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“I see great things in baseball. It’s our game — the American game. It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism. Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set. Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us.” — Walt Whitman

“I believe in the Church of Baseball. I’ve tried all the major religions, and most of the minor ones. I’ve worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms, and Isadora Duncan.. I’ve tried ’em all, I really have, and the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball.”  — Annie Savoy

Bull Durham

This post originally ran five years ago, on the eve of the 2009 All-Star Game. It was pretty popular at the time, but the links had gone dead. With this year’s All-Star Game set to be played on July 15, I thought it’d be a nice opportunity to revisit the post, update it a little, and add some bonus features to make it “fresh” for those of you read it back then. Oh yeah, the music is live again, too.

At the time, I suggested to Kelly Stitzel that she feature Bull Durham for an installment of her wonderful Soundtrack Saturday column. I was shocked — shocked, I tell ya! — to find out she’d never seen writer-director Ron Shelton’s 1988 summer hit, one of the best sports movies of all time, if not the best movie about baseball. It’s also one of the finest romantic comedies of the past 25 years (I’m sure that Kelly has seen it by now, right Kelly?). Kelly offered me the opportunity to compile the complete soundtrack to one of my favorite films.

First-time director Shelton drew from his own experiences as a minor-league ball player for Bull Durham‘s screenplay, and he was blessed with a stellar cast that brought his richly drawn characters to life. It’s a movie full of smart dialogue, and character-based comedy that celebrates the lunacy, hijinks, and joys of America’s two favorite pastimes — baseball and sex.

Susan Sarandon, radiant as ever, flew on her own dime from Italy to audition and win theBull-Durham-mv02 role of Annie Savoy, a part-time teacher in Durham, North Carolina. Annie dedicates each summer of her life to tutoring one player on the Durham Bulls, the local minor-league team, that she believes has the best potential to get a call up to the majors. However, Annie isn’t interested in improving the player’s understanding of literature, and she isn’t a coach, although she knows as much about baseball as any manager. No, she’s more of a spiritual and sexual adviser. As she says, “You know how to make love, then you’ll know how to pitch.” Annie reads Walt Whitman to her lover-players, and plays Edith Piaf records in the hopes of making them well-rounded human beings and therefore better ball players. At the top of the film she chooses as her new student Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh, the Bulls’ latest gifted pitcher, a kid with a million-dollar arm, but a five-cent head on his shoulders.

The role of Nuke went to Tim Robbins in a breakthrough performance. Shelton had to fight to get Robbins cast in the part; up to that point the actor’s most visible role had been in the infamous flop, Howard the Duck. Besides being a part of that box office disaster, Robbins’ other jobs were mostly blink-and-you-missed-him bit parts (raise your hand if you recall him in Top Gun). In addition to his lack of experience as a leading man, executives at Orion Pictures felt that a woman as classy as Sarandon would never fall for a regular looking guy like Robbins. Luckily, Shelton prevailed and the two actors worked wonderfully on the set. Moreover, they fell in love, started a family, and were together for 23 years. Shows you how smart movie execs can be.

The one bedroom/loft apartment Julie and I moved into in 1995 had an air about it that rang true of a twentysomething married couple laying down roots. Located on Moorpark Street in North Hollywood, it wasn’t a large place, per say- a modest kitchen, a small balcony off the living room, an even larger balcony off the loft- but it had high ceilings and an openness about it that was very inviting.

I could sense a presence at the foot of my bed; someone standing there, waiting for me to wake up. Raising my head, my eyes fought their way through the haze caused by the alcohol and turkey I’d consumed the night before. It was my brother-in-law, Seann, dressed in his motorcycle jacket and his backpack hanging over one shoulder. His mouth curled into the cocksure smile that never seemed to leave his face.

The night before, Thanksgiving, he’d joined us for a feast at my brother’s house. We hadn’t seen him in a while and it was a pleasure to catch up. All in attendance came from my sister-in-law’s side of the family and I always found it beautiful that Seann could effortlessly fit in with them.   Just as they had welcomed Julie and me into their lives many years ago, they did the same with Seann. It helped that he was so personable and an interesting person to be around. If you asked him he could talk to you about just about anything.

 

 

 

 

My daughter is now thirteen. A teenager. She’s reached one of life’s biggest milestones… at least, what I considered to be a milestone back in 1982 when I turned thirteen. That year, as a seventh grade student at Chestnut School in North Olmsted, was a turning point for me. Music became the second most important thing in my life. The first, of course, was girls. At thirteen I experienced mind-dumbing crushes on my female peers, as hormones raged through my body. It’s a wonder I passed any of my courses. Each class had at least one young lady that I pined for, a girl I tried to impress with smartass remarks and rude outbursts in class. It’s also a wonder that my teachers were so lenient on me. It takes a patient and graceful instructor to tolerate the changing minds and emotions of teenage boys. I was lucky and I know it. I sometimes wonder if my daughter likes any boys; I try not to dwell on it. Does she pass notes or do they exchange texts between classes? She’s a bright girl who is focused on her schoolwork. That’s what my parents thought about me, too. Should I be worried?

It’s generally agreed upon that if you don’t have any new flavor to add to the original, you shouldn’t bother doing a cover.  But what exactly are the ingredients for a great cover?

There’s no secret recipe.  Some of the songs below are great because they completely deconstruct the original, stripping it down to its most basic components of chords and lyrics, and build it back up again in a completely different style.  For others, the genius of the original song was always present but the presentation was lacking, and when the talents of a different performer are added, the song gains a gravity that it didn’t have in its original form.  And some of them, whether by generational ignorance or through the general obscurity of the original artist, simply didn’t receive the exposure they needed for their greatness to be recognized until they were delivered by a more familiar voice.  But the finest of these, the ones we love the best, are simply great songs by great artists where the addition of a new twist and a new voice creates something that is greater than the sum of its parts.  You can hear and recognize the glory of the original version in every note of the cover, but the listening experience is taken to another level through the talents of the covering artist.

The process for generating our list was fairly simple.  We created a huge list (800+ songs) of nominees, and each of the authors that participated selected their own top 100.  Those top 100 lists were weighted on a curve and used to generate the list that you see below.  Next week, we’ll publish a separate “honorable mention” post featuring some of the songs that didn’t earn enough votes to make the list, but were important enough to individual authors that we wanted to make sure they received some attention as well.  If you’ve got a Spotify account, you can listen to most of the originals here, and the cover versions here.  If you don’t have an account yet, you can request an invitation (they issue them pretty promptly now).  Enjoy! — Zack Dennis

Big Foot by Chickenfoot

Scott Malchus: Now with more COWBELL! This song is tight. I’m bummed that Smith won’t be touring with them.

Jeff Giles: Our friend Matt Wardlaw wrote it up over at Ultimate Classic Rock, and I bought my copy at iTunes this morning. Sammy singing lead, Michael Anthony all over the background. Sounds like summer.

Rob Smith: It’s big dumb FUN, widda capital F.U. and an N, kiddies. Threadbare lyrics (kinda like “Soap on a Rope” and “Down the Drain,” from the last one, both of which drove me nuts until I just learned to reach down between my legs, ease the seat back, and enjoy myself). But man alive, that groove is stompin’. Lessee if dem Nijmegenians down in Pasadena got anything on this. Won’t believe it ’til I hear it.

Chris Holmes: Putting my Sammy biases aside, this sounds like pretty generic hard rock to me.

Jeff: I’m not disagreeing, but I think you have to put it in the context of what AOR has sounded like since 1992. We’re living in Staind and Linkin Park’s world now, so I’m always grateful when someone gets the old Camaro sounding halfway decent again.

David Medsker: Aaron Lewis: “It’s always about you and your Camaro, isn’t it? I’m singing about my feelings over here. Don’t you care about my feelings?”

Ooh, there’s a piece to be had — an imaginary conversation between Aaron Lewis and Chester Bennington.

Dw. Dunphy: Care about my PAAAAIIIIINNNNNN.

Jeff: I’d love to put those two assclowns across a table from Sammy and…I don’t know, Tom Scholz or someone. Let them argue about why rock radio is so horrible.

Bob Dylan is 70 years old. That statement is at once momentous, and irrelevant. Irrelevant because Dylan has always seemed to stand apart from any mere concept of time. While he has certainly aged physically, he is as alive in the flesh, and in our memories, as he ever has been.

It is hard to think of a public figure who has been the object of as much speculation as Dylan. Some of it was honestly come by, other parts by digging through his trash cans for clues. When it came time for Todd Haynes to make I’m Not There, he had to cast six different actors to play Dylan because although no one really knows who Dylan is, he is everyone.

Recently, in a rare posting on his official website, he said “Everybody knows by now that there’s a gazillion books on me either out or coming out in the near future. So I’m encouraging anybody who’s ever met me, heard me or even seen me, to get in on the action and scribble their own book. You never know, somebody might have a great book in them.”

“I wake up every day, right here, right in Punxsutawney, and it’s always February 2nd, and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

A couple of years ago I was in a record session for the animated series, The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack. One of the stars of that show was Brian Doyle-Murray, the venerable character actor who has been a mainstay in comedy films and television since the late 70’s. During the session, Brian’s cell phone began to buzz, interrupting the session. Brian, the consummate professional, was a little embarrassed as he pulled out the phone to turn it off. However, when he looked at the caller ID, he paused and said, “Uh, I have to take this real quick.” Then he answered the phone, “Hey Bill, I’m in the middle of a record session.” I have no idea what he said after that because my eyes went wide and I turned around to look  at the recording engineer and the voice director, who both had the same expression I did. “That’s Bill Murray on the phone,” we all said, like giddy little boys.

Obviously, Bill Murray calling his brother shouldn’t be a big deal, but to anyone who grew up in the late 70’s and early 80’s, Bill Murray was king. Just even in the same room in which he was on the phone made this small group of us feel privileged. Bill Murray was the guy you imagined you could toss back a couple of beers with, discuss baseball or politics, and probably laugh your ass off for hours. I watched all of his movies on VHS at one point during the early 80’s. including the perplexing Where the Buffalo’s Roam and Murray’s first true dramatic film, The Razor’s Edge. Even though those movies didn’t work for me, I still appreciated that he was taking risks as an artist.

In 1993, Columbia Pictures release what may be argued as Murray’s greatest film achievement, Groundhog Day. I believe the film surprised a lot of people as it wasn’t your typical slapstick comedy, as we’d all come to expect from Murray.  In Groundhog Day, longtime Murray fans, like me, were dazzled by the actor’s ability to incorporate the many facets of his acting career into a single performance, helping to create one of his most memorable characters, Phil Connors.

DOWNLOAD THE FULL MIX HERE Like millions of people who are TV watchers, I’m hooked on AMC’s The Walking Dead.  Yes, I had my qualms with the pilot episode (See Scott Malchus’ review of the show and the comments section), but that’s okay.  I mean, I was a huge fan of LOST, but I still had my issues with the way they failed to explain a number of things they set up in the show.  But this isn’t a post on TV shows that often failed to be consistent.  Nope, this is a mix that takes the impending zombie apocalypse that will come one day — and I use as my source the unimpeachable journal of science, Cracked.com.  And when it does, will you know what to do?  Probably not. You can, however, get yourself prepared by watching movies like Zombieland, where Jesse Eisenberg’s character has 32 rules you need to adhere to if you’re going to survive.  Double Tap and cardio are essential. So to get your cardio conditioning started, here’s a mix that’ll help you prepare for what’s coming and remind you that some of these musicians have been sounding the alarm long before many of us realized.

See you on the other side!

It’s time to close the basement door for the rest of the year. When you spend two and a half weeks working on a post that reflects on your missed opportunities and giving up on certain dreams (thanks to this song), well, then it’s time to reboot the old mental toolbox and take some time off. The last thing anyone reading this website needs is a writer throwing a pity party for himself.

Over the course of the past couple of months, as I’ve struggled to find meaning in what it is I’m doing with my life, I’ve been blessed that Julie and our two brilliant children have been there for me. Nothing cures the ills of a downtrodden spirit like the kiss of a good woman or the clinging embrace of a loving child. I am so blessed. No matter how low I get, I have them to prop me up and say that they’ll stand by me.

Instead of closing out the year with a traditional holiday song, I wish to say goodbye to 2010 with a different classic. In 1994, the Pretenders returned to form with a strong album, Last of the Independents. Among the great tracks featured on that LP was Chrissie Hynde’s beautiful anthem, “I’ll Stand By You.”

Unlike most of my peers in the 8th grade, I didn’t have an older sibling fixated on the guitar wizardry of Eddie Van Halen or the flamboyant showmanship of singer David Lee Roth, front men for the band, Van Halen, in the early 80’s. My only exposure to the hard rockers was through their radio hits, “Dance the Night Away,” and the two cover songs from 1982’s Diver Down, Martha and the Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Street” and Roy Orbison’s immortal, “(Oh) Pretty Woman.” The latter was also played regularly in our basement, a featured selection in the set lists of several of the garage bands my brother, Budd, played drums in. That’s how Diver Down wound up in our basement.

In late 1983, as anticipation swelled for the release of what would be Van Halen’s commercial breakthrough, the monster hit, 1984, I turned to the only source of Van Halen music I had. Being familiar with Diver Down didn’t help me much in conversations, though, as most kids talked about the band’s eponymous 1978 debut or their 1979 follow-up, Van Halen II. Sure there were some fanatics who could have given a full discourse on the merits of Diver Down and its superior predecessor, Fair Warning, but those kids had long hair, wore faded Levi’s jeans jackets and reeked of cigarettes. They made me nervous, no matter how cool I tried to appear.

The 7th grade had been a huge transitional year for me. I excelled in football and band, got my first black eye, kissed my first girl, went to my first rock concerts and even played in a rock band with some classmates. When 7th grade ended I thought for sure that 8th grade was going to be even better.  It was not. In fact, 8th grade was a huge let down. I stopped hanging out with some close friends, I pined for a girl all year long, I contracted mono in the stupidest of ways- from drinking contaminated milk, seriously- and slowly realized that the kids I used to pummel in football were suddenly the same size or bigger than me. Sometime in the fall of ’83, while I was holed up in my parents’ basement, I fell in love with Diver Down, in particular a sensitive little song on side 2 called “Little Guitars.”

Mad Men wraps up its fourth season tonight on AMC and for anyone who hasn’t been watching, you’ve missed Emmy winning show’s finest cycle of episodes since it first came on the air in 2007. The focus of this season has been Don Draper, specifically, who is Don Draper? In fact, the opening moments of the season premiere had a reporter posing that question to Draper and the slick ad man couldn’t deliver a definitive answer. For 12 weeks, he’s had to claw through his past in an attempt to figure out who he really is and exactly what it is he stands for.

For years, Draper (Jon Hamm) has related success, wealth and family as the definition of what a man is; however, this season has seen the typically confident Draper struggle with the many facets of his life. Having divorced his bitter wife, Betty (January Jones), Draper’s family is in a shambles. Not that he was ever a good husband. Sure, he’s been a  provider, but Draper has slept with more women than he can remember and lied about his true identity to his trophy wife. And what kind of role model has he ever been for his children? Everything that this man has is founded on a lie.

Longtime viewers know that Draper is was born Dick Whitman, the son of a poor farmer and a prostitute, and that he assumed the identity of Don Draper after a military hospital mix-up gave him the name of a fallen soldier and the dead man his. What would his children, especially his precocious daughter, Sally (this season’s secret weapon, Kiernan Shipka), think of their father if they found out that he was a liar and a cheat?

While Draper seems to be plenty wealthy as the partner in an ad agency and one of the most well regarded creative men in the ad business, as the season is coming to a close that agency is in a disarray, on the verge of going under. Everything that Draper has worked for- family, wealth and success- are ready to come apart and we’re left wondering what will happen to this man.

Tuesday night, as I washed the dishes, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings played on the stereo. While I listened to the fantastic retro soul title track from their latest album, I Learned the Hard Way. Jacob stood at the kitchen table, leafing through one of his many Batman: The Brave and the Bold comic books. When the instrumental, “The Reason,” began, I happened to glance over at him. Oblivious to the fact that his father was watching, Jacob flipped pages while his feet and legs moved to the rhythm of the song. He was in his own world- a place of colorful super heroes and exciting words full of heightened drama. I wish “The Reason” was longer than two minutes and twenty seconds. I could have gone on watching him for another hour.

Comics and music. My son has gravitated to the same passions I had when I was a boy. Toss in his love of animated movies and juvenile humor (lately, there’s nothing funnier than a good kick to the tenders) and you might say that Jake is a carbon copy of me. I have faith that Jake will continue to embrace these art forms and that he’ll never feel embarrassed for his love of comic books. In my youth, I hid my comic obsession from my friends and family, as if there was something to be ashamed of in reading stories of heroism, love, loyalty and family. Granted, they also involved women drawn in incredibly tight costumes and an abundance of violence, but still, there was no reason why I felt I had to sneak my comics into the basement as if they were Playboy.

I found a kindred spirit in the 7th grade when I met a kid named Jeff Marsick. Besides ogling the same girls, sharing the same classes, and both being members of the school band, the two of us both loved reading and talking about comic books. Jeff and I remained friends all the way through high school. He once gave me the inside scoop on my high school crush; I once helped him pick up a girl at a Key Club convention by writing some romantic lines and signing his name to them. Despite the good times we shared and the many long talks we had about Wolverine and the Flash, once we received our high school diplomas we lost touch. Jeff went into the Coast Guard and I wound up in film school and eventually out west to pursue a Hollywood dream. That should have been the end of our friendship.

Then, one afternoon in the late 90’s, Jeff phoned me out of the blue. After tracking me down through our high school alumni association, he called to congratulate me, having seen my name in the credits of There’s Something About Mary. Jeff was out of the Coast Guard, living in Connecticut and starting up his own chiropractic practice. I was amazed to learn during our brief phone conversation that Jeff had a passion for writing, as well. Novels, screenplays, criticism, you name it; the guy had the talent, wit and the desire to have his voice heard. He promised to send me a copy of his unfinished novel and we exchanged email addresses. I never expected to hear from him again.

I was wrong.

We went camping last weekend, a quick getaway on a Saturday night. Did we go to some dusty old campground miles from the city or a national forest with trees high above our heads? Nope. Instead, we camped three miles from our house in the heart of downtown Valencia, at the Hyatt Hotel.

I know what you’re thinking: “Uh, dude, that isn’t camping.” Maybe not to you, but to Sophie and Jacob it is. They’ve always loved hotels– sleeping in a foreign bed; swimming in a large, heated pool; watching the same television shows they do at home, but on a better TV; not having to clean up after themselves. Most importantly, they love when the four of us escape from reality and get treated like royalty, at least for just one night.

The night started out with Julie and I on a date, our first in maybe four months. Like most parents we know, the desire for a couple of hours alone, to get some dinner and drinks, is discussed quite often. Actually doing it becomes a challenge, what with a busy family life and the economy. Yet, there we were, hanging out at TGI Fridays, relaxing and having a great time over a couple of beers and some overpriced appetizers, acting like we did when we first met over 18 years ago, not a care in the world.

That carefree feeling lasted about ten minutes before our conversations turned to repainting the bathrooms, mowing the lawn, Jacob’s health, school and other daily stresses. Nevertheless, having some alone time (even in a noisy bar) with the love of my life was the perfect remedy to the blue mood I’ve been in lately.

From the day I met her, Julie has been my savior. There are corridors in my heart where shadows lurk and they sometimes pull me into dark places. Doubt, melancholy, despair- they all wait with baited breath for a slight turn in my mood so they can pounce. Time and time again, when I’m in one of my blue periods, all it takes is a small gesture: a smile, a touch of the hand, those three words. Any of these are enough to bring a glow to my spirits, to help me breathe again. I am so lucky to have a woman who saves me over and over.