Look, It’s Baseball

Major League Baseball is with us again (thank the gods). Some years it seems like spring will never come. But come, alas, somehow it always does, as it is wont to do.

"Pitcher" by Humphrey King
“Pitcher” by Humphrey King

Opening Up

It’s an exciting time for baseball and its fans. The internationalization of the game has ramped up to intoxicating new levels and shows no signs of slowing down.

This spring President Obama became the first sitting president to visit Cuba since 1928– And what did he do there? Watch a baseball game, of course – an exhibition between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban National Team.

The Rays won 4-1, but this game was about much more than balls and strikes, sacrifice flies and stranded runners. It marked what should prove to be a new era of U.S.-Cuban relations in the greatest possible way, by highlighting our shared passions instead of our perceived differences.

ITS_ARTS_GROUCHO_MARX_HUMPHREY_KING_AK_ROCKEFELLER

“I’m a Dreamer, Montreal”
– Groucho Marx, Animal Crackers (1930)

There’s even been rumblings of a return of Major League Baseball to Montreal, either via expansion or a resettlement from one of the current MLB franchises.

The World Baseball Classic has also been an unmitigated success in the past decade since its inception. Next year’s tournament promises to be the best one yet, with more – and more seasoned – participants leading to greater levels of competition – another positive step forward for baseball’s internationalization trend. Now that the format has been firmly established and the kinks worked out, we can hopefully start seeing some spirited rivalries beginning to form.

Firmly entrenched in the post-steroids era, baseball is healthier than it’s been in some time. We are witnessing a dramatic shift from the mid-2000s “bash ’em up” style of baseball back to a more nuanced “pitching, defense and timely hitting” type of baseball (the way Abner Doubleday always intended for it to be).

“Putting Up Big Numbers (On The Ocean Floor)”

To mark the beginning of this new season I’ve chosen to share with you my other passion – music. More specifically my love (read: obsession) of indie-rock legend Robert Pollard and his band Guided By Voices.

Some people will tell you musicians and ballplayers – slackers and jocks – don’t mix and maybe in some cases this is true, but not in the case of Bob Pollard, one of the most prolific songwriters of this – or any – generation. Bob was a ballplayer too, at the college level, even once pitching a complete game no-hitter for Washington State University.

Robert Pollard of Guided by Voices pitched a no-hitter in college

He’s also managed to write a few songs about baseball, as well as most anything under the sun, in his own unique and abstract way, as he is wont to do. Pollard’s music is rooted in the “Four P’s” (Pop, Punk, Prog and Psychedelic). His bodies of work are a masterclass in everything that made you love great music – and everything that made music great in the past half century, and I mean everything!

His great musical church is built – from the foundations on up – upon everything from the earliest days of the Beatles and the British Invasion, the time when pop rock music was at its catchiest, most clever and inventive (think Kinks & “Strawberry Fields”) – adding to it (without subtracting) – the hard and soft Psychedelia of Hendrix and early Floyd, and a little of Love’s “Forever Changes”, the best aspects of the Byrds, the parts that still hold up – And he collided that with – the hard-nosed working man’s bombast and overall stage-presentation of 70s Who, a good healthy dose of T. Rex and Cheap Trick’s anthem-ality – but,

Where most bands with that sort of starting point drew a line in the sand – where “two roads diverged in a yellow wood” – Pollard took “the path less taken” by also embracing the late-70s Punk explosion (and subsequent implosion), its total aesthetic inversion and DIY ethos – and, once again, he added without subtracting – pushing forward and culminating with the somewhat self-conscious introspectiveness of various Post-Punk bands of the late-70s to the late-80s/early-90s, notably Wire, REM and, for good measure, Sonic Youth.

All these things are present in his music – and so much more. He’s the living legend’s living legend. A former elementary school teacher whose do-it-yourself aesthetic ass-raped his never-say-die attitude – with a blinding humility and probably arrogance also – giving birth to a dream of a music/lifestyle that was too crazy not to become a real-life lived-in thing/entity.

Robert Pollard is the Pete Rose of Indie Rock (All-Time Hits Leader)

A walking, talking (too much), drinking to excess, cigarette-smoking middle-aged mother-fucking messiah that rose from the freshly-poured, but still cracking, concrete foundations of Anyhow, USA. His style of songwriting is as down-to-earth as it is out-of-this-world. He can shift gears from subtle poignancy to outlandish bombast, often within the same song – and back again – turning on a dime at the drop of a hat, whenever he so pleases.

Baseball Songs

His three baseball songs below (“Look, It’s Baseball”, “The Key Losers” and “Submarine Teams”) are some of my favorites from his massive (and I mean MASSIVE – for he is prolific) catalogue.

Lay back, crack open a domestic beer can, forget everything you think you know about music and enjoy the perfect way to ease back into another, sure to be, wonderful season of baseball. And, I guarantee, you’ll never, in
your life, hear a better song about playing underwater baseball than “Submarine Teams”.

Look, It’s Baseball

LYRICS:

        Took a journey backwards to a revelation I cannot describe
        And I must admit it was worthwhile
        And it made you smile – it’s that extra mile

        When we drove home you slept all the way
        Right through the explosion display
        We woke up with sparks and a night sky of candlestick parks
        Another fine outing – pointing and shouting: “Look, it’s baseball!”

             —Lyrics by Robert Pollard
                from Guided By Voices’ album “Tonics & Twisted Chasers”

“In the mid-period phase of the group, I came up with hundreds of song titles, and out of those titles I’d take one and write a quick poem for it, and then we’d work on a four-track. So I’d write the song really quickly, get my band together and teach it to them. I wanted everything to be spontaneous and fresh, and when I barely knew the song myself I’d go in and I’d play guitar with the drummer, and the drummer wouldn’t even know the song! We purposely wanted it to be fragmented. I craved—and still do—classic rock, like the Beatles; I wanted our albums to sound like bootlegs of long-lost demos and outtakes and shit.”
Robert Pollard, Interview with Bomb Magazine (2001)

The Key Losers

LYRICS:

        Oh, darkness makes them cringe
                Perhaps caught?
        Respectable, impeccable – Not taught
                – The Key Losers

 Not to trust in instinct – Blame them
     No wait! – Don’t tame them

  They will let you down every time
– The Key Losers
  Yeah, they will let you down every time
– The Key Losers

    In the clutch – Twice as much
     In the long run – Final gun
      Down the stretch – We couldn’t catch
 The part-time players – The scrubs

      Consistently choking –
     The roach coach is smoking

 They will let you down every time
  They will let you down every time
   They will let you down every time
 – The Key Losers

                                                    —Lyrics by Robert Pollard
from Guided By Voices’ album “Tonics & Twisted Chasers”

“I have my own vocabulary, and it’s what I like. I’m 43 years old now and I’ve been through the whole spectrum of rock from the early ’60s. I know what I like, if I want new music I can create it myself instead of looking for it. Because you know, frankly a lot of the stuff that I like doesn’t even exist anymore.”
Robert Pollard, Interview with Bomb Magazine (2001)

Submarine Teams

LYRICS:

             Fine mussels & selected brains
             The trimmings of slim victory
             Over the smelly waters
             Of “See-a-World and Eat it”

             Shocked by a whaling umpire’s trumpet
             The starter gargles the salt brine
             The stoned nation’s rolling eyelids
             The moments of g(l)ory league highlights

             Swordfish swallower – Jumbo stats
             Putting up big numbers on the ocean floor

—Lyrics by Robert Pollard from Robert Pollard’s album “Kid Marine”

“I’d spoken to Thurston Moore and Byron Coley — they have a publishing company and put out books. I was going to do a book of nothing but band names, something like those books for baby names, because there are so many shitty band names. The names in my book would be public domain and anyone that wanted to use one could. I made a list of about 300 band names, and then I realized that in order to make a book I would have to have like fuckin’ 10,000 band names.”
Robert Pollard, Interview with Bomb Magazine (2001)

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