Category Archives: Tributes
A little something I put together about someone that has left us.
One of the greatest spectacles in U.S. sports is The Kentucky Derby. While I have been to Churchill Downs on a number of occasions, I have yet to make it to that iconic palace for its greatest annual event. So instead, every year in the week leading up to this event, I give a reread to the great Hunter S. Thompson feature “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved” to satisfy a nagging itch that could probably only be scratched by a bender I’m no longer willing to undertake.
“The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved” is a significant benchmark for a number of reasons. Thompson was still finding his way in the “New Journalism” movement of the time, and after it was published it became the first of his pieces referred to as Gonzo–a moniker that was and will be forever synonymous with his revolutionary work. It also marked the beginning of a lifelong creative partnership between Thompson and artist Ralph Steadman. But it also provided a bit of social commentary about what it meant to interact with the “whisky gentry” of the South nearly half a century ago, and you can’t help but notice how little has changed since.
Personally, I’m connected to this piece in two ways. At this year’s South By Southwest festival in Austin, I caught the documentary “For No Good Reason,” a film about Steadman’s art and relationship with Thompson (Johnny Depp features prominently as well). It’s a great picture for Thompson/Gonzo fans, and the beginning of the Steadman-Thompson partnership at the time of the 1970 Kentucky Derby is featured prominently. The other personal connection is to Michael MacCambridge, contributor to the Grantland website who annotated “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved” for the site–and taught me sports journalism at Washington University in St. Louis. Maybe he wouldn’t want me bragging about that, but it happened all the same.
Enough about me. The Kentucky Derby happens later this afternoon. Before then, do yourself a favor and take a few minutes to read the Director’s Cut version of “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved” over at Grantland (language warning). And resist the urge to Mace everyone you see today.
This week marked the 30th anniversary of the release of Van Halen’s epic album 1984. I could sit here and wax poetic about the greatness of each song, the unbelievable sales the album achieved, and how it played into the departure of David Lee Roth from the band. But that’s all been done so many times I’m afraid Google would laugh at me if I added another document like that to its search results. So here’s something a little more personal.
Van Halen’s 1984 is easily the largest brick in the foundation of my love for all things music. In fact, it might just be the entire foundation.
I was born in 1977, so Van Halen has been around almost as long as I have. But like most kids in that 7-8-9 year old range, my mid-80s music tastes were still pretty much limited to what my parents owned or what happened to come on the radio. I’m not entirely sure how much airplay Van Halen got in those days before 1984, but I either never heard it or never recognized it on the stations that dominated our house and cars. We listened to a lot of music, and we had a lot of records—just no Van Halen that I can recall.
Then my parents decided it was time to step out of the 70s and into the 80s and bought a portable stereo with a cassette player and tuner known in those days as a “boom box.” My dad also joined Columbia House, the music club catalog service that would send you new cassettes (or records, at that time) you chose every month, or a preselected hit album unless you told them not to. Back then I think the introductory offer was six for a penny or something like that. Anyway, I’m pretty sure by that time “Jump” and “Panama” and “Hot for Teacher” had made it through even our stereo speakers via popular radio, so that first shipment of cassettes included 1984.
I don’t know if it was fascination with the new medium or just a budding desire to listen to whatever new music came my way, but I listened to those first cassettes every chance I got. Eventually I would start building my own collection of music outside of the children’s records and random 45s I had scattered among my parents’ collection, and it was all cassettes. I still listened to a lot of the stuff my dad was now acquiring on cassette as well, but 1984 was always a go-to for me—so much so that, inevitably, the tape ended up in my collection permanently. I played the shit out of that thing, so much so that the white plastic yellowed and most of the screen printed track listings were rubbed down to mere ghosts of the black lettering they once were. I was in awe of Edward Van Halen’s guitar virtuosity, Alex Van Halen and Michael Anthony’s thunder, and David Lee Roth’s bravado. My love for Van Halen was off and running.
As I got older, friends turned me on to the new incarnation of VH with Sammy Hagar at the helm. By the time I started high school, I owned every Van Halen release on cassette. Not long after, I got my first CD player. I had evolved into full-fledged geekdom over Van Halen by then, so of course I re-bought every album on disc—but one of the first ones was, of course, 1984.
And then something happened that would change me and my music obsessions forever. At a friend’s house as a teenager—probably while I was preaching to my eye-rolling comrades about how great Van Halen was and/or how Eddie is the greatest guitarist who ever lived—my friend’s dad caught wind of my love for VH and said he had something I might like. He brought out a copy of 1984 on vinyl that was still partially in the original shrink wrap. He said he bought it when it first came out because he liked “Jump” but didn’t really care for the rest of the album, so it had been played once. I was in awe once again but, oddly enough, I couldn’t quite figure out why. At that point in the mid-90s, vinyl was nowhere near its resurgence. Records were the dusty old fossils parents brought out to reminisce about polyester days gone by. A child of the times, I had a respectable cassette collection that I was slowly pushing toward obsolescence by a growing CD collection. But this record immediately jumped out to me as a beautiful, pristine work of art and I had to have it. The black vinyl was so clean I could see myself in it. It even still smelled new. I think I gave him $10 for it; at the time, it probably wasn’t worth half that. But you can’t put a price tag on love at first sight.
Since that day, I’ve acquired about 1,000 records of varying condition and worth, both monetary and sentimental. But 1984 is still my most treasured record, and always will be. It was the first hit of a long, steady addiction to vinyl. Strangely, it’s not even my favorite Van Halen album musically. But as is true in every aspect of life, you never forget your first. And listening to it today still gives me that same flood of awe and wonder it did nearly 30 years ago and every day in between.
Right. So it’s the closing moments of what would have been Hunter S. Thompson’s 76th birthday. Not coincidentally, I’m in the closing sips of a glass of a pretty good 5-year rum.
If not for the good doctor, I’m not sure I’d enjoy writing—and, for that matter, reading—as much as I do today. I never wanted to be HST; I just wanted to capture that bite. It’s not something that can be properly explained but you know it when you see it. I could be talking about anything—sports, politics, pop culture, cooking, laundry tips—and then, crunch, like a shark through unsuspecting flesh. Fear. Loathing. The bite hits you and you can’t turn back. Maybe you’re inspired or horrified or tickled or disappointed. Regardless, your brain carves out a little niche and shoves those words in. And they’re in that little cranny forever. It’s a legacy to which all writers should aspire, content be damned.
No one can capture and relive the frenzy that was Thompson’s life; at least not fully. But your own life can take on Gonzo qualities if you really want it to. Because I always viewed that state of being as completely subjective. Live your life. Take chances but always be smart. Fight for what’s right. Do it with a buzz or do it without; it doesn’t really matter as long as you make your own rules in spite of theirs and manage to not get caught along the way.
Thank you, Doc. For everything. Maybe someday I’ll come up with a proper tribute.
Res ipsa loquitur.
Less than 24 hours after his passing, Stan The Man’s legacy is already the biggest discussion in Cardinal Nation. That should surprise no one.
But it should be more than just a uniform patch or a new image at the stadium. Those are fine ideas, but a person with the stature of Stan Musial—both on and off the field—deserves more. Maybe it’s impossible to come up with something truly big enough to represent what Stan The Man meant to the Cardinals, to St. Louis, to Baseball. I mean, he already has two statues erected in his honor, and one is only slightly less iconic to the city of St. Louis than the Gateway Arch. Yet somehow even all that doesn’t seem like enough, does it?
So here are two of the best ideas I’ve seen so far, with what I believe to be proper attribution…and by that I mean, where I first saw the idea:
–St. Louis media guy Larry Thornton tweeted: “On Jackie Robinson day everyone wears 42. On Opening Day every Cardinal should wear 6” Such a simple idea, yet so brilliant. Robinson’s impact on baseball and, really, the entire country is unparalleled and will never again be matched. The same could be said about Stan Musial and St. Louis/the Cardinals. Not that Musial was a civil rights pioneer fighting for equality and justice…that’s not where the comparison is. But just like Robinson to the whole of the game and the fabric of the country, Musial transcended what it meant to be a pro ballplayer. He was one of the greatest ever, and yet that doesn’t even begin to tell the whole story.
–Fellow bloggers Chris Mallonee and Daniel Solzman each wrote posts suggesting a name alteration at the home of the St. Louis Cardinals. “Musial Field at Busch Stadium” (or some variation) has a pretty good ring to it. Naming the field after Musial would in no way impact the name Busch Stadium, yet it would give more permanence to Stan The Man’s impact as a player and a person on the organization and the community. One good spot for the name would be the backstop. Busch Stadium looks great there; wouldn’t Musial Field look even better?
I may add some ideas to the post, so look for updates. I’m sure the Cardinals are already on top of a number of tributes set for this season; these are just some suggestions with both class and precedence. Commemorative giveaways and video tributes are nice, too, but Stan’s passing is not just the death of an icon…it’s the death of THE icon. Feel free to leave more ideas and suggestions below.
Today was a tough day for St. Louis Cardinals fans, as Stan “The Man” Musial died at the age of 92.
What does Stan The Man mean to me?
Stan The Man is the Cardinals. He is St. Louis. He is Busch Stadium, he is Opening Day, he is the All Star Game, he is the World Series. He is MVP, Hall of Fame, and Medal of Freedom. He is the Birds on the Bat and the red blazer. He is a veteran. He is a record holder. He is comfortably in the Top 5 of the best players ever—period. Perfect warrior, perfect knight.
I use the present tense rather than the past because even though he has passed, Stan The Man will never be a “was” to St. Louis Cardinals baseball. Surely some of his records will fall—some already have. But the numbers only tell part of the story of Stan The Man. The word most often associated with him off the field was “decent”…How many times do you hear that nowadays? I never had the privilege of meeting Stan Musial, but so many in St. Louis had—and described it exactly the same way every single time—he felt like an old friend. It’s hard to imagine Cardinals baseball without Stan The Man’s physical presence, but his spirit, his memory will never leave the Cards.
Regardless, the sports gods did not let the opportunity to illuminate the legacy of Stan Musial just a little more pass them by.
Today I looked forward to listening to the broadcast of the belated first St. Louis Blues game of the season, and the news of Stan The Man’s passing hit me just before I fired up my computer looking for the stream. So it turned the evening bittersweet, to say the least. I basically thumbed through my Twitter feed, read articles, and looked at pictures of Stan The Man while listening to the hockey game. When the Blues scored their fourth goal of the night, I thought “wouldn’t it be something if they ended up scoring six tonight…” Stan The Man wore number six. And sure enough, the Blues ended up beating the Detroit Red Wings 6-0. As if for an extra tip of the cap to Stan The Man’s unparalleled consistency, they scored two goals in each period. Simply incredible. For a guy who recently relocated 800+ miles from the only home he’s ever known, that put a smile on my face.
Goodnight, St. Louis. And rest in peace, Stan Musial. Thank you for being Cardinals Baseball.
On this date three years ago comedian, author, and actor George Carlin died.
Those descriptors only tell part of the story, however. Carlin’s name is forever imprinted on how the U.S. views language fit for broadcast over the public airwaves. His dissection and analysis of language and the way we use it trickled into nearly every routine he shared with an audience. His social critiques were both funny and poignant, making listeners at the same time laugh and wonder what the hell is wrong with all of us.
Nothing was out of bounds in Carlin’s comedy, and that was always the point. He knew everything from the absurd to the universal and the mundane to the controversial could be funny…as long as we, the audience, were willing to laugh at ourselves.
Carlin released a dozen albums and was featured in a dozen HBO concert specials. He performed in front of countless fans over the years, won several Grammy awards, appeared on TV numerous times as both an actor and a comedian, acted in a number of movies, and wrote four best-selling books.
George Carlin has been and probably always will be my favorite comedian. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard everything he has ever recorded (and own most of them on vinyl, tape, or CD…and in some cases, all three), I’ve seen 10 of his 12 HBO specials, caught him live in concert twice, and am now starting to read his books even though I know a lot of the material in them I can recite from memory as I read.
There’s another connection here for me, too, and that’s with my dad. I have my love of vinyl records because of my dad; when I was young we’d listen to his collection all the time. Dad has three of Carlin’s earliest albums on vinyl: Take-Offs and Put-Ons, Class Clown, and An Evening With Wally Londo Featuring Bill Slazso. I remember very clearly only being allowed to listen to the first album for the longest time, because it was the only one my parents thought a 10 year old kid should listen to (i.e., no bad words). Then they relented a little and let me listen to side one of Class Clown; I couldn’t listen to side two because it contained “Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television.” But when I got a little older and started being left home alone, one of the first things I would do once I was sure my parents were really gone was pull out the Carlin records. I repaid my dad by taking him to see Carlin in concert at the Fox Theater in St. Louis several years ago; it was my second show but his first, after all those years of being a fan. When Carlin died, we talked about it on the phone like it was a favorite uncle or good family friend we had lost. I guess sadness upon knowing you’ve heard the last from a favorite, even though you never met that person, is universal—and probably one of those things Carlin would explore on stage.
So here’s to George Carlin: comedy pioneer and entertainment icon. I could probably post 100 links and videos to some of my favorite Carlin routines spanning his 40+ years in show business, but I think I’ll stick with a quickie from the old days that actually fits in with the spirit of this blog: the original (and incomplete, according to his website) version of “Baseball and Football” from the 1975 album An Evening With Wally Londo Featuring Bill Slaszo.
And, in case you’re wondering, this is one of only a couple of tracks from the album that is safe to listen to at work.
The loudest, most passionate voice in the Left Field Bleachers of Busch Stadium went quiet forever when Lucille Elson, better known to Cardinal Nation as Mama Lucy, passed away last night after a long battle with cancer.
To those that knew her well, Mama Lucy was a fun-loving and passionate friend with a no-nonsense personality and a welcoming smile. To anyone within earshot of Section 593, she was one of the most boisterous, passionate, and recognizable figures in the stands at St. Louis Cardinals home games.
Mama Lucy attended games armed with drinks and snacks, t-shirts she made that sported her “Left Field Bleacher Rules,” a scorecard, and a small radio headset for listening to the broadcast. Part of her time was spent shaking hands and chatting with passersby who knew or at least recognized her and part of her time was spent sharing the t-shirts with anyone who wanted one. But most of her time was spent riveted by the game in front of her, and her fan participation was equaled by no other.
Every time a Cardinals player came up to bat, Mama Lucy had an encouraging yell for him. And I’m talking a yell. The first time I heard it, I almost couldn’t believe this woman–or any human being–was capable of projecting the way she did. We were brand new season ticket holders and sat in the row behind Lucy, just a seat or two away. The reactions of the surrounding fans were mixed: some looked annoyed, some yelled along with her, most gave a little cheer or a smile. But everyone knew this was what Mama Lucy did. It had become part of the game experience. If a Cards’ hitter fouled off a two-strike pitch, she would chant (mimicking the BeeGee’s classic) “AH AH AH AH STAYIN’ ALIVE! STAYIN’ ALIVE!” and add an encouraging line at the end of the chorus based on the situation on the field (“TWO RBI’S! C’MON, ALBERT!”). When the visiting team got a runner on first, she willed the Cardinals into turning a double play: “SIX-FOUR-THREE! FOUR-SIX-THREE! FIVE-FOUR-THREE!” This went on for the entire game, but it wasn’t off-putting in any way. Mama Lucy made the Left Field Bleachers special.
And it wasn’t just the game experience that endeared Mama Lucy to the bleacher creatures at Busch Stadium. Every winter, she would invite a large group of the friends she acquired through Cardinals games to her home for an offseason catch-up session complete with a feast and various Cards videos playing in the background. It was like a Baseball Thanksgiving in February.
I became a season ticket holder at Busch in 2008 because I love baseball and I thought it would be the easiest way to obtain a seat for the 2009 All Star Game. I stayed a season ticket holder because of people like Mama Lucy. She became part of my summer family–frankly, I saw these people as often as I see my parents (who live two blocks away)–and because of that, I couldn’t imagine sitting anywhere else for more than a game or two. Mama Lucy touched the lives of many in numerous ways, but none more visible than out in the Left Field Bleachers. She was a friend and is already missed.
Mama Lucy, front and center with some of her LF Bleacher Family
Here are a few links I was able to dig up:
Mama Lucy got a mention in an article on the Cardinals’ website back in 2002.
P-D columnist and sports radio host Bernie Miklasz offered Mama Lucy get well wishes earlier this year.
On this date in 2002, the Cardinals’ Hall of Fame announcer Jack Buck passed away. Buck’s work was nationally known…he called World Series, Super Bowls, and Monday Night Football games for network broadcasts. But in St. Louis and to Cardinals fans everywhere, he was both an icon and a friendly voice that was as much a part of baseball as the players on the field.
Buck started calling games for the Cardinals in 1954 alongside another radio booth icon, Harry Caray. By the 1970′s Caray had moved on and Buck was the Voice of the Cardinals.
Because of the enormous reach of KMOX, the Cardinals’ former radio home, millions listened to Jack Buck and Mike Shannon describe Cardinals games for nearly 30 years. Buck is credited with some of the most memorable calls in history. Many across the country will remember him from the 1991 and 1988 World Series; Cardinal fans know that the magic of Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Bruce Sutter, Ozzie Smith, and Willie McGee was that much sweeter when described by Jack Buck. Take a look at this video for a sample.
Buck’s final broadcast season was 2001. After 9/11, all professional sports took a brief and necessary hiatus as the country grived. But we needed something to rally around, and baseball helped bring us back just a little. In St. Louis, Jack Buck read a poem he wrote before the Cardinals’ first post-9/11 game. Buck, a WWII hero and purple heart recipient, delivered what would prove to be his last great call to the Busch Stadium crowd.
Thanks, Jack. We’ll never forget you.