Thursday, October 15, 2020

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

 


DUKES FANS: Take Me Out to the Ballgame…

If you are not much of a sports fan, and in particular not much of a baseball fan, you may not want to read this newsletter. For it is an ode to a style and time of baseball play that was an important part of my life. I do not write much about sports in these missives, but I grew up with a deep love of baseball. I was born in 1950, and I grew up in a working class African-American neighborhood in West Philadelphia. Being a somewhat stereotypical boy, I was a sports fan and from the time I was around 4, I lived for baseball. We played versions of it in the street and played running the bases, half ball, and catching games. I listened to games on the radio and eventually got to watch them on this relatively new thing called 'television." When I was about 9, a couple of the fathers formed a neighborhood league, and we played at the fields at 49th and Brown Streets and 46th and Haverford Avenue. We even got into a few tournaments with teams from other neighborhoods. I would model my batting stance on my favorite players and try to stand in the field as they did. I simply loved the sport and engaged in fantasies of being a baseball star.

I was a die-hard Phillies fan then, even as we were losing during most of those years. (The Philadelphia Phillies are, in fact, the losingest single franchise in all of professional sports.)  For those of you who either remember or know about the epic end-of-season collapse of the 1964 team, I was one of those fans screaming for the head of manager Gene Mauch. Remembering that season can still almost bring me to tears.

The sports scene in the 50’s and 60’s was very different from what it is now. The was no ESPN, no talk radio sports shows, and the National Football League was not really a big thing yet, Baseball and boxing were the big national sports-there were even weekly Friday Night Fights on television. Like most boys from all backgrounds, I collected and traded baseball cards, and relished those few times I could go to baseball games with my father or with church groups. I was fortunate to be married years later to a woman who also loved the game. Watching games on TV together was something we loved. We had season tickets for several years and got to go to game 1 of the 1980 World Series, when the Phillies won their first world championship. I still have a button and the program from that game. We also went to game 3 in the 1993 Series when the Phils were beaten by the Toronto Blue Jays. And we celebrated the later success of the team, including their 2008 World Series victory. I am still a Phillies fan.

I have been reliving and thinking about those days because three of my all-time favorite baseball players died, one after the other, in recent months. Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, and Joe Morgan are three names that stand out among many from my memories of being a lifelong baseball fan. I have such clear and vivid memories of watching each of them play. Each was a superb and idiosyncratic performer who had signature moves and flair. Lou Brock was a great hitter and base stealer. I have fond memories of watching him working a pitcher for a walk and dancing off first base, forcing the pitcher to throw over trying to keep him close to the bag. But it was to no avail; he would take that 2 step start and be gone. He would make the pitcher so nervous that he could lose concentration on the batter at the plate; a lot of St Louis Cardinal hitters owed their batting averages to Lou being on base in front of them. He was also the first of the ball players to make stealing bases an offensive weapon. He could time and design his slides so that he could go into 2nd base from different angles and even slide past the bag and reach back to touch it. He played for the St. Louis Cardinals, so I got to watch him frustrate the Phillies on a regular basis. But he was in several division championships and World Series games, so I could openly root for him on national TV. And root for him I did.            

Bob Gibson also played for the St. Louis Cardinals, and he was one of the most intimidating pitchers the game has ever known. He would stand tall on the pitcher’s mound, glowering and staring at batters before doing that big windup and then uncorking a rifle-like fastball, a dive-at -the last-minute curve ball, or a hard slider. He was super-competitive; his wife would not let him play cards with their daughter because he was too intense. But, Man, could he pitch!  And he was a complete player; he was a great fielder, a great hitter, and a great runner. He was one of the game's most dominant pitchers in the mid to late 1960’s. He won 2 of 3 games he pitched in the 1964 World Series, won 20 games in a season in 1965, and  pitched three complete game victories in the 1967 World Series when the Cardinals won the world championship. The pinnacle of Gibson's career was 1968, when he posted a 1.12 ERA for the season and then recorded 17 strikeouts in Game 1 of the 1968 World Series. That ERA is the best in modern baseball history, and the 17 strikeouts is still a World Series record. Yes, I hated the way he tortured the Phillies, but I loved watching him in post-season play. His intensity came through the TV screen.

Joe Morgan was probably the best fielding and hitting second basemen in the history of the game. He was the heart of the Cincinnati Reds’ dreaded “Big Red Machine” that dominated the National League during the 1970’s. They won 6 Division Titles, four National League championships, and two World Series championships during that decade. Joe could start rallies by getting a line drive single or working a walk. He could keep a rally going by taking a walk, stealing a base, or hitting a clutch home run. And he could stop an opponent’s rally with a diving stop of a ground ball, a swiftly turned pivot on a double play, or by making a perfect relay throw to get a runner out at the plate. Morgan was a remarkably steady and all-around player. He was often in the top ten in walks, fielding average, batting average, runs scored, and stolen bases. In fact, he is #11 all time in that last category He played for the Reds, but he joined the Phillies in 1983, and it was his September surge that helped propel them into the World Series that year (although they lost to the Orioles) And Joe had a bit of a swagger but was often smiling. He was clearly working hard, but he was seeming to enjoy it all. I liked that.

As we age we lose heroes and memories from our younger lives. Be they musicians, politicians, artists, athletes, writers or what, they are people whose presence in the world touched us and made us see something in ourselves. We lost a number of other great baseball players this year: Whitey Ford, Tom Seaver, and "Mr. Philly, Tony Taylor, among others. But these three were ones whose style and intensity spoke to me about sports and more than sports. As a young African-American during the heyday of Civil Rights and the Viet Nam War, their clear and bold presence and excellence meant a lot to me. They presented ways to be in and to meet the world as a young Black man. So here's to three wonderful athletes and people who gave me so much joy and were models-possibilities- of how to be in the world. Yes, it was only a game. But it was also so much more.

IMPORTANT CITIZEN STUFF: please take note

CENSUS 2020:

The US Supreme Court ruled yesterday that end date of the census is today, October 15th! So if you have not done your census yet, please do it today! The census is hugely important. The information it contains helps the Federal government and states decide on things such as voting districts, grants for Federal aid, transportation and highway funds, and a hell of a lot more.Please go to Census.gov  It does not take long. And please check to make sure friends, family members, and co-workers have completed the process. Thanks

VOTING 2020;
Monday,October 19 is the PA deadline to register to vote.
November 3rd is the date of one of the most important national and state elections in our lifetimes, and it is not too extreme to say that the history of at least the next 20-30 years of the United States will be decided by this election. Everyone should be sure they are registered, that they have a plan to vote, and that they are ready to go. If you are voting by mail, order your ballot now and get it turned in as soon as possible to avoid any delays and craziness. And if you are a Pennsylvanian, be aware of the “naked ballot” court decision. Please make sure you are following all of your state’s rules about registering, mail in ballots, and more: https://www.aarp.org/politics-society/government-elections/info-2020/state-voting-guides.html

There is also a huge need in states for poll workers, so if you can do that please help out. And you can get paid for doing it. Here is a link about it:

GIGS:

THE TWO JOHNS BACK AT THE COSMIC CAFÉ: SUNDAY, OCTOBER 18: NOON UNTIL 3 PM

The Two Johns-Johnny Never, acoustic guitar and vocal and John Colgan-Davis, harmonica-return to one of our favorite places to play and to play safely. The Cosmic Café is a great small café and beverage spot in back of the Art Museum at 1 Boathouse Row. It features great sandwiches and salads, beer and non-alcoholic beverages, and a great staff. Masks are required, tables are set apart, and there are nice views of the Schuylkill River. Hope to see you this Sunday.


Friday, September 25, 2020

THANK YOOU, JOHN SMITHSON

 

DUKES FANS: Thanks, John Smithson

            People who know me know that among my favorite things in the world are museums. I have written numerous times about things I have seen and experiences I have had at the Philadelphia Art Museum, the African-American Museum on Arch Street, The Barnes Foundation, The National Constitution Center and more. I am a museum guy, and I am proud of it.

            This all started with going to public libraries when I was in elementary school. These special looking buildings had pictures and artwork that intrigued me and they all seemed to be able to take me somewhere else. My mom had encyclopedias for us, and they, too took me somewhere else and tugged at my imagination. But the libraries were buildings; they were more intense and real. And then when I was in junior high school and got to go to the Art Museum, the Academy of Natural Sciences, and the main branch of the free library, I was hooked. I needed to explore all buildings that looked like that and see what I could find inside. And I have been doing that ever since.

             I am thinking about this because I just finished reading the latest issue of the Smithsonian, the monthly publication of the Smithsonian Institution. I have been a subscriber to the magazine since my wife and I started our regular Baltimore-DC weekends sometimes in the 1990’s. We loved the show Homicide: Life on The Street, so we started going down to Baltimore for weekends. We would eat at some of the places where Homicide was filmed and we came to discover and frequent some of our favorite museums: The Reginald Lewis Museum, a museum dedicated to the history and culture of Blacks in Maryland, Great Blacks in Wax, a wax museum dedicated to all aspects of the Black experience, and the Museum of American Visionary Art, a museum dedicated to outsider  art. After a few times of doing this we      realized we were close to Washington, DC, and that began our regular Spring and Fall Baltimore-DC routine. We would go down to Baltimore on a Friday, see one of the three museums, and then eat at a favorite seafood restaurant. We would then spend all day Saturday in DC, visiting at least one of the many Smithsonian museums and galleries, eat at a DC restaurant, usually in Adams-Morgan, and return to Baltimore Saturday night. We would then stop off at a Baltimore sight and then head back to Philly on Sunday. We did that for years. We especially loved the Air and Space Museum, the Museum of the American Indian, the Museum of American History, The African Art Museum, the Anacostia Museum and its dedication to urban life, and the Museum of Natural History. (We had planned to visit the Museum of African-American History and Culture in March of 2018, but the wind and rains storms that weekend closed both Maryland and DC)

             I love how each of the different Smithsonian museums is laid out. I do not know how they planned or deigned it, but somehow any part of any one of the museums could suddenly transport me to a different time period or to a different location. Or it could give me a new perspective on something with which I was already familiar. Seeing the Greensboro, NC lunch counter where the sit- in movement started in the American History Museum, for example, made it real for me in a way that it quite hadn’t been before. It almost didn’t matter which of the museums we went to; something transformative would almost always happen after spending just a little time inside.

            I was curious about how this amazing collection of museums came to be, and I was amazed to find out that the Smithsonian Institution owes it birth to one John Smithson, a wealthy British scientist who left in his will some $500,000 “to found at Washington under the name, Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.” No one knows why he did that-he had not visited the US, he had no relatives in the US, and he left no explanation for it in his writings. But when President Polk in 1846 signed the bill into law that authorized a Smithsonian trust and set up a Board of Regents, the groundwork was laid for what would eventually become the world’s largest museum collection and research organization. Not only that, but it was decided early on that the phrase, “diffusion of knowledge” meant that the public would be allowed to see the results of this research. This was not some secretive enterprise-it was public. And as the Institution built building after building, established research teams, it kept expanding its reach and expertise, encompassing and examining more and more different aspects of United States life, science, and culture. It is literally “the gift that keeps on giving,” as the institution continually takes us in new directions and provides new insights into nearly every aspect of our lives. It is quietly miraculous and wonderful/

            So after I finished this month’s magazine, and reading about a new look at the reign of Roman Emperor Nero and discovered the life of the South Dakota poet who wrote one of my favorite Ian and Sylvia songs,  and looking at how scientists are trying to figure out ways to stop the spotted lanternfly before it gets to the agricultural fields of the West, I said a quiet “Thank you” to John Smithson. His gift to a fledgling country, barely 60 years old at the time, has opened the world not only to me but to millions. It is amazing what a museum can do for us all. Thanks, John, so much!

      (Links to museums mentioned above:

         Great Blacks in Wax:

            www.greatblacksinwax.org/index.html

        American Visionary Arts Museum

            www.avam.org

        Reginald Lewis Museum

           https://lewismuseum.org

       The Smithsonian Institution Complex

           https://www.si.edu/museums

       Smithsonian Magazine

          https://www.smithsonianmag.com/?no-ist )

IMPORTANT CITIZEN STUFF: please take note

CENSUS 2020:

            The census will be ending September 30, a month earlier than previously scheduled. This is important; if you have not done your census yet, please do it now! The census is hugely important. The information it contains helps the Federal government decide on things such as voting districts, grants for Federal aid, transportation and highway funds, and a hell of a lot more. It is one of the ways our tax dollars get to come back to us in our own areas, and as COVID makes abundantly clear, we need our tax dollars put to work for us. Please go to the website: https://www.census.gov And check to make sure friends, family members, and co-workers have completed the process. Thanks

VOTING 2020

            November 3rd is the date of one of the most important national and state elections in our lifetimes. It is not too extreme to say that the history of at least the next 20-40 years of the United States is at stake here, so everyone should be sure they are registered, they have a plan to vote, and that they are ready to go. If you are voting by mail, order your ballot now and get it turned in as soon as possible to avoid any delays and craziness. And if you are a Pennsylvanian, be aware of the “naked ballot” court decision. Please make sure you are following all of your state’s rules.

             https://www.aarp.org/politics-society/government-elections/info-2020/state-voting-guides.html             

            There are also a huge need in states for poll workers, so if you can do that please help out. And you can get paid for doing it. Here is a link about it:

           https://www.inquirer.com/politics/election/2020-election-poll-worker-volunteer-pennsylvania-new-jersey-20200918.html

 GIGS:

         THE TWO JOHNS ARE BACK AT THE COSMIC CAFÉ-SUNDAY, OCTOBER 18: NOON UNTIL 3 PM     

              The Two Johns-Johnny Never, acoustic guitar and vocal and John Colgan-Davis, harmonica-return to one of our favorite places to play and to play safely. The Cosmic Café is a great small café and beverage spot in back of the Art Museum on Boathouse Row. It features great sandwiches and salads, beer and non-alcoholic beverages and a great staff. Masks are required, tables are set apart, and there are nice views of the Schuylkill River.

THE DUKES ARE ON HIATUS!

  The recent upticks in local COVID infections means that the Dukes are going to lay low until December at the earliest. Hopefully treatments and/or a COVID vaccine can be developed, tested and distributed by then, but we are not doing any live gigs for now. It is simply too risky. We want to thank all of our fans and friends-playing for you is an absolute joy and the reason we do what we do. We are looking forward to a time when we can safely do it live again. Stay safe, be careful and be well.

Missing Dukes Sounds?

Dukes Live Dukes of Destiny - Chain of Fool's

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RI54KvkZqzE&list=PLo-hWFEcnLljRskT6uHR-eOL09HEdQsRP

Change of Address: Hideaway Records, owned by my high school buddy Brian Reisman and one of my favorite record, CD and DVD stores, has moved down the Hill to 8232 Germantown Ave. Look for the top hat on the sign


Friday, September 11, 2020

Slowing Down, Looking Back and Moving Forward

 

DUKES FANS:

Slowing Down, Looking Back and Moving Forward

  Benefits of Going Slow:

      We are in the 6th month of our COVID induced shutdown and lockdown, and it has undeniably been hard in so many ways for so many of us. Some of us have either had the virus or have had relatives, friends, neighbors and more who have been affected by it. Some of us have experienced deaths of people close to us from the virus, and there is no way of getting around the pain of that, especially when ZOOM and SKYPE funerals these days vastly outnumber live and in person ones.  If we have a relative in a nursing home, hospital or care facility we are probably not able to physically be with them. If we have friends, family, lovers, partners, or close colleagues who live away from us, we may not be able to see them except on screens. And if we have family living with us in the same dwelling, many of us have had to slowly and sometimes painfully learn a new definition of what “family”means.

   Yes, these changes are here and real, and they have affected every aspect of our lives. It has been hard to deal with in so many ways, and I hope we are all finding ways to cope. But it has also brought some unexpected benefits and rewards. For may of us life has slowed down a lot, so we are looking at things differently and paying attention to things we used to either ignore or only notice in a half-hearted, cursory way. Health, cleaning and safety items such as masks, sanitizer and first aid kits have jumped in consumer spending, of course during this time and that makes sense. But so have hand held toys and board games. Kids are jumping rope, playing jacks, doing hopscotch, and playing catch. Families and neighbors are actually sitting around a table and taking the time to play Clue and Monopoly and Battleship, and maybe even talk to one another and joke and have conversations with one another. Binocular and bird food sales have sky-rocketed as more people take note of the birds in the yard and around the neighborhood. And in online schools, science classes have been focusing on nature in ways few of them had before. A lot of people have taken up online meditation or yoga, or visiting museums online, or learning an instrument, or biking, Many people are also trying new recipes, hiking, re-decorating and even reading actual hand-held books. For many of us this slowing down has given us the opportunity to take in some new things and to look at parts of our lives in a new, deeper way. For me, my life has slowing down has taken me back to some important and revelatory things about myself.

  A couple of weeks ago I mentioned in a newsletter the re-discovery of my old playlists from my teaching days and the joy of delving back into those recordings. I am still doing that and totally enjoying it. Yesterday I listened to 2 of my favorite Geoff Muldaur cuts on one playlist from his wonderful CD, The Secret Handshake. The songs, Chevrolet/Big Alice and Alberta feature horn sections arranged by the great tuba, sax  player and bandleader Howard Johnson, Listening to those 2 songs suddenly reminded me of the great Taj Mahal live double CD with Howard Johnson’s band and arrangements, The Real Thing. Wow! I listened to the whole CD, singing along and dancing, and then I was reminded of his work on the Band’s CD and concert movie The Last Waltz.  So  I listened to that CD as well. It was an afternoon of tuba heaven, all because. I had the time to slow down, feel and make those connections, and follow them up. I had an afternoon with Howard Johnson.

   Another thing I have been able to do these days is read the newspaper. Not glance at a story or go through the headlines, but actually sit in the backyard and read the paper. As a kid that was so important to me-reading the paper was something I could not wait to do. I would see something that fascinated me or confused me, and it would send me to the library or to the encyclopedia, or to ask someone about it. I was making connections and following and seeing where things led me. That has been qn important part of my presence in the world, and I am doing that again. I read a reprint of a wonderful interview of the late Black artist Jacob Lawrence in The Philadelphia Tribune in which he took the interviewer on a tour of some of his favorite works at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art. I knew Lawrence had been influenced by Mexican muralists, so I was not surprised to read him talking about Diego Rivera. But he also mentioned a muralist I hadn’t heard of, Jose Oroszco. A little web searching took me to pages of his work and to a wonderful website, SmartHistory, which is an online resource on art history from around the world. Again, I spent several hours searching, exploring and being surprised. I found both a new artist to love and a new site in which I can wander about and get wonderfully lost. (https://smarthistory.org)

   In the Inquirer I have been reading the food section in detail, and I now have a list of 12 restaurants to try when the shutdown is over and I feel comfortable going to restaurants again. And I have gained a few new ideas to try in my own cooking that I probably would not have tried had I not read them in the paper. Making connections is still an important way of approaching the world for me, and it still motivates me, moves me and brings me joy.

  So slowing down has its benefits. We have to look at and do things differently these days, and if we can learn to let that be an opportunity and allow our curiosity to lead, who knows where we will be taken? It will probably be a great ride. Buckle up.

(Here are YouTube links to the Geoff Muldaur, Taj Mahal and The Band recordings mentioned above

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wEkoKntwRV0

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JPF485guOH0&list=OLAK5uy_kua_bplHWDjg5KVL29G3JWfyCqNJBptDc

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DGDFvxalpjk&list=OLAK5uy_ncrJ9dsn5JiOz-PFi5eRTSTY3QMML2Rjo

 

IMPORTANT CITIZEN STUFF: please take note

CENSUS 2020: The census will be ending September 30, a month earlier than previously scheduled. This is important; if you have not done your census yet, please do it now! The census is hugely important. The information it contains helps the Federal government decide on things such as voting districts, grants for Federal aid, transportation and highway funds, and a hell of a lot more. It is one of the ways our tax dollars get to come back to us in our own areas, and as COVID makes abundantly clear, we need our tax dollars put to work for us. It is essential that as accurate a count as possible is taken, particularly when the the door to door census is on hold. Our online completions are even more important now than ever before. Please go to the website: https://2020census.gov/en.html And check to make sure friends, family members, and co-workers have completed the process.

VOTING 2020

November 3rd is the date of one of the most important national and state elections in our lifetimes. It is not too extreme to say that the history of at least the next 20 years of the United States is at stake here, so everyone should be sure they are registered, they have a plan to vote, and that they are ready to go. If you are voting by mail, order your ballot now and get it turned in as soon as possible to avoid any delays and craziness. There are also needs in states for poll workers, so if you can do that please help out. Here is a link to info about voting in your state:

https://www.aarp.org/politics-society/government-elections/info-2020/state-voting-guides.html             

THE DUKES ARE ON HIATUS!

  The recent upticks in local COVID infections means that the Dukes are going to lay low until December at the earliest. Hopefully treatments and/or a COVID vaccine can be developed, tested and distributed by then, but we are not doing any live gigs for now. It is simply too risky. We want to thank all of our fans and friends-playing for you is an absolute joy and the reason we do what we do. We are looking forward to a time when we can safely do it live again. Stay safe, be careful and be well.

Missing Dukes Sounds?

Dukes Live Dukes of Destiny - Chain of Fool's

Change of Address: Hideaway Records, owned by my high school buddy Brian Reisman and one of my favorite record, CD and DVD stores, has moved down the Hill to 8232 Germantown Ave. Look for the top hat on the sign