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Bob Dylan Plays Ball

We're getting to know the inscrutable Bob Dylan a little better each week as his Theme Time Radio Hour continues through its first month on XM Satellite Radio. Not that he gives us any heart-to-heart, Oprah-style public soul-searching, and that's probably a good thing, all told. I'm really past the point of caring about that anyway - whatever I may discover now about how he thinks isn't going to change my life like it may have 30 years ago. In fact, it could probably only lower him in my estimation, and God knows I need to hang on to whatever tattered bits of idealism I have left from my so-called youth.

Instead, Bob continues to let us know him through poetry and music. That's how it should be. After theme shows about the weather, mothers, drinking and now baseball, I'm really beginning to think Dylan is just a regular ol' guy at heart. Mom? Booze? Baseball? Hell, sounds like my life. After listening to his shows, I'm becoming convinced that Dylan's godlike aura came about largely because of his refusal to deal with the voracious publicity machine rather than from any kind of mystical superiority. (See? That's just the kind of thing I didn't need to know, dammit! I want to worship my heroes, not go bowling with them!)

However, I'm finding my attempts at describing Dylan's radio shtick to be insufficient. Nothing I can say can quite capture it. So I'm going to just give up and let those of you who are too cheap to go out and get XM Radio for yourselves to read a transcript of his baseball theme show in late May.

The show opens with Dylan speaking the lyrics:

"Nelly Kelly loved baseball games,
Knew the players, knew all their names,
You could see her there ev'ry day,
Shout 'Hurray' when they'd play.
Her boyfriend by the name of Joe
Said, 'To Coney Isle, dear, let's go,'
Then Nelly started to fret and pout,
And to him I heard her shout.

(Dylan sings)

"Take me out to the ball game,
Take me out with the crowd.
Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack,
I don't care if I never get back,
Let me root, root, root for the home team,
If they don't win it's a shame.
For it's one, two, three strikes, you're out,
At the old ball game.

(back to reciting)

"Nelly Kelly was sure some fan,
She would root just like any man,
Told the umpire he was wrong,
All along, good and strong.
When the score was just two to two,
Nelly Kelly knew what to do,
Just to cheer up the boys she knew,
She made the game sing this song.

". . . and I just sung it fer ya."

1. Skeletons. "Take Me Out to the Ballgame"

Stepping up to the batters box first, we got Miss Mabel Scott. She played for a while with the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra and was a regular at the Club Alabam in Los Angeles. She sang with a group led by Lorenzo Flennoy. In the early '50s she moved over to King Records where she sang this song about the greatest game on Earth.

2. Mabel Scott. "Baseball Boogie"

Can you catch? Can you hold the ball? When you step up to the plate, will you swing and foul? Baseball Boogie, by Mabel Scott, on Theme Time Radio Hour.

3. Chancy Halladay. "Home Run"

In the '50s, every red-blooded American boy either wanted to play baseball or be Elvis Presley. Here's a rockabilly song by Chancy Halladay that combines the best of both worlds.

Knockin' the cover right off the ball, that was Chancy Halladay stepping right up to the plate, hittin' a grand slam, sweepin' ya off your feet, scoring a home run with ya, and with me too. "Home Run," on Theme Time Radio Hour.

I caught up with Charlie Sheen at the Car Wash. He's a big baseball fan, and he's got a lot of opinions about the game.

(Short interview with Charlie Sheen comparing baseball to life)

(Tape of Curt Gowdy's call of Ted Williams' final at-bat - a home run)

4. Johnny Darling. "Baseball Baby"

A little doo-wop from the King record label telling us all about a baseball baby.

5. Lawrence Ferlinghetti. "Baseball Canto"

Next we have a "Baseball Canto" by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, a well-known poet who lived in San Francisco. He started the City Lights Bookstore. His publication of Allen Ginsberg's Howl in 1956 led to his arrest on obscenity charges. He was a brave man and a brave poet.

Watchin' baseball, sittin' in the sun, eatin' popcorn,
Readin' Ezra Pound
And wishin' Juan Marichal would hit a hole right through the
Anglo-Saxon tradition in the first canto
And demolish the barbarian invaders.

Well, why I don't let Larry say the rest of it?

6. Cowboy Copas. "Three Strikes and You're Out"

Here's Cowboy Copas, a honky-tonk singer from the late '40s. He was making a comeback in the early '60s when he died in the same air crash that killed Patsy Cline and Hawkshaw Hawkins. Three strikes and you're out. Here he's talkin' about love being like a game, where if you don't win, you can pout, you can make three strikes and you're out.

7. Sister Wynona Carr. "The Ball Game"

If diamonds are a girl's best friend, why do so many of them get mad when you want to go to the ballpark? You tell me. Sister Wynona Carr was a powerful gospel singer. She also recorded some rhythm and blues numbers. Her best known, however, is a gospel song and it's all about the game of baseball.

That's Sister Carr talkin' about life being a ballgame, where every day anyone can play, and Jesus is at the home plate, at first base is temptation, second base is sin, third base is tribulation and King Solomon is the umpire. Satan's trying to psyche you out and Daniel is up at bat, Satan pitches a fastball and Job hits a home run. You got to just swing at the ball, give it your all, Moses is on the sidelines, he's waitin' to be called.

8. Buddy Johnson Orchestra. "Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball?"

Next we have Buddy Johnson with his jump-blues song, "Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball?" He's talking in the song about Satchel Paige and Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe and Larry Doby, too. Singing about, "yes, boy, yes, Jackie can hit that ball, did you see Jackie Robinson hit that ball?" I don't know, I wasn't there, but I sure feel like I was.

The man who broke the color line in the major leagues.

9. Les Brown. "Joltin' Joe DiMaggio"

You know, Abbott & Costello said that many baseball players have funny names.

(excerpt from "Who's on First?" routine)

But they also have funny nicknames. Ted Williams was known as the Splendid Splinter. Babe Ruth, the Sultan of Swat. Ty Cobb was known as the ol' Georgia Peach. Let's not forget Mordecai "Three Fingers" Brown. And the Yankee Clipper, Joltin' Joe DiMaggio. And while we're on the subject of Joltin' Joe, let's hear a song about him, featuring Les Brown and his Band of Renown, and Joltin' Joe makes a little guest appearance himself.

10. Billy Bragg & Wilco. "Joe DiMaggio's Done it Again"

Here's something by Billy Bragg and Wilco, from the album Mermaid Avenue, where they take the unfinished lyrics of Woody Guthrie and add music to them. Woody Guthrie, of course, was the dean of American folk artists. At the time of his death in 1967, Woody left behind some 2,700 unfinished songs. The lyrics about New York streets, film star idols, drinkin', lovin', dyin' and even spaceships were chosen because they presented a completely different aspect from Woody's public persona. Here's a song that Woody wrote about Joltin' Joe, the Yankee Clipper.

11. Teddy Reynolds. "Strike One"

We heard about Jackie Robinson earlier. This song here is about Don Newcombe. Don Newcombe really throws that ball, he winds up and throws it. He was a 6-foot-4, 225-pound fireball thrower. The only baseball player to have won Rookie of the Year three times in a row.

12. Sonny Rollins. "Newk's Fadeaway"

Sonny Rollins used to have the nickname "Newk" 'cause everyone thought he looked like Don Newcombe. Here's tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins with his song, "Newk's Fadeaway." There's a big-league sound, covering all the bases, "Newk's Fadeaway."

13. Treniers. "Say Hey"

Alright, Cliff and Claude Trenier were twin brothers who sang with a bunch of lounge bands but branched out into rock and roll. Here they have a special guest with them by the name of Willie Mays, on their song, "Say Hey," from the Okeh Records label.

Let's check out the e-mail basket, but don't throw us a curve. Today's e-mail is from Jamie Christensen of Las Vegas, Nevada. She writes, "Dear Theme Time, I enjoy listening to the ballgames late at night. My boyfriend says the radio keeps him up. What should I do?" Well, Jamie, you should do what I used to do. When I was supposed to be asleep, I'd take the bedside radio and slip it under my pillow, press your ear close to the pillow, which is what you're supposed to do with pillows, anyway, and listen to the second game of the doubleheader, without bothering anyone else in the house. Millions upon millions used to do the same thing back when radio was king. And I hope you still do that with Theme Time Radio Hour, your private pillow pal. Thanks for your letter. Press your ear up close to the pillow, Jamie.

14. Sam Bush. "The Wizard of Oz"

Osborne Earl, that's his name, brought a whole new level to the game. That was Sam Bush. Sam is a great fiddle and mandolin player, a big session man over there in Nashville, and he's a big baseball fan. We're talkin' about Ozzie. No, not that Ozzie. We're talking about the Wizard of Oz, the MVP, Osborne Earl Smith. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2002. In 2003, he was inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame. And this year, he was played on Theme Time Radio Hour.

15. Ry Cooder. "Third Base Dodger Stadium"

16. Damn Yankees. "Heart"

Got to have heart. Got to have a lot of things. Got to have something on the brain. Got to have correct postage. You gotta have a dog you can trust. You got to have a dry hat and your lawyer's phone number. Got to have your girlfriend's credit card. You got to have it all together. You've got to have room to move. You got to have what it takes. You've got to have a hot meal and a warm place to sleep. You got to have heart. From the original soundtrack of Damn Yankees.

Well, that's it for another show, I'm going to head back to the dugout. See if I can find myself a relief pitcher. See ya again next week on Theme Time Radio Hour, the field of dreams, schemes and themes.



Permalink

Posted on May 31, 2006


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