Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Baseball Ditties?

OK, as we established a while back, I love baseball—don’t write about it much in this space because Robert Frost’s Banjo is emphatically not a sports blog, & I suspect at least some of the readers I know about would get bored of baseball talk pretty quickly.

Which is cool with me, because it’s not something I feel like writing about a lot. However, I do get the hankering occasio
nally, & I thought of a spin that might be interesting to folks.

What actually got me started on this train of thought was thinking about the wonderful jazz composer & musician Dave Frishberg, a personal favorite. He’s written the absolutely best baseball song of all time: “Van Lingle Mungo,” which is not to be missed. He also wrote a song about his favorite team—the Los Angeles Dogers—which happens to be my most despised team as a dyed-in-the-wool, Croix de Candlestick wearing San Francisco Giants fan. Still—& this says a lot for Frishberg—I’ve got to admit that his “Los Angeles Dodgers Blue” is a really good song.

So since (tragically) the Dodgers are in the playoffs this year, it got me thinking if there were good songs that could be connected to all eight playoff teams. I know a lot of teams have some sort of “official song,” but sad to say, the
se seem pretty dopey & insipid, as do the majority of songs not written by Dave Frishberg that are about baseball (Jonathan Richman does have the song “Walter Johnson,” which is great).
So I decided I’d try to compile a list with the following two rules: the song had to be directly connected to the city or state in which the team is located, & it had to be a song I know & like. I came up with the following list:

· Boston Red Sox: Jonathan Richman’s “New England” (OK, I know I said “city or state,” but if any team is a regional team it’s the Sox—I know this because I came from New England. If you want a direct reference to Boston, stick with Jo
nathan, but try any of the following: “Government Center,” or “Girlfriend,” or “Roadrunner.” “Girlfriend” is a wonderful song, & even mentions the Fenway.)· LA Dodgers: Dave Frishberg: “Los Angeles Doger Blue”—or what about X: “Painting the Town Blue”? Sad that two such good songs could be associated with the Dodgers….of course, unlike the Frishberg song, the X song thankfully really has nothing to do with the Bums.
· Tampa Bay Rays: Vic Chesnutt’s “Florida”
from his West of Rome album—easily the most lugubrious song on the list, & the only one involving suicide. My folks lived in Florida for close to 20 years in their retirement, & my Dad was a Tampa Bay Rays fan—a thankless task in his lifetime, so I wouldn’t mind seeing them do well in his memory. But to me, Florida is a sad state—a place of breathtaking & singular natural beauty that’s been just about destroyed by development.
· Chicago Cubs: Robert Johnson’s “Sweet Home Chicago.” Not the Blues Bros. version. Anything by Robert Johnson is beyond fantastic; & hey, one of the best results of this Major League post season would be if the Cubs finally won the series after a 100-year drought. For one thing, I assume all the teams who’ve gone longer than the Giants without a championship are gonna have to win one before they do. Also, since they say Robert Johnson sold his soul to become a great bluesman, maybe this could somehow counteract the curse that’s supposedly been on the Cubbies for years; & I once really liked a gal who lived on Clark St., not that far from Wrigley Field.
· Chicago White Sox: Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man.” Chicago’s a lot like Philly—there are so many musician’s associated with Chicago you can kinda get lost trying to pick a song. Obviously, a song about the Southside would be perfect for the White Sox, who do hail from “the baddest part of town,” but I was never very big on Jim Croce. I love the great fusion song “Watermelon Man” by Chicago native Herbie Hancock, however, & the w
atermelon reminds me of summer—which equals baseball, right? The Alice in Wonder Band, in its winding down days was considering this song as a trio with tenor sax, flute & electric bass, & maybe a djembe. Sadly, we never got to perform it. The song is great fun for the bass.
· Philadelphia Phillies: John Coltrane’s “Syeeda's Song Flute.” In some ways, this may be the biggest stretch. Philly has a great musical his
tory, but somehow I just couldn’t connect with any of the possibilities. This is a gorgeous jazz tune, & Coltrane was a Philadelphia resident & a performer in that city as his career was taking off.
· Milwaukee Brewers: The Violent Femmes’ “Blister in the Sun.” It’s hard to find songs about Milwaukee that aren’t beer jingles (am I the only left who remembers Schlitz?—I even liked that stuff). So I picked my favorite Milwaukee rockers, the Violent Femmes—saw them on a great double bill with Fishbone back in the old Charlott
esville days.
· LA Angels: The Mothers of Invention's “Son of Orange County Lumber Truck.” Zappa later did this one as a fusion number—way slowed down—on his live Roxy album in the Seventies. The version I’m referring to was from a 60s Mothers of Invention album called “Weasels Ripped My Flesh.” An odd song on an odd album. As a Giants fan, of course, I still remember losing to these guys in the ‘02 World Series & do NOT like the LA Angels. But don’t get me wrong—I have some really good friends in the SoCal area—just don’t like
the Hell A ball teams.From a music standpoint, I’m sad the Minnesota Twins lost their one game playoff to the White Sox, because I was thinking of, for instance, Tom Waits’ “9th & Hennepin” or The Replacements' “Here Comes a Regular.” Had to pick Waits because I love this “song” (more of a beat poetry recitation with background music) & this song is about Minneapolis. On the other hand, as a huge Replacements fan back in the day, I had to include them as the definitive Minneapolis punkers. I chose their ballad “Here Comes a Regular” rather than one of their rockers because the setting seems so “Minnesota”—all that autumn angst & so forth.

Anyhoo, hope even you non-baseball fans get a kick out of this. I’d be interested if anyone had any ideas—if you do, drop me a line or leave a comment.

Pix from top to bottom:
1909 baseball sheet music
Jonathan Richman
Robert Johnson
John Coltrane
The Mothers of Invention

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