The Baseball Project Slides Into Town
Winterpills to open for all-star band; doors open at 5:30 p.m.
BY DAVE MADELONI
NORTHAMPTON — The Baseball Project is playing the Iron Horse on Friday night. Not the Football Project. Not the Basketball or Tennis Project.
What is it about our national pastime that stirs and inspires folk and rock songwriters, while other sports strike out?
The Baseball Project is an all-star team of rockers captained by Steve Wynn, (The Miracle 3, The Dream Syndicate), Scott McCaughey (The Minus 5, Young Fresh Fellows, R.E.M.), and Linda Pitmon (The Miracle 3, Golden Smog), featuring REM’s guitarist Peter Buck. They released an entire album of diamond gems entitled Frozen Ropes & Dying Quails in 2008, followed this year by Volume 2: High and Inside.
Try googling “best baseball songs” then do the same for football. You will find that the pickings for pigskin are slim, whereas baseball has a long and glorious history of musical homages.
Football has little to offer beyond three tunes from the hazy 80’s. First and foremost, is Hank Williams Jr’s grating “Are You Ready for Some Football?”, which I am sure has his poppa cringing from country music heaven. Then there is the lame “Superbowl Shuffle” featuring members of the Chicago Bears rapping “We’re so bad we know we’re good. Blowin’ your mind like we knew we would.” Not exactly LL Cool J. who, by the way, wrote a rap a year later cleverly entitled “Football Rap” for the film “Wildcats”. Remember that? Me neither.
It was so much easier to find high quality tunes about baseball, such as the old-time classic “Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio” (from Les Brown Orchestra 1941), or “Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball?” (a huge hit written and performed by Buddy Johnson in 1949 and re-recorded by Count Basie later that year) and “Say Hey” the swing classic from the 1950s about the incomparable Willie Mays.
Then, there are the modern day classics, like “Centerfield” by John Fogerty and “Glory Days” from Bruce Springsteen, along with worthy contributions like “All The Way” Eddie Vedder’s homage to long-suffering Cub Fans, and “Talkin’ Baseball” the folksy 1981 composition by Terry Cashman.
I asked McCaughey what makes baseball a sport that rock & folk songwriters are drawn to.
“Baseball players and baseball lore seem tailor-made for folk balladry. Baseball features the same kind of gritty heroes that are often the subject of folk songs. Turning a folk song into a rock song isn’t that difficult, just ask the Byrds,” he remarked.
“I’m not saying it wouldn’t be great to write a greasy southern rock song about Ken Stabler, or Brett Favre for that matter, but for some reason baseball just appeals to me more as a sport. What kind of song would I write about (basketballers) Jack Sikma? Greg Ostertag? I don’t know.”
Steve Wynn chimed in with an anecdote from a road trip that points out how the Baseball Project might want to choose their setlists carefully from city to city.
“We actually had the audacity to open our Atlanta show with ‘Don’t Call Them Twinkies,’ a song in which the third verse makes the regionally-unpopular claim that the Braves’ Ron Gant was clearly out in the controversial play against the Twins in the 1991 series,” he said.
“I’m pretty sure that in 30 years of touring that I’ve never been booed so loudly by an audience before the end of the first song. And, to make matters worse, our keyboard player — and Braves fanatic Mike Mills —sat out the song in protest, giving us the finger throughout that entire verse. Hey, we don’t always take the easy road in our songs.”
Signature Sound recording artists Winterpills will be opening for the Baseball Project. Their skipper, Philip Price, a Northampton resident, also sees the allure of baseball for writer types.
“Honestly, I grew up in a fairly rabidly anti-sporty household, with a writer dad and a dancer mom, and leotards were about the only sportswear tolerated in the house,” recalled Price.
“But somehow in my 20s, with the help of a writer friend, I came around to baseball, eschewing all other sports. The pace of the game. The amount of time between dramatic events. The tension that builds. The characters in the game. The rhythm, ebbs and flows — it’s not a game of instant gratification. There’s a lot of time to ponder many things in baseball. I think this fits in with the brain of a songwriter or writer… And no, I doubt I would write a song about baseball, but I wouldn’t rule it out.”
Doors open at 5:30 for the 7 p.m. show at the Iron Horse, located at 16 Center Street in downtown Northampton.
© Northampton Media
Dave Madeloni can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org