100 Games to Go

June 15, 2015

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Jaime Garcia

As the Cardinals take the field this evening at home against the Twins, they have the best record in major league baseball, 41-21, 20 games over .500 while barely more than a third of the way through the season. This despite losing their ace, Adam Wainwright, nearly two months ago. Lance Lynn, another starting pitcher, is likewise out, although his injury is far less serious. Expect him back in a couple of weeks. Two of the team’s three Matts, Adams and Holliday, who’re supposed to provide the power, are also on the DL. Jason Heyward, who was supposed to add some noise to the lineup, is hitting all of .255, but his fielding has certainly improved the Redbirds’ outfield. So how are they posting this kind of record.

They’re not scoring boatloads of runs; they’re 20th in the majors in runs scored per game. They’re not doing it with speed; in fact, don’t get me started on how they have been running themselves out of innings, this player or that seemingly thinking he’s Lou Brock. The defense has been satisfactory, but not outstanding: Kolten Wong, a pleasant surprise at the plate, has already committed 9 errors. He committed 12 all last season.

They’re largely doing it with pitching. The Cardinals have the major leagues’ lowest overall ERA (2.65), the best rotation ERA (3.00), the second-most quality starts (39), and the second-best bullpen ERA (1.93.) They have limited opponents to two earned runs or fewer in 36 of their 62 games so far. That’s darned impressive. Can they keep it up? If they want to play in October, they have to.

First, Jaime Garcia, a moody young man coming off major surgery to post a 2.09 ERA and routinely baffle hitters. If he’d gotten better run support so far this year, we’d be talking All-Star team. He’s 2-3, but all three of those losses were shutouts by the opposing pitcher(s), and in only one of them did he give up more than 2 runs.

Michael Wacha is nearly the same young fellow who thrilled us two years ago, seemingly flirting with a no-hitter every time he took the mound. He’s 8-2 with a 2.45 ERA and 57 Ks.

Carlos Martinez has shaken off getting lit up twice in a row back in May and is now 7-2 with 79 strikeouts and will be looking for his sixth win in a row then next time he takes the mound.

This impressive performance has to be, in part, perhaps large part, credited to the best catcher in the game, Yadier Molina, who, while his offense has dropped off, remains superb at handling his staff and calling a game.

And we should not overlook manager Mike Matheny (a former catcher), who, in three years, has taken this team to one Series appearance and to within one win of the Series the other two years.

I would like to see more offense. I would like to see some semblance of an intelligent running game. I would like to see the defense even more solid. But right now, 41-21? I’m good here.

Later,


The Magna Carta Turns 800

June 15, 2015

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We learned in school the Magna Carta was an enormously important document, one of the foundations of our Constitution. Okay, so the truth is a bit less dramatic, as Uri Freidman explains in The Atlantic, but there is still a connection. Heck, the Constitution had a few flaws, as well, such not giving women the right to vote, acknowledging slavery, etc.

Law professor Tom Ginsburg writes in the writes in the New York Times that we should “[s]top revering Magna Carta” and that “the myth of Magna Carta seems to matter more than the reality.”

That comment got me thinking. Yeah? So? Is this the first time myth has overcome fact to establish itself in a culture or a government? Consider all the myths surrounding America’s founding and traditions. It wasn’t a ragtag bunch of farmers (okay, some of them were hung over) that surprised the Brits at Lexington and Concord, but a “well-regulated militia,” and it eventually took a real army, with a big helping hand from the French, to bring the Redcoats to heel. The West wasn’t “won;” it was conquered by first wiping out the natives and then becoming layered over with the mechanisms of Western European civilization. And so on and so forth. I remember in college reading “Myth and the American Experience” and pondering the power that so many of those things so many of us were taught to believe had over our lives despite the fact they were bunk.

The point is – and I have to give this further thought sometime – we believe what we want to believe, usually what we’ve been trained to believe. From there, the value or the burden of our myths resides in what we do with those beliefs.

Later,


1970 Was a Great Year for the Dead

June 14, 2015

June 14 – the band releases Workingman’s Dead .

With “Workingman’s Dead,” the band changed course from the psychedelia of “Aoxomoxoa” and “Anthem to the Sun,” their two previous studio releases. “Workingman’s Dead” plowed a deep furrow of Americana, including country, folk, Tin Pan Alley, and bluegrass. My favorite track is the opening song, “Uncle John’s Band.” Whenever I hear the opening chords, my heart lifts; the sone makes me feel hope will overcome despair. Remember, this was 1970, a tough year.

Four and a half months later, the band would release what is probably their most-beloved studio work in “American Beauty,” .

“American Beauty” includes “Sugar Magnolia,” “Friend of the Devil,” and the Dead’s all-time crowd-pleaser, “Truckin'” among others. Following “Workingman’s Dead,” it adds additional layers of introspection but is, overall, more upbeat.

Spend time with these two albums, and things will never be the same.

Later,


God Bless B.B. King

May 16, 2015

Smilin-BB-King

A great talent and a great human being moved on to somewhere else this past Thursday. We knew this day would come eventually, yet B.B. King’s passing nonetheless leaves a huge hole in our hearts.

You could pick out dozens, hundreds, perhaps even thousands of memorable performances (the man toured almost constantly, playing more than 300 dates a year into his 80s), and I wouldn’t even try to pick out The One. I first heard his music when I bought his 1970 album, “Indianola, Mississippi Seeds,” his 18th studio album, and even today, all I need to do is hear that aching piano (that’s him playing) that opens the album with “Nobody Loves Me But My Mother,” or the swelling strings swinging into “Ain’t Gonna Worry My Life Anymore” and I can feel my spirit lift.

His playing could be fiery or sweet or bone-chillingly sad, and it was unfailingly brilliant. You could hear songs like his signature tune “How Blue Can You Get” over and over and they would never sound like he was going through the motions.

I only heard him live a couple of times, but I did get the chance to interview him for my radio program back in 1981 when he came to Burlington, Vt. He played the Flynn theater, and we talked a little before the show. He was every inch a gentleman and quite funny. Later, he led us around the corner to Hunt’s, the legendary Burlington music club, where he walked in around midnight and took the stage next to Big Joe Burrell, who had been one of his sidemen. What a night.

There are touching eulogies all over. Here are a few:

From Bonnie Raitt – http://www.rollingstone.com/music/features/bonnie-raitt-on-b-b-king-he-was-a-god-20150516

NPR – http://www.npr.org/sections/therecord/2015/05/15/406969376/b-b-king-and-the-majesty-of-the-blues

Rolling Stone – http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/b-b-king-blues-legend-dead-at-89-20150515

NY Times – http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/16/arts/music/b-b-king-blues-singer-dies-at-89.html?_r=0

And an interview on PBS:

http://www.pbs.org/americanrootsmusic/pbs_arm_oralh_bbking.html

For myself, I will just recommend listening to the album he thought was his most significant artistic achievement:

Love, Peace, and Deepest Thanks for all you gave us, Mr. King.

Later,


Listening to the Grateful Dead, and to America

May 5, 2015

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50 years ago today, the Warlocks, later to become the Grateful Dead, play their first gig together at Magoo’s Pizza Parlor, 639 Santa Cruz Avenue, Menlo Park.

Much has been written about this band, and know up front I’m a Deadhead (how would I know about today if I wasn’t, right?). It’s fashionable to look askance or even down on the Dead and the entire hippie ethos as a bunch of woozy stoners, but that’s far off the mark. The Dead were serious and careful about their art, but they also had that spark-of-genius spontenaity that drove some of their best performances. This is a band that, while tight with one another, would come onstage in their early years without a set list. They’d start to play and follow the moment, and their musicianship (okay, they couldn’t sing all that well, but most rock bands wouldn’t have cut it at La Scala, either) would carry them along.

More importantly, if you actually listened, you realized you were listening to America. The Dead’s music melded blues, jazz, Tin Pan Alley, bluegrass, country, and rock ‘n’ roll into a sound that is unmistakeable. They also had the kind of optimistic, try-anything energy that, wrapped around around the music itself produced the stuff of legends, Walt Whitman with electric guitars.

Sometimes, they’d miss the mark. Every band has off nights. But when they were on, as they were far more often than not, they were incandescent, transcendent. Moreover, that feeling didn’t stay onstage; it poured over and through the audience.

I remember seeing them live in Maine in 1980, and just before they came onstage, some guys were pushing and shoving to get to the front, and two of them looked like they were about to come to blows. A young woman just in front of them turned and smiled and said, “hey, this is a Grateful Dead concert.” The two guys looked at each other and kinda went, “yeah, she’s right,” and that was the end of it.

As for looking down on hippies, well, despite all the stumbling and wrong turns, I’ll take that vision over a whole lot else I’ve come across these 60+ years. If we didn’t completely succeed, perhaps that’s because we were outnumbered by people who didn’t want to try to get past where they were. But the vision keeps popping up, sometimes when we need it most, as with the whole Occupy movement, that ragtag gaggle that got the world talking about economic inequality. It’s always too soon to give up hope, and that’s what it was about in the first place.

Thanks, Dead, for everything. The road goes ever on . . .

Later,


April 19, 1943 . . . Albert Hofman Rides Home on His Bike

April 19, 2015

On this day, Albert Hofman has humanity’s first intentional LSD experience. Three days previously, he had accidentally ingested some and reported:

“[A]ffected by a remarkable restlessness, combined with a slight dizziness. At home I lay down and sank into a not unpleasant intoxicated[-]like condition, characterized by an extremely stimulated imagination. In a dreamlike state, with eyes closed (I found the daylight to be unpleasantly glaring), I perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors. After some two hours this condition faded away.”

On the 19th, he swallowed 250 micrograms, which would become considered the classic dose, and began to feel the effects while riding home on his bike.

On his 100th birthday, Hofman, reminiscing, said:

“It gave me an inner joy, an open mindedness, a gratefulness, open eyes and an internal sensitivity for the miracles of creation. […] I think that in human evolution it has never been as necessary to have this substance LSD. It is just a tool to turn us into what we are supposed to be.”

Imagine what the ride might have been like, with no real reference for what was happening to him. A team of animators did: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HBOPFWmZCdM

Later,


The First Three Bass Notes Hooked Me on Reggae for Life

April 11, 2015

“Lively Up Yourself” – Bob Marley and the Wailers.

Later,


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