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I’m glancing at the CD racks above my desk where resides, proudly categorized and partially alphabetized, the Only A Game Sports Music Library. Of its 150 or so CD’s, about one third are collections of baseball music. (Only about 1/50th contains bullfighting music, but that’s a story for another blog). Whether that exact ratio holds beyond the quirky confines of our office is subject to debate. What is not debatable, I think, is that the sport of baseball has captured the imagination of more singers and songwriters than any other American game. That’s a mixed blessing. For every brilliant song like Dave Frishberg’s “Van Lingle Mungo”, Irving Berlin’s “Jake! Jake! The Yiddisher Ball-Player”, Count Basie’s “Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball?” and The RBIs’ “When the Cubs Win the Pennant” (which gets big points just for its sheer hubris), there are at least 10 sappy ballads by weepy folkies finger picking oh-so-earnestly, croaking like Bob Dylan’s doppelganger and oppressing with clichés about Fathers and Sons and Hot Dogs and Peanut Shells and Shirts and Skies and Things and The Old Man in the Bleachers Who Knows the Secret of Life and Who Will Share It With You But-Ooops!-He Died Before You Could Make It to the Bleachers. That’s why I’m really happy about the new CD by The Baseball Project. Steve Wynn, Linda Pitmon, Scott McCaughey and Peter Buck have parlayed their considerable talents to create “Vol. 1: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails”. From the record’s opening track, “Past Time” (which ponders whether The National Game is losing its grip on the national psyche), the clichés are ably and joyfully dismissed by songwriters Wynn and McCaughey. Hubris and insecurity fight for space in the person of “Ted ****ing Williams” (our stars, not theirs). The story of Dodgers ace Fernando Valenzuela sheds an odd light on the current immigration debate. And Scott McCaughey’s eyewitness accounts of Willie Mays’ diminished talents and his own, alcohol-fueled romp with REM’s Mike Mills and Detroit Tigers hurler Jack McDowell (who during his subsequent start demonstrated his newfound status as a bona fide punk rocker by flipping off Yankee Stadium-always a good idea) bring long overdue freshness and originality to an otherwise stagnating genre.
As with most of our guests, we didn’t know what to expect when we booked our interview with Steve Wynn, whose musical career I’ve followed on and off since 1983, when I saw The Dream Syndicate play a packed Rathskeller here in Boston, and his wife Linda Pitmon, whose excellent drumming, harmonizing and level-headed lyric editing add wonderful dimensions to the otherwise all-male Baseball Project. We hope you’ll be as delighted as we were with their wit, intelligence and passion for songs that are irreverent even as they celebrate. Not since I first heard Dick Dale and early Beach Boys (surfing), Brown Trout and the Lunkers (fishing) and The Zambonis (hockey) have I been so happy that a single musical entity has devoted all of its attention to a single sport. You can hear our conversation on this week’s program and on our Friday podcast, which will contain an extended version of our interview with The Baseball Project.
This program aired on July 24, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.
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