Archive for April 2011
I have little reservation in thinking what happened was an omen, especially given the fact that the supernatural has unfolded at 1 Brewers Way before, and Houston has figured prominently in what unfolded–in 2008, they played there as the home team against the Cubs and were no-hit by Carlos Zambrano. What happened a few days ago is every bit as unusual. During the third inning, a Cooper’s hawk flew under the retractable dome, snared an unlucky pigeon, and then camped in the outfield. It’s a good thing the accipiter picked Miller Park for his adventure; had he tried that at Wrigley Field, three ushers would have rushed to check his ticket.
Though maybe not so much in baseball, birds of prey are of great significance in Greek mythology. The Odyssey alone is ripe with bird references and imagery. Early in the story, Telemachus tries to protect his home and family as he argues with Antinous over the fate of his father, Odysseus, and the disposition of his mother. He knows he must protect his estate, wait for his father to return, and not surrender his mother to the whims of the suitors. As he speaks, two eagles appear from the heavens and stare death at the suitors before tearing into each other. It is a warning about the fury the gods will unleash if Telemachus relents and the suitors continue spoiling what is left of Odysseus’ legacy. Unfortunately for the suitors, they shook off the sign.
Later in the story, an eagle with a great white goose in its talons lands on Telemachus’ right hand. It is taken as a sign that his father will return and wreak havoc on the suitors. Not long after that, Telemachus prepares to sail back to his home in the company of Theoclymanus, a sympathizer in his conflict with the suitors. As they speak, an event eerily similar to what happened in the third inning last Sunday unfolds:
“As he was speaking a bird flew by upon his right hand- a hawk, Apollo’s messenger. It held a dove in its talons, and the feathers, as it tore them off, fell to the ground…”
Telemachus is then told,
“…that bird did not fly on your right hand without having been sent there by some god. As soon as I saw it I knew it was an omen; it means that you will remain powerful and that there will be no house in Ithaca more royal than your own.”
Given these events , how could the Cooper’s hawk not be taken as a sign? It wouldn’t be the first time an animal superstition has influenced baseball history–the Cubs have lived under the pall of two animal curses, and the Anaheim Angels rode the positive vibes from the rally monkey to the 2002 World Series championship. Maybe this means that the Brewers are fated by the gods to slip championship rings on their fingers in late October this year.
(I recently told a writer friend that I’m frustrated with my writing of late and can’t seem to finish anything. I was lamenting this last week when “December, 1963” came on the radio. I thought about what The Onion writers could do with the song, and decided to see what fun I could have with some parody. I took inspiration from one of my favorite Onion pieces, Jamie Crying. ~ Jeff)
Sound Engineer: “Frankie Valli wouldn’t shut up about having sex.”
A long-time Curb Records sound engineer spoke recently about a recording studio incident with famed singer Frankie Valli and his backup vocalists The Four Seasons. The episode dates to November, 1975 when the vocalists were between takes while recording the Who Loves You album. The engineer recalled, “Valli starts in with this dirty story about some broad he bagged in December, 1963.”
“I have to give him credit,” he continued. “He described her as hypnotizing and mesmerizing, which is kind of normal. Once he got into feeling a rush like a rolling bolt of thunder, and how she strained his head around and took his body under, we were all like, ‘Wow, man!’ But then he screeches ‘Oh what a night!’ fifty times. Why’s he got to hammer the point home like that? We get it. Let it go. We had work to do. But no, we had to wait for Mr. Big Shot to finish his story.”
When asked how he managed to mix the mega-hit, the engineer elaborated. “The tape was running while Valli was yakking. We had a guy on a Minimoog synthesizer, and after a minute and a half, he started playing around with some subtextual background sounds while Valli was going on about all the salty details. Pretty soon, the guitarist was using his wah pedal to make some porn riffs. That’s why you hear the ‘bow-chica-bow-bow.’ I looked over at the drummer, and he was rolling his eyes waiting for Valli to get over himself. He started tapping his sticks, and that’s where the chorus came from, the ‘doo dit doo dit dit doo dit doo dit dit.’ We were supposed to have some disco soul sound, so we mixed some horns in there, too. It was pretty simple stuff.”
A source close to Valli said there has been no end to the embarrassment caused by the singers’ description of the encounter and the attention it has garnered over the last 35 years. That attention has included three weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 in 1976, a 1994 remix that spent 27 weeks in the Hot 100, and a continual cycle of retellings every time the musical Jersey Boys has been performed on Broadway, during its North American National Tour, and in Canada, England, and Australia over the past six years. “Frankie values his privacy,” the source claimed. “Here he’s sitting on top of the pop charts, and this woman brings a paternity suit against him, saying he’s the father of her twelve-year old son. He was completely embarrassed.” The source went on, “Frankie knew he was never gonna be the same, which was foreshadowed in the song.” When reached for comment, the paternity suit plaintiff explained that it took some time to pin the charges on Valli because at the time of the encounter he didn’t even know her name. The jilted woman also noted the length of the song, claiming that 3 1/2 minutes was a lot longer than the illicit tryst lasted. She then made several smug references to Valli’s falsetto proclamation, ‘I recall it ended much too soon,’ which occurs, ironically, only a minute into the track.
I’ve run 5Ks at Independence Grove Forest Preserve the last two Saturdays. I’ve run there so many times that it may as well be my home course, and my familiarity with the paths has paid off with a pair of excellent finishes that have left me very satisfied. I’ve benefitted greatly, too, from The Comely Lass braving the weather to support my efforts.
The course yesterday included a short wooded stretch on the south side of the preserve. As I approached and ran through it, I recalled a cool fall day a few years ago when I had run through that same stretch. The leaves were turning, and I remember how stunned I was by the vibrant clusters of gold and red I saw as I trekked along the north side of the running path and looked across the entire stretch of the nature preserve and beyond. When I ran through the short wooded stretch that day, it looked like a tunnel masoned with gold bricks. The effect inspired a poem:
After Running at Independence Grove, October 23, 2006
Look again at the oak and maple archway over
the path on which you ran–a sunny canal
through which you burst reborn.
Look again at the leafy façade–gold bricks
mortared to that arcade.
Look again. It will have been deconstructed
by the elements upon your return on the
eve of winter, and you will that much
closer to the same fate. (end)
I remember submitting it as part of a portfolio I compiled for a poetry class I took a few months after the inspirational episode, but otherwise had forgotten about it until yesterday morning. I got to digging for it a few hours ago and finally pulled it out of the back of my filecabinet. My poetry professor noted that different line breaks would release the energy in the first sentence, which he thought was the best-written part of the poem. It would have looked like this:
Look again at the
oak and maple arch-
way over the path
on which you ran–a
sunny canal though
which you burst reborn.
I never went back to work on the piece, nor had I intended to. The practice of writing it was enough at that time, and registering the prof’s notes as part of my poetry toolbox has paid off –the same way my practice with the trails at Independence Grove has.
The aforementioned comely lass accompanied me to Miller Park, and we watched the Brewers put an old-school, by-the-book beating on the Cubs. As much as I love the Northsiders, I was glad to see the Brewers not only win, but do it by getting guys on base, bunting them over, smacking doubles (four on the night, plus a rare triple to right-center field), stealing bases, and whiffing the Cubbies nine times. It was a perfect example of the way The Crew needs to play if they are going to make the playoffs. I also found a new favorite player: Nyjer Morgan. Despite striking out twice, the speedy little guy went 1-3, got an RBI on a walk, scored 2 runs, laid down a sacrifice bunt in the first inning, made a wall-crashing catch in center field, and parlayed a triple out of what would have been a double to 97% of the rest of the league. I loves me some of that.
But not all is well in baseball land. I was disheartened at the sight of the Brewers new scoreboard. The 5,940 square foot behemoth (105′ x 168′) has almost 2.4 million pixels and cost upwards of $12 million (that’s about $5 per pixel!). Sure it’s a jaw-dropping experience to be able count the whiskers on Prince Fielder’s face, but to serve what purpose? It only adds to the glitz and spectacle that distracts from the game. A few years ago they installed an LCD ring beneath the upper deck that stretches along the foul lines from right field to left field and that sometimes runs game stats when it isn’t blinding you with flashing advertisements. The gigantic new scoreboard is even more of a distraction. Pretty soon, the Brewers won’t even need lights for a night game. There’s nothing wrong with a servicable scoreboard, or even no scoreboard. Wrigley and Fenway have made do for decades with no such thing to distract fans and draw attention away from the field.
Most Brewer fans are glad to have the thing, though. One guy sitting behind me last night quipped that unlike Prince Fielder, the Brewers will still have that scoreboard for the next ten years. To me, the monstrosity is too large, too garish, and too loud– all of which are negative stereotypes already associated with Wisconsin. I’ll forgive this, though, if the Brewers use the scoreboard and all it’s abilities to screen a film worthy of such a piece of technology: Lawrence of Arabia. I’ll even settle for The Searchers or The Bridge on the River Kwai.
Elsewhere, the MLBTV package as delivered via my Roku box leaves a few things to be desired. Here I thought I’d be in Baseball Heaven, but I’ve had to settle for a lesser degree of bliss. You should be able to toggle back and forth between games, but you can’t. You should be able to tune in at 7PM for a game that starts at 7:10PM and get some pregame talk, but you can’t. It shouldn’t be cutting out and buffering when my Roku box is connected to my wifi antenna with an ethernet cable, but it does. You should get highlights and game recaps on the TV, but you don’t. Still, I’ve watched tons of highlights and several games on my iPhone and laptop, so that’s a good thing. And it’s still baseball.
Self-awareness is an interesting concept. In the worlds of science fiction, it mostly refers to computer systems that think for themselves. It’s a common element of futuristic literature, and is the basis for some of the hallmarks of the genre. The Terminator series, The Matrix trilogy, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and I, Robot among many others all revolve around the idea of a computer or robot gaining and acting upon free will. It frequently ends badly, too, with mankind being threatened or destroyed.
It’s all speculative, of course, and fun to think about. Until it happens in your own living room, like it did to me.
This all started two months ago when I purchased a Roku box. Subsequently, I’ve been streaming hours of Pandora Internet Radio through my TV. I have three stations that I play most of the time: Madness Radio (to support my newfound love of Ska), The Smiths Radio (to respect my 80’s alternative roots), and The Who Radio (because they are the greatest band in the history of music). The combination pretty much covers 75% of the music I love, and each represents an entirely different type of sound. Or so I thought.
I was jamming to The Who Radio a month ago, enjoying the riffs from Who Are You? and Athena, when out of nowhere Pandora threw in The Skatalites. I was baffled. I checked the station to be certain, and sure enough it was The Who Radio. I got to thinking about a through-line from The Who to The Skatalites, and all I could come up with was a sketchy connection from The Who to The Clash. The Who was a huge influence on punk rock, and The Clash’s diverse brand of punk was a cornerstone of 80’s alternative. They experimented with various sounds, though–they weren’t pure punk like The Ramones and The Sex Pistols; as such I think I can hear some similarities to UB40, who were Reggae. Reggae and Ska are in the same neighborhood.
Whatever the connection, it’s pretty sketchy at best. I ain’t no musicologist. What is undeniable, though, is that Pandora is thinking ahead of me, figuring out stuff way before I can get my head around it. Last month’s episode wasn’t an isolated one, either. Two weeks later, a ska tune came across my Smiths station. It was creepy, and I think I have cause for concern given that my TV, laptop, and iPhone all communicate with each other. Together the unholy triumvirate could make some bad shit happen. It looks like they’ve already started.
I’m a bit nervous even writing this on my laptop. Maybe it’s time to dig a fallout shelter.