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Taking advantage of the moment

Rounding the corner on my morning walk, I spotted the first one. The next house had one as well. Before reaching the end of that short block, I’d stopped to admire two more.

It was at the fourth sighting of a patch of iris in full bloom that I lifted up my eyes and said a silent, “Hello, Mom.”

My mother loved the old fashioned iris. We had our own garden patch on East Main Street when I was young. When I see them today my thoughts inevitably turn to her and the lessons she taught me about beauty, respect, life-long learning, and empathy.

Mom’s been on my mind at this moment in time as I have been reading about the hollowing out of public goods and public education by those who would have everyone suffer before they would consider sharing resources with those of other races. I think of her because I am old enough to have attended segregated public schools in my youth. Mom’s actions in that moment are part of my story.

Capshaw Elementary School, Cookeville, TN (credit: The Living New Deal)

In the fall of 1963, I was a rising third-grader at Capshaw Elementary School in Cookeville, Tennessee. A WPA building constructed in 1939 as part of the New Deal, the Capshaw in my memory is a one-story, low slung brick building, with wide halls, wooden floors, rooms full of light, steps at the entrance near the administration offices and the school cafeteria, and interior stairs to navigate through a schoolhouse built into a hill. It certainly wasn’t a new building when I arrived, but it was top-of-the-line compared to the six-room, frame with brick veneer Darwin School, which housed all the community’s Black students.

Although the historic Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision ordering school desegregation was handed down in 1954, the public schools in Cookeville, Putnam County, and throughout the Upper Cumberland region in Tennessee were still segregated at the beginning of 1963. The federal government had not pushed for compliance, and state and local governments were not in a rush to end the Jim Crow practice of “separate but equal.”

That all began to crumble in Cookeville when the Darwin School burned to the ground in January. Arson was suspected but never proven. For a time, the students were taught in make-shift classrooms at local Black churches. But in April, a group of Black parents came before the county board to state that they wanted their children to begin attending white schools. In Cookeville, the debate over whether to rebuild Darwin began to shift as the more progressive voices in the community argued for desegregation and compliance with the Supreme Court order.

Mother took on the position as head of Capshaw’s Parent-Teachers Association, or PTA, in the fall of 1963. She certainly understood the issue of integration and was supportive of the change. But as she endured pushback and anger, it would be a year she never forgot.

The decision was made to integrate the schools, and I recall the addition of Black children to our classrooms, already crowded to near capacity thanks to the baby boom. We generally accepted the change and I do not have any strong memories of conflict. But anytime I was called to the principal’s office, I knew that Mr. Oliver Bohannon — someone I generally tried to avoid — wanted me to take PTA materials home to mother. Often they related to the integration of the public schools.

Even with a relatively small number of Blacks and the leavening influence of Tennessee Tech University, which accepted its first Black student around the same time, Cookeville still saw pushback against the change. Giving up a privilege that is seen as a birthright — no matter how randomly and cruelly the advantage was gained — is a bridge too far for many. Years later Mother would reflect that it was one of the most difficult years of her life. “We never had a problem with the children,” she noted. It was always the parents — the alleged adults in the situation — who made her job miserable.

My parents came from families that were steeped in the Jim Crow traditions of the South, so Mother knew the mindset of other adults in the community. Both sets of grandparents lived in and generally supported a separate-but-equal world. Mother and Daddy recognized the injustice of the inequality and supported slow yet progressive change. It was in showing respect through interpersonal relationships where they first made their mark on me. Our mouths would face a date with a bar of soap if the n-word was used. We were all taught to call the Black cooks at church Mr. and Mrs. Smith, instead of using the first names in an informal and disrespectful way that we would never think to use with our friend’s parents.

As they grew older, Mother and Daddy came to turn from the way they were raised as they began life with their own family. Both saw the Black citizens in Cookeville, and later in Murfreesboro, as people to know and love; as fellow Children of God, in their religious worldview. Years later I had conversations with my father where he suggested that the turning away from their cultural upbringing included a forgiveness of their parents as well as the asking of forgiveness for their own culpability in supporting injustice.

Which brings me to 2021.

There was a time, a moment as integration began to take hold in the 1950s and 60s, to change the course of our nation’s history and the narrative about our past. Some, like my mother, tried. But soon the divide-and-conquer tactic of those in power began draining public pools, building segregation academies, and pushing racial fear to keep the middle and lower classes from realizing that their prosperity came from working together. These were tactics similar to those used after the Civil War when the opportunity of Reconstruction was pushed aside for the harshness of Jim Crow.

Because of all that we’ve witnessed over the past year, we are at another moment in time when we can change the course of our nation’s history and the narrative about who we are through our actions. Once again, Mom’s example is shaping my response.

My mother, the librarian, was a life-long reader who instilled that discipline in her son. She read to learn, and I have turned to books as one way of learning about our racial divides. In this year of pandemic, I have leaned on the many good books available to help in understanding our past, the potential of this moment, and the chance to change the future. This was my time to pick up writings by authors I may not know to gain a broader, deeper, and more nuanced perspective of what racism has done, and continues to do, to America.

Books like Dr. Jennifer Eberhardt’s Biased, and Ibram X. Kendi’s How To Be An Antiracist, the latter usually found right at the top of the list of recommended works to read in order to understand the systemic racism in our country and how best to respond.

White Evangelical Racism: The Politics of Morality in America by Anthea Butler and Ty Seidule’s Robert E. Lee and Me: A Southerner’s Reckoning with the Myth of the Lost Cause have helped me see my personal history from different perspectives.

Two highly influential works that have shaped my thinking are Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me and Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy. The same is true of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow:  Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness as well as Democracy in Chains by Duke historian Nancy MacLean, which helps the reader understand how unfettered capitalism became more sacrosanct than democracy in America, thanks to a stealth plan based on divide-and-conquer racism by the radical right.

Our nightstands and tables are also filled with books, as my wife and I continue working through several challenging yet illuminating works including Howard Thurman’s classic Jesus and the Disinherited, Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste: The Origins of our Discontent, and Debby Irving’s Waking Up White. I am two-thirds of the way through Heather McGhee’s The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together, an illuminating and hopeful book that makes the strong case that little will change until white people realize what racism has cost them too.

We are at a moment where we can change as a country. We can learn if we will just be open to narratives from other perspectives that differ from the exceptional nationalistic one we were taught in grade school. We can learn from the ordinary people in ordinary places who do extraordinary things. We can respond with the tools of grace and love instead of hatred and violence. We can follow the example of those who have walked this path before us and help bend the arc of history a little further toward justice.

When I see the patch of iris, I am reminded that Mom is still here, helping me see that we are facing another moment in America where we can change our narrative and our future. It will not be easy, but we have to continue to try, for ourselves, and for our children and grandchildren.

Our mothers are calling us.

More to come…

DJB

Image by dewdrop157 from Pixabay

Saturday Soundtrack: David Grisman

When the Birchmere Music Hall announced that David Grisman’s Dawg Trio would be playing at the legendary Alexandria venue this November, I knew it was time to feature David Grisman in a Saturday Soundtrack. My wife asked, “What took you so long?”

She knows that I’ve been a huge fan of the 76-year-old mandolin player, composer, musical producer, and lover of all things acoustic ever since the needle went down on the first track on side one of the 1977 album The David Grisman Quintet and the pulsating rhythms of E.M.D. exploded through my speakers.

I still love to listen to that album and the amazing musicianship of Grisman, the late Tony RiceDarol AngerTodd Phillips, and Bill Amatneek. The cover of the album told you this record was all about the instruments and their players.  It looked like a bluegrass-influenced album, but from the opening notes of E.M.D. (Eat My Dust) the listener was quickly dispelled of that notion.  Grisman, Rice, and Anger — taking the leads — were playing a type of string jazz influenced by gypsy, blues, and bluegrass music that had a beauty and clarity I certainly hadn’t heard before. At the time it was so unique that it was jaw dropping in its inspiration. Now, 40+ years later every acoustic musician worth his or her salt can work their way through similar tunes, but the originality of Grisman’s vision in the 1970s reminds me of the breakthrough of bluegrass when Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs joined Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys in the 1940s and a whole new American music was created.

In a similar fashion to Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys, many of the famous acoustic musicians of the late 20th century cycled through Grisman’s band with members including Rice, Anger, Phillips, mandolinist extraordinaire Mike Marshall, Joe Craven, Enrique Coria, Matt Eakle, Jim Kerwin, John Carlini, George Marsh, and Frank Vignola. One of the most famous and prolific was Mark O’Connor, who had stints as both the guitarist (following Rice) and the violinist in the DGQ.

O’Connor’s incredible musicianship as seen in the video of Dawg’s Rag from an Austin City Limits performance may require some explanation:

Notice at 6:37, as O’Connor begins his guitar solo, his string snaps and one can hear this audibly. The high E string of the guitar came lose from the end pin and dropped all the way down to where it was flopping. You can see O’Connor attempting to figure out what to do as he continued his solo on national television. Beginning on the lower strings, he mutes some with his right hand, then gestured towards David Grisman as if he was going to give his solo back to him. Grisman does not respond and continues to play rhythm not really knowing what happened. Then O’Connor turns away from the mic and within a period of three seconds (from 7:01 to 7:04) the high E string is perfectly back in tune for the remainder of the solo. This very moment back in 1980 helped solidify O’Connor’s reputation as a young star whose ability as a great young musician was growing. These few seconds were the talk of the show to many guitar players watching at the time.

By the time the DGQ band was formed and the album released, Grisman had been around for some time in acoustic music circles. He emerged…

…as a mandolin visionary from New York City’s Greenwich Village folk scene in the early 1960s. He first played with local bluegrass bands and then professionally with the Even Dozen Jug Band, Red Allen and the Kentuckians and Earth Opera. He became a record producer and session player on recordings with Tom Paxton, Judy Collins, James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt and many others. In 1969, Jerry Garcia invited David to play on the Grateful Dead’s classic American Beauty. Garcia famously dubbed him “Dawg” and their musical friendship led to the legendary bluegrass band, Old & In The Way.

Over time, as Grisman and Jerry Garcia both gravitated to the Bay Area, they maintained their musical friendship. Both my children can attest to the fact that we listened to There Ain’t No Bugs on Me from the Grisman/Garcia album Not for Kids Only many a day in our car when they were very little. We all still laugh as we remember the first time Claire sang out the line “How in the hell can the old folks tell / If it ain’t gonna rain no more” from her car seat, with gusto! The old B.B. King tune The Thrill is Gone is from another of their Acoustic Disc collaborations.

David Grisman has always shared the stage with some of the world’s great musicians, people like guitarists Les Paul, Enrique Coria, Martin Taylor, and Doc Watson. In the early 1980s Grisman recorded and performed with legendary jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli. There’s a wonderful video from the old Tonight Show vaults where they play two tunes, in a seven-minute- plus set, that clearly brings joy to Johnny Carson and the Tonight Show Band. I also love the version of Grappelli and DGQ playing the standard Sweet Georgia Brown from the great interplay first between Grappelli and Grisman, and then Anger and Mike Marshall. Grappelli is a legend, and the playfulness on the faces of all the musicians joining in his slipstream is wonderful to watch.

Others who came into his orbit can be seen in the following three videos. A Frets magazine Music Awards all-star jam session includes O’Connor and a very young Alison Krauss; New Grass Revival band mates Sam Bush, Bela Fleck, and Pat Flynn; dobroist Jerry Douglas, and bassists Edgar Meyer and Mark Schatz playing the Grisman tune Dawgs Bull. Check out Fleck’s banjo break as well as Meyer’s bowed bass turn in the spotlight.

Grisman’s Acoustic Disc record label (tagline: 100% Handmade Music) has produced several albums highlighting the sound of vintage acoustic instruments played by the masters. This audio track features Seldom Scene founder and Dobro master Mike Auldridge on the Saint Louis Blues — one of my father’s favorite songs.

And Grisman remains active into his 70s, playing here with guitar master Tommy Emmanuel on Tipsy Gypsy.

Throughout his career, Grisman has stayed in touch with his bluegrass roots. One of the most satisfying collaborations in this vein has been with Del McCoury and the Del McCoury Band.

The Birchmere performance of David Grisman’s Dawg Trio will feature Grisman, his son Samson Grisman on bass, and banjoist/guitarist Danny Barnes. But I want to end by featuring the trio with the always tasteful Jim Hurst, playing his lovely Gallagher guitar, on Swang Thang from a 2016 Bluegrass Underground show on PBS.

Thank you, David Grisman, for bringing so much joy into my life over the past four decades. I hope you, dear reader, will find something to enjoy here as well.

More to come…

DJB

Image: Publicity shot of the 1977 David Grisman Quintet with Darol Anger, Tony Rice, Grisman, Bill Amatneek, and Todd Phillips from AcousticDisc.dom

Weekly Reader: Thanks, Boz, for the memories

Lovers of sports, writing, and especially sportswriting were saddened to hear the not unexpected news last week that columnist Thomas (Boz) Boswell, was retiring at the age of 73, after 52 years at the Washington Post. As one appreciative writer put it, “If your favorite team won or you have a cherished World Series memory, Boswell was probably there and wrote about it better than anybody.”

As always, this Weekly Reader features links to recent articles that grabbed my interest or tickled my fancy. This one is my all-in appreciation for the work of Thomas Boswell. I hope you find something that makes you laugh, think, or cry.

“I always assumed that good sportswriting was just good writing, and I still do,” Boswell said in his induction speech into the National Sports Media Hall of Fame. He was sometimes criticized by those who see sports — and especially baseball — as all numbers. But Boswell had the last laugh in one of his all-time great columns: Nationals’ spirit triumphed over Astros’ numbers in the World Series.

And Now We Dance
And Now We Dance

HOUSTON — Pay attention to the Washington Nationals’ victory parade Saturday. Make sure those who ride in those cars and sit on that stage appear young and hearty.

Because if instead Anthony Rendon, Howie Kendrick, Juan Soto, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and 20 others appear to be elderly men, we will know they truly sold their souls to pull off this once-in-a-century triumph.

Yes, they did it again. The unbelievable, late-game-dancing, break-their-foes-hearts Nationals did it again.

Washington has a World Series champion for the first time in 95 years after a 6-2 Game 7 win over the utterly stunned, disbelieving 107-win Houston Astros here Wednesday night, and the only explanations seem to be baseball miracles or deals with the devil.

Then Boswell goes in for the kill.

This time, as if to show that the deeds of these Nats truly are once-per-century stuff, the game-transforming blow was a two-run home run sliced off the right field foul pole by Kendrick, the same 36-year-old gentleman whose grand slam extinguished the season of the 106-win Los Angeles Dodgers in the division series two weeks ago.

Two teams whose brilliant thinkers believe players of his age are dinosaurs on the edge of extinction have been pushed into a tar pit by Howie.

What baseball writer thinks of dinosaurs and tar pits when his home town team just won the World Series? One that is prepared. One who gives uncommon care and thought to his work.

Barry Svrluga is part of the smart group of sports columnists that the Post has attracted through the years. On Sunday, he wrote an appreciation of Boswell, his hero, that included the following story.

His columns, even those that delved deep into numbers, weren’t mechanical. They were lyrical. Again, that’s ability — but only partly. At the 2013 World Series, I came back up from the field to our seats in the Fenway Park press box before Game 6. Boz wasn’t there, but his tools remained — his laptop, notebooks, game notes and a ragtag paperback. I’m still not sure I should admit this, but I will: I peeked. It was a dog-eared copy of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s journals, with various passages underlined — some in red, some in blue, some in both.

When Boz returned to his seat, I asked him, essentially, “What gives?”

“Oh,” he said. “Emerson’s poetry isn’t worth much, but his prose is great.”

He wanted, he said, to be in the right frame of mind to write that night’s column. There is uncommon care and thought in that process.

The Red Sox could win the series that night; indeed, they would. Boz knew that a series-clinching column could be the one to remember — not for him but for the reader. The column that might be framed as a keepsake. The column that might be read and read again to relive the moment. He had to be at his best so his words could be the best they could be.

I had read Thomas Boswell off-and-on for years, but the column that was my keepsake, the one that grabbed me and wouldn’t let go, was a piece he did for the Washington Post Magazine in January of 1987. I still have the original packed away in a memory box. The column was WHY IS BASEBALL SO MUCH BETTER THAN FOOTBALL? It begins with “Here are the first 99 reasons why baseball is better than football. (More after lunch.)”

I’ve quoted and linked to this story so many times, such as when I wrote about 10 reasons Super Bowl 48 will be my last… Let’s look at a few of the reasons baseball is the superior game:

1. Bands.

2. Half time with bands.

3. Cheerleaders at half time with bands.

12. Vince Lombardi was never ashamed that he said, ‘Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.’

13. Football coaches talk about character, gut checks, intensity and reckless abandon. Tommy Lasorda said, ‘Managing is like holding a dove in your hand. Squeeze too hard and you kill it; not hard enough and it flies away.’

23. Everything George Carlin said in his famous monologue is right on. In football you blitz, bomb, spear, shiver, march and score. In baseball, you wait for a walk, take your stretch, toe the rubber, tap your spikes, play ball and run home.”

I could go on and on.

Boswell wrote about teams other than the Washington Nationals, of course. For many years he was the Baltimore Orioles beat writer for the Post, when the nation’s capital was going through its three-decade drought of major league baseball. There are some delicious columns out there featuring Cal Ripken, Jim Palmer, and — most of all — Earl Weaver. Some of the best of that early writing can be found in his books, including 1982’s How Life Imitates the World Series. The first chapter’s title — This Ain’t a Football Game. We Do This Every Day. — is a quote from Weaver.

He also covered every World Series game from the famous 1975 Carlton Fisk “stay fair” home run until last year, when he missed his first Series due to the coronavirus. None of those columns were any better than the one he wrote after the Red Sox won a “doubleheader” in the League Championship Series against the hated Yankees in 2004 entitled October’s Great Boston Marathon.

“Twice on the same day, with the pennant sitting squarely on their plate, the Yankees handed the ball to their central heroic protagonist of the past nine seasons, reliever Mariano Rivera. Of all Manager Joe Torre’s worthies, none — not Derek Jeter or Bernie Williams — has matched Rivera’s October value. And twice, the mighty and usually perfect Panamanian blew those saves. Both times his flaws were almost minuscule. The second squandered lead was barely his fault. But the Red Sox had just enough.”

Boswell also covered other Washington and national sports for the Post. His column when the Capitals won the Stanley Cup in 2018 was another classic: For Capitals and their fans, tears of joy replace years of frustration.

Please, can we have a deserved resolution to an old ache? Can we, at last, expunge the Caps’ ugly, only partially deserved reputation as gifted, inexplicable chokers? And can we replace it with an image of undiluted joy?

Or, if you prefer, a memory of a gray-haired, gloriously relieved Ovechkin, beaming at thousands of Caps fans who roared throughout this game, who will now always be remembered as a champion.

And his appreciation for Georgetown basketball coach John Thompson upon his death — John Thompson bent the world to his vision. The world was better for it — is another column that could have been written by no one else but Boz.

But there were almost as many Big Johns as there were days. Once, my mom said she had enjoyed her late-night talks with that deep-voiced coach who had returned my calls. They had talked about child rearing and any old thing. Which coach? ‘John Thompson,’ she said.

What?!

‘Those farm girls are wise,’ Thompson informed me, referring to my mother.

Boswell has been recognized for years as one of the deans of American sportswriting. His induction speech into the Hall of Fame contains so many classic Boz lines that I encourage you to watch the entire video. Early on, he recognizes where he comes from…

“I graduated from Amherst College with a degree in English Literature, the great refuge of the undecided.”

And then, at the end of the speech, he knows what good writing — on sports or any other subject — actually uncovers:

“Athletes cross the same range of human virtue and vice as the rest of us, the whole range. So over the years, the way you view athletes, the way you see all of sports, will come across in your stories and columns. And it will unintentionally reveal how you feel…about…everything. The reader knows that intuitively and knows it immediately. If you think you are judging others when you write, you’re wrong. You’re uncovering yourself.”

Boz, you’ve more than earned this retirement. Thankfully, those of us who will miss you have your books plus a digital archive full of columns to call upon when we want to read timeless stories about what the uninitiated may see only as fun and games but which are, in reality, about life itself.

More to come…

DJB

Walk it like you talk it: Hope, joy, belief…and feet

Hope can seem so futile and remote in a world full of hate, cruelty, and inequality. Why would we hold out hope for the future when the harsh reality of the world stands ready to crush our optimism at a moment’s notice?

To be an advocate for hope is difficult at any time, but in the midst of the madness around us today it can seem a bridge much too far. Take the cynic’s route, the world’s oligarchs, autocrats, and rulers seem to say. It is much easier.

And they are right. It is easier to be a cynic. Hope is hard, but I want to believe that it is worth the effort.

One of my mentors is the Rev. Dr. Francis H. Wade, and recently I have been reading some of Frank’s writings on hope and joy. And belief. And feet. Let’s start with hope and joy and work our way around to the belief and feet.

Why would we have hope in the face of reality? By our language and our actions, we demonstrate that what we see as real is always serious, harsh, and cruel. Frank reminds us that the words “harsh reality” stand as one word, one idea, instead of two. “Our assumption,” he adds, “is that in order to be real, something has to be conventional, predictable, and compromised.”

I often speak of hope grounded in memory. Rebecca Solnit suggests that if you study history deeply, you “realize people have often taken on things that seemed hopeless — freeing the slaves, getting women the vote — and achieved those things.”  Going back to our history and memory gives me hope.

Frank also calls on memory when speaking of hope, but from a different perspective. And this is where joy arrives. What if we have reality backwards? “What if joy, wonder, and peace,” he asks, “are what life is really about?” Can the harshness and bitterness be a passing phase? And he calls on a very personal memory to make the case for the reality of joy and hope. “All babies are born with the firm belief that joy, wonder, and peace are the norms of life….Babies are born with that understanding of life. And slowly, patiently, the elders of the world teach them that their view is wrong.”

We all know people who do not accept the world’s teaching. A friend of mine lived a joyful 99 years without losing her sense of wonder. “That’s wonderful!” — always spoken with joyful exuberance and a smile — was one of Anne’s favorite phrases. We heard it often. Living in a sense of wonder didn’t make Anne a Pollyanna. She lived her life more along the path that author Richard Holmes has encouraged when he challenged the rigidity of current perspectives and boundaries between disciplines and ideologies, calling instead for a culture with a “sense of individual wonder, the power of hope, and the vivid but questing belief in a future for the globe.” 

Entering into the world as children, we began with the curiosity and amazement found at the heart of a wonder-filled life. Yet along our journeys, most step out of this sense of wonderment and instead become cautious, cynical, hardened, haughty or any number of other traits designed to protect our egos and allow us to function — or so we believe — in the adult world.

In taking those steps into what we see as reality, we too often lose the reality of a generous, more imaginative perspective. Perhaps our hope can be regained when we ground it in our natal memory.

Hope needs to lead to action, however, if we want it to be more than a feel good placebo. We have to believe in a better future, a better world. Frank suggests that hope is “hearing the music of the future; belief is dancing to it.” Belief is how we approach the uncertainties of life, “Making a guess about what is real and important and then acting on it.”

What if joy, wonder, and peace are the things that are real and important? Would we not live more fully with a generous, imaginative perspective? Would we not cry out against injustice? “Would we not,” Frank asks, “laugh at the notion of compromising with evil, hurting, and exploitation?”

Too many of us today are compromising with evil, hurting, and exploitation because we believe that’s what it takes to make the world work, or “we accept wrongs done to others as necessary for the greater good of society.”

We often like to think of a world without injustice in the abstract. But once again, Frank sets the record straight.

“I want something for my head. Instead, I am given something for my feet. Not a thing to understand, but a way to live.”

We have to live, Frank writes, “as if something were true. We will either live as if life is going someplace good, or we will live as if life is stuck in evil and not going anywhere.”

As the old saying goes: If you talk the talk, you have to walk the walk. It is only when we live in acting on our hope — out of a belief in joy, wonder, and peace — that we can find the true reality, as opposed to the harsh unreality, of life. Perhaps, as Frank writes in quoting one of my favorite Flannery O’Connor lines, “You will discover the truth, and the truth will make you odd.”

Have a good week.

More to come…

DJB

Image by Peter H from Pixabay

Note: The quotations from Frank’s writings are taken from Rites of Our Passage: Reflections Through A Christian Year, published in 2002 by Posterity Press.

Saturday Soundtrack: Margo Price

Margo Price is someone I turn to when I want to hear country that’s not yet tarnished by the Nashville music industry. The type of country you get from her longtime friend Sturgill Simpson, co-producer of her most recent album That’s How Rumors Get Started which was released in 2020. The type of music which you also hear from Jason Isbell, or Tyler Childers, where the roots are deep and the sensitivities are decidedly not “love it or leave it.”

Price, who is from a small town in Illinois and grew up singing in the church choir (which is almost a requirement to be a country singer), moved to Nashville when she was 20 years old. She came with a fresh approach to her songs and a voice that can easily handle both heartbreak and defiance. Hurtin’ (On The Bottle) is a very early Price single, which I’ve included so you can hear that great country voice coming of age.

The acoustic It’s Ain’t Drunk Driving if You’re Riding a Horse, is her dark ballad about a DUI arrest, in which she says what really scares her are the “coked-up truck drivers and T-Birds on meth” as well as the “liquored-up grandmas going down to the bar.” But in her telling, her horse does all the thinking for her.

“My equine companion is kind and good-hearted

But he will not back down from a fight

And down at the stable he’ll drink you under the table

But he wasn’t drinking tonight

Well I pleaded and pleaded without any gain

Took all the names in the Bible I could think of in vain

And the judge, he had the gall to swear on my wealth

He said, “what do you have to say for yourself

Of your sinning and your drinking

Do you feel much remorse?”

No, cause it ain’t drunk driving

If you’re riding a horse”

Hands of Time is from Price’s first full-length album Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, and it is about turning back the clock on those cruel hands of time which have taken so much from those who worked the land in the Midwest.

Bob Boilen of NPR wrote of the day he greeted Margo Price in the NPR garage before her Tiny Desk performance.

“…tears were streaming down her face. It was Wednesday morning, Nov. 9, the day after the 2016 election. For her — as for many Americans — it was a stunning and bewildering moment in time, a day when life and the everyday took on new meaning. And so when she and her band began to play “All American Made,” a song she’s sung many times before, those words about America’s changes and failures in the 21st century seemed even more powerful.

The title song was part of a collection of strong material she released in 2017.

Margo’s 2017 album All American Made…was named the #1 Country/Americana album of the year by Rolling Stone, and one of the top albums of the decade by Esquire, Pitchfork and Billboard, among others. In its wake, Margo sold out three nights at The Ryman Auditorium, earned her first Grammy nomination for Best New Artist, and much more.

As you can see in the official video and the lyrics, All American Made isn’t about your typical country music themes of drinking, fighting, and loving. No, country is a genre where you don’t hear a great deal about Reagan selling weapons to Iran.

Something in my bloodline or something
In my gut
Just go to California in a rusty pick-up truck
It’s all American made

1987 and I didn’t know it then
Reagan was selling weapons to the leaders
Of Iran
But it won’t be the first time baby and it won’t be the end
They were all American made

But I was just a child, unaware of the effects
Raised on sports and Jesus not the usual suspects
So tell me Mr Preddy what you do you think will
Happen next?

It’s all American made
And I wonder if the President gets much sleep at night
And if the folks on welfare are making it alright
I’m dreaming of that highway that stretches out of sight
And it’s all American made

Her album Perfectly Imperfect at the Ryman showcases Price’s dynamic live shows. Here is a audio version of Ain’t Living Long Like This featuring Sturgill Simpson on guitar in an arrangement that just cooks.

Revelations — a simple acoustic number with much more depth than the arrangement would suggest — is another of the live tunes from the Ryman album.

I wrote Revelations on a crumbled up napkin
In an all-night diner by the roadway side
Waiter he was an angel kept filling up my coffee
And we made good conversation while I waited for my ride

Last night I played for a sold-out crowd down in Houston
Then we drove out to the ocean playing in the sand
These dark sunglasses I’m wearing this morning
Can’t cover up my headache or the scars on my hands

Been healing the sick, blessing the poor
My feet are so tired and bruised
Hallelujah, what’s it to you
Can’t you see I need saving too?

That’s How Rumors Gets Started, Price’s newest release, is “an album of ten new, original songs that commit her sky-high and scorching rock-and-roll show to record for the very first time.” Again, the topics are not exactly standard-fare country music industry offerings.

(W)hether she’s singing of motherhood or the mythologies of stardom, Nashville gentrification or the national healthcare crisis, relationships or growing pains, she’s crafted a collection of music that invites people to listen closer than ever before.

The set from Dee’s Country Lounge showcases more of the rock-and-roll sensibilities she’s been performing recently (warning: somewhat explicit lyrics).

I really came to know Price’s work through her duets, such as the ones with Jack White, the late John Prine, and a video released earlier this year with Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats.

Margo Price won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but for those looking for country outside the Nashville norm that tackles some of heartbreak of what people are really addressing in 21st century America, she’s worth knowing.

Enjoy.

More to come…

DJB

Image: Cover of the Margo Price album Perfectly Imperfect at the Ryman (credit: Margo Price)

With Willie at ATT Park

The Say Hey Kid turns 90

Happy Birthday, Willie Mays!

My childhood hero turns 90 today, and that takes a lot of processing. I never saw Willie Mays play live, but I followed his career religiously, to the point that I would call the local newspaper in Murfreesboro, in those pre-internet days, and ask them to tell me the score of the Giants game played the night before in San Francisco.

I was such a fan that my friends gave me the nickname that Mays made famous — the Say Hey Kid. I still enjoy it when my life-long friend and preservation colleague Dr. Van West pulls that old nickname out of his memory box when we connect.

Woody Allen, in the movie Manhattan, said Willie Mays was one of the things that made life worth living, right after Groucho Marx but before “those incredible apples and pears by Cezanne.” I don’t know that I’d put Groucho before Willie.

James Hirsch wrote a wonderful biography of Mays entitled Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend, which I reviewed on this blog in 2010. In that post, I recount the story of the role Mays played in the famous Juan Marichal/John Roseboro brawl. As I noted after recounting that incident, Mays is a man of incredible talent, a man of contradictions, but — most of all — Willie Mays is a man of character.

James Hirsch has a wonderful essay of appreciation in today’s New York Times entitled Willie Mays Turns 90. Here’s how it begins:

I once asked Willie Mays what his proudest achievement was in baseball.

His oft-cited designation as the greatest all-around player in history?

His two Most Valuable Player Awards?

The Catch?

None of the above.

“I came into the league with a 32-inch waist, and I retired with a 32-inch waist,” he told me 12 years ago when I interviewed him for a biography.

A bit surprising, but not really. Mays takes great pride in his durability as a player, and it wasn’t an accident. He never drank, never smoked, watched his diet and rarely went clubbing.

His self-discipline made possible an epic career that began with the Birmingham Black Barons in 1948, reached exalted heights with the New York Giants in the 1950s and didn’t end until 1973. Playing center field for 22 years in Major League Baseball, with a record 7,095 putouts and with 6,066 total bases, Mays surely ran more miles on the field, and with greater speed and more style, than any player before or since.

Hirsch has written a loving appreciation for an exceptional talent, who is carrying the torch for a generation of baseball players who are fast leaving us. Ten Hall of Famers — including Hank Aaron, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, and Tom Seaver — have all died in the past year. Mays is now the oldest living member of the Hall of Fame, which again takes some personal processing.

I’m just thankful that I had a chance to watch the man who inspired one of the classic lines in sports, written by sportswriter Bob Stevens after Mays hit a game-winning triple in the eighth inning of the 1959 All-Star Game, which went, “Harvey Kuenn gave it honest pursuit, but the only center fielder in baseball who could have caught it hit it.”  

Happy birthday, Say Hey! I’m one of those who believe that you made life worth living.

More to come…

DJB

Image: DJB outside Giants Stadium in San Francisco by the statue of Willie Mays (photo by Claire Brown)

Weekly Reader: Bearing witness

Bearing witness is a term usually heard in a religious context. But observers writing about the murder of George Floyd, the Derek Chauvin trial, and other instances of justice served or justice denied have noted the basic responsibility we all have to stand up, especially in light of suffering and pain, and bear witness to what is happening in front of us.

As always, this Weekly Reader features links to recent articles that grabbed my interest or tickled my fancy. I hope you find something that makes you laugh, think, or cry.

Charles P. Pierce, writing in Esquire, notes the importance of bearing witness in his story Darnella Frazier Bore Witness to George Floyd’s Death With Massive Consequences.

Darnella Frazier was 17 on the day that she stopped outside of Cup Foods and watched Derek Chauvin kill George Floyd for 10 minutes. She took out her cellphone and recorded the images that both engraved the facts of the case into the minds of people around the world and, ultimately, blew up all the easy, moth-eaten alibis used by the defense every time a police officer kills somebody.

As citizens—hell, as human beings—we are obligated to bear witness to each other’s suffering, especially when that suffering is brought upon someone under the law. Ordinarily, any talk of this being a Christian nation makes my skin crawl and my teeth itch. But this civic obligation is at least Christian-adjacent. If there is a law or a practice that causes our fellow citizens to suffer, then we have an affirmative obligation, by virtue of our freedom to do so, to change that law and, if that isn’t enough, to change the people who make the laws. Darnella Frazier made that first step, bravely, and with no thought of reward, but simply because a sworn member of law enforcement was killing her fellow citizen right in front of her. She would bear witness to that with every tool modern technology afforded her.


Many individuals and institutions put out statements following the verdict in the trial. I was especially taken by the comments of Michael O. Molina, Head of School for the Bishop John T. Walker School for Boys in Anacostia, here in D.C. A Statement on the Derek Chauvin Trial Verdict speaks to the fact that while the verdict is a reason for hope, it does not erase the fact that educators and parents — especially of young Black men growing up in today’s United States — “will always be faced with the enormous challenge of how to explain the horrors of the world to our students and our own children.”

The Bishop Walker School is an exceptional institution working hard to provide a better way. The educators there are bearing witness to the hard truths of life, as well as to their commitment to help these young children grow into strong men to help lead us out of the challenges of racism.


Nina Burleigh writing in The Nation, talks of how Americans — with the exception of health care workers of the time who bore witness to the impact of the 1918 pandemic — quickly let these memories slide out of our consciousness in Why Do We Forget Pandemics?

Every November 11th, on Veterans Day, our world still remembers and celebrates the moment World War I officially ended. But the last great pandemic, the influenza epidemic of 1918-1920 that became known as “the Spanish flu” (though it wasn’t faintly Spain’s fault, since it probably began in the United States), which infected half a billion people on a far less populated planet, killing an estimated 50 million to 100 million of them—including more soldiers than were slaughtered in that monumental war—fell into a collective memory hole.

That virus, unlike Covid-19, mainly killed young healthy people. But there are eerie, even uncanny, similarities between the American experience of that pandemic and this one. In the summer of 1919, just after the third deadly wave, American cities erupted in race riots. As with the summer of 2020, the 1919 riots were sparked by an incident in the Midwest: a Chicago mob stoned a black teenager who dared to swim off a Lake Michigan beach whites had unofficially declared whites-only. The boy drowned and, in the ensuing week of rioting, 23 blacks and 15 whites died. The riots spread across the country to Washington, D.C., and cities in Nebraska, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Texas, with Black veterans who had served in World War I returning home to second-class treatment and an increase in Ku Klux Klan lynchings.

As today, there were similar controversies then over the wearing of masks and not gathering in significant numbers to celebrate Thanksgiving. As in 2020-2021, so in 1918-1919, frontline medics were traumatized. The virus killed within hours or a few days in a particularly lurid way. People bled from their noses, mouths, and ears, then drowned in the fluid that so copiously built up in their lungs. The mattresses on which they perished were soaked in blood and other bodily fluids.

Future pandemics, Burleigh notes, “will emerge more often, spread more rapidly, do more damage to the world economy, and kill more people than Covid-19, unless there is a transformative change in the global approach to dealing with infectious diseases.”

Bearing witness may be able to help us.

Is our species capable of such a change? My inner misanthrope says no, but certainly the odds improve if we don’t delete this pandemic from history like the last one. This, after all, is the first pandemic in which the Internet enabled us to bear witness not only to the panic, illness, and deaths around us, but to the suffering of our entire species in every part of the globe in real time. Because of that alone, it will be difficult to evade the memory of this collective experience and, with it, the reminder that we are all made of the same vulnerable stuff.


And to end the serious portion of this week’s review, Anand Giridharadas, in his newsletter The Ink, interviews the New Yorker journalist Patrick Radden Keefe in Your pain, their gain. Keefe’s new book bears witness to the horrible impact of the plutocracy in today’s America. Giridharadas sets up the interview with the following:

But to start with, there’s this moment in time when there are three brothers Sackler, who eventually become famous businessmen and philanthropists and billionaires. And all three brothers are sharing a single bed in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. How did they go from that bed to being fabulously rich, even before OxyContin?


Finally, because I always try and make you laugh…AND I have a fond spot for libraries, I recommend If Libraries Were Like Run Like Used Car Dealerships by Sarah Totton on McSweeney’s.

Here are some testimonials from just a few of our SATISFIED patrons!

“I cured my ignorance with this one weird trick: reading books at the library!”
— Brandon, patron, East Branch

“I was suffering from terminal boredom. Then, I found the library. I’m cured!”
— Connie, patron, Main Branch

“I went in there and read the books and NOBODY STOPPED ME. I thought this must be some kind of scam. But it’s NOT!”
— Darryl, patron, West Branch

Enjoy your reading this week.

More to come…

DJB

Image by USA from Pixabay.

The practice of breakfast

Always an early riser, I often walked in on my father as he was preparing breakfast, the first rays of sunlight pouring through the kitchen windows. Sixty years on, the morning meal remains profoundly personal for me.

A deeply spiritual man and life-long seeker, Daddy had been at the dining room table since 5 a.m. reading scripture, meditating, praying, writing, and planning his day. He then moved into the kitchen for the next phase of his morning’s work.

Monday-through-Friday’s menu seldom varied for our family of seven. Eggs — often scrambled, although he later offered a great sunny-side-up version for those who preferred that option — were first on the plate. Bacon went next; two slices if memory serves, but it seldom is infallible these days. Toast with jam filled out the menu. A glass of milk, and later coffee as we aged out of one drink and into the other, sat on each place mat. Our food came with a helping of WSM morning radio on the side. Some people begin their day with the meditative stylings of Enya or George Winston. Our ambient music was Flatt and Scruggs.

Once the food was ready for the table, my father made sure we were all up and moving. “Rise and shine” was his favorite wake-up call. Some of us took it more literally than others. Mother, a habitual night owl, fell into the latter camp. Because he often rode his bike to work, Daddy was out the door before 6:45 a.m. As we grew older, we helped mother with the clean-up and getting ourselves off to school or summer jobs.

How I prepare and eat breakfast has changed through the years, but it has always been grounded in those memories. The realization came slowly, but over time it occurred to me that my father used breakfast as part of a morning practice, well before that term came to mean what it does today. When he walked into the Tennessee Valley Authority office at 7 a.m., he had already centered his soul, stimulated his mind, cheerfully provided for his family, and exercised. We could all do much worse in beginning our days.

Unconsciously at first, but more recently with deeper intention, I’ve followed in his footsteps.

The Buddhist monk and writer Thich Nhat Hanh first came to my attention in Barbara Brown Taylor’s Holy Envy. My wife, who is reading from Thich Nhat Hanh’s book of daily wisdom entitled Your True Home, recently asked me to listen to his take on a mindful breakfast.

“Even a daily habit like eating breakfast, when done as a practice, can be powerful. It generates the energy of mindfulness and concentration that makes life authentic. When we prepare breakfast, breakfast making can also be a practice. We can be really alive, fully present, and very happy during breakfast making. We can see making breakfast as mundane work or as a privilege — it just depends on our way of looking. The cold water is available. The hot water is available. The soap is available. The kettle is available. The fire is available. The food is available. Everything is there to make our happiness a possibility.”

As she read to me, it began to come together that with a few mindful changes, I could follow in the footsteps of my father’s morning practice. The opportunity to begin with a centering morning practice was always there for me, if I simply chose to follow the example I’d known my entire life.

Having recently put aside my electronic devices, my day now begins with a short reading followed by stretching and yoga poses, to limber both mind and body. Soon after my semi-retirement, I refashioned my morning walk from the metro station to the office into a regular stroll around the neighborhood. A shower to refresh for the day was followed by breakfast. Finally, instead of reading 30 minutes each way during my commutes to-and-from the office, I now sit in a comfortable chair by the window with a cup of coffee and read a book as part of my “non-commute”.

By the time I head upstairs to the “office,” I am well on my way to being centered, limber, and happily fed. The next step was to choose to make breakfast integral to my morning practice.

Coffee in the pot with my collection of favorite mugs

Breakfast was the one piece of my morning that wasn’t terribly mindful. Oh, I have routines for making breakfast that are generally well-considered and fit my empty-nest stage of life. The smell of coffee, prepared the night before, greets me. One of my favorite mugs, perhaps from Powell’s in Portland or the one “stolen” from the City Cafe in Murfreesboro, is waiting beside the freshly brewed pot.

But until recently, I prepared the meal more by rote (which is possible when you have the same menu), and I would eat each bite without much consideration for what, or how much, was going into my mouth. I acted as if there were more important things to focus on in the newspaper or on my tablet. My habit of devouring food is a sore subject for those near to me. Slowing down to savor the meal is, I’m afraid, a work in progress.

Tom Brown, in his 80s, still cooking breakfast…this time on Christmas Eve at my sister Debbie’s house

When I’m mindful of the practice of breakfast, I stop to appreciate the smell of the coffee before I begin preparation of the fixings for the eggs. Stepping back to focus on the details of the prep has led me to think of this meal in relation to others I’m having that day. My thoughts sometimes turn to how both of my adult children — who now live away from home — are lovers of a good breakfast and know how to fix one. For that I’m thankful. I know that upstairs Candice is somewhere along the path of her well-considered morning practice. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, everything is there to make my happiness a possibility.

Now, after savoring my food and reading during my non-commute, I head up to the desk where I’ll spend the rest of my morning. As I do so, I think of Tom Brown walking into the old office building by the substation in Murfreesboro and give thanks for the example of the practice of breakfast that was there in front of me, all along.

Have a good week.

More to come…

DJB

Image by Markéta Machová from Pixabay

Saturday Soundtrack: John Pizzarelli

John Pizzarelli, the world-renowned guitarist and singer, is the son of legendary jazz guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, who died just over a year ago on April 1, 2020. The family, which also includes the double bassist Martin Pizzarelli, is jazz royalty.

Bucky was a long-time member of The Tonight Show Band, where he played with a wide variety of musicians and in different musical genres. John clearly got his start at a very early age, and both father and son play the seven-string guitars popularized in jazz circles by George Van Eps.

On the jazz standard I’ve Got Rhythm, you can hear John play his Moll seven-sting and sing in his easy-going crooner style…until he begins scatting with the lead at the 51 second mark. Then, oh my goodness! Extra bonus points if you figure out where the pick was hiding that shows up just before that solo. Oh yes, and the chord inversions are just wonderful.

Speaking of chord inversions, I always marveled at how those jazz cats could put their fingers down seemingly anywhere on a fretboard and make a beautiful chord that is just right for that passing phrase. Take a listen to the changes in this solo arrangement of How High the Moon.

John has established himself as a prime contemporary interpreter of the Great American Songbook and beyond, with a repertoire that includes Paul McCartney, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Tom Waits, Antonio Carlos Jobim, and the Beatles.

A recent home recording from the American Songbook of Sinatra’s The Way You Look Tonight is played on his acoustic seven-string. The amazing solo (there always seems to be one) begins about the 1:50 mark and it brings out an appreciative ovation from the family. In a recording from The Paste Studio, Pizzarelli continues in the acoustic vibe on Baubles, Bangles, and Beads.

In 2019, John honored the centennial of the legendary singer and pianist Nat King Cole with a selection of his classics. I love Pizzarelli’s arrangement and the video of (Get Your Kicks On) Route 66, one of Cole’s major hits.

The trio also has a beautiful arrangement of Cole’s It’s Only a Paper Moon with a very nice solo by Konrad Paszkudzki on piano.

Pizzarelli just won a Grammy for producing James Taylor’s recent foray into the Great American Songbook. If you go to YouTube and type in John Pizzarelli, you can go down a rabbit hole and never come out.

I would suggest there are much worse ways to spend a few hours!

Enjoy, and have a good week.

More to come…

DJB

Image: John Pizzarelli, from his Facebook post “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere”

Weekly Reader: The catcher was a spy

Only one man has his professional baseball cards in the CIA museum in Langley, Virginia. The museum’s label is titled MORRIS (MOE) BERG BASEBALL CARDS and it reads in part:

Following his 15-year career with five different major league teams, the Princeton-educated Berg served as a highly successful Office of Strategic Services (OSS) operative during World War II. Among his many missions on behalf of the OSS, the former catcher was charged with learning all he could about Hitler’s nuclear bomb project…Because of his intellect, Moe Berg is considered the “brainiest” man to have played the game.”

The true story is a bit more complicated.

As always, this Weekly Reader features links to recent articles (or in this case a book) that grabbed my interest or tickled my fancy. I hope you find something that makes you laugh, think, or cry.

You would be forgiven if in reading the headline, you assumed this was another rant about the cheating ways of the Houston Astros. It is not. Instead, as part of my regular “spring training” regimen, I read a book on baseball and watch the movie Bull Durham to prep for the season. This year, I turned to the entertaining and exceptionally well-researched 1995 book by Nicholas Dawidoff, The Catcher was a Spy: The mysterious life of Moe Berg. I came late to this story and missed the movie entirely. Nonetheless, I was immediately enthralled after diving into this work a few weeks ago. Baseball stories, if well crafted, can be timeless, like the game itself.

Moe Berg was seen as different from any other baseball player even during his playing career. Legendary manager Casey Stengel described Berg as “the strangest man ever to play baseball”. As Dawidoff recounts in this page-turner of a book, Berg enjoyed “being” a baseball player more than he enjoyed “playing” baseball. The rhythms of the season, the copious amount of free time both during and between seasons, the ability to sit in the bullpen and tell stories, the travel and the first-class accommodations all suited the life he wanted to build for himself. Following his stint in major league baseball, Berg — like many bright young men of the day — entered the war to fight the Nazis. Again, the life of a spy in the free-wheeling OSS fit his personality, and he worked, among other assignments, to uncover the status of Germany’s atomic bomb program. The fact that he could speak several languages and read even more, had no real personal connections to tie him down, and was bright enough to understand more physics than the average person made him a useful operator for the new spy agency. His life began to change as the war wound down, it was found that the Nazi’s did not have a real atomic program to speak of, and the button-downed CIA was not interested in keeping a free-lancing amateur sleuth employed during the Cold War.

Depending on your outlook, Berg’s unconventional life — where he lived the last 25 years unemployed, virtually homeless, and dependent on the goodness of others, including a sister and a brother — could be seen as extremely sad and unfulfilled. And yet he had many admirers and supporters such as the publisher Sayre Ross, who kept him afloat after they first met in 1967.

“‘It was better than reading books to listen to him,’ he says. ‘He was a great storyteller. He was an embellisher, and who the hell wasn’t. His language was a weapon of description. He colored it because people were interested.'”

After his death, Berg’s sister — who was estranged from Dr. Sam, their brother — took Moe’s remains to Israel where a rabbi suggested an unknown burial place. Dawidoff states that this made “the final mystery of Moe Berg’s inscrutable life” the fact that nobody knows where he is buried. But the author turns to making sense of that life in a thoughtful and sympathetic final chapter. His immigrant father’s driving discipline clearly marked all three of his children. Berg may have lived the way he did because he did not believe the tales he told others about his life.

“He never said what he really thought of himself, but his actions suggest that he saw Moe Berg as a mediocre ballplayer, a scholar only within the unlearned community of baseball, and an intelligence agent whose work had come to nothing.”

But Berg did a great deal with his life, asserts Dawidoff.

“He gained admission to two of the most rarefied clubs in the world — professional baseball and professional espionage — and for a brief time, his service in each compared favorably with anyone’s. As a spy working in Europe for the OSS, Berg was at the center of the seminal event of his time, the building of an atomic bomb, and his performance was exemplary. Some of Berg’s other accomplishments are a matter of degree. He was no scientist, but he learned more physics than most people. He was not formally a linguist, but he was a sensitive and appreciative student of languages, and knew a lot about them.”

But his most compelling accomplishment, from Dawidoff’s perspective, is what he did after the war. Trained at Princeton and Columbia Law, he could have been an big-time corporate lawyer. With a willingness to bend to the rules, he could have been a brilliant CIA agent. Instead, he lived the life he wanted, wherever it took him.

“Berg molded himself into a character of fantastic complication who brought pleasure and fascination to nearly everyone he brushed against during his fitful movements around the world. In the end, there are few men who find ways to live original lives. Moe Berg did that.”


My spring training ritual was a little late this year…which fit perfectly with the Washington Nationals’ opening day challenges, which began late after a cancelled series due to Covid-19. However, in the end, the Nats found an original way to persevere. As Thomas Boswell wrote in The Washington Post back on April 7th, Opening Day at Nationals Park was the culmination of 18 months — and 50 years — of waiting.

One day can encapsulate 50 years. Not often. But Tuesday at Nationals Park did it for me.

Because of an outbreak that left nine Washington players in coronavirus protocols, the Nationals were forced to call up Hernán Pérez, elevate Andrew Stevenson from reserve to starter and sign catcher Jonathan Lucroy off the street just to field an Opening Day lineup against the Atlanta Braves.

With due respect to all major leaguers, that trio was weaker on paper than the sixth, seventh and eighth hitters in the Washington lineup in its final game as the Senators in 1971 — Dave Nelson, Del Unser and Tom Ragland — or the players in those slots in the first game of the new Nats in 2005 — Vinny Castilla, Terrmel Sledge and Brian Schneider.

Three anchors. So in the second inning, Pérez singled, Stevenson crushed a bullet through Atlanta’s alarmed second baseman (ruled an error) and both scored when Lucroy doubled.

Of course, ace Max Scherzer allowed four home runs to the the first 10 batters he faced, so you knew it wouldn’t be easy. But the Nats came back to win when young superstar Juan Soto walked off the Braves with a single in the bottom of the 9th. With that, Boswell celebrated.

This is baseball — quintessentially unpredictable, any-day-can-astound-or-amuse-us baseball. This is the game that Washington had from 1901 through 1971, lost for 33 years and now, in the culmination of a multigenerational cycle, celebrated again in full-throated yet pandemic-bizarre fashion as the Nats raised their 2019 World Series title banner before the opener.

Yep, it is a long strange season and much can happen. But now that I’m through spring training, it is time to play ball!

More to come…

DJB