This is for all of you who requested a Faces cover, though I don’t believe anyone asked for this song. It is my favorite Faces ballad and, probably, my fave number overall from them. I am a sucker for the descending chord sequence; instant melancholy.
Autumn in New England is also instant melancholy. Just mix with Guiness and, voila! Especially when the Red Sox go down early. And, whew! Did they ever go down yesterday — in monumentally epic gargantuan proportions (as my friend Mark responded, “that’s an understatement”). The Sox, you see, are our last strand of summer, hope against the irrefutable scientific facts that are otherwise easily observable, the chill wind, the darkening sky, the explosive color of the foliage, and then the barren branches of the trees lining the lovely streets of Brookline and outer environs. But we hold on, for as long as it is baseball season, summer is not fully over. As Bart Giamatti (actor Paul’s father) wrote,
It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.
It is a sentimental, perhaps even mawkish passage. But I love it. I am sure Robert Frost was more artful about it, but this just sums up a certain vantage point about the daily presence of baseball in the lives of its fans. It is read on the last Red Sox broadcast every year by Joe Castiglione.
I grew up a Mets fan until my family left New York when I was 16. My interest in sports in general had been waning and was in steep decline. I did not rediscover that love of baseball again until decades later. I woke up some time in the 1990s to discover that I had lived in the Boston area for another 10 years and found myself rooting for the Sox. I was no longer a New Yorker. When we got back from touring, Boston was home.
But a part of me feels like a castoff, a man without a home, and the New Yorker in me was sad to see Shea Stadium go. It has little to do with the actual structure and architecture of the place; it was really an ill-conceived and impersonal mid-1960s structure in the middle of vast parking lots. Nevertheless, it was the first place my father took me to see a game. And everyone remembers the first time they come up off a concourse to see the shockingly vivid green of an infield at a major league baseball stadium. And so it was for me at Shea, where the Beatles had played only a few years before. I talk a bit about this in an interview with Timothy Bracy that should be going up on L Magazine sometime today. Sorry to quote myself, but the discussion coincided and dovetailed with this post:
So, that’s how I grew up. Kingman, Kranepool, McGraw, Cleon Jones, Rusty Staub, Tom Seaver, even Willy Mays, these are the names I grew up with. But my memory is so bad for sports. I have very little recollection of those games. But I remember going many times to Shea, and of course, the first time. I remember my father pointing out Mays’ pink El Dorado in the lot. I got Ron Swoboda’s and Lyndsey Nelson’s autographs. Mr. Met, Banner Day, “Meet the Mets,” “Kiner’s Korner,” “the one beer when you’re having more than one,” and losing while the Yankees were always winning. I recall being very young and thinking that fandom could be completely arbitrary, that I could therefore simply declare myself a fan of the Cowboys or, godforbid, the Yankees. I was just tossing such ideas around, but not committing. It was one of those life lessons when my wise father told me, basically, sure, I could. But that the character of a person is their loyalty, even loyalty to something as silly as sports teams. So if I wanted to be a fan of the Yankees, that was my choice (those words came hard for him, I am sure. He probably threw up in his mouth) but if I made that choice, he didn’t want me changing my allegiances later on. No fair-weather fans in his house. It was not an outright ban on Yankee fandom; it was something much larger and more important.
Now it is torn down and something new is there. I can’t imagine them considering — as was seriously considered up until just a few years ago — replacing Fenway Park. It is such a trip to bring grown friends of mine there for the first time, mostly visiting New Yorkers. Like Wrigley in Chicago, it is hallowed ground, a magical link to the past, an actual ballpark right in the middle of the city — not some urban outpost relegated to the outskirts of a metropolis like Shea or even Yankee Stadium, never mind some godforesaken suburban NFL stadium like Gillette (which I have yet to visit and I have very little interest in doing so.)
No, Fenway has a real sense of place, of authenticity, of tradition. Like those football/soccer joints in England and Europe, there is a human charge to the place. I remember sitting in a pub in Chelsea while English fans filed past on their way to the game played in the same neighborhood their fathers did, on the same pitch. It’s a similar feeling at the pubs around Fenway and Wrigley.
And, for all its faults, Shea held some history. And to merely replace it with some new place across the parking lot is only a surface improvement. I was sad to see it go, though I am not sure my Mets friends who saw no such disruption in their fandom feel the same way. But it is the same phenomenon of leaving a place — a town, a college, whatever; those places from the past are colored in sepia washes of nostalgia that blur out the less pleasing edges and messy reality.
I’m pretty sure that’s not exactly or solely what Hot Rod is singing about on “Love Lives Here.” But he definitely is concentrating on the sense of place, a place that — as Tom Waits sang on Cover of the Week 37 — once “held laughter, once it held dreams,” the same way that countless country songs from “Home for Sale” and “The Grand Tour” do.
There’s always next year.