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Triples and Tunes

Exile On Johnny Ryall Street

Baseball and music – two things without which my life would be much emptier.

We had Giants season tickets when I was a kid back in ’78 and I talked my dad in to re-upping the deal in ’86 when I started driving our company delivery truck. The G-Men had lost an impressive one hundred games over the ’85 season, so it was  prime time to scout out good seats. That they were still playing in the much maligned Candlestick Park didn’t hurt matters either, and we picked out a prime spot just a few rows behind the first base dugout. One season later they were in the playoffs and by 2000 had moved to impressive new digs at Pac Bell Park – later to become SBC and AT&T Park, respectively. It was a good time to invest in local baseball.

I likely went to seventy of the eighty-one home games in 1986 – a feat that now seems foreign and unapproachable. It isn’t that I’ve completely lost interest, just that I tend to run hot and cold now. Any real fan will tell you that this approach is lacking, and that baseball needs to be followed daily to be fully appreciated. Its charm resides in its details: the day to day of who’s ebbing and peaking, the clubhouse politics, the pitcher who finally has his split-finger fastball working. While scanning daily box scores and following radio and television broadcasts will suffice, there is no substitute for going out to the ballpark. In 1986 (and ’87) I was a real fan, and I can say this with neither apology nor qualification.  I didn’t care for most of the yahoos who sat in our particular box. For whatever reason, the game also seems to attract its fair share of blowhards – folks who enjoy hearing themselves talk about that which they don’t fully understand. It’s been my observation that your more knowledgeable fan will tend to hold his tongue before making a point, and save his breath for cheering or offering support for his team on the field.

It took about three or four games before I finally spoke to the woman who sat next to us that first season, but she turned out to be the Real Deal. Barbara was a fiftyish, unmarried San Francisco veterinarian who took her time sizing me up before deciding I passed muster. Something about my quiet demeanor and occasional, pointedly cynical observations resonated with her. We formed an unspoken bond, both respecting the other’s preference to keep the bullshit to a minimum. We shared a similar disdain for specific regulars, and one boiler-sporting middle aged loudmouth in particular, who had the audacity to appear daily in a full Giants uniform (with batting helmet) and wear his own name above Willie Mays’ number 24. The few conversations we had those first two seasons stayed with me, and I remember one remark in particular that she made during an exceptionally riveting playoff game in ’87.  It was during a quiet moment in the middle of a pitching change, and we hadn’t said a word up until then. “I have a friend,” she began, leaning toward me “who says he doesn’t get baseball. It isn’t that he’s against sports – he follows the 49ers and the Warriors with interest. But he says baseball moves too slowly and he doesn’t see the appeal.” She paused for a moment, looking out at the expanse of green field before making her point. “I feel sorry for him.”

My dad gets baseball, and as a result so do I. But he doesn’t get music, and any inclination I have in this area didn’t come from him. It required my mother’s influence. I find that the two share remarkable similarities (baseball and music that is; not my mother and father.) As with baseball, I run hot and cold with music . There are times when it keeps me completely transfixed and paying attention to the smallest detail. Others it’s just so much chatter in the background. As with the game, music invites obscure pairing and comparison. I found myself indulging in this recently with two favored albums – the Rolling Stones’ 1972 Exile On Main Street and the Beastie Boys’ 1989 Paul’s Boutique. While these proclamations are endlessly debatable, I’d put the two high on my top twenty list for the past four decades. Both were follow-ups to commercially successful work: the Stones’ Sticky Fingers and the B-Boys’ debut, Licensed To Ill.  Both were departures in style and influence, though in the Stones’ case it was a jump and the Beasties’ more a leap. Both were recorded, in many senses, in exile. The Stones had abandoned England and heavy British taxation for Nice, France.  The Beasties made what was arguably the more radical of the two moves – choosing to flee NYC and Brooklyn to hide out and regroup in Los Angeles. This sense of unbridled creativity by way of displacement – and even desperation – comes through on both albums. It resides in music and lyrics, whether it’s Jagger scraping “the shit right off” his shoes or the Beasties channeling James Brown and Jack Abbott: “Godfather of Soul In the Belly of the Beast / smoking that dust at St. Anthony’s Feast.”

“Exile” is a double album, but “Paul’s Boutique” might as well be, as it’s so densely packed with references, sampling and mad imagination. Like the ’87 Giants, it would be impossible to re-create either.

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One Comment

  1. Mike Barden wrote:

    Did your Dad own Monaco Labs in San Fran?
    If so you tried to teach me God Damn the Pusher on the guitar.

    Friday, May 1, 2009 at 8:14 am | Permalink

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