Results: Baseball

James Boo

M. Ward – O’Brien/O’Brien’s Nocturne

Is America defined more by its time honored traditions, or by its bold pursuit of the unwarranted? Until civilization makes good on the promise of Blernsball, we will be forced to choose. This week, I side with tradition, and my captain is M. Ward, Americana virtuoso of the twenty-first century.

Before he was a Merge Records superstar with dual drummers, Ward was a fledgling singer-songwriter with sophomore record named “End of Amnesia.” It was here that he first struck the balance between roots, folk, lo-fi pop, and classical guitar, filtered through a 1930s phonograph in a dead man’s parlor, to create the sound that would define his career.

“O’Brien,” the album’s closer, is living proof. Or dead proof- it’s not easy to tell. In a sparse arrangement, Ward’s warm, wilted voice recalls a meeting on the mound. The deserted baseball diamond is little more than a backdrop for Ward’s memory: a ghost of friendship, old cars, and a girlfriend, who, in the grand scheme of things, is less notable than the brand name of the guitar winding these images together and bearing them into the world with each buzzing note. We’re reminded that the game played is ultimately meaningless; what matters is that he was there, and until “O’Brien’s Nocturne” recedes into silence, so are we. The record stops. Amnesia returns to mankind. And that’s the story of how O’Brien blew my mind.

Dave Morrison

In general, I detest professional team sports. But I will watch baseball when I’m sick. Drifting in and out of consciousness, rolled up in my blankie, I can forget about the money machine, the performance enhancing drugs, the cutthroat competition for corporate sponsorships, and allow myself to be tugged along by the rhythm of the game, with its slowly shifting states of tension. It’s like dreaming of geologic time.

The perfect soundtrack for this activity is the 1969 instrumental “Albatross”, by Fleetwood Mac. You can feel the world dissolving into a dream as the gently thrumming rhythms push and pull like the tide, buoying the swooping and gliding slide guitars.

The object of baseball, as George Carlin famously pointed out, is just to go home. Home, the ocean, sleep. The ball seems to hang forever in the bright blue sky. The crowd fades away and the announcer holds his breath. The magic is in forgetting.

C. Shaw

Contextual note: unfortunately, every word I write here is a wasted opportunity to accomplish what is possibly a much larger and more important purpose; for everyone reading this who has watched any sporting event on television in the last year secretly knows that the official song for every American sport, including baseball, is “This is Our Country” by John [Cougar] [Mellencamp]. He sings it on the field, it’s in the commercials, it’s in all of our heads (although it’s curiously not on the radio–maybe he publicly insulted Clear Channel?) And it’s the worst song ever. So by not writing about “This is Our Country” right now I am avoiding service to the greater good, i.e. talking about how that is the worst song ever.

Then, barring The Coog from the discussion, let me pretend that the song I actually hear when I think of baseball is the song I wish I still heard:

The Mountain Goats – “Cubs in Five”

I was never much of a Mountain Goats fan. John Darnielle’s voice is kind of nasal, sometimes he strings together some really odd phrases with awkward timing, and apart from the lyrics, there’s usually not much else to listen to. Then last summer at a festival, I found myself, on a 105 degree Chicago afternoon, confronted with a big stage that said Mountain Goats, and surrounded by a thick pile of the nerdiest fans you can imagine, their bodies tightly packed in a writhing nonsexual orgy of thick geeky glasses and ironic T-shirts, and there was no way I was getting out. So I stayed. And John Darnielle came out to a rocking ovation, and played every song from The Sunset Tree, and finished up with “Cubs in Five,” a song about a lost love that is not coming back (until the Cubs win it all–so it’s NOT COMING BACK.) And it’s nerdy, and it’s nasal, and it’s awkward, and at the time, it’s the best song I’ve ever heard. The couple standing in front of me lost their shit every time a new song started, and this one was the worst; she jumped into his arms and sloppy-drunk-kissed him and they both danced like idiots and collapsed into a pile on the floor when it was done.
And this is a song about “And the Chicago Cubs will beat every team in the league… and I will love you again… like I used to.” Not a love song. But the whole time all I could think about was how I wished my own girl-from-Chicago was with me so she could get that excited and I could experience it in the same way as those idiots in front of me. 16 months later, I have every major MG release, see them when they come to town, put that song on every mixtape I make, and have John Darnielle’s blog on my RSS feed. Maybe JD has a nasal voice. So do I! And sure, there are some awkward phrases, but a certain greatest lyricist ever named Robert Zimmerman is also known to throw in the occasional awkward phrase (try to write down the lyrics to “Ballad of a Thin Man” without laughing). Finally, who needs drums? Radiohead doesn’t. It’s a great song, and maybe the “studio” version from the cassette-to-CD release Nine Black Poppies sounds tinny and lo-fi, but listen to it yourself, and decide if maybe it isn’t the best song ever.

So. Thanks, John Fucking Mellencamp, for replacing my memories of “Cubs in Five” with “This is Our Country.” Asshole.


1 Comment

Filed under C. Shaw, David Morrison, James Boo, Response

One response to “Results: Baseball

  1. “Bold pursuit of the unwarranted”. Now there’s a turn of phrase!

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