October 26, 2016

PLAY 9 AND HOPE:

The Mountain Goats' John Darnielle on His 1995 Song "Cubs in Five" : And what it means to him in 2016. (John Darnielle, 10/26/16, Slate)


It's a good time for baseball--there's a whole lot of characters and great stories, and the arrival of the superstations to the Southern California cable market means I can watch all the Cubs games I want. They're not good yet, but they have character. I'm at my mom's house watching a game while she's at work. Specifically, I'm on the couch strumming my cheap Korean nylon-strung 3/4-size guitar, and at some point, I reflect idly on an on-again, off-again relationship I've been having for the last several years that's given me a great deal of pleasure and at least as much pain. Presently, I'm hoping that I've emerged from the final "pain" phase of the process (spoiler alert: I hadn't), and I'm kidding myself, as one does, thinking: Well, I'm free of all that now; there's a lot of unlikely stuff that'd have to happen before I'd ever dive back into that radiant, glowing, magnificent ocean of high highs and hurt feelings.

That's when I get the conceit for the song, and I ad-lib the first verse and the chorus. Then I mute the TV, do it again, start scribbling down lyrics, and I think, jeez, this one's kind of good, why don't you call Peter, a harmony vocal would be cool, and he's into baseball, too, right?

I didn't keep records of my work then (and I don't now: I like to let things retain their natural anchorless drift), save for the hard evidence: the cassettes, I mean. Peter shows up--he's got the day off from his job as a substitute teacher--and we both sit around my mom's dining room table with my boombox and the tiny guitar I still have on a high shelf in the basement, the one I'd covered in stickers and painted Nick Drake lyrics all over in black and red watercolor, because it looked totally twisted and bizarre. And we sang:

They're gonna find intelligent life up there on the moon,
and The Canterbury Tales will shoot up to the top of the best-seller list,
and stay there for twenty-seven weeks;

And the Chicago Cubs will beat every team in the league,
and the Tampa Bay Bucs will take it all the way through January,
And I will love you again; I will love you like I used to
I will love you again; I will love you, like I used to

"Why don't you love me like you used to do?" ran a song on the outgoing answering machine of the person to whom the song was anonymously directed, at whom I was very angry on that day (for reasons lost to history), but with whom I could never stay angry for long, because that's how it is when you're a fan: You keep cheering, even when the circumstances might tell a less devoted partisan to seek out fairer pastures. You play nine innings. You keep hoping.

No other sport has good songs.
Posted by at October 26, 2016 2:16 PM

  

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