much conviction that it was a transcendent moment despite the piercing yammering of a woman at the bar fifty feet away. "I'm looking for a house where the door is open/My body's moving fast but my spirit's broken/Where am I now?"

Another early highlight was the jazzy "Telephone" perhaps my favorite Shelby Lynne song although she kinda ruined it for me by saying she wrote it when she was very drunk and just needed to call someone. One gets the impression that Lynne, who if you haven't heard witnessed her father kill her mother and then himself right in front of her eyes, can party hard. Her hardened looks and husky voice suggest that she's just getting started when the rest of us are finishing up our last whiskey.

There was a great cover of the Rolling Stones "Dead Flowers" and the ol' time boogie woogie sing along "10 Rocks" was quite fun as Lynne belted out the dark lyrics that were cheerfully answered by her band. "When sleep won't come and eyes won't shut out the light (oh the darkness, oh the darkness)/When you ache for slumber and your eyes won't close out the light (oh you're lost your way)." Likewise she sang the chorus of "If I Were Smart" "If I were smart/I wouldn't have a heart" with such intensity it was heartbreaking. After a swig on the Pabst Blue Ribbon she had grabbed from a fan in the front row Shelby and her band closed the show with a blow the roof off the joint version of "Gotta Be Better." By the end of the night I was in love again. I love those artists who have the ability (and courage) to shred their soul, offer it up in their work and on lay it bare right there on stage. I left the House of Blues reinvigorated and quite over my loss of Ms. Bullock. I bet Shelby Lynne can ride a motorcycle better anyway. She ain't no actress. She's the real deal.

Thursday night was one of splurging after the frugality of much of the rest of the week. Found myself at one of them fancy restaurants with a sign on the door about wearing the "proper attire" which I guess in my case was a baseball cap, T-shirt, and dress slacks. I had the best walleye of my life, tempura style with a light wasabi oil added. It looked like something Iron Chef Sakai might have come up with. I had lavender ice cream that tasted just like lavender should taste if lavender should taste like anything at all.

The last night in town was spent back at Jacobs Field. I met a young couple from Columbus, Chris and Nikki. They told me all they knew about Minnesota was Jesse Ventura used to be the governor, and that it is where Prince is from. They complimented me that I didn't have a Minnesota accent. The game was good. The Indians led most of the way until the eighth when Ichiro Suzuki hit a two run home run giving his Mariners the lead. Seattle brought in its closer, Eddie Guardado, and just like he used to do here Eddie made things exciting just before he got out of trouble. Could be I was the only one in the stadium chanting (underneath my breath), "Eddie, Eddie..."

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