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June 23, 2011

Put me in, coach! Baseball dreams from centerfield

FIrst base coach Babe Ruth sings with Brooklyn Dodger outfielders Tuck Stainback, Buddy Hasset and Kiki Cuyler during the '38 season.

When was the last time you saw the video that accompanies John Fogerty's 1985 hit, "Centerfield"? This is one of those songs that makes me indescribably happy (but I'll try). Baseball in its modern incarnation leaves me relatively unmoved, as do most professional sports. With rosters changing constantly, fans with an emotional attachment to a team are rooting for the uniform or the corporations that own them, not the players.

I was a kid during the last gasp of the days when the same guys played for a team year after year; hell, some players spent their entire careers with the same ball club! You weren't cheering for the owner; it was the boys in the outfield, the Sultan of Swat, Joltin' Joe who made your heart sing with the CRACK! of a line drive, or broke your heart with a pop fly to the infield and the waiting glove of a smiling shortstop.

This song -- it really should be the official song of Major League Baseball -- always makes me think of how it felt to watch the Dodgers when I was a kid, and the video does a brilliant job of evoking that ever-more-alluring time, with its depiction of clean-cut, smiling, handsome players, not a tattoo to be seen.

The video also highlights the decline in public standards in the stands. Check out how well dressed the fans are: Most men wear a hat, and a coat and tie, too; blue collar types wear clean, neat clothes.

The first game ever played at Ebbets Field, April 5, 1913. Click on the photo to see a larger version, then check out the well-dressed folks in the bleachers.

Yeah, it's more comfortable wearing sweats and a t-shirt, but dressing like a gentleman encourages you to act like a gent; the clothes really do make the man. Conversely, dressing like a slob only coarsens the ordeal of daily life in the big city.

Jackie Robinson gets a handshake as he scores a run during his first year with the Dodgers.

Where -- and when -- would you rather attend a game? Dodger Stadium in Chavez Ravine, circa 2011, and risk being beaten into a coma for wearing the wrong jersey?

Or Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, circa 1947, cheering Jackie Robinson against Joe DiMaggio and the reviled Yankees, as you yanked the fedora off your head and waved it about like a madman, cheering for your guys?

"Centerfield" makes me want to hop on the subway and emerge from the tunnels across the street from the long-ago demolished Ebbetts Field, buy a hotdog, and see if I can spot my grandfather in the stands, a young version of my dad at his side, maybe catch a glimpse of Babe at first base, telling one of the new guys to steal second.

Nostalgia's a sucker bet, but this song makes me long for a time I know only from photographs and stories told by my father. It sounded wonderful, which probably explains why Fogerty's anthem seems to strike such a chord in me.

Well, beat the drum and hold the phone - the sun came out today!
We’re born again, there’s new grass on the field.
A-roundin’ third, and headed for home, it’s a brown-eyed handsome man;
Anyone can understand the way I feel.

Oh, put me in, coach - I’m ready to play today;
Put me in, coach - I’m ready to play today;
Look at me, I can be centerfield.

Well, I spent some time in the mudville nine, watchin’ it from the bench;
You know I took some lumps when the mighty Casey struck out.
So say hey Willie, tell Ty Cobb and Joe DiMaggio;
Don’t say "it ain’t so", you know the time is now.

Oh, put me in, coach - I’m ready to play today;
Put me in, coach - I’m ready to play today;
Look at me, I can be centerfield.

Got a beat-up glove, a homemade bat, and brand-new pair of shoes;
You know I think it’s time to give this game a ride.
Just to hit the ball and touch ’em all - a moment in the sun;
(pop) it’s gone and you can tell that one goodbye!

Oh, put me in, coach - I’m ready to play today;
Put me in, coach - I’m ready to play today;
Look at me, I can be centerfield.

I don't even own a glove and that makes me want to play! Hell, I'll even close the laptop and get off the couch.

That's how much I like this song.

Posted by Mike Lief at 05:39 PM | Comments (1)

June 22, 2011

I have seen the aliens ... and we are horrifying

I was a fan of science fiction from the time I first learned to read; Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov were my favorites, and they both published in John Campbell's Astounding Science Fiction during the '30s and '40s -- hell, Heinlein published his very first story in Campbell's magazine!

Campbell was no slouch as a writer; perhaps his most famous story was 1938's "Who Goes There," -- very scary -- adapted for the big screen in 1953 as The Thing From Outer Space," starring James Arness as, well, a giant carnivorous carrot. Not scary. But it was remade in '82 by John Carpenter; his version of The Thing," starring Kurt Russell, was a classic, a truly terrifying tale of a shape-shifting extraterrestrial picking off the members of an isolated antarctic research station, one by one, assimilating and incorporating them into itself, assuming their shape and identity, quite faithful to Campbell's novella, which you can read here.

Nearly thirty years later, I stumbled across Peter Watts' story, "The Things," told from the perspective of the alien. I don't know that I've ever read a more disturbing piece of science fiction. Watts' manages to make us seem thoroughly alien, and the protagonist's point of view, his -- its thoughts about our world, our seemingly-isolated existence, our seemingly-inexplicable reluctance to be "assimilated" by the creature is deeply unsettling.

It begins:

I am being Blair. I escape out the back as the world comes in through the front.

I am being Copper. I am rising from the dead.

I am being Childs. I am guarding the main entrance.

The names don't matter. They are placeholders, nothing more; all biomass is interchangeable. What matters is that these are all that is left of me. The world has burned everything else.

I see myself through the window, loping through the storm, wearing Blair. MacReady has told me to burn Blair if he comes back alone, but MacReady still thinks I am one of him. I am not: I am being Blair, and I am at the door. I am being Childs, and I let myself in. I take brief communion, tendrils writhing forth from my faces, intertwining: I am BlairChilds, exchanging news of the world.

The world has found me out. It has discovered my burrow beneath the tool shed, the half-finished lifeboat cannibalized from the viscera of dead helicopters. The world is busy destroying my means of escape. Then it will come back for me.

There is only one option left. I disintegrate. Being Blair, I go to share the plan with Copper and to feed on the rotting biomass once called Clarke; so many changes in so short a time have dangerously depleted my reserves. Being Childs, I have already consumed what was left of Fuchs and am replenished for the next phase. I sling the flamethrower onto my back and head outside, into the long Antarctic night.

I will go into the storm, and never come back.

I was so much more, before the crash. I was an explorer, an ambassador, a missionary. I spread across the cosmos, met countless worlds, took communion: the fit reshaped the unfit and the whole universe bootstrapped upwards in joyful, infinitesimal increments. I was a soldier, at war with entropy itself. I was the very hand by which Creation perfects itself.

So much wisdom I had. So much experience. Now I cannot remember all the things I knew. I can only remember that I once knew them ....

Read Campbell's "Who Goes There," or watch Carpenter's The Thing, then read Watts' "The Things."

You may not sleep well, but it's worth it.

Posted by Mike Lief at 10:19 PM

June 05, 2011

Andrew Gold: 1951-2011

Andrew Gold died Friday, only 59 tears old. He was most famous for this song, which takes me back to the '70s and junior high school every time I hear it.

According to Wikipedia, Gold played guitar on Linda Ronstadt's monster hit, "You're No Good," as well as "When Will I Be Loved," and "Heatwave," and was the arranger on her hit album, Heart Like A Wheel. Those songs burned up the charts in '74, and I had the cassette aboard my submarine; I can remember listening on my gigantic, state-of-the-art Walkman while in my coffin-sized rack.

Gold's other big hit was "Thank You For Being a Friend," which was also used as the theme song for the sitcom "Golden Girls," which I've never seen, as I wasn't in the demographic at which it was aimed.

He toured with the Eagles, played with each of the Beatles during their solo careers, and seemed to have had a remarkably prolific career, even after his time at the top of the charts was done.

I didn't know that he was the son of singer Marni Nixon -- Audrey Hepburn's singing voice as Eliza Doolittle, Natalie Wood's singing voice in "West Side Story," and Deborah Kerr's singing voice in "The King and I" -- and Oscar-winning composer Ernest Gold; music was in his blood.

Requiescat in pace.

Posted by Mike Lief at 08:57 PM