Dodgers 2017

We lost the World Series. I’m sad and disappointed in the outcome and, at the same time, so grateful for being so sad and disappointed.

Every spring for as long as I can remember I’ve  hoped and wished the Dodgers would end the season as World Series champs. Sometimes it happens. But most of the time it doesn’t. And those many times when it doesn’t you don’t stop being a fan as a result. If that were the case Houston wouldn’t have had any fans left to enjoy this, their first championship.

When you’re a fan you’re in it for the long haul. You ride the drama of every pitch, every hit, and every game along the way. When you’re lucky, you get more joy than disappointment.

It’s hard to feel like this year wasn’t more joyous than disappointing. It was without a doubt the most fun I’ve had in a Dodger season since 1988. It wasn’t just the steady march to the postseason (well, steady except for that mid-August to September slump) it was the way the Dodgers came together as a team and gave me more fun afternoons and evenings than I can count.  The walkoff wins; the dominating pitches; the sheer energy of a young team having fun. It was all a blast.

These past few weeks I was telling everyone how amazed I was at how affected I was by every game, the wins and the losses. It was a physical experience for me and, to an extent, for my whole family. What a wonderous thing to rise so high and fall so low all on a bunch of grown men trying to hit a ball with a stick!

That’s what brings us back each time. It’s not just the possibility that this year might be our year, it’s the journey to find out whether it is or not.  I wish I was celebrating a World Series win right now but I know what I feel will eventually fade and leave me right back where I started—in love with the Dodgers and ready to enjoy the ride to find out.

Hats off to Houston. And hats off to my Dodgers. It was a hell of a year and a hell of a series. Even better—next season is only 5 months away.

 

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Friday Five: Ladies of Soul

Aretha Franklin is going to live forever.

Not literally, of course.  But centuries from now, some people somewhere on Earth will know who she is.  They will be listening to and talking about Aretha Franklin.  Not only is she a significant figure in the history of 20th century popular music, but she’s recognized as such by just about everybody who knows who she is.

Many more centuries in the future, there will come a time when the aliens visit our completely destroyed planet and start to rummage through our cultural remains in order to retrieve artifacts for some kind of museum on their home planet.  Whether they know enough of the larger context to make informed and discerning decisions or not, who knows.  What I do know is that if they stumble across any of the following recordings, they just might name another woman “queen of soul.”

The following five songs are recorded by women who made some of the most amazing blues, R&B, and soul music of the last century…and they’re not named Aretha.

5. Irma Thomas, “Time Is On My Side” (1964)
Both Thomas and the Rolling Stones covered this song in 1964. It was originally written by Jerry Ragovoy (the man behind “The Hit Factory” recording studio) and recorded by jazz musician Kai Winding in 1963. Irma Thomas covered it before the Stones. The original was light on lyrics (“Time is on my side” and “You’ll come running back” were the only lyrics in Ragovoy’s version) and so songwriter Jimmy Norman expanded the song for Thomas’ recording. In a sense, the Rolling Stones covered her.

4. Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, “Humble Me” (2006)
Born in 1956 in Augusta, Georgia, and raised primarily in New York City, Sharon Jones grew up listening to some of the best music ever made. While she tried to break into the music industry for most of her life, it wasn’t until she was 40 years old that it ended up working out for her. Known for her stupendous live performances, Jones passed away from cancer in 2016.  She was only 60.  She leaves us with 20 years of records crafted in the sound style of the best of the 60s and 70s, and made all the better by her talent.  This song, a play on the Otis Redding sound, is among my favorites.

3. Sister Rosetta Tharpe, “Strange Things Happening Every Day” (1945)
She was the first bonafide gospel recording star who climbed to fame during the Depression.  Her fame was the product of her moving voice but even more moving rhythm guitar.  She is often hailed as one of the most influential people of modern US music, one of a small group most responsible for giving birth to rock n’ roll. This 1945 hit of hers–featuring her electric guitar play–is some of the best evidence of that.

2. Ruth Brown, “(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean” (1952)
I love Ruth Brown.  Aside from her music (some of her songs I knew though I knew not who she was), I first came to know her through “The History of Rock n’ Roll,” a 1995 PBS series.  She was one of the stand out interviewees in the series, not only because of who she was but because she was there, through it all.  I’m never disappointed when I put on her music, a constant source of new “discoveries” and growing appreciation for her timeless classics. This was the first pop hit for this habitual maker of R&B greatness.

1. Big Maybelle, “Candy” (1956)
Mabel Louise Smith only lived 47 years on this planet. A gospel singer by upbringing (as were most), she struggled here and there in her recording career, achieving her greatest success in the 50s, when she changed her name to Big Maybelle and began recording for Okeh Records. “Candy” is perhaps her most well-regarded hit (it received a Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1999). She’s also known as the original performer of the song “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On,” a song she recorded before Jerry Lee Lewis made it famous.

40 years

I was listening to an interview with Priscilla Presley and Jerry Butler this morning and both were talking about the frustration and disappointment Elvis felt with regards to his movie career. He would read scripts and throw them across the room, deriding their quality and declaring that he wasn’t going to do it anymore.

But Elvis had little choice in the matter. Col. Tom Parker, Elvis’ manager, had locked the King into these contracts without much regard for his artistic or creative desires. Ever the promoter, Parker just sought out the best ways for Elvis to make money while protecting the image of the star he used to make money.

In Priscilla’s telling, that’s one of the reasons Elvis got so excited about his television special in 1968, the event that has become forever known as his “’68 Comeback Special.” This was something he knew, and something he could use to express his creative self, maybe even enjoy control for a change.

On this 40th anniversary of his death it feels like an especially good event to remember. In light of the story above, the ’68 special carries more than just the excitement of the “comeback”–the raw, stripped down energy that reminds folks why he was who he was. It also carries with it a little bit of loss, of what could have been, of what he was never allowed to be. That, to me, is so much of the memory of the icon that is Elvis.

In this present moment of a white supremacist president and a resurgent white nationalism, there’s another way it all seems a little more appropriate right now, too.

The Beatles and my boy

My son must have been about 1 when we started playing The Beatle’s 1 album for him. We had it in the car CD player for about 4 months straight when he was 3 and his little sister was 1. They’d sing along with their favorites, even though they really couldn’t pronounce much. An early fascination with the music of George Harrison, through YouTube videos of “The Concert for George” and “The Concert for Bangladesh” (which he was eventually given for Christmas), aided The Beatles process in our family life.

In short, the sounds of The Beatles are burned deep into their brains, in ways that go beyond recall and memory. After a few years of not listening to much of their music in the family car, over the last few months, my three kids have been listening to more of them. We brought the 1 album back into the car again (after a prolonged run of the Hamilton and Moana soundtracks) and, thanks to the movie Boss Baby, which featured the song “Blackbird,” even the youngest Summers Sandoval is grooving to the fab four.

This resurgence of The Beatles in our familial life has re-inspired my son’s obsession with the group and its members, that obsession he had when he was about 2, only now it comes in the form of an 11 year-old who can animate that obsession with Google searches and online music at will.

This also coincided with our purchase of a new family vehicle, a family van to be precise, which came with a free 3-month subscription to Sirius XM radio. After lamenting that there wasn’t a Beatles station on the service, a few weeks ago we started hearing an advertisement for an upcoming Beatles station on channel 18, scheduled to premiere on Thursday, May 18 at 9:09AM, eastern time.

So what did me and my boy do this morning?

We woke up at the crack of dawn, got ready for the day, and jumped into the car at 6:00AM so that we could be driving and listening to channel 18 at the moment The Beatles station premiered on Sirius XM. We stopped and got some bagels (he stayed in the car to keep listening), drove around town, and enjoyed some great music together.

In case you’re interested, the first song they played was “All You Need is Love.”

45

No, not that 45. Today is my 45th birthday. It’s also the day after graduation for what has been an extraordinarily busy year. I feel like it’s been a really wonderful one, though.

On the personal side of life, things couldn’t be better. I feel like I need to focus more on reflecting on that, but when I do I’m just massively appreciative. My kids are healthy, loving, and brilliant. My wife and I are frequently overwhelmed but we make a great team.  We were lucky enough to move last summer, enjoy some special trips, and watch three amazing people grow up a little more.

Work has been crazy. I served as department chair this year and, while there is some satisfaction in the work I’ve done as a result, it is pretty demanding. It made it hard to be the kind of teacher I am used to being.  At the same time, this year also involved stepping into a new position as mentor to a group of 11 amazing first-years (now sophomores!!). They’ve really made my year fulfilling in ways I can’t even express yet.

I got to present my new work on Vietnam to a non-academic audience.  I got to bring some of that work together in a public history exhibit–my first time ever doing that kind of work.  As I continue to work on the book, I also got funding to put together a public stage performance based on the oral histories I’ve collected.

In short, I feel lucky, fortunate, even blessed.

Reaching 45 is less traumatic than I thought it was going to be. I’m solidly and undeniably middle-aged, but that’s nothing new. I feel productive and unproductive at the same time, the challenges of midlife and masculinity. On the plus side, Sinatra was 45 when he left Capitol Records and started Reprise and he put out a whole bunch of great albums then.

So I got that to look forward to.

Friday Five: Sax Solo Rock

I have to give Jack Black credit for inspiring this week’s list. His Instagram account includes regular posts reflecting his love of music. A couple of days ago he spotlighted the sax solo from the song “Urgent” by Foreigner.

“Urgent” comes from the album 4, which was produced by Robert “Mutt” Lange. It’s a different sound for the rockers that had cut their chops on earlier songs like “Hot Blooded,” “Cold As Ice,” and “Head Games.” As the story goes, they wanted a “Junior Walker sounding sax solo” and ended up with Junior Walker himself, who was performing nearby.

What Junior Walker does on this song is nothing short of massive. I’m not sure there’s a better example of a saxophone solo that’s more rock.  For goodness sakes, Walker stands in for what should be a guitar solo, and he does it with both soul and dirty rockin’ chops.

It got me thinking about other songs that have massively successful sax solos and that still manage to maintain their rockness.

And so here we go…

5. “Shotgun” (Junior Walker & the All Stars)
This is likely the song that inspired the desire for a “Junior Walker sounding sax solo” in “Urgent.” And I’ll be the first to admit it’s probably a bit of a cheat to call this just “rock.” The 1965 hit is classic rock and roll, which is really just a way of saying it moves like nobody’s business. It’s a miraculous number, driven by Walker’s sax and his soulful brilliance.

4. “Money” (Pink Floyd)
When I studied abroad in England I met a generation of Brits who believed (passionately) that Pink Floyd’s 1973 album Dark Side of the Moon was the greatest album ever made. I’ve met my fair share of others who’ve felt the same. I’ve never been one of those people. I like Pink Floyd, I’m just not crazy about them. For the purposes of this list, though, there’s no way to avoid them. Fans might rank the classic “Us and Them” as a better sax song, but that’s a bit too soft and meditative for me. “Money” kicks off side 2 of the album, and it knows how to get up in everybody’s business with Dick Parry’s tasty solo.

3. Brown Sugar (Rolling Stones)
This is the lead off track to the Stones’ 1971 album Sticky Fingers. It’s their first album without Brian Jones and their first of the 70s. “Brown Sugar” is such a brilliant reflection of the past and the future for them. Recorded in Muscle Shoals before much of the rest of the album (I think it’s actually from 1969), it’s rhythm and blues to be sure, but also undeniably rock. It’s a standout for the lyrics by Mick Jagger, but also the way Keith Richards’ guitar and Bobby Keys’ sax play with each other to make the song what it is. There’s not many Stones songs where Keys is more instrumental (pardon the pun).

2. “Young Americans” (David Bowie)
Bowie’s 1975 Young Americans was a big hit for him, as was the title track, released a month before the album. While it may not have impressed the critics, it’s an enjoyable album, a more soulful sounding Bowie with clear nods to US sounds. I’ve always been more of a Ziggy Stardust-phase fan, on the whole, but there are plenty of David Bowie tracks after that that I love. “Young Americans” is certainly one of them. The sax–played here by David Sanborn–is a big part of that. The interplay between Bowie’s voice, his background singers (who are pretty front and center), and the soulful Sanborn (who became a successful jazz performer in the years after) makes it one of the master’s persistent hits.

1. “Born to Run” (Bruce Springsteen)
I’m not a Bruce fanatic. I honestly had never heard of him before his 1984 album Born in the U.S.A was released. And while I liked it, I just never felt the need to learn more about him until much later in life. It must have been about 20 years after the release of Born to Run (1975) before I discovered it. That might have been the start of my appreciation for his talents. [My friend, Steven Rubio, who certainly is a fanatic, has helped nurture that admiration, just by being a big fan. It’s kind of catchy at some point. That brought me to his earlier stuff, in particular 1973’s Greetings from Ashbury Park, N.J. which I am also very fond of.] I know hardcore fans will say “Jungleland” is the best Bruce sax song. I can’t argue. Clarence Clemons was a master, and he shows it in the sprawling, emotional song. But I think “Born to Run” is a clearer example of a rock song, and a masterful rock-sax solo. The song is quite simply “BIG”–it’s Springsteen’s attempt to create his own Phil Spector-like wall of sound–and it’s a success at every level. The nostalgic lyrics, the orchestration of rock and roll instruments, and, of course, Clemons’ massive sax. You just can’t go wrong.

Border Beat: 1.30.2017

Here are some things I’ve been reading over the past week that relate to the present moment:

  • Bill Ayers believes opposition to Trump should come from the people—not the Democratic Party (link)
  • Our cynicism will not build a movement. Collaboration will. (link)
  • Will Trump’s southern border wall prove effective? History says no. (link)
  • Donald Trump is going to publish a list of crimes committed by immigrants. Hitler did the same. (link)
  • A Radical Expansion of Sanctuary: Steps in Defiance of Trump’s Executive Order (link)
  • Would a border wall be effective? (link)
  • No Way to Treat a Guest: Why the H2-A Visa Program Fails U.S. and Foreign Workers (link)