Bob Schwartz

Tag: Rolling Stones

The Year Begins with Baseball

Mom Marlins
The New Year finally begins. It is Opening Day for Major League Baseball.

Non-baseball people are turning away with a lack of interest or understanding. Even non-sports people know that football long ago took over as America’s pastime. The Super Bowl v. the World Series? Who are you kidding? When’s the last time the Rolling Stones performed at a World Series halftime. (Note: There is no halftime in baseball. Just a brief break known as the seventh inning stretch, where we sing Take Me Out to the Ballgame, not a Stones song.)

If baseball has somehow been eclipsed, it may be symptomatic. Whatever it is that has made football more popular than baseball might not be such a good thing. There are tomes by eminent scholars written about this. The time element alone is telling. Those leaning towards short attention spans and busy lives like football because something is always happening and it is time-constrained by a clock. For non-baseball fans, there are long stretches where nothing seems to be going on in a baseball game, except most of the players just standing around. Games can theoretically go on forever, and sometimes they seem to, exceeding five hours. Once again the chorus asks: Who are you kidding?

George Carlin, one of the sharptest and funniest observers of American life, focused on the differences between baseball and football. You can read the complete text and listen to a recording. Here’s an excerpt:

Baseball and football are the two most popular spectator sports in this country. And as such, it seems they ought to be able to tell us something about ourselves and our values.

I enjoy comparing baseball and football:

Baseball is a nineteenth-century pastoral game.
Football is a twentieth-century technological struggle….

Baseball begins in the spring, the season of new life.
Football begins in the fall, when everything’s dying.

In football you wear a helmet.
In baseball you wear a cap….

In football you receive a penalty.
In baseball you make an error.

In football the specialist comes in to kick.
In baseball the specialist comes in to relieve somebody.

Football has hitting, clipping, spearing, piling on, personal fouls, late hitting and unnecessary roughness.
Baseball has the sacrifice….

And finally, the objectives of the two games are completely different:

In football the object is for the quarterback, also known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing this aerial assault with a sustained ground attack that punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy’s defensive line.

In baseball the object is to go home! And to be safe! I hope I’ll be safe at home!

There are dozens of books containing art, poetry and writing about baseball. The other sports may have some, but not of the quantity or the caliber of these. As pointed out before, and it will be pointed out again, for a brief moment in the late 1980s, cut tragically short by illness, A. Bartlett Giamatti was the Commissioner of Major League Baseball. Bart Giamatti was the President of Yale University, a professor of literature, and a writer of note. When and only when the NFL, NBA, NHL, or any other sports league decides to appoint a person of equal credentials as their commissioner, then and only then will it be worth having a conversation about the big picture relative merits.

Bart Giamatti also wrote the quintessential essay about baseball. The Green Fields of the Mind is written not about Opening Day, but about the last day of the season for his beloved Boston Red Sox in 1977. He didn’t live to see that one of baseball’s most hapless teams would go on to become a championship powerhouse years later.

The essay is a poetic take not only on the refrain of baseball fans everywhere—“wait until next year”—but on the way that refrain works in our lives. It reflects the progress from the hopes of spring to the dimming of prospects in the fall, but only in the meantime. There is no justice in an excerpt of it, but here is one anyway:

It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops. Today, October 2, a Sunday of rain and broken branches and leaf-clogged drains and slick streets, it stopped, and summer was gone.…

That is why it breaks my heart, that game–not because in New York they could win because Boston lost; in that, there is a rough justice, and a reminder to the Yankees of how slight and fragile are the circumstances that exalt one group of human beings over another. It breaks my heart because it was meant to, because it was meant to foster in me again the illusion that there was something abiding, some pattern and some impulse that could come together to make a reality that would resist the corrosion; and because, after it had fostered again that most hungered-for illusion, the game was meant to stop, and betray precisely what it promised.

Of course, there are those who learn after the first few times. They grow out of sports. And there are others who were born with the wisdom to know that nothing lasts. These are the truly tough among us, the ones who can live without illusion, or without even the hope of illusion. I am not that grown-up or up-to-date. I am a simpler creature, tied to more primitive patterns and cycles. I need to think something lasts forever, and it might as well be that state of being that is a game; it might as well be that, in a green field, in the sun.

Finally, a rare personal note. Many, many families have memories tied up with sports. I am no exception. Those memories aren’t important because the game is, just as the game isn’t important because of the memories. They are just tied up in a package that you open on occasions. Opening Day is one of them. Above is a photo of my Mom, a few years before she passed away. She is watching a Marlins game. As Bart Giamatti wrote, “there are others who were born with the wisdom to know that nothing lasts.”

That’s another reason we love baseball and are happy it is Opening Day again.

121212 Concert: The Music of Dorian Gray

The QuarrymenThat’s a photo of a very young McCartney and Lennon, not yet the most important musicians in modern history. It’s a picture of promise, holding out the happy hope that from small things, big things one day come.

The 121212 Concert marathon was remarkable in ways related and peripheral to the core cause of Sandy relief. None of these collateral issues—not Kanye West’s leather skirt, not out of control ticket scalpers finding insane concertgoers—compares to the epiphany that rock is not, as it turns out, forever. At least not on stage.

Jethro Tull, at one time Grammy award winners for “Best Heavy Metal Album” (you can look it up), sang: “When you’re too old to rock and roll, but you’re too young to die.”

Chris Martin of Coldplay performed a sweet acoustic set, including a rare appearance by R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe. But Martin’s most interesting non-musical moments were his remarks about the age of performers. First he joked about his being their instead of One Direction because the late hour was past their bedtime. But then he turned to the other end of the life cycle, suggesting that viewers donate in the amount of the age of the performers, which would raise billions.

Rock has always been about three things: how you perform musically, how you perform non-musically (dancing, stage presence), and how you look. Here, with unreserved love for the recorded music and live performances of those mentioned, are some observations about the ”veteran” rockers.

The Rolling Stones are on their 50th anniversary tour. The music sounds pretty good. Charlie Watts, the most stoic drummer ever—maybe the most stoic rock musician ever—just sits there, an older version of his younger self. Keith Richards no longer looks like junkie and instead looks like a grandmother. Mick…is scary. His singing is not what it was, but it isn’t frightening either. But he is skeletal, his face drawn, his hair of questionable ownership, and his moves jerkily frenetic enough to raise fears of his falling down. Listening is still enjoyable, but you may seriously consider closing your eyes.

The Who were better musically than the Stones. They are on tour performing the entire Quadrophenia album live, and their set included instrumentally near-perfect renditions of those songs. Pete Townsend’s guitar windmills were a little slower and less emphatic than they used to be, but we know he can still play. It has been decades, and still no one will ever replace Keith Moon (tied with John Bonham as the all-time greatest drummer). The Who did what Queen and others have done with deceased essential bandmates: showed a video performance integrated into the live show. There was the video of Moon doing his distinctive vocals from Bell Boy, microphone in one hand, sticks working in the other, and at the end, Roger Daltry saluting him from the stage. Roger Daltrey. He can’t get all the notes, but it’s still an inimitable voice. The singing, it turned out, was not the problem. For reasons still (or never) to be fathomed, Daltrey believed that billions in the audience wanted to see his chest—including the stitch-scars from heart surgery—and so he obliged by keeping his shirt open for a couple of hours. It was actually just a few songs, but it seemed much longer.

Billy Joel redeemed the old guys. He has always written great songs suited to his vocal strengths and limitations, and both his playing and singing were so enjoyable and so not embarrassing.

Which brings us back to where we began, with the cute half of Liverpool’s very young Quarrymen. Paul McCartney has had a good number of big public performances in the past months. He dropped in on Bruce Springsteen in Hyde Park. He closed the Olympics. Some of what we heard was just okay, but unlike everybody else in the 121212 Concert, just okay would have been forgiven and enough because…it’s Paul. As it turns out, no apologies are needed. His own set was fun and memorable. But his fronting the one-time-only reunited Nirvana was a big moment. Kurt Cobain was a Beatles fan, and there is no doubt his unique introduction of hooky, clever melody into hard and dark rock and punk was done under their influence. At the end of the one song, Nirvana’s locomotive Dave Grohl looked down from his drum kit at McCartney, beaming, maybe amazed to be there, maybe thinking how much Cobain would have loved this.