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Tuesday
Jan122010

The Moonshots.

I remember picking up a pizza box off the bed and feeling the discarded crusts inside scurry with the tilt like mice feet on the attic floor. And I remember stopping halfway to the trashcan and everybody shushing each other as the motel TV finally landed on the highlight we wanted. Seven guys or eight guys, all buzzed on beer, squinting through the stagnant cigarette smoke, watching hours-old tape of a summer evening seven hundred miles away.

And when the ball finally landed, three or four rows up in the upper deck, the room exploded with curses of awe, with masculine admiration. We were all dipped in magic for a few seconds again and it was a beautiful thing.

The Summer of 1998 was a good one for me. I spent it hurdling through farm fields and forests and ghettos and over legendary rivers. In the van, we moved across America, stopping only to piss/to get burgers until we hit the next stage, drank our free beers and played our hearts out as loudly as the local sound guy could stand it. For good hunks of the summer, we toured with The Bottle Rockets: one of the best bands I ever saw take a stage anywhere in my life. They were really good guys too, St. Louis guys. Each night they'd do this fantastic stunt where they all hit a note at the same time, repeatedly, until they landed on the number of home runs that their hometown Cardinals hero, Mark McGwire had launched up until that moment.

It was sensational. And if you took to counting their beats, as I did in my lager haze, you'd know that they were never off, ever. And by July or August of that season, the number was up there in the fifties at least. People in the crowd loved it. People love home runs and loud tight band hits and so if you found a way to combine the two, like those boys did that summer, well...then you were the best rock band on this planet that evening.

So, it didn't take long for our two bands to collide on certain nights when we ended up in the same Motel 6 out by the airport in Cleveland or Oklahoma City or wherever we were. And I still remember standing there, with a congealed slice of Domino's in my one hand and a cold one in the other, all of us laughing and chattering way louder than you're supposed to at 2:30 or 3 in the morning, until the ESPN highlights would land on McGwire, or The Cubs' Sammy Sosa...and the sudden hush would fall upon us until the moonshot fell back to Earth far far away from the wooden bat that had sent it into space.

That was my first summer ever touring in a rock'n'roll band and although I was a grown man by then, when you tour around in a van you're still pretty much just a heavier version of yourself at about thirteen. You're just a slightly confused excitable mish-mash of cheap junkfood and useless cum and longshot dreams balled up and baked up on Middle America's toaster oven stages. A gazillion miles from any real cares or problems, its no wonder that every single home run in a record-setting home run race made us feel as if we'd slammed it towards the far off evening horizon and into the distant bleachers ourselves.

Our excitement was so real, you see. Our thrills were genuine, every single one of them...stretched out for weeks, through a scattered forest of identical motel rooms on the similar outskirts of completely different towns. The beers were all very real. And the big dumb smiles. The pepperoni on the pizza, that was real.

I was there. I tasted it, savored it.

Our cigarettes were real and so were our salty tongues.

Our conversations, marinated in warm Bud Lite , they were all real as well.

And the Motel 6 bedspreads of the Summer of 1998: their blues and pinks and blacks all swooshed together like some baby's wild dream, upon which half a band of American man-childs spread out their weary bodies while another batch stood bedside, all of us staring wide-eyed as numbers 59 and then 60 and then 61 soared through the floodlit sky with all the animated grace of every shooting star that ever got skipped across the upside down river called Night...that shit was as real as anything ever was or will be again, in this world or the next.

And so now, years later, it is with older tireder hands, that I am here to step up and claim what is rightfully mine. Ours. The home runs. All of 'em.

No longer do they lie on the proverbial mantle-piece of the man who may have sent them into the hands of the commons in the stands. No more, I declare. For in the wake of their jolting by the hot cruel winds of time: them balls roll, one by one, down into the cupped palms of me and my brother and my band mates and my friends, and you and yours.

They were our memories too, you poor bastard.

And they're our home runs now.

Reader Comments (7)

I entirely and totally agree with you and I think you may have said it the very best out of them all.

Karen

January 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Oh, that reminds me...I accidentally washed your Phils hat with the whites. Oopsie. P.S. Don't forget the TP.

January 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCarl

Awesome.

January 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Great post - I live in St. Louis and it was a magical summer. I was at 61 - that's how fans kept score that summer - which HR did you see live. It was a day game and later I found out Springsteen was at Busch. It was a close game and near the end of the game we had the dilemna of hoping the Cubs scored another run to send the game to the bottom of the 9th so Mac would get another at bat. If you're a Cards fan you don't cheer for the Cubs - ever. The Cards held on so he hit historic 62 until the next night when I didn't have tix.

Love the new Rockets CD by the way - their best studio effort to date in my opinion. It's never too late my friend - never too late.

January 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Evocative my friend, and very well written. It's nice to have found you again, thanks to a post on Twitter. I hope that all is well.

January 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKen

Now that's a baseball article worthy of SI!
Nicely done.
Viva the Bottlerockets, too!

January 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

For all of us who ever bought a real rock and roll record (The Modern Lovers, on vinyl, upstairs at HMV in Liverpool in 1978, let's say, for example...), or went to a gig that put us in genuine fear for our safety or our lives (there have been one or two...).

For all of us looked at what you did / do / are in exactly the way that you looked at the TV those nights, whose cherished home runs were scored – often at point blank range – by musicians swinging sticks, mics and beaten-up Fenders with the paint rubbed right off them.

For all of us whose day is made when you write something like 'every shooting star that ever got skipped across the upside down river called Night'.

This could just be the best thing you've written yet. Thanks.

P.S. Oh, yeah. One last thing. One of the reasons that people love baseball – and prison, too, come to that – is that everything is done for you. There's a fixed structure. A hierarchy. It's 'corporate', you know? And within that structure, scoring a home run – or sixty of them in a row, or whatever – is like slinging a perfect burger across the steel counter when you work at McDonald's.

You and your little bro', though.

And those people referred to above. You went out on your own. You scored home runs with words and notes and moves (that flamenco shit you did at the 100 Club still cracks me up six years later)... words and notes and moves that you created yourself. In front of an audience that you found for yourself. You put your own gas in your own van.

No cheating.

January 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Murff

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