Springsteen never ceases to amaze me

For the last of three nights in Perth, Australia (lucky them!), Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (which now includes Tom Morello on a regular basis) covered AC/DC’s classic “Highway to Hell.”

In case there was ever any doubt, Bruce and his band showed that whatever song it is, they can play it and make it sound amazing. They’re certainly unique in this regard.

Now if only there would be a Chicago date on his U.S. tour this spring. But then hope Spring(steen)s eternal, doesn’t it?

Bruce Springsteen and the power of rock and roll

For several years, I waited for a chance to see my next Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band concert. Then it was announced he would play at Wrigley Field, and I bought tickets to the show .

For many months, I lived my life knowing that the Springsteen show was off in the distance, like a proverbial pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. When the day finally arrived, I drove down to the ballpark with friends, one of whom had never seen the Boss play live before.

For three hours (and a good chunk of a fourth one), we all clapped and yelled, danced and sang, and gave witness to the power that music has. Bruce shared the stage with some of the biggest names in rock and roll (Eddie Vedder and Tom Morello) and with a starstruck young girl with a flower in her hair. He called out to the ghosts that follow us through our lives, and he honored his friend Clarence Clemons He played songs that everybody came to hear (Born to Run, Thunder Road, Jungleland, and many others) and some that nobody expected to (I had been singing the rather obscure Darlington County around the house all day, and sure enough, he played that one too).

I don’t consider myself religious at all, but last night I was part of the loudest, strongest, and most passionate service that I’ll ever be a party to. I knew it had to end, but I enjoyed it to the limit while it was going on. In that sense, it was just like life: it can’t last forever, but it can be such a blast while it’s going on. That only happens when you give yourself over to it and I, along with 40,000 other pilgrims in a baseball cathedral named Wrigley Field, did exactly that.

“Land of Hope and Dreams” closed out the first set, and there’s a line in the song that claims “faith will be rewarded.” That’s what transpired in that place last night. Rock and roll, as channeled through the guitar of Bruce Springsteen, the drums of Max Weinberg, the saxophone of the remarkable Jake Clemons, and the rest of a very large and talented musical contingent, touched our lives and gave us hope. I couldn’t ask for anything better than that.

Two baseball pieces as the offseason winds down

Wrigley

I’ve been doing some thinking about why baseball matters so much to me. It’s one of the few constants in my life, dating all the way back to when I saw my first live baseball game in 1975. Things change–for better and for worse–but baseball is always there. The game changes, too, but it’s always going to be so much more interesting than anything else I’ve come into contact with.

With this in mind, I wrote one piece for Wrigleyville Nation about a Pie-in-the-sky reason why the Cubs will win this year (a lifetime of deprivation will do funny things to the mind) , and another for ThroughTheFenceBaseball based on a picture I took outside of Wrigley Field.

It’s almost time to strap in for another season, and I can’t wait for it to arrive.

A bittersweet day

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

There are some things in life that I truly enjoy, and writing is at or near the top of the list. While I’ve written things all my life, putting them into a form where they can be read by other people has been a relatively new development for me. And today offered some reminders of what this action means.

This morning I was paging through a Baseball preview magazine for 2014. It was the type of a publication that I would have devoured from cover to cover at one point in my life, before life and work and family came along. Baseball matters a great deal to me, but not at the expense of everyday life.

As I was flipping through the first few articles, I came upon a “storylines for 2014″ article. All of the team-specific and fantasy baseball stories were still ahead, but this was a general type of a story, written in the form of a list. If it were a webpage–and for all I know, it does exist as a list somewhere on line–it would have been a click-through type of story, with a few ads interspersed along with the content. But this was a print story, and no clicking was required.

One of the points that the story identified as a storyline for this season was the progress of Chicago’s two baseball teams, from the wretched season that they both had in 2013. The story asserted that the 195 combined losses of the two teams was more than any season in the history of Chicago baseball. And I smiled at this, because it came from an idea I had, and some research that I had done last summer. Grouping the Cubs and the White Sox together goes against all Chicago urges and yet I did it, and wrote a story that ChicagoSideSports published in early August of last year.

I enjoy writing for different websites, or else I wouldn’t do it, but ChicagoSide holds a special place in my heart. I enjoy the books written by Jon Eig, the founder of the site, and I liked the print possibilities that writing for the site had offered. A piece I wrote for ChicagoSide last year occupied a two page spread in Roger Ebert’s newspaper on the day that he passed away. For the rest of my days I’ll be proud to say that.

Putting a nugget of an idea out into the online or print world is a very gratifying feeling, but unless outlets for these thoughts and ideas exist, there’s no reason to produce them in the first place.

When I read, in either late 2011 or early 2012, that Jon Eig and a friend of his were putting together a sports website, I wondered if I would be able to contribute to it in some way. My blog had been going for a few months by then, and I wanted to see if the stuff that I write might be of interest to anyone else. There was a great chance of hearing “no,” but I soldiered on anyway.

My initial idea for a ChicagoSide story was a recap of the first game that the Cubs and White Sox played against each other, back in 1997. I was at that game, and I had a particular idea about how to go about describing it. I planned to give a description of the game’s events, using only African American players’ names. At the end of the retelling, I would point out that such a story could not appear in 2012, because neither the Cubs nor the White Sox had a single African American player on their rosters. This was a disturbing development to me, as a kid who was raised on Lou Brock and Reggie Jackson and George Foster and many others in the 1970s and 1980s. Jon liked the piece, and said he would run with it in a multi-part series about African Americans and their dwindling numbers in the game that I love.

The series ran on ChicagoSide, but my piece was not included. I could have taken this as a sign that what I wrote wasn’t up to snuff, because after all what have I ever done? I’m well aware of my limitations when it comes to producing anything of note. But I sucked it up and pitched another idea at him, instead.

I was very clear that I felt like I could make a contribution, and would do whatever I could to make it happen. The piece was about an upcoming Bruce Springsteen concert at Wrigley Field in September of 2012, and I learned that it would run on the site at the end of August.

On the day that the piece was scheduled to go live on the website, I was at Universal Studios with my family. My girls were excited about going into the park as it opened for the day, while I was anxiously checking my phone to see if the piece was published yet. Seeing the piece go live, along with some Chicago-inspired art of Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. album cover, made a fun day at the theme park that much more enjoyable. I hope I never forget the feeling that I had that day, not only because I was proud of the piece I had written, but also because of the perseverance that it took to get to that point.

In the year and a half that followed, I had several more pieces  that  ran  on  ChicagoSide. I wrote stories that I thought were worth telling, and Jon made it possible for them to be told. His rewrites invariably made my work better, and I am grateful for the time and attention he put in on my behalf.

Earlier today, a few hours after reading one of my ChicagoSide ideas in print, I learned that Jon had sold ChicagoSide to someone else. I was saddened at the idea that I wouldn’t be able to send him any more of my story ideas. I have been told that I can continue to pitch ideas to the new editorial staff, and I’m sure that it won’t be long before I do exactly that. The well of ideas is forever replenishing itself, and I’m truly grateful for that.

I’m also grateful that ChicagoSide gave me an opportunity to share some of these ideas with its readers. I’ve started writing for other websites, as well, and my friends and followers on social media platforms are probably tired of all the ideas that I’ve set free over the past few years. But I’m glad to have done it, and I plan to keep doing it in the months and years to come.

The internet is a brave new world for writers and anyone else who wants to share their creations with the outside world. And as a wise lady once said, there ain’t nothin’ to it, but to do it. I’m very glad that ChicagoSide has given me someplace to do it.

A eulogy for Brandt

PSH

As a member of the Dudeist clergy–the only such group I would ever belong to–I feel a need to say a few words on behalf of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who so brilliantly played the part of Lebowski’s manservant, Brandt.

I have been fortunate enough to never get mixed up with heroin. And even though Hoffman had been clean for decades, something set him back down the path that eventually killed him. It’s a real shame that someone with all of his talent couldn’t rise above his addiction.

One of my favorite Springsteen lyrics seems appropriate here. In Tunnel of Love, Bruce sings that “you gotta learn to live with what you can’t rise above.” And for all those years, that’s exactly what Hoffman did. He rose above heroin, and he had major success as a result. But then he couldn’t rise above it anymore and as a result, he couldn’t live with heroin in his life.

There’s a saying that tomorrow is not promised to anyone, and Hoffman’s tragic end just reinforces this statement. Let’s all rise above things that might harm us, in the hope that there will be more tomorrows coming our way.

Driving in to Sangamon County

image

Last October, one of my brothers got married in my hometown of Springfield, Illinois. I spent the first 18 years of my life there, only rarely getting to see anything outside of it. So when the time to go away to college came, I left and never looked back. I suppose that’s human nature, in some sense.

I go back to Springfield once or twice a year to visit my parents, who still live there. And both of my brothers live there too, so my tie with Springfield will always be with me. And it’s not a bad place, either. That’s not why I left it, all those years ago. It’s just that I couldn’t stay there anymore. Call it wanderlust or whatever else you want to.

Driving down Interstate 55 toward Springfield on a Friday afternoon last fall was something like a homecoming for me. I was only going to be there for one night, but it would be a look into where I came from. My children were in school that day, and my wife was at work, so it was just me, returning to what is, for better or for worse, my hometown.

And to pick up on the Springsteen vibe, I had a CD of Born in the USA with me. That was the music I listened to, more than any other, in the last full year I lived in Springfield. I didn’t have an adult understanding to the lyrics back then, as I like to think that I do now, but man, did I love those songs. They were anthemic and loud and everything that the 17-year-old me wanted. And they remind the 45-year-old me of who I once was, too.

So as I was listening to the music from my teenage days, while driving back to the world as I knew it in 1985 and 1986, I felt like I was returning to the womb, in some sense. And when the time came to pass over the Sangamon county line–where Springfield itself is located– I put on Bruce’s “Darlington County” and improvised the first line of the song: Driving into Sangamon County… and I also took the picture shown above. I wanted to get the green-and-white “Sangamon County” sign, but I missed and got corn silos instead. That’s how life works, sometimes.

As I said, I wasn’t there for very long. The marriage ceremony and the reception afterward were nice, and I enjoyed Springfield, even if most of the things I remember about it are long gone. I can’t complain that the town I turned away from in the 1980s was not just as I remembered it in 2013. Time marches on, and things change along the way.

I drove back to Chicago the next day, through a raging storm, with the realization that life is not static. The changes that inevitably occur can be good ones, or bad ones, but that’s how it will always be. It’s a ride that we should all enjoy, for as long as we’re lucky enough to be on it.  Sha la la, sha la la la la….

Jersey Shore 2013 (Sandy)

One year ago today, Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey and New York with a force that I never thought possible. I hope that the people who were impacted have found a way to move on with their lives, because there isn’t another choice for any of us.

On my honeymoon, many years ago, I took a cruise through some of the islands of the Caribbean. It seemed like every island had one storm or another come through over the years, and the locals all remember the name of that storm. And so I imagine it must be along the New Jersey shore. They’ll remember the name Sandy for a very long time to come.

What are the odds that the 18th named storm (and the order of the names is determined many years in advance) in 2012 would visit such destruction on New Jersey? It couldn’t have been Oscar, or Rafael, or Valerie, or William, which were all names that were scheduled to be assigned to storms in 2012. No, it had to be Sandy, which is the name of a Bruce Springsteen song about wanting to leave the Jersey shore. The irony is just too much to be believed, and yet there it is.

All the best to the people who were affected by this storm, and every other storm, past and future. It’s nature’s world, and we just happen to live in it temporarily.

Capturing the magic

I’ve written about Bruce Springsteen here many times. And I’ve said, and firmly believe, that Springsteen takes on a whole new meaning if you’ve seen him play live. I, for one, listened to the albums, but I didn’t really get it until I saw him play at the United Center in 2007. And then it made sense.

The Wrecking Ball tour, which I saw at Wrigley Field over a year ago, just wrapped up, and Bruce thanked his fans–which includes me, too–with a letter on his website, and a video. The video is better than anything I’ve seen at explaining why Springsteen and his music are so well-loved. It’s hard to describe, and I’ve certainly tried to do it, but it’s easy to see.

Anyone reading this who has seen a Springsteen concert will understand. And anyone who hasn’t, I offer this free piece of advice: Go. Whenever you can, make the effort and spend the money. You’ll be very glad you did.

Waist deep in the Big Muddy

Bruce+Springsteen+-+Lucky+Town+-+LP+RECORD-322871

I’ve been on a Springsteen bender for the last 48 hours, after I grabbed his Lucky Town CD on my way out the door yesterday morning. I bought it when it was released more than 20 years ago, but haven’t listened to it very much until yesterday morning.

The songs on this CD didn’t speak to me in my early 20s, probably because they didn’t get played on the radio back then. But now that I’m older, and I realize what a racket the radio can be, especially when it comes to something new and unknown, I’m glad that I finally gave this one a chance.

Start to finish, this is a great bundle of music. And the twang that I have to add to my voice when I sing the title track is pretty cool, all by itself. As Roger Ebert once said, it’s better to discover something late than not discover it at all, and this CD definitely fits that category.

 

Some days it rains

RainComing

The Pearl Jam show at Wrigley Field was a unique and special experience. I’ve not yet had the time to digest it all, but I wanted to get a thought or two out there for public consumption. I’m sure that more will follow in the days ahead.

The concert was Eddie Vedder’s emotional homecoming, and it showed throughout. Eddie grew up around Chicago, and went to a Cubs game for the first time at five years old. A story he told about seeing the green field at Wrigley Field for the first time rang so true for me. And he brought Ernie Banks out onto the stage, which was an emotional moment for all Cubs fans in attendance.

But what I’ll remember the most will be the rain delay. At an outdoor show, in a baseball stadium, it was almost inevitable for the rains to come. And they sure did come, too. But rather than play on through the rain, as with the second Springsteen show at Wrigley last summer, the band asked all the fans to take cover and ride out the storm. The way he phrased it was “getting through the weather together.” And that turned out to be exactly what happened, too.

After two storms came through the area, the band went on shortly before midnight and played all the way until 2 AM. And if what Eddie Vedder said from the stage comes to pass, they’ll be back again next year, too. Maybe next time the weather will cooperate a little more. But then again, there’s something about hearing live rock in the early morning hours, too. And if the neighbors can’t get any sleep, that’s a small price to pay for living in such a vibrant part of a city like Chicago.

All in all, it reminded me of the great things that can happen when good people come together with a shared appreciation for rock and roll. Eddie Vedder called it “something beautiful” and I wholeheartedly agree with him. Many thanks to the band, their fans, the city, and the weather for helping to make it happen.

Those were the days

rambo

Some people are of the opinion that a penny on the sidewalk can only be picked up when it’s facing heads up. I, however, will take them any way I can find them.

This morning I found a heads-down penny in a parking lot. I nearly passed it by, but then I stopped, picked it up, and turned it over. And I found the year 1985, which was an interesting year in my life for many reasons. But I don’t want to write about any of that here. For some reason, I want to write about Rambo, instead.

Well, maybe not actually Rambo, per se. In 1985, Stallone had brought Rambo back, in the sequel to First Blood, and sent him back into Vietnam. Rambo: First Blood Part II was a big, shoot-the-bad-guys type of film that defined movies in the 1980s for me like nothing else did. And it led to something that I remember to this day.

A friend of mine from the earliest days I can remember wrote a “Best of 1985″ piece for our high school paper. We were both editors of the paper, applying the brand of smart-ass sarcasm that David Letterman seemed to embody in those days. We even created a column that turned the traditional “Senior Spotlight” on its head by roasting students in whatever terrible ways we could think of. It wasn’t any of our finest moments, but there it was, anyway.

So my friend’s 1985 piece appeared in early 1986, and I took exception with his choices in the next issue that came out. In hindsight, I wish that I had come up with the year-in-review idea myself, and I was really trying to cover that up with a “well here’s what I think rebuttal.” I responded to a swipe he had taken at Bruce Springsteen , since I was into Born in the U.S.A. at the time, even though Springsteen’s more meaningful earlier works were still a mystery to me.

But the main focus of my uncalled-for rebuttal had to do with the fact that the year’s ten best movies didn’t include Rambo. Only in the narrow mind of the 17 year-old that I was back then could Rambo have been on a best movies of the year type of a list. But I made that case, anyway.

For the rest of 1986, until we graduated and went our separate ways in life, my old friend and I traded shots at each other in the high school paper. He returned his fire on me, and I returned my fire on his reply to my reply to his original list, and so it went. I thought that people somehow wanted to buy the paper to read my reply to his reply and so on, but in reality we were just marking the time of our final high school days. I remember, in my final words on the matter, extending the hope that if we went to college together, we could drag everything out for another four years. Of course, it didn’t happen that way, and that’s for the best.

I saw my old friend in New York a couple of years ago, and we got together to relive the old days at a bar. I can’t remember whether we brought this particular exchange up or not, but it was clear to me that both us had traveled far in life since those days. Whatever things were written back then were born out of youth and the stupidity that attends to it. And writing this now, with the benefits of all the living that has happened since then, I realize that.

So if this piece had a Sam Elliott moment, this would be it. Sam would say something about how we learn life’s lessons best when we learn them the hard way, and hopefully these lessons reveal themselves to us and make us into better people. Or something like that. I’ll catch everyone on down the trail.

Submitted for the Cubs’ consideration

wpid-2013-01-20_16-19-29_462.jpg

Dear Chicago Cubs,

I welcome the news that you will be turning away from random celebrities, in favor of giving the seventh-inning stretch more of a Chicago feel. To honor your decision, I want to kick off a campaign to secure myself an invite for one of the celebrity-vacated spots, for the 2013 season or whenever you see your way clear to inviting me.

To set forth some credentials, I offer the following: I’ve been a Cubs fan since I was seven years old. I wrote about my Cubs conversion, and have chronicled many other Cubs-related memories in this space, as well.

In addition, I also write about the Cubs for ThroughTheFenceBaseball, and would be happy to relate my experiences to that site and its readers. I also write for ChicagoSideSports, and what a story that would be for them, as well. I have several ideas to write about for them, but I promise that no other piece would matter until that story is told.

I feel, on some level, that I’ve helped to diagnose one of the problems plaguing the Cubs in the quest to win at Wrigley Field. Last year,  I wrote a piece about how Bruce Springsteen has brought success to the Bears, Blackhawks, and White Sox, after he played a concert in their home stadium. That piece ran in TimeOutChicago, and I was very glad to see it. But I also took it one step further on my blog.

I pointed out that Bruce Springsteen’s 2003 concerts at Fenway Park seemed to clear the way for the Red Sox to finally break their curse/drought/whatever in 2004. I looked at the playlists for those shows, and identified The Promised Land as a song that speaks of faith in someplace that hasn’t yet been seen. I theorized that if Bruce could play The Promised Land at Wrigley Field last summer, perhaps that would be enough to break whatever’s been afflicting the Cubs for so long. Nobody can say that Boston won for that reason in 2004, but nobody can say that they didn’t, either.

I went to the first Springsteen show at Wrigley last year, and even though I didn’t hear the Promised Land, it was a phenomenal show. I also picked up on a hidden Ron Santo tribute during the show, wrote about it, and sent it off to Jon Eig, the editor at ChicagoSideSports. He got the piece up on the site in time for others to read about it before the second Springsteen show, and this time, when My City of Ruins was played, I have to believe at least some at the show knew what was going on. Bruce even called the fans’ attention to it, in a way that he didn’t do at the first show. I can’t say I had a role in any of that, but again, I put the story out there and events played out as they did.

The second Springsteen show led off with The Promised Land, and I took to my blog the next morning and declared victory. I’m not foolish enough to take credit for the song actually being played. But I did lay down a marker that if anything good comes from it, I want it known that I pointed this out before the fact.

In the wake of the Ron Santo piece, I also wrote a Kerry Wood piece for ChicagoSide, and a Ryan Freel piece, and the Pete Rose piece that took off in ways I never imagined, and has helped lead to an evaluation of whether Rose has suffered enough for what he did. All of which has been very gratifying, and has put my words and ideas into the minds and on the tongues of many people.

I’m no celebrity, and I never will be, either. I’m just a dedicated Chicagoan who loves the Cubs like nothing else, short of my own family. My Twitter page, my blog site, my Tumblr page, and my Pinterest account all verify my devotion to the team, and my Facebook banner leaves no doubt as to my thoughts about baseball itself. And if that doesn’t merit even a bit of consideration for a singing gig at Wrigley Field, so be it. Just having the chance to type all of this up was interesting enough.

Thanks for the consideration.

Rob Harris

A year in the blog

For best results, start the video first and then scroll down to the slideshow beneath. Thanks!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I’m going to write out a few things about the posts on this site in 2012 soon, but for now the slide show will have to do. If I was really tech-savvy, I’d make it so that a click on a picture would take you to the post itself. But for now, this works if the Motley Crue video is off the screen, and the slideshow plays onscreen while the music is still going. It’s the best that I know how to do at the moment.

I wrote almost 500 pieces for this blog in 2012, and these images don’t even represent a quarter of what I’ve done this year. But I’m proud of everything that’s on here. Blogging is not for everyone, but it suits me very well. It’s a window into my world, or at least those parts of it that I care enough to write about. It’s my home, at least in a virtual, online sense, and that’s why Motley Crue gets to come along for the ride. And I’m hoping for an even better year in 2013.

Here are links to all of the stories, if you’re interested in any of them:

January 7: The future of books and Going to Rosehill

January 15: A baseball tradition that you’ve never heard about

January 17: A disaster at sea

February 10: With thanks and love to my father

February 14: The Love curd

February 25: A jewel of a sculpture

March 3: Sandra Fluke and the kill for/die for thing

March 22: In appreciation of my Mom

March 24: America must be better than this

March 25: Working on my serve

March 27: They won’t look like this for long

April 3: All I’ve got is a photograph

April 14: Can’t go there anymore and What we’re losing

April 15: To be young forever

April 29: Paris, not horrible at all

May 2: Titanic’s final victim

May 12: When the music’s over, turn out the lights

May 16: Looking ahead already

May 19: Triple shot

May 21: Game ready

May 23: I can’t explain this

May 25: The movie that changed everything

May 28: Honoring Soldiers, Schuylers, and the guy who made our piano

May 30: I’m feeling good to play a little music

June 2: Forget about the goat

June 6: The ugly blue-green truck

June 8: And then I’ll sit and think some more

June 12: It was a big year for me

June 18: Finding some magic in the kitchen

June 21: Meeting the wave

June 22: My favorite founder, and a place that shares his name

July 1: Presenting a young poet’s first work

July 2: Quarterly Report #4

July 8: Passing the quarter-pole

July 11: 47% Obama, 47% Romney, 100% Worthless and Remembering the places we’ve been

July 14: The years flashed by

July 18: Only want to see you in the Purple Rain

July 23: America, as it always has been

July 26: All we are is dust in the wind

July 27: The old and the new

July 28: I couldn’t believe what I was seeing

July 30: A different reaction this time

August 3: The summer of my discontent

August 4: It’s all changed but the love

August 6: An attack on America

August 14: The past and the future, in one place

August 19: A double play of art and baseball

August 30: Listening to the golf pencils

August 31: It’s better than Tebowing and One week to go

September 2: What is “Government Help” anyway?

September 3: Crossing the digital bridge

September 5: Link to another ThroughTheFenceBaseball piece

September 11: Patriotic, to a fault and Wrigley, Ronny and the Boss

September 12: Putting it on the line and Somebody tell me

September 18: In the Midnight hour

September 19: At the end of the day

September 22: Write on

September 25: Going to the dogs

September 27: With fresh curiosity

September 29: 99 Cubsballoons go by

October 5: Thinking of my Grandpa

October 6: Hey yo, Apollo

October 7: Far away and left behind

October 9: A year that stood out

October 12: What Margarita?

October 13: So long, Champ

October 14: Breaking the Wave

October 15: The American Way?

October 16: Pizza and the presidential debates and Call me Mr. Worldwide

October 18: Blue: It’s a color so cruel

October 19: The Romney Files, Part II

October 21: Swinging at Sunrise

October 22: Still Worthless

October 28: Ballpark in Winter

November 2: Laugh about the old days

November 4: What I want for her

November 6: It was 20 years ago

November 7: Got to have a celebration

November 8: Finding Lincoln, again

November 10: My high school lifelines

November 13: Loved the movie, but hated the green screens

November 17: An allegiance to the heart

November 18: The Holder Of All Stuff and The social media president

November 23: And as we wind on down the road

November 25: A story for post number 715

November 27: Link to a Piece on ChicagoSideSports

November 30: Sorry, Pappy!

December 1: All you create

December 7: A Yuletide haiku

December 9: Ah, the unfettered thrill of outdated linguistic expression

December 10: Vegas matchbooks, Part 2

December 13: What if I told you…

December 14: Our candles were lit for the victims tonight

December 18: A couple of interesting Lincoln views

December 25: A Christmas miracle

Thanks for reading!

How about it, Sandy?

If you want to know what “irony” is, you can’t do any better than realizing the hurricane that devastated New Jersey and its boardwalk bore the same name as a Bruce Springsteen song about leaving the boardwalk behind.

The storm’s name was chosen well before it ever formed, and it could have gone anywhere at all. But instead, it came to New Jersey and wiped the boardwalk away. It’s equal parts unbelievable and heartbreaking.

One of my very good friends lives in New Jersey, and I hope he’s doing all right. I hope New York gets back on its feet soon, too. And I hope that we finally understand how the planet we all call home is trying to tell us something. The oil companies and their paid mouthpieces in the media don’t want us to hear it, but we ignore it at our own peril. And if this storm doesn’t break through the noise of denial on the issue, then I suppose nothing ever will.

The Romney Files, Part II

To follow up on my earlier post with a number of pieces about the Republican nominee for President, here are some more of the thoughts that have previously appeared in this space.

I worked one of my favorite writing topics, the music of Bruce Springsteen, into a post that appeared in early August. To the surprise of no one, Obama has since received the Springsteen endorsement.

When Romney named Paul Ryan as his running mate, they got into some trouble with musicians who weren’t willing to lend their music to the Romney campaign. I wrote this piece near the end of August.

I found myself in Florida at the same time that the Republican convention was gearing up, and I came face to face with a gated community. Of course, I wrote my thoughts on this matter and put them in this space.

I also found an assertion of the “You didn’t build that” theme when I was in Florida. It wasn’t long after I returned home that I poked some holes in that argument.

I stayed away from politics for the rest of September, but as October rolled around, that began to change. It started with a discussion of the circumstances surrounding Romney’s run-in with the law back in 1981.

Romney’s promise to cut off funding for PBS in the first Presidential debate sure caught my attention. This is the type of message that I write this blog for.

A Doonesbury cartoon about Romney spending time in France during the Vietnam war inspired this personal reflection.

The second Presidential debate wasn’t really going to change anyone’s mind about who to vote for, but it did get me thinking about pizza.

Early voting starts soon, and election day itself is almost here. I won’t miss writing about any of these topics, either.

It starts with an idea

Earlier in the week, I met with some of the senior leadership in the company that I work for. You would probably know the company’s name, and be familiar with our products, but I’m going to leave all of that out here. That information is beside the larger point that I want to make.

The reason I met with them was to discuss the progress of an initiative that they are promoting within the company. And as the people gathered around the lunch table said their piece about the initiative and its implementation, I had a thought that I wanted to share with the group. However, I decided to write out what I was thinking, instead of vocalizing it on the spot. So after letting the matter sit inside my brain for a few days, here it is:

I work for a company in a creative industry. What we sell are the tangible results of the labors of many different people, but these products all began in the same place: as an idea inside someone’s head. It takes much time and effort to turn these ideas into something more than just flights of fancy.  We sometimes have new ideas but, for one reason or another, most of them never become anything more than that.

Nurturing an idea is a difficult process. There’s the internal struggle of translating an idea into something more tangible, together with the external resistance that other people have to anything that’s new and unproven. People typically don’t want to step outside of their comfort levels in order to embrace new ideas. Our survival instinct tells us to go with what we know, and turn away from what we don’t.

And yet ideas still have a knack for getting out. Once they do, these ideas will either rise or fall, on the basis of own their merits and the willingness of others to accept them. This was the process that was being hashed out around a lunch table the other day. But like the sunrise that starts off a new day, that necessary first step had already been taken.

I’d love to give a prognosis for success down the road, but my crystal ball isn’t always accurate. I picked the Washington Nationals to win this year’s World Series, after all.  I’m at least helping to make the idea work, together with many talented and dedicated people.

As Bruce Springsteen advises, small things can lead to bigger things someday. And there’s nothing physically smaller–or metaphorically greater–than a good idea.

Quarterly Report #5

It’s been an exciting three months in this space. I’ve written some things that I’m very proud of, and I’ve carried out a format change, as I suggested I would the last time I wrote one of these reports. I like the format of displaying images from the most recent posts on the right, and being able to scroll through each post by title, without having to read through any text. This feels like an improvement over the way that I used to do it, with the MLB retro theme.

I’ve had some things appear on ThroughTheFenceBaseball, as I have all season long, and some of my thoughts have appeared on ChicagoSideSports, as well. I’ve also hit the 500 post mark, and made it beyond 300,000 words for all of the posts here. I’m cranking out words, and enjoying this burst of creativity for as long as it lasts. I’m hopeful for a long and enjoyable ride, just as I’ve been having already. This is too much fun to be giving up anytime soon.

99 Cubsballoons go by

There’s something about the number 99. Maybe it was because I grew up watching reruns of Get Smart, and Barbara Feldon’s Agent 99 was always so much easier on the eyes—and the ears—than Don Adams’ abrasive 86. The Cubs, for their part, are closing in on 99 losses for a season, which is something they haven’t done in my lifetime.

In almost 40 years of following the Cubs, there are only three things that I haven’t yet seen: The World Series (of course), 100 wins or losses in a season, and for the Cubs to be on the wrong end of a no-hitter. Since Carlos Zambrano threw his no-hitter in Milwaukee, you could put seeing a no-hitter in Wrigley Field on that list, too. But otherwise, there’s nothing that I haven’t seen the Cubs do to an opponent, or seen someone else do to the Cubs.

But what’s so interesting about the number 99 is the amount of music it has inspired. When all of us were kids, once of the first songs that we all learned was “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.” Never mind whether it’s inappropriate to be singing to kids about beer drinking when they don’t know what beer is, anyway. Maybe it’s just teaching them how to run up a tab, which isn’t such a bad skill to have if you plan to follow the Cubs one day.

Back in 1979, a band called Toto had a hit song called “99.” I always assumed it had something to do with the aforementioned Agent 99, but apparently it was written to honor George Lucas’ film THX-1138. You learn something new every day.

Three years later, Bruce Springsteen released “Nebraska.” If you’ve ever seen Springsteen perform live, you may have been lucky enough to see “Johnny 99,” which is much more fun live than the studio version is. And Johnny Cash even did a pretty swingin’ version of the song, but then again, Johnny Cash could turn any song into something great.

The following year, Prince came along and hit it big with “1999.” Even though the song was recorded sixteen years before the actual year, it was eminently danceable, and was the title track to what was his biggest hit to that time. Many musicians would love to have a song that well-known, but Prince then went on to even bigger and better things the following year with “Purple Rain.”

At about the same time as Prince’s song, there was an unknown German band called Nena scored a huge international hit with “99 Luftballoons.” The video got played on MTV, even though nobody knew what she was singing. It had the “we’re all gonna die in an accidental nuclear war” theme that briefly permeated the culture (see also Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Two Tribes” and the movie “WarGames,” among other examples). The song was recut into English, and it became a hit all over again. That synth line just couldn’t be denied, I guess.

And to bring the number up to a more current sound, Jay-Z gave us “99 Problems” back in 2006. The Cubs themselves were awful back in 2006, as it was the final year of the Dusty Baker era in Chicago. They fell out of contention in May, but stabilized a bit and wound up with 96 losses that year. Or to put it another way, the Cubs had 96 problems but, once the season was over, a manager wasn’t one.

So, barring an unexpected turn toward respectability in the desert this weekend, the Cubs will hit 99 losses for the first time that many of us have ever seen. And from there, there’s only one place left to go.

And here is a souvenir, Just to prove the Cubs were here….      

Gave proof through the night

The piece I wrote yesterday about Jimi Hendrix and the anniversary of his death set me on a mission to find my Hendrix CD. It was purchased sometime in the 1990s, back when CDs still needed to be purchased in order to acquire music. I still have lots of old CDs, and fortunately I was able to find the Hendrix one without any trouble.

Probably my favorite song on the CD is his version of the Star Spangled Banner from his performance at Woodstock. It’s recognizable, but also twisted and contorted, just like I gather America itself was back then. When it’s understood for what it is, it’s beautiful, at least to me.

I had a “Francis Scott Key moment” of my own a couple of days ago. It started with the piece that I wrote about Bruce Springsteen’s tribute to Ron Santo in his first show at Wrigley Field. The piece ran on ChicagoSideSports.com, and within a day it had made it to the top of that website’s “Most popular” list. It felt like having a #1 record must have felt for Dexy’s Midnight Runners with “Come on Eileen.” I had to get an 80s reference in there, somehow.

The piece showed some staying power, hanging on for more than a week in the top spot. I have to admit that I checked in on it, from time to time, and it always felt good to see something I had done sitting at number one. It’s not a feeling that I’m familiar with, to be completely honest.

And then, in the wake of a disappointing Bears loss to Green Bay, ChicagoSide ran a piece by longtime Chicago sports columnist Jay Mariotti about Jay Cutler and how much the Chicago Bears suck this year. Mariotti had a long run in Chicago as the daily opinion maker for sports in this town. While he’s not in Chicago anymore, his name recognition alone, to say nothing of his considerable writing skills, virtually guaranteed a wide readership for what he had written.

And soon enough, his piece appeared on the site’s most popular list. It quickly made it up to number 2 on the list, and that’s where it was when I went to bed on Monday night. I saw my Springsteen/Santo/Tribute piece still on top, and his Cutler/Bears/Suck piece gaining ground quickly. I went to bed, convinced that the pieces would be changing positions with each other that night.

On Tuesday morning I was pleasantly surprised, like Francis Scott Key, when I awoke to find that the Springsteen piece was still there, on top of the list. I thought to myself that Springsteen had trumped Cutler, and the Santo tribute had trumped the Bears’ suck. I was probably over-analyzing it, but when your own stuff is involved, I think that’s allowed.

It wasn’t, in my mind, a personal vindication of any sort. I just told the story of a well-loved rock star paying tribute to a well-loved ballplayer on a Friday night in Wrigley Field. Nobody sucked, nobody had disappointed anyone, and it was all about something good and uplifting. The other piece was about kicking someone who was down. He might even deserve to be kicked, because I’ve never really been a fan of Jay Cutler. But be that as it may, the catharsis that comes from releasing frustrations was evident throughout the piece.

Chicago loves the Bears, much more than I do. And so when things go badly, especially when the Packers are involved, people can go a long way by riling up the team’s fans. The truth is that the Bears have invested so heavily in Cutler that he’s not going anywhere. Chicago is basically stuck with this guy. Railing against Jay Cutler is like a wolf howling at the moon: it might feel good to do it, but in the end it changes nothing.

So the inevitable finally happened, at some point on Tuesday. The Springsteen piece is something I’ll always be very proud of, and the attention that it received was well-deserved. It was a classy thing that Bruce Springsteen did, and Ron Santo very much deserved a tribute, for the Hall of Fame, for what he did for Diabetes research, and for how much of himself he put into baseball and the Cubs. What does Jay Cutler deserve? Not very much, unless he can somehow find a way to win the Super Bowl. And even if he does, it’s unlikely that fans would think very much of him, anyway.

So the torch has been passed, and the Jay/Jay pairing now reigns. I’m hoping to have another piece up on the website soon, but for now it’s gone far better than I could have imagined. And it’s certainly worth writing about here, too.

Thunder Road, one week later

A week ago at this time, I was in the afterglow of the first Springsteen concert in Wrigley Field. It was the music that I love, played for over three hours in a place that I also love. It seemed a little bit like Heaven on earth, to be honest about it.

Has it really been just seven days since tens of thousands passed through the turnstiles to sing, dance, scream, and generally reaffirm that Bruce is, in fact, the Boss of rock and roll? It somehow seems like a lot longer than that.

Maybe it’s the teachers’ strike in Chicago, or the realization that the Bears still can’t beat the Packers, or something else that’s made this past week seem so strange. Or maybe it’s knowing that Bruce and his band have now moved on, and they won’t be seen again in these parts for a couple of years. Whatever it is, this has felt like a week of withdrawal.

But what a weekend it was. Perhaps someone, someday, will be able to exceed what Bruce, Steve, Nils, and all of the others gave to us from that stage out in center field. Maybe someone else will literally bleed during the show, as Bruce did on Saturday night. But until and unless that happens, the bar for concerts at Wrigley Field has been set, and it’s at a very high level, indeed.

Wrigley, Ronny and the Boss

ChicagoSideSports is a new website in town, and it focuses on topics that mean a lot to me. Chicago is a great sports town, and ChicagoSide presents angles on it that national outlets like ESPN never could. I was thrilled when my first piece for them was published a couple of weeks ago, and even more thrilled when they ran another piece that I wrote the morning after Friday night’s Springsteen concert at Wrigley Field.

The piece came together quickly, between my writing it and the efforts of Jonathan Eig, the Editor-in-Chief of ChicagoSideSports, to get it up on the site. As a result, a hidden tribute to Ron Santo from Friday night’s show was more visible to fans at Saturday’s show. The piece has received a good deal of traffic in the three days that it’s been up, and I’m quite pleased that it’s worked out as it has.

I’ve written about Ron Santo before here and here. Chicago has a spot in its heart for Ron Santo, and as a result, the piece had an inherent interest the moment it was published. But add that to the historic nature of Springsteen’s shows at Wrigley, and the large community of people who follow his music, and it was a unique opportunity to write a piece that appealed to many different people. I’m very proud that I was able to weave these threads together, and I’m grateful that it has found an audience that’s much larger than my humble blog’s will ever be.

Additional pieces, whatever they should be about and wherever they may be published, will be cross-posted here, as well. Stay tuned.

Mission Accomplished

If there’s a piece of advice I would give to someone going to a Bruce Springsteen concert (other than to go in the first place), it would be don’t be disappointed if he doesn’t play a particular song, unless it’s “Born to Run.” With hundreds of songs on his albums, and fans who bring signs asking for nearly every song under the sun, it’s possible that your song will get left out of the evening’s setlist. It doesn’t mean it’s not a great song, or that others won’t hear it in another city or at a different show.

Earlier this year, when news that Springsteen was bringing the Wrecking Ball tour to Wrigley Field was first reported, I wrote a piece in this space about “The Promised Land.” I love the song, and would suggest that it’s probably my favorite one of all his songs. The meaning of the lyrics is what gets me: not so much the guy who works in his Daddy’s garage in the Utah desert, but the underlying idea that faith in something that hasn’t yet been seen is an essential part of who we are as people.

My lack of a religious faith does not mean that I don’t believe in things. I believe in people’s ability and desire to do good things. I believe that cooperation is not always easy, but it’s always better than conflict. And I believe, most irrationally of all, that the Cubs will win the World Series one day. I just hope that it happens in my lifetime.

The piece I wrote back in March suggested that since Bruce had played “The Promised Land” at the first of his Fenway park shows back in 2003, it may have had something to do with breaking Boston’s supposed “Curse of the Bambino.” They did, after all, win their first World Series in many decades the following year. I’m not sure if it would have happened without that song appearing on the setlist for one of the shows, but nobody can deny that he played that song in that place, and then the baseball team that plays there finally won a championship.

So, before the second show at Wrigley Field had even been announced, I suggested that, if there would only be a single show at Wrigley Field, perhaps playing the song would help the Cubs, too. I went to the show on Friday night hoping to hear that song, but after 28 great songs–“The Promised Land” not being one of them–I left happier than I had ever been at the end of a concert. And there was still a second show at Wrigley, so perhaps that would be when the song was played.

And sure enough, not only was it played at Wrigley Field last night, but it was the opening song of the entire show. So my admittedly strange theory that one song, played by one performer, can break curses and lead to better times for the sports team that plays there, has now been put into play.

The Cubs clearly won’t win anything this year, but the “billy goat curse,” and any other hexes or spells which may have been hanging in the air at the old ballpark, may have just met its match. And if I live long enough to see it, I’ll be sure to dig this piece out, present it to the world, and then go looking for Bruce at Mary’s place, wherever that might be, because we’re definitely gonna have a party.

Whip it good

The Bruce Springsteen show at Wrigley Field is practically upon us, and it feels a bit like Christmas eve did when I was a kid. But Christmas came back again every year, while my next Springsteen show after this one is at an undetermined point in the future, if it even happens at all. I plan to keep that thought in mind as the concert is unfolding.

So what’s with the Devo reference at the top of this post? One of the people I’m going to the concert with is one of the oldest friends I have. I’ve known him since we were in grammar school together in the 1970s. And one thing I remember very clearly is listening to Devo’s signature hit song in the basement of his parents’ house. Crack that whip! Give the past a slip! Step on a break! Break your mama’s back!

We didn’t listen to Springsteen just yet, since the River wasn’t really our cup of tea. I can’t think of anyone I knew who listened to Springsteen back in 1980, but that would all change in a few years. And now, on a date so far in the future that we could scarcely imagine it back then, we’ll get to yell and scream and savor the moment along with 40,000 complete strangers on a historic night in Chicago. It should be a lot of fun.

And yes, I know all about the supposed subtext of the song. I’m choosing to go along with a benign interpretation of the lyrics, but you can do as you want to. Whip it good!

Out on the edge

In just about 48 hours from when I’m writing this, the Bruce Springsteen show at Wrigley Field will be wrapping up. When the tickets went on sale, it seemed like a long time away. And now it’s almost here. The passage of time isn’t always something I like, but in this case I’ll take it.

I was driving my daughter to ice skating practice tonight, and she was flipping through the hits stations as she usually does. At one point, I heard a small bit of Lady Gaga’s Edge of Glory. The station was quickly changed, and I almost demanded that she go back to the Lady Gaga song.

“But Dad, this song’s so old,” she protested.

“I want to hear the Big Man,” I told her. So we listened until the saxophone part near the end of the song. It was a nice bit of posthumous music from Clarence Clemons, who will be greatly missed on the stage at Wrigley Field on Friday night. As I listened to the notes, a big smile came across my face. He couldn’t live forever, but his music still can.

I’ve heard about the tribute that seems to accompany the playing of “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” on stage. I’ll join in the hollering and the yelling and the cheering, as if I’ve been to dozens of Springsteen shows in the past. I haven’t, of course, but that’s not really the point.

Clarence was a big part of the band, but he’s gone now. There’s no reason to get sad or upset about it, either. The show goes on, and life goes on along with it. For an untold number of the fans in the stands, this will be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to experience something special. It would have been nice if they could see Clarence, too, but the show will still be something worth remembering. And there’s always Lady Gaga’s song on the radio, too. Did I really just type that?