September 25, 2005

I Heard Them Call My Name

or

Thank You for Talkin’ to Me, America

Saturday night I was watching the Mets-Nationals on tv.  Didn’t I have anything better to do with my time, say, the new David Cronenberg movie?  A fair question, but one that will have to wait for another time.  I was watching the game, that’s that.

At this point, I must warn the squeamish that I am about to commit a felony, and reproduce some of the accounts of that game, despite the fact that I have not obtained the express written consent of Major League Baseball.  Please direct all legal enquiries to our attorneys Hungadunga, Hungadunga, Hungadunga and McCormick (http://www.hungadungahungadungahungadungaandmccormick.net).

Bottom of the third, Mets already leading 5-0.  Leading off for the Nationals, light-hitting (.212, 1 HR, 19 RBI) catcher Gary Bennett.  After fouling off one of Tom Glavine’s 3-2 pitches, Bennett lifts a fly ball to short right field.  Right fielder Marlon Anderson, second baseman Miguel Cairo, and first baseman Doug “Mankiewicz” Mientkiewicz all converge.  Cairo makes the catch.  Keith Hernandez, providing color commentary, likes what he sees.

Hernandez: This is the pop-up you work on in spring training.  The
sheriff here is the outfielder, and Marlon defers here to Cairo.  It’s
so important on those plays to use your voice, and scream “I got it, I
got it” and “You take it, you take it,” whatever.

Play-by-play announcer Ted Robinson adds: “Or as it would be in today’s
game “yo la tengo.”  Yo La Tengo of course a long-time New Jersey band,
a great success, and huge Met fans.  Haven’t seen Ira—Ira’s the lead
singer—usually a regular.  Haven’t had a chance to see Ira this year.”

Hernandez: (silence)

Tell me that would have happened at A History of Violence!

Ordinarily that’s a weekend’s worth of excitement for me, but as it happens that was merely an amuse bouche.  Got up early on Sunday and headed for New York to see the great Allen Toussaint take an elegant stroll through one of the more remarkable careers in rock ‘n’ roll, in a benefit for the Musicares Hurricane Relief Fund.  Opening with an instrumental version of his classic “Southern Nights,” playing hits and non-hits alike, with commentary both moving and surprising (did he really just mention Devo and Heavy Metal?).  I’ll admit, when Elvis Costello was introduced, I didn’t see how he could do anything but break the mood, but I couldn’t have been wronger.  His “Freedom for the Stallion” and encore of “Yes We Can Can” were stirring in a way that completely blindsided me.

(Elvis also appeared at the Vision Festival’s New Orleans benefit the previous Tuesday that we participated in, though on that night he was overshadowed by performances by Bill Dixon, a quintet featuring Kidd Jordan and Kali Fasteau, and an almost indescribably inspiring non-performance by Muhal Richard Abrams.

And free associating backwards, at the risk of losing all connection to my purported topic, I have to mention the dB’s, who we saw at Maxwell’s on Monday.  There’s not another band who meant as much to us: both Gene and Chris played with us and produced us, Will’s played with us many times and generously allowed us to empty our bank account to release his classic lp Sidekick Phenomenon, and Peter’s the guy who asked me and Georgia to play out for the very first time, at a party at the New York Rocker office.  I’ve never heard “Heading for the Texas Border” or “Johnny Carson” since without recollecting it, and an accompanying shudder of terror.  Well, the dB’s were playing together locally for the first time in, I don’t know, 20 years?  more?  and it was just great.  More than great to see them, to hear them, and to see all the people I hadn’t seen practically since the last dB’s show.)

Anyway, Sunday—when the Dave Clark 5 sang about “Having a Wild Weekend,” I’m pretty sure this was the weekend they meant—was also the Hoboken Arts & Music Festival.  This story’s gone on way too long already, so I’ll spare you the local color.  It was pretty fucking colorful, ok?  And I was rushing around, what with Allen Toussaint and all, and didn’t arrive until the second song of the headliners, the Turtles featuring Flo & Eddie (which means I missed “You Baby” and don’t think I wasn’t sick about that).  That second song being, as no student of the Turtles discography will be surprised to read, “Dirty Water.”  What?  Apparently, your ’60s Oldies circuit expects each act to perform a tribute to the ’60s, one that dips liberally into their own catalogue, but still finds space on the set list for “My Girl” and “Twist and Shout.”

Going back at least as far as their work with Frank Zappa, Flo & Eddie have worked humor into their act.  (Come to think of it, even further back too—The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands for one, and how about that chorus to “Elenore”: “You’re my pride and joy etc.”)  So mid-set, the band starts the intro to “She’s My Girl.”  Some guy up front whoops, and lead singer Howard (Eddie) Kaylan (né Kaplan) warns the guy: not so fast, you don’t know what we’re doing.  What they’re doing is offering us a history lesson, claiming that the Turtles, in addition to their many hits, were also the band playing on records released under other names.  Like the Doors, for instance (cue a few seconds of “Moonlight Mile”), and the Iron Butterfly (who goes home from a music & arts festival satisfied without hearing a little “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”?), and not only the Young Rascals, but the Rascals and the Old Rascals.  And the O’Jays and Britney Spears. And Weezer and Green Day and Yo La Tengo.

What?  I almost choked on my funnel cake.  The weekend of a thousand shout-outs concluded most improbably.  I high-fived Dave Schramm, and we lifted our voices extra loud for the singalong to “Happy Together.”

–Ira, September 26, 2005