I was sitting in a restaurant the other day. At a table next to me were two gentlemen in their forties. They were talking baseball.
I had no intention of chiming in as these two lads were exceedingly uninformed on the topic and weren’t afraid to share that fact. So I relaxed and soaked in the conversation on a subject that I find almost as endlessly fascinating as blues music.
What I learned was that baseball is a very simple game. It is easy to play and that anybody with the physical skills required, should be able to learn all the nuances of the sport within five weeks, tops, and have enough knowledge to compete on the Major League level.
I also learned that the problem with baseball is that it is too slow. The two gentlemen offered up solutions as to how best to speed up the game and therefore make baseball more in line with 21st Century America and presumably their own sensibilities.
They offered up several innovations that would make the game more to their liking. These “improvements” of course would alter the very nature of baseball. They ended this part of the conversation and agreed that they didn’t like baseball all that much and moved on to a topic which they both loved, the National Football League.
There are several things that raced through my mind at that moment. The entire conversation could be a metaphor for what ails the blues world. In other words, the people who have seized control of the industry don’t understand this music, think it is simple, yet with a great deal of certitude say they know what will make it better. However, truth be known, at the end of the day they just don’t like it all that much.
I realized a long time ago that what I love about blues music and baseball is that they are different. They don’t fit in with the rest of the modern world. They sit comfortably outside the trappings of the modern commercialized, sanitized, disposable crap culture world we call home. Both these institutions are an escape from this banality. For a few minutes or hours we can remove ourselves from all the frenetic activity that is a hallmark of 21st century life in America.
The big difference between baseball and blues music is that the commercial interests who have decided to attach their brand to the game haven’t tried to change it to suit their own agendas.
In the blues world we have foundations, societies, tired old rockers passing themselves off as blues musicians, publicists posing as journalists and journalists acting like a deaf, dumb and blind cheerleader...well deaf anyway. This coalition of self-serving egomaniacs has decided that the blues form, its fundamental characteristics and the things that make it so beautiful in the first place are not worth preserving.
It is like the two guys who decided what would make the game that they don’t like in the first place better is to speed it up. The catcher has three seconds to throw the ball back to the pitcher. The pitcher has five seconds to begin his wind up and throw the ball back to the catcher. The batter can’t step out of the batter’s box.
This of course would take away the essence of the game. It's the tension, anticipation and those moments that give the fans a chance to think, ‘What will happen next?’ that makes baseball different. 'What are the possibilities? What will the runner on first base do? How good of an arm does the catcher have? Should the runner take a bigger lead off the bag? How big of a secondary lead should he take? Should the runner attempt a steal to avoid the double play? What type of pitch is the pitcher likely to serve up? Maybe a hit and run would work depending on the ability of the batter to make contact...here comes the pitch.' Foul ball and now there are two strikes and we have to recalibrate all of these possibilities to accommodate an entirely different scenario. It is the moments between the “action” that are at the heart of baseball.
Baseball is a chess match with groin injuries. What’s not to like?
It is the essence of the game. It is one of thousands of things that make it different. It is not a video game. It is not the UFC, NASCAR or even the beloved NFL. It’s baseball. It’s not for everybody. Is one’s insecurity so acute that it is important that what one loves be loved by others in greater numbers? Should the game be dumbed down and sped up to accommodate America’s need for simplicity and shorter attention spans?
Of course these two guys who don’t like the sport and don’t understand baseball wouldn’t understand the endless aspects of strategies and instant decision making that comes from a lifetime of coaching and field training.
They don’t understand this any more than a bunch of people who don’t like blues music all that much, at least not enough to understand it. They want to make blues music sound like what they liked as a child rather than grow up. In the meantime they don’t have any qualms about redefining an entire art form out of existence. Like baseball, blues music at its finest gives you a chance to catch your breath, even if it is only for a second. Like baseball, blues music at its best has tension, drama, a pace and a rhythm that is all its own. By the time you are through with a great blues tune or ballgame you have just experienced a wonderful story.
The naysayers to our national pastime point out that it isn’t as popular amongst young people as it once was. They have been saying this for generations yet somehow young people grow up and end up being baseball fans. The Major Leagues continue to break attendance records despite escalating costs to attend a game and an overall rotten economy. The owners continue to negotiate with networks who fight over the rights to pay more money to televise a product we are told is too old fashioned, too slow, too nuanced, out of step with the modern world and doesn’t appeal to the right demographic.
Maybe blues music is the same way. Maybe it is music for adults. Maybe it is music for more mature audiences. In the meantime this musical expression remains under siege by those who want to “fix” something they don’t like in the first place. Maybe these people should just grow up and leave the rest of us and our beloved music alone. We think it will find an audience despite the meddling of the busy bodies who desperately need to join something.
Tonight I will turn on the T.V. and watch a baseball game. I’ll mute the sound of course so that I can listen to music that is old fashioned, is out of step with 21st Century America and appeals to the wrong demographic...me.
- David Mac
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