It seems tragic to me. Tourists are given audio headphones, tour Graceland at a breakneck clip and are deposited at the graves of Elvis, his mother, his father, his Aunt Minnie and his stillborn brother, Jesse. To die an addicted person at age 42 is a tragedy for anyone. To not have your associates and family reach out to at least try to intervene is a disgrace. Skinny Elvis. Fat Elvis. Dead Elvis. As he was so squarely in the public eye, the squalor of his death is public as well. And a tour costs only $28 dollars.
Graceland looks like a drug hallucination. This isn't a complaint but an observation from a former observer of that scene. I find Elvis' life a tragedy. His death at 42 and how it was a human tragedy, essentially alone, is never talked about. The man lived a Rocket 88 trip to the top of the American Dream slipped, stumbled and fell all the way back down. Somebody said that after awhile, Elvis was the first Elvis impersonator.
And after Lennon? 90-95% of what Elvis produced in his life was pure schlock. His output was so prodigious that it overshadows what he did accomplish. It is easy to think of him as he declined into a pool of drugs and incoherant mumbles. Thinking back to the fire of "Baby Lets Play House" makes sifting through it all worthwhile.
It is a funky year to be an American at Christmas....gloom and doom about...hey, I don't have to tell you guys, you are going through the same things. Last July,the Greensboro Grasshoppers in North Carolina, celebrated "Xmas in July" at their ball park. White foam was spread on the outfield berm for kids to snow/skateboard. Santa roamed around....As I have a long standing tradition of being at ballparks on my birthday....and this was the date of the event, off I went. It was nice being in a place where you can actually have some fun without somebody looking over your shoulder telling you that Santa is un-PC. Just like the ones I used to know...
My pal, Amy D, has just adopted a wonderful and engaging baby boy, Eric. Her laments suits the way a lot of us feel.Yesterday the weather was Arctic frigid, today it is pouring,so why couldn't her maternity leave have coincided with summer...while she could spend three months watching Eric learn to walk, gurgle and everything else babies do, as she watched all of the baseball she wanted? Since he has baseball hats, dolls, jackets, bibs and even a framed picture of mine of Nomah in his room, he is off to a good start. All I had was a beat up radio and if I was lucky, baseball cards. Tough choice over comic books in those days...
half as much as I loved you.....Hank. Another causualty of an empty bottle and a broken heart.....at an early age. I visited the Hank Williams Museum in Montgomery, AL. Small. The focus being the Caddy that he died in, lots of sheet music, birth, death certificate. His music is the legacy. This makes him different than Elvis, whose voice was the legacy. Off to Memphis in a couple of weeks. Christmas at Graceland. Probably one of the most tacky events in America, next to the Green campaign..and I am the man to capture it.
Even though the Internet has up to the nano-second news, it is still a quiet time in the world of baseball. I only posted a couple of times in November because, well, Lord have mercy, I didn't have a lot to say. A stint on the DL for me pulled me away from my usual stream of nonsense. As publishing houses are starting to feel the pressure of a country not buying books (Houghton-Miflin is not accepting new titles) I am naturally trying to finish my long theatened book. It has been 18 years and lots of film and lots of story telling and gathering. I sit at Fenway sometimes and wonder if I did publish a book, who in the crowd would buy it. My answer is five people and I would know four of them. On a blustery day, the photo of Ernest and Tony warms me up.
I am reading "Branch Rickey, Baseball's Ferocious Gentleman" by Lee Lowenfish. Mr. Rickey,of course, is the man responsible for establishing the minor league system but most importantly, signing Jackie Robinson to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Perhaps, just perhaps, Robinson began the process of integration which led to our electing a black president 61 years later. Rickey has been called a humanitarian for his efforts to integrate baseball but by others, a hustling greedy sort who did it to sell tickets. To me, if he did both, doesn't that make him an American? I met his grandson, Branch, couple of times. The likeness is uncanny. Mr. Rickey told me his grandpa would have loved my pictures. I usually don't get stopped in my tracks by any sort of compliment but that was one of them. Maybe "The Mahatma of Baseball Photographers" would suit me.....I pontificate, am large, wear glasses....now smoking the stogie part....
I actually liked the guy....and before Ellsbury's bat sputtered and his trade value dropped like a prom dress, I would have traded him and kept The Coke. Coco seemed to make so many "spectacular" catches, you wonder if he wasn't a step or two behind to begin with. Well, one thing for certain..he will enjoy better barbecue than we do.
The stove of hot is everywhere. D-Lowe wants to come back here. The Yankees are going to make a pitch...Don't let anyone tell you different, his off field behavior got him a one way ticket out of here the first time. Maybe age has matured him? Maybe his diminishing talent has????? Bludgeoning your way to the playoffs is something I lament but it is like being upset about no real prizes in crackerjacks any more. There was the thought that the Sox only feel the need to compete every few years, the pink hats with debit cards don't know the difference.....if they stand pat, this is correct.
I have not been to Memphis since my pal, Ernest Withers, passed in October of last year. The pull of the King and his many courts is too strong and I am off the week before Christmas. Christmas shopping at Graceland. Place your orders early....This is the sign-in desk at the Days Inn across the street from Graceland. Each room has a KING size bed (natch!) and a large screen TV playing, among other things, 2 24 hour a day channels of Elvis movies. This takes up time when I am not out by the guitar shaped pool, listening to Elvis music over the PA.
Well, the dude did provide some stellar guidance for Sox pitchers over the years but the decline (see:Gedman, Rich) is happening so quickly that a four year contract would be preposterous. Even carrying a .220 average for another two years seems not right. He has done a lot for challenged kids and for that I admire him the most.
Ernie Shore Field, Winston-Salem, NC. The home of the beloved Wart Hogs. To be more precise, it is the former home of the now defunct Wart Hogs. Next year, Winston Salem will open a new park, a new team (yet to be named) in a different location. Another older minor league parks rides the train to oblivion. I attended a noon time game there and being generous, there were 400 people there and most of them were from local schools. To me, a park like this is a place of joy. Kids whooping it up. Everybody there for the game and oblivious to the wrecking ball, hanging over the place like a fat curveball. Places like this are disappearing faster than I can get to them. I feel like I am on the edge of an ice floe, crumbling under my feet.
Zimmer.....oh how we ranted and went beserk with madness over this guy when he was first bench coach and then manager of the Former World Champion Red Sox. Damn, he has had a job in baseball almost as long as I have been a sparkle in Mr. Chapman's eyes. Still around, in some woebegone capacity with Tampa Bay, he is about as old school (rude and not very bright) as it gets but he lives to chaw another day. He absolutely exploded at me when I asked if I could take his picture. At that point, I figured he could get just as mad as he wanted.......and took it anyway. Screw him. I had a job to do, too....
It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone." Bart Giamatti. Source: The Green Fields of the Mind (Yale Alumni Magazine, November 1977)
The magnificent Levi Stubbs has moved on. Life ends, as Ernest Withers put it. My fascination with R and B music would earn me a cuff to the head and an admonition about "crazy ni**er music" as a child. It didn't stop me from listening, not by any means. I had written Motown off as silly plastic sounds made to sell to white kids. Stax and Atlantic were the dual standards of the epitome of fabulous. That Motown bunch vs. Booker T and the MGs and the Memphis Horns..kiss my ass. even a white middle class teenager from Boston knew that Duck Dunn could move the Earth...However, when I heard "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch) bust out of my Motorola's small speaker....it wiped even the Beatles from my world. I still play it a lot....a sad break up song..but sung with such power and confidence. In the pic, from top left, Obie Benson, Abul Fakir, Lawrence Payton and they call him......Levi Stubbs. I can't help myself.....
One more time, Lazarus and the Red Sox go to the well. You can't write off any lopsided score in baseball as a sure victory or loss. If El Boyos of Summer can come back after Thursday's sure debacle....anything can and is possible. Will I be strolling through these gates again on Wednesday or no? Believe, cuz I believe....
2004 found Curt schilling (ouch!) for the Republican Party. I don't care what a baseball player thinks. What he does between the white lines is what I pay to see. Here The Schill escorted Barbara Bush around Fenway Park. Or maybe it was the locker room there and that is why her eyes are bulging out. No, this is as published and not photoshopped.
Back in the 90's, The Sox drafted shortstop Frankie Rodriquez. it was decided that he would make a better pitcher than ss, so they recast him in that role. He never seemed comfortable and to my eyes, never had the concentration needed. Brian Rose was another guy I felt the same way about. Rodriquez wound up muddling around the Sox for awhile and wound up in Minnesota, muddling all the way. An old instructor of mine stated that there were no great baseball pictures, because no one actually captured the moment. Here was my answer to him....
Off to "The Boneyard" as my life long pal Tunes and I have called it for let's see..how many years? ...pick a number over 50... I have mentioned Frank Malzone before, having seen him play when I was a kid and being introduced to him in Pawtucket. As much of a crass, bombarding ballpark Fenway has become, it is still not hard to sit there and think back and back and back. I still think of it as empty, banging seats and hearing the echo from that reverberate all over the park. Sure, that noise started that rally, didn't it? The Monster, Yaz, Freddie Swampscott, Dewey, Luis,Spaceman,The Rocket..stop me here...and Malzie....
The cheesiest ball park that I have ever been to? It took some soul searching, a lot of mediation and prayer to guide me to the coveted Most Cheesy Ballpark Award. While Riverwalk Stadium, home of the Montgomery Biscuits deserve an honorable mention for cheese well melted, there is a shred less of grated Kraft Parmesan than at Merchants Auto Stadium, home of the NH Fisher Cats, in Manchester NH. Even the sign welcoming you to "Fisher Cats Entertainment Experience" is a supreme tipoff. I thought I was going to a baseball game! I have never seen more between inning interruptions anywhere than at this park. While the Hot Dog cannon and Biscuit Bazooka have their charms, the guy in the ostrich suit whipping hot dogs into the crowd in NH wins the coveted package of Kraft Individualy Wrapped Slices Award. American, of course.
Another season is almost in the books. Another summer has been swept away by rain and cooler weather. I am already thinking about April and where I can travel next year. The Midwest seems to be sending out its siren call. Montana has been a lure that I just haven't taken the bait for. There will be the annual trip to Birmingham for Rickwood's fundraiser. I need to spend more time at McCoy, which I have been saying for several years......and so it goes...is it April yet?
I doubt that the home team will get very far into the playoffs. Of course, I have been wrong before and they certainly did come back against the Spankees in the 2004 series. After going to my last regular season game the other night, I still have at least one playoff game left. As October sets in, Bart Giamatti comes to mind. "It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone."
In all of my running around, if I have met a sweeter and more gentle man, it escapes me. They are going to retire Johnny Pesky's number on Saturday and it is a fitting tribute to him, a man who has spent his life as a player and then ambassador of the game. He spends endless time talking to and signing autographs for kids. This is one of my benchmarks of a players true character. You go, Johnny...
Rickwood Field. I literally stumbled onto learning about this magic place on the internet. Shame on me for not learning about it earlier than I did. When I was in contention for the job that I have now (actually, I was the only candidate) my future boss called to talk and asked where I was. When I replied, on a ball field in Birmingham, AL..he said....be serious....I hope he knows better by now. Call me during April to October and there lies a good possibility that I am on dirt and it is hot. Call me after I am dead and you may get at least the hot part correct. I have made 13 trips to Memphis and, I dunno, 9 or 10 to B'ham. To be called "The Official Photographer of the Oldest Ballpark in the Country" is one of the few things I am proud of in this here life.
Sorry I didn't have time to imbibe at the Time Out. Looks like the kind of place where flies go to die.....Next time I am in Greensboro, NC, I will pony up to the bar, have me a frosty and eat Slim Jims and a few rancid hard boiled eggs. I'll tell a few lies, tell a few bad jokes and probably get dragged outside and beaten. Nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina.....
Greenville. As plastic a city and ballpark as I have been to in the South. It is even more plastic than the Fisher Cats Stadium in Manchester, NH, which I thought was an all time low. Players run out and duck through the arches. I actually felt a twinge of sympathy for "Spaz, " the mascot. Summer jobs being what they are, I guess even wearing a jester's hat and running around a ballpark is preferable to a lot of things, such as actually working at Mickey D's.
Yes, the Sox break the Indians consecutive sellout streak tonight. I think the Sox sold out forever a long time ago but as I am on the Monster, sipping the eternal Diet Coke....I doff my cap to gentleman like the one in the photo who have made the Red Sox what they are today. This soul even has a website explaining how he puts his makeup on....By the way, at Wrigley, in Chicago, the announcer still asks gentlemen to doff their caps before the Anthem.
In varying degrees and for different reasons, we all scream for the Red Sox. At a game yesterday, I noticed how unified the crowd was - as if a giant wand was being waved above the crowd of (if you guessed 37,461, you're wrong!) fans,making them move as if synchronized. It was endearing in its own way. A dunderhead like myself, who will go to his grave never having done the wave, can sit back and tell stories while everyone else is on their feet for a 3-2 count in the first innings. God Bless being able to afford getting into Fenway. It might be the last refuge of the upper middle class. What struck me about the gentility of the Fenway crowd happenned near the end of the game. Behind me sat a pontificator. He was telling his young daughter every detail and nuance of the game being played. This was fine. He was loud. This was not. Toward the end of the game, she said, "Daddy, I can't see." His terms of endearment reply? "Thats ok, I can."
Is a lady fan with a fan a fan-fan lady? I don't know about talking a blue streak but when I asked this woman in Greensboro, NC if I could take her portrait, she started laughing and couldn't stop. I wanted to ask her a bit about herself but it was not possible. it was ninety-six degrees at game time. This is, of course, quite normal for the South but game time was seven at night! The hot weather energises me and I couldn't be happier than on a scorcher in Dixie.
The five millionth visitor to Winston Salem's Ernie Shore Field will receive this kitchen of the future. I assume this sensational item has been doled out because the season is almost over. I haven't seen anything like this since the last time I watched The Jetsons. Now, if they threw in the toy machine next to it, I might have kept coming back myself.
Labor Day Weekend. A last hurrah for many, many things. The minors end their season and all of those boys looking for the cliched cup of coffee get the milk and honey of a return next year or the hearing of their cleats clatter on cement one last time before they empty out their locker. Don't cry for me, Matt Stairs.
Dave Roberts and his son during the 2004 season. It was magic that I have only had an official press pass to Fenway for one year and that the year was 2004. When my book contract disappeared, so did the pass for 2005. I was handed mumbo jumbo about having to pay to use the Sox logo in any pictures I published. Solution? Not use any of them.....
At the Android's Dungeon, Milhouse wants to spend $30 on a Carl Yastrzemski baseball card from 1973 "when he had big sideburns," but Bart and Martin convince him to go in with them on a $100 copy of "Radioactive Man No. 1. If "Big Yaz Bread" didn't make Yaz immortal, a mention on "The Simpsons" did. Bill Lee said that a loaf of Yaz Bread had the same equivalent nutritional value as a golf ball.
While hardly on a scale with the discovery that there were no WMD in Iraq, I was mildly amused to find that the same basic dough is suitable to create many of your ballpark faves. In Asheville, I had a hand made funnel cake and it ROCKED! At midnight it didn't turn into Indian Fry Bread in my stomach, either...
I took a course in color photography at New England School of Photography in 1978. Printing color back then was very primitive and resulted in very delicate prints. Before that, I only shot in black and white. It was hip at the time -- the b&w street photographer thing. I have come to realize over the years that people that shoot in black and white are screaming...look - it is in black and white - it is important. Once I started shooting color, it was like having my hand in a jar of multi colored jelly beans. I wanted all of them and wouldn't let any go so that I could get my hand back out. Ernest Withers called me "Colored Boy" because I shot so much color. This would make a great title for a show of my work, PC be damned. Tom Petit, my color instructor from 30 years ago passed away last week. I had recently met him again and always enjoyed his advice and criticism. I think he would have liked this shot of a woman in Ashville at the ballpark. I see in color, I think in color. Colored Boy I am....
Last summer, I met Yu-Heng in Greenville, SC. She was learning to shoot at baseball games and I was glad to give her some advice. It is a hobby of hers to travel around to see the players from Taiwan and chat with them. On her way to Virginia, she and her pal, David, stopped into Asheville to visit with me and have lunch. As much as I enjoy the solitude of my travels, it is nice to have some one to gab to. The Sox have a couple of Taiwanese prospects in their system, so maybe she will have a reason to venture up here some day.
I met Coach Pepper on my first trip to Rickwood Field in Birmingham, AL. It was 2002, I think. There is no time limit in baseball, so specific dates kind of drift by me. This has as much to do with my accelerating decrepitude as anything else. The Coach came to the field to sun himself every day. We had a great chat about his memories of the big leaguers from Boston that had passed through Rickwood, Ted Williams included. I wanted to capture an image of him but he was suffering from shingles and I didn't want to embarrass him. When he drifted down the right field line, I seized the shot. The next year, I met him there again and he remembered every detail of our conversation. He just passed away leaving quite an impact on Alabama sports. Modest and very unassuming,a true Southern gentleman, I always looked forward to our yearly chats. I posted the You Tube link here a great film bio of/with him.
And it's Mr. Mac. Rhymes with smack, as in upside your head.
There was a quality to Bernie Mac that I related to completely. Yes, we only saw him "acting" but it didn't seem like he was...he came from an impoverished background and while it didn't drive him with anger as it has so many...he never forgot it and rose beyond it. He ran a gentle con on life and made me laugh like a fool....I don't even watch TV but came home Friday nights to watch The Mac Man...In one of most sad journeys of my life, I had flown to Memphis to attend the wake and funeral of my pal, Ernest Withers. I was in a hotel room, yanking on my suit, flicked on the tube and there was the Mac Man....I sat there in a dress shirt and underwear laughing at Uncle Bernie. I always thought that Bernie could have played Ernest in a movie...just the right amount of twinkle and stiff upper lip.
"When I can make people smile when there ain't no reason to smile, when they got test results they scared of, when they ain't got no control over their kids, when the husband and wife sleeping in separate rooms and I can get everybody together and make them laugh for an hour and a half, half an hour, whatever, that's my job."
Winston Salem and I find the gauntlet changing hands! The young woman on the left, seated with her mom, is the official photographer for the Winston Salem Warthogs. Armed with braids and a digital Nikon, she shoots their baseball cards and other things as asked. I would love to have seen her pics but I didn't get the chance. Pops had to be back on Greyhound and off to another city. Didn't want to miss my grits and bananas at the retirement home.
Ernest Withers would have been 86 on August 7th. I spent much time with him and learned and saw many things. He was a stern taskmaster with a twinkle in his eye. A friend called us a couple of rascals and I guess that was apt. Before he passed last fall, he had asked me to speak at his funeral. He said, "I want people to say, 'who is that big devil up there.'" I responded, "That big white devil." To which he responded, "Devil ain't got no color." Right you were, Ernest. One of his many signature phrases was, "Be what you is and not what you ain't, cuz if you ain't what you is, you is what you ain't." Sometimes, he would slap me on the hand and say, "Boy, you paying attention to me?" Yes, Ernest, I was...and still do...I miss him so much I can't think straight sometimes.
than to be at McCormick Field in Asheville, NC for a ball game. W.P. Kinsella wrote that he no longer can be surprised but he can be amazed. I thought I couldn't fall in love with baseball parks anymore but I could be smitten. Wrong again, Greybeard....