The day after a snowstorm, the sky is dark blue and clear as crystal. Infinite and bright, cleared of all dust and debris. We got about 8 inches of fluffy white stuff yesterday. Today, we have the brightest sun and the bluest sky since … the last snowstorm!
It’s a snow day here in south central Massachusetts. Cold and blowy. Snow has been falling pretty heavily since late morning and now, it’s dark out. Seven in the evening. Dinner is finished. Dishes put away. We were both outside taking pictures earlier. I think Garry got just the right pictures for this topic.
These are natural monochrome. It’s the way the world looks while snow is falling.
For Whom We Grieve, by Rich Paschall
In our younger years I suppose it is common to develop heroes in sports and entertainment. Most of them will be real people, some will be fictitious characters, but they will come to mean a lot in our lives. We follow their careers. We cheer them on in the theater and at the movies. We listen to them on the radio, CDs or streaming apps on our mobile devices. We watch them at concerts and on television. We grow attached to our heroes as if they were personal friends or members of the family. After all, many of them enrich our lives. Of all these, I think our musical favorites affect us the most to us.
Perhaps you have heard the phrase “the soundtrack of our lives.” Radio stations love to use it, especially oldies stations. When they say they are playing our “soundtrack,” what do they mean? Do our lives have a soundtrack? I believe they do and they contain many heroes and icons.
From a young age up to the early 30s, I think we develop a “soundtrack.” It is the music we listen to the most. It is the records, CDs and digital downloads we buy. How many of us bought an album in our late teens or early 20s and then listened to it many times in the decades that followed? While some continue to embrace new artists throughout their lives, many cling to the stars of their youth. For example, I saw Chicago the band in college in the 1970s and more times than I can count in the following years. I saw Brian Wilson, Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin (Beach Boys) in 2016. I saw the Rolling Stones a few years ago in Chicago. It is a joy to listen and reminisce.
When the artists who played the music we grew up listening to pass away, we are understandably sad. If they pass away from old age or sickness, we not only grieve for them but for ourselves as well. Their passing is a reminder of our own mortality. We do, however, have their great music to help ease the pain of loss.
In 2016 it seems we lost some iconic figures who played on the soundtrack of my life. Maybe they played on yours too. It was a year that stunned many in the music industry. My mother would have known Kay Starr (94) and Julius La Rosa (86), who performed until recent years. Fans of folk music would mourn the loss of Glenn Yarbrough (Limeliters) at 86. Country and Western fans lost a huge star in Merle Haggard (79).
Elton John lost a hero and musical favorite in Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Leon Russell (74). It was Russell who helped John to become a rock star, and John returned the favor in recent years by touring with Russell and recording an album with him (The Union).
Fans of the 1970s Grammy winning rock band Emerson, Lake and Palmer saw the passing of both Keith Emerson (74) and Greg Lake (69). ELP won the Grammy for Best New Artists in 1972 and Best Rock Instrumental Performance in 1981. The progressive rock group sold an estimated 48 million albums.
Of my favorites I will give an honorable mention to Rick Parfitt (68) of the British rock group Status Quo. The biggest hit I can remember was “Pictures of Matchstick Men” from 1968. I loved the “psychedelic sound.” They had a few more hits over the years. Parfitt is on the left at this 2014 festival performance, proving old guys rock:
One of the first singers I remember was Bobby Vee (73). He was already a rock star when I became aware of Rock and Roll. He had quite a string of hits in the 1960s and of course, appeared on American Bandstand with Dick Clark.
Glenn Frey (67), was a musician, songwriter, founding member of the Eagles and a lead singer on many of their hits, as well as an occasional actor on television and in films. The Eagles Greatest Hits was the best-selling album in the US in the 20th Century and second all time behind Michael Jackson’s Thriller. The track listing of the Eagles iconic album is the finest collection of rock and roll of the 1970s.
Prince Rogers Nelson, or just Prince to you and me, was another multifaceted artist. He picked up 7 Grammys in his career as well as an Academy Award (Purple Rain). With numerous hits to his credit, Prince was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004. At the time of his death he was seeking professional help for constant pain. He was only 57. Prince performed Purple Rain live in a rain storm at the Super Bowl:
One of the most iconic rock stars of our era was David Bowie (69). He was a constant innovator, often reinventing his musical style and his personal image at the same time. Bowie was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. In addition to his musical career, he appeared in many theatrical productions and films.
Perhaps the biggest shock in the Rock and Roll world was the sudden death of Grammy winning artist George Michael (53), reportedly of heart failure. Michael burst on the music scene as one half of Wham! Their good looks, high energy and lively tunes brought them huge success. When Michael went on to a solo career, he tried to concentrate on more adult themes in his music. Careless Whisper was one of those songs and a big hit:
I was swapping old baseball anecdotes with friends on Facebook after Marilyn and I re-watched Ken Burns’ classic “Baseball” series recently. It began with memories of 1963, one year after the introduction of the New York Metropolitans into the National League.
The Mets were designed to lure back fans disenchanted by the flight of Brooklyn’s Dodgers and New York’s Giants to the west coast a few years earlier. It was also a great business opportunity to reclaim some of the money that overflowed the coffers at Yankee Stadium. The once three baseball team Gotham was now dominated by the Bronx Bombers.
The Mets began as a circus with aging baseball legend, Casey Stengel, as ring master and manager. George Weiss, ousted from the Yankees front office when Casey was dumped for being old and losing the 1960 World Series, was the Mets first General Manager. The old Polo Grounds, once home to John McGraw, Christy Mathewson, a young Willie Mays and a host of other legendary Giants, was now home for the Mets. You could smell the history. Sometimes you had to hold your nose.
It was a good year to be 20 years old and a budding reporter with a life long love for baseball. The national stage was being set by JFK and his new frontier. “Gunsmoke” was topping the TV ratings and Elvis was king of the pop world.
Now came the Mets! They had problems hitting, throwing and catching the ball. Otherwise, they were fine. There were instant heroes like “Marvelous” Marv Throneberry, the error prone first baseman who had a minus fielding range. “Choo Choo” Coleman was a pleasant catcher who had problems with pitchers who couldn’t throw strikes. Elio Chacon was a flashy shortstop who did tangos as ground balls went through and around him. Roger Craig was a veteran starter whose fast ball was behind him … by several years … back in the ghost of Ebbets Field.
Opposing teams feasted on the new Mets. Baseball games were like batting practice for the other guys. Their batting averages soared and their earned run averages dropped against Casey’s Amazin’ Mets who lost and lost and lost.
Management decided to hype the circus atmosphere of the Mets by bringing in aging stars who normally would’ve retired. The over-the-hill retinue would include Richie Ashburn, Jimmy Piersall and Duke Snider. Even the legendary Willie Mays would show up a decade later in the dark autumn of his career. But it was storybook time for a young reporter in that summer of ’62.
Casey Stengel was wrapping up a 10 minute, one question interview that I’d forgotten as we shook hands. The Ol’ Perfesser tapped me on the cheek and pointed to Duke Snider as my next interview. I froze!! My boyhood hero, the Duke of Flatbush, was standing a few feet away from me.
You have to appreciate the moment and its back story. Growing up in the city of three baseball teams was a very special time. The time of three great, Hall of Fame centerfielders. Willie, Mickey and the Duke. There were myriad brawls over who was the best. There was even a song about the three heroes.
Edwin Donald “Duke” Snider was my idol. He was the sweet swinging lefty slugger from Compton, California. I had the Duke’s baseball cards, magazine stories and photos of Duke and his wife, Bev. I copied Duke’s swing and classic running gait, with elbows slightly raised as I rounded the bases after my imaginary grand slam home run. We still have his Hall of Fame plaque on the wall in the kitchen.
Now, he was standing next to me. My voice shot up several levels as the interview began. The Duke stared at me and mumbled, “I’m busy, Kid”. I just stood there. Crestfallen. Duke? Duke? I was still standing there when the Duke returned with a small smile on face.
Casey was standing behind Duke as he stood and politely granted me the interview. I was mesmerized. He apologized for his earlier, gruff manner and posed for a polaroid moment with me. Behind us, I could see Casey winking at me. As I basked in the moment, someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around to see the familiar face of Jimmy Piersall. Casey again was winking at me a few feet away. It was a wicked grin. I was puzzled.
Piersall who didn’t resemble Tony Perkins who had starred in the bio movie, “Fear Strikes Out”, also had a strange grin on his face. It was a bizarre moment. In a blur of seconds, Piersall was running around the bases backwards with a bat raised over his head and yelling. I kept my distance. It was surreal!! Piersall approached me again, bat in hand and weird smile on his face. “I was just funnin’ with you, Kid”, Piersall explained. He went on with a rambling anecdote about the joys of playing for Casey and the Mets.
I don’t recall ever asking Piersall a question. It didn’t matter.
My tech aide, actually a pal from the college radio station, was laughing as he showed me the pictures he’d taken. We had proof. I hadn’t imagined the crazy events. I wish I had those pictures now!
So it was, some 54 years ago. One memorable summer afternoon, when all was right in my world.