Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Larry Parrish 1989 Fleer

 On April 2, 2021 I received this card from the Baseball Card Bandit (BCB):


Larry Parrish was one of those guys. You know what I mean, he was the type of guy that was seemingly in every baseball card pack you opened. You looked at the front of his card for a minute, maybe you looked at the back of his card for a half-second and then you shove it back into the pile and keep flipping cards to see whether you got a Wally Joyner or a Bo Jackson or a Roger Clemens.


Unless you were a die-hard Expos or Rangers fan*, chances are you don’t remember Parrish all that much. But he was a beefy dude who played fourteen and a half seasons for Montreal and Texas. When I got around to noticing who he was, he looked like a stereotypical designated hitter; giant, slow, with a bit of a belly. Kind of like a softball player, a person who was seemingly born to DH, but at one point in his life, he had the mobility to be a third baseman and outfielder.


Life is a lot like that, you run into people at certain points in their lives and you think that’s who they’ve always been, but that’s not true. That Mom who’s always making stuff for the school bake sale? She was the bassist in a pretty decent riot grrrl band back in the 90s. The Dad who coaches your kid’s Little League team? He got black out drunk every weekend in college. You’re the guest star in their story, not that other way around. And that’s how it was for me and Larry Parrish. When he played in Boston he looked like a jacked up Alex P. Keaton; neat, short-haired almost like a Republican. But when he was in Montreal, he looked like Bill Lee's running mate, Grizzly Adams-type with a crazy beard and wild eyes. Beards were scary to me in the 1980s, Jeff Reardon (another former Expo to play for the Sox haunted my nightmares). Compare Parrish's card above to an early 80s card while an Expo below.



* As a Massachusetts native, I can’t think of no two more seemingly different, but very similar, outposts in Major League Baseball than Arlington, Texas and Montreal. Both teams were very anonymous, but on the fringes of being pretty good—Montreal was really good but they couldn’t put it together. They both wore powder blue away uniforms and crappy stadiums. Both had terrible weather (too cold in Canada, too hot in Texas) and they just seemed like teams that were around to fill out the league so that the Dodgers didn’t have to play the Cardinals every weekend and the Yankees didn’t have to play the Red Sox all the time--yet they were never on TV's Game of the Week. 


Did you know that Parrish was a two-time All-Star? It’s true, in 1979 and 1987 he made the mid-summer’s classic. The year after he made his second All-Star Game he was released by the Rangers in July and picked up by the Boston Red Sox about a week later. This was around the same time that John McNamara got canned and interim manager Joe Morgan was expected to keep the manager’s office warm until Lou Gorman could find a replacement skipper.


But Morgan kept winning and winning and winning that month, the Red Sox went on a tear and Morgan Magic was born. I remember when the Sox got Parrish he came to town, put on Don Baylor’s old number 25 (which seemed right, he reminded me a lot of a white Don Baylor), stood erect at the plate (he looked like he was seven feet tall and 250 pounds) and just started mashing.


In all, he hit seven home runs for the Sox that season and I bet six of them came within two weeks of his signing. After being discarded by the Rangers, all of a sudden he was as hot as the team he joined. You could tell that the Sox had captured the sports zeitgeist because in September, they made the cover of Sports Illustrated and one of the photos was an action shot of the newly acquired Parrish taking a hellacious cut and destroying a ball.


As the team lost their otherworldly momentum, so did Parrish. He finished a shade under .260, with seven homers, a .298 OBP (yuck) and a .424 slugging percentage. That wasn’t too bad for a 35-year-old, but I think that everyone knew that Larry was done. The good news was 1988 was Parrish’s second foray into the postseason (he was a member of the Blue Monday Expos in 1981), but the Sox were quickly run over by the Oakland A’s juggernaut and Parrish retired from the game after that season.


After he retired, he got back into baseball and was a coach for a few teams. Much like his last skipper, Parrish was named interim manager after his old Ranger pal Buddy Bell got the hook and rode a decent September 1998 (13-12, which was part of their overall 65-97 record) into becoming the new Tigers skipper the following year. The team was abysmal in the year of our Prince, 1999, and finished the season with a slightly better 69-92 record. But it wasn’t enough for the Tiger front office and he was not asked back to manage Detroit into the new Willenium.


As one of those guys, you don’t think of a Larry Parrish very much unless he somehow finds his way to your team. Then you think about him a lot. You can’t remember what life was like when Larry Parrish wasn’t holding down the DH position for the local nine. You see that weird stance every night, you open up Sports Illustrated and there he is the crisp, bright white Red Sox uniforms and you’re like “Damn, Larry Parrish was made to be a Boston Red Sock.”* You get all caught up in his hot streak and the team’s scorching three weeks and start believing that maybe Larry Parrish was the x-factor, the guy who the team needed to push them over the top. This is the year that the Red Sox are going to finally get that stupid monkey off their back. 



* I was so all-in on Larry Parrish that I bought his rookie card that summer. 


But, as they say, water finds its level and Parrish turned back into an old pumpkin. However, you still hold out hope that maybe at the end of September and into October, he has just a little more gas in the tank. Maybe he can put the team on his back and carry them for just a few more games—14 at the absolute most.


He doesn’t. Everyone knows that he’s cooked and he’s gone at the end of the year without much fanfare. After a bunch of years, you almost forget that Larry Parrish ever had a locker in the home clubhouse at Fenway Park, unless you’re tipping back beers with friends and talking about obscure Sox guys.


“How about Larry Parrish!”

“Lance Parrish never played with the Red Sox!”

“I don’t mean the Tigers catcher, I said LARRY Parrish!”

“Oh shit, yeah I remember him. He was pretty good for awhile back in 88, right?”

“Yup. He did some stuff.”


As a guy, it’s always good to be remembered for doing some stuff.

Friday, November 13, 2020

My Brother



Wednesday was the first day in 15,498 days where the sun rose and my brother, Jason Magrane, wasn’t around to see it. He passed away on Tuesday November 10, 2020 at 12:42 pm at Portsmouth Regional Hospital in Portsmouth, NH surrounded by his mother, father and me.


That last sentence is the type of “just the facts” information that I would throw down when I was a reporter writing obituaries. It’s not very personal and it doesn’t give much of a picture of who the deceased was, it was more of a record that this person existed for a time and then departed the world.


Like you, I’ve experienced death before, but the passing of Jason has hit me hard. He was much more than a range of dates, he was a father, a son, a husband, a friend, an employee, a boss, but most importantly to me, he was a brother. As I’m writing this blog post on November 12, I can only think of the future and the past. Jay is going to be laid to rest two days from right now but three years ago to the day, I gave the best man’s speech at Jason’s wedding. Below is a portion of what I wrote, this was supposed to be a toast to Jason’s nuptials, never did I envision it becoming part of a eulogy:  


“According to Magrane lore, when my mother came home and told me that she was going to have another baby and it was going to be a boy, I was inconsolable. I wanted a sister and the thought of having a brother muscling in on my territory and sharing my toys was too much.


Despite my best wishes, Jay never turned into a girl, so I was stuck with a brother for my childhood. And it turned out to be pretty awesome. Growing up, Jay and I were pretty much alone at any extended family gathering—and we used to see our family a lot. I would think about friends who had dozens of cousins and how they’d talk about hanging out with them at family gatherings and it sounded pretty great.


But with Jay and I growing up together, we had to be each other’s best friends. Whether it was at my grandmother’s house or Aunty Rita’s or at Cousin Kathy’s in New York, it was just him and me. That meant he and I would play He-Man and GI Joe, read comics, or draw or play Wiffle Ball. It was always Jay and By or By and Jay. With us being together that much, it could have gone a few different ways, but we became close.


A few years later, as I got into high school and had my own group of friends; I began to notice that my friends—all of them—took a liking to Jay. Was I happy about this turn of events? No, I was not. It used to drive me crazy that my friends always invited Jay to come with us whenever we did something, whether it was hoops or pond hockey, Indian ball or football, Jay was always a part of the crew. And not only that, but my friends genuinely liked him and respected him.


It wasn’t until a few years later that it dawned on me: some of my friends had younger siblings and they were never invited to do stuff with us. Jay was included because he was funny and smart, athletic and loyal; he was included because he was one of us.”


It’s funny, when you grow up with a brother, you’re inundated with a lot of media about how close brothers have to be: from Wally and the Beav to Greg, Peter and Bobby to Willis and Arnold, all of those brothers were the best of friends.


But real life isn’t like that. Life isn’t scripted, each person doesn’t know exactly what the other person is always thinking and problems aren’t solved in 30 minutes (minus time for commercials). The idea that two people could be complete and total best friends forever and ever and ever without any disagreements is a silly, unrealistic myth.  


As we grew into adulthood, Jay and I were close-ish. We were both independent men who had their own life and their own life’s philosophies. Mine was a bit more conservative in regard to risk and rewards. Jay was the opposite. Jay lived his life the way he wanted to live his life, which I found admirable and a little concerning, but that wasn’t how my brain worked. Jay could talk to literally anyone—he had no fear in that department, made everyone feel comfortable—which is an awkward endeavor was for his older brother, was fun, constantly laughing and wondering when the next good time was going to happen.


As we grew up we worked through our differences and over the last few years, we began to get closer. While we didn’t agree on everything, I could at least understand why Jay was doing what he was doing. And I think he could see things from my point of view too. Even though we were closer, Jay still wouldn’t (or couldn’t) tell me what was bothering him when asked. And it wasn’t just me, Jay didn’t want to burden anyone with what he considered his “trivial problems”.


“By, you have a family, focus on them,” he’d always say. But what I don’t think that Jay got was that even though I have a wife and two children, Jay was my family and I did want to focus on him. But his carefree persona or his pride or whatever he felt at the time wouldn’t allow him to tell me what was really going on. Would I have helped him? Would Jay be here today? I don’t know. Maybe. It’s a question that I’ll have to live with.


The thing is, Jason was 42-years-old and you could ask him what’s wrong, I could ask him what’s wrong, Bo Jackson could ask him what’s wrong and Jay wasn’t obliged to give us an answer. Jay’s stubbornness knew no bounds. He was the Michael Jordan of stubborn. Things were easier when we were kids and if I wanted to really know what his problem was, I could jump on him (I always weighed more than him), sit on his chest, put my knees on his biceps and tickle him until he told me his deal. I wish I thought of doing that a few months ago, but that approach seems sort of weird now that I think about.


You’re never going to get a straight answer out of tickle torturing someone and just because you ask someone to do something, doesn’t mean that they’re going to do it. For example, Jay went into the hospital last Monday and that prognosis looked grim even back then. While I was putting away that evening’s dishes, I decided to try and honor my brother by playing the Grateful Dead Pandora station. The Dead were Jay’s favorite band (he saw them at the old Boston Garden in 1994) and he was always trying to get me to listen to them. Aside from a few albums and a couple of singles, the Dead and jam bands never appealed to me. But last Monday night, I was going to listen to the Dead in honor of my brother.


I made it three minutes. I’m sorry Jay, and I know that you understand, but I just couldn’t do it.




There’s a lot of things that suck about my brother’s untimely passing, but I think that the biggest one is that he and I are never going to get the chance to be as close as we were when we were kids and that truly makes me sad. I was looking forward to the day when Jay and I take our kids to a Sox game. Or he could ask me for the millionth time why I don’t like Bill Simmons anymore. Or when we could have a moment and remember long-passed relatives who seem to exist in the fogs of our minds. Or he could recommend a podcast to me. Or when a tragedy happens and I need someone beside my wife to talk to, so that I can get through the latest malady without losing my mind.


All of that has been taken from me and it makes me very sad.


Earlier this morning I was thinking about a random memory of Jay and me. It had to be during the spring of 1990 and I was in my room probably obsessing over my baseball cards or reading a magazine while listening to Public Enemy’s newest tape “Fear of a Black Planet”. There’s a song on that album called “Welcome to the Terrordome” and if you know anything about PE—and especially that album—you know that it’s a wall of sound. It’s literally a pastiche of samples and cuts laid upon one another to make new beats.


At 1:47 into the song there is a horn that wails unsettingly loud and shrill. That day in 1990, I thought it was my brother calling, “Byyyyyyyyron!” from downstairs. And it wasn’t just that day, for like the first 10 or 15 times I listened to that song, hear that sound, amble over to my stereo, shut off my tape and yell, “WHAT DO YOU WANT JAY?” And he’d always say that he never called me, I’d press play and grumble to myself about Jay being a pain in the ass.


Today I listened to that song and in particular that shrill horn and it made me smile and cry. Jay may be gone, but he’ll never be forgotten.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Billy Ball: a Review


I don’t like Billy Martin. I never have, I probably never will. 


I don’t find him charming. Or funny. Or interesting at all. I think that he’s a mean-spirited, drunken bully who has a Napoleon complex. If you like him, you’re probably a Yankees fan and an old one at that. That’s okay, we all root for our laundry; especially the players who wore that laundry when we were kids. 


That being said, if your franchise needed a shot in the arm and wanted to be respectable, you needed Billy Martin to manage your ballclub. Whether it was with the Twins, the Tigers, the Rangers or the Yankees--aside from New York--weren’t very good before Martin took over the corner office. Through force of will and baseball brilliance Martin turned all of these teams around. Then he burnt out and was fired. 


The same was true with the Oakland Athletics. 


Dale Tafoya’s “Billy Ball” is a story about Billy Martin and the Oakland Athletics of the early 1980s. The Athletics of the late 70s were bad. Like really bad. So bad that no one was coming to their games. They were a shadow of their three-time World Series Championship teams of a few years prior and they weren’t drawing flies. 


A’s owner Charles O. Finley was angry that free agency had come into Major League Baseball. Ge was angry that his star players wanted to be paid what they were worth. And he was especially angry that no one told him how great he was every minute of every day. So yeah, Finley was a monumental asshole too. After moving the Athletics from Kansas City to Oakland in the late 1970s, Finley thought that it was time to move again. He set his sights on selling the team to investors from Denver. 


But first he needed to improve the club, while keeping expense down. 


This is the impetus for him to hire the Oakland-bred Martin. By this point in his life, Martin was kind of a persona non grata around baseball due to an offseason fist fight he got into with a travelling marshmallow salesman in a bar. Most baseball people thought that Martin was brilliant, but that he was way too radioactive. 


Finley didn’t care. 


The Oakland Athletics of the early 1980s were a fascinating team. After some awful years, things were starting to look up. They had a terrific outfield with rookie Rickey Henderson in left, Dwayne Murphy in center and Tony Armas in right. Their infield was fine—they prided themselves on not making mental or physical errors and hit well enough. Once Billy was named manager, the whole team played like Martin: they stole bases like crazy (including home a bunch of times), they always took the extra base, they bunted and hit behind runners, were fundamentally sound and just became giant pains in the ass to play against. 


In a sense, they played like their manager’s personality. 


But that wasn’t what was so fascinating. What was unique about the Oakland Athletics of that time was the amount of complete games that Martin’s starters through. Mike Norris, Ray Langford, Steve McCatty, Matt Keough and Brian Kingman threw 93 complete games in 1980,  106 in 1981 before crashing down to Earth with 37 in 1982. This last number was due to a few things: one, 1982 Spring Training was wacky for the A’s with Martin demanding to see every player in the organization at once. This meant that major leaguers were giving up innings and reps to minor leaguers so they never had a chance to fully stretch out and get ready for the season. And two, with two years of blatant overuse the pitching staff’s arms were about to fall off. 


Martin felt that his bullpen sucked and needed to ride his starters for as far as he could until they fell apart. He did that. And then the pitchers fell apart. While it can be argued that it was smart that Martin relied so heavily on his starting staff, they were the only players who could pitch. But it could also be argued that he destroyed the careers of five young pitchers who could have been good throughout most of the 1980s. Instead, they were husks of themselves for the rest of the decade. He bled that resources dry and didn't give a damn about tomorrow.  


Once he gets the story to Oakland, Tafoya does a good job of telling the tale of Martin and his Athletics. He walks through Martin’s hiring, his relationship with his players, the sale of the A’s by Finley to the Walter Haas and his family and the overall triumphs and ultimate crash landing of Martin’s three seasons in Oaktown. While I enjoyed this book a lot, I think that it could have been copy edited a bit better. There were a few mistakes, a lot of repetition and some grammatical syntaxes that sometimes made the narrative hard to follow. For example, I don’t think that Tafoya meant this but when talking about Martin's family tree, he wrote that Martin’s grandfather landed in San Francisco after taking a raft over to the city from Italy. 


Which, if true, I mean Wow, that’s your next book. 


But like a rookie hurler in his first game, the book settles down and the mistakes become less and less. Tafoya definitely did his homework and his research into the club is tremendous, and that’s when I started to enjoy the book more. While I will never be a full-blown Billy Martin fan, I came to respect the guy and can understand why he was always a hot property no matter how many bridges he burnt at his previous job.

So congratulations Dale, because of you I dislike Billy Martin a little bit less than before I started this book. 


I was sent Billy Ball  free to review and comment on. This did not have any effect on my review. 

Monday, June 22, 2020

Alaa Abdelnaby 1994 Upper Deck

About two weeks ago, my daughter found just this card in the mailbox. It seems to me that this may be from a new BCB--a BASKETBALL Card Bandit--but at the same time it has the hallmarks of the original BCB. The original BCB, Casey McGee, admitted to me that he would slip a card in my mailbox while out for a walk. The newer BCB, who has never been formally unrevealed, would mail the cards from post offices from around the world. 

Is this a new BCB? I cannot say. Could it be the second, non-McGee BCB, is back with a new M.O. of leaving a card for me along from a new sport? Again, I'm not sure. Is this a copy cat of a copy cat? That would be very interesting, true believer. 

The only thing I know is that this Alaa Abdelnaby card is pretty awesome. Look at Alaa throwing one down against his old team, the Milwaukee Bucks in front of Future Hall of Famer (and member of the 1996-97 Chicago Bulls*) the Chief, Robert Parish. 

* I bet that you forgot that Parish was on that team didn't you? They didn't really talk about him during the ten-part Last Dance documentary did they? Nope the didn't. And they also didn't talk about NBA free spirit Bison Dele who was also on that team too. Jesus, Bison Dele and Dennis Rodman, that must've been some locker room. if memory serves me correctly, Dele and a few friends were murdered by pirates in the Pacific Ocean after he retired from the NBA and tried sailing around the world. His story is so damn interesting. 

Once upon a time, the Boston Celtics were bad. I mean, really bad. The Celtics of 1993-94 finished with 32 wins and poor Robert Parish was literally the last link to the glory days of the 1980s. I wonder if he would walk into practice and expect to see Larry Bird or Kevin McHale or Dennis Johnson, but is saddened to see Chris Corchiani and Sherman Douglas and Todd Lichti. It must have been so depressing. Alaa Abdelnaby was also a member of that team and he averaged a hair under five points per game that year. 

He was a center out of Duke* who was born in Egypt, which is cool. According to his basketball-reference page Abdelnaby was nicknamed the Pharaoh (seems really obvious), the Black Hole (I would assume because that's what his offensive game was likened to) and the Alphabet (which is sort of funny). 

Abdelnabby played for the Blazers, the aforementioned Bucks before becoming a Celtic and then finishing his career with the Kings and the Sixers after he was let go by Boston. 

* Unlike most self-serious Duke players, Abdelnaby told the press that the only way he'd ever get five A's at Duke is if he signed his name. That's a pretty funny burn on yourself. That quip puts Abdelnaby as my third favorite Blue Devil after Jayson Tatum and Grant Hill. All other Dukies are tied for last. 

I don't have a lot more to say about Abdelnaby as I don't remember him too much. I remember his type and I remember the Celtics front office falling in love with guys like him. Like most players acquired after the first Big Three moseyed into the sunset, there was some hope that the new guy would be a replacement for the old guy. But Alaa was never even in the same zip code as Parish. He was an Egyptian Eric Montrose (who also played for the Celts the following year and did his college time down the road from Duke at the University of North Carolina) in that he just stood in the paint and tried to take up space. 

They even have similar stats:

Abdelnaby: 256 games, 5.7 PPG, 0.00% three pointers (kind of unfair) and 70% FTA
Montross: 465 games, 4.5 PPG, 0.00% three points (also unfair) and 47.8% FTA (gross)

The only thing is that the Celts took Montross in the first round of the draft that year and he proceeded to give them the exact same production as the guy who they let walk to the Kings. 

Remember when I said that the Celtics were bad once upon a time? This is one of the reasons for that. 

Monday, June 01, 2020

Steve Curry 1989 Fleer

Do you remember a time when we were able to leave our homes without masks? Do you remember a time when we could gather together in public places and shake hands or hug and didn't have to stand six feet from one another? I barely recall these days of long ago--actually it was at the end of February--but it was during this time that the Baseball Card Bandit emailed me (YES! EMAIL!) this card. I'm now only getting to writing about it mainly because I had time remembering Curry and wasn't sure what to say. 

Curry, who looks almost exactly like Deadspin founder Will Leitch, pitched three games in the summer of 1988. Curry pitched three games in his entire pro career, and here is his line: 0-1, 8.18 ERA, 11.0 innings. He gave up 15 hits, 10 runs, walked 14 (!) and struck out four. The only good thing is that he didn't give up a home run during his trio of starts. 

His first MLB appearance was July 10 and his last appearance was July 23. Do you know what this means? Steve Curry lost his first decision and his next two appearances he received no decisions. Let me explain. 

At the beginning of 1988, the Sox were scuffling along. 1986 World Series goat John McNamara was still the manager and it was apparent that he lost control of the club house. So Boston canned him right after the All-Star game. They negotiated to get a few high-profile managers, but in the interim they named Walpole, MA-native Joe Morgan (not that one) manager on July 14. The Sox ripped off a 12-game win streak that the press dubbed "Morgan Magic". 

I remember Morgan Magic and it was insane how the Sox were winning for those two weeks. It seemed as if every game was won in walk-off fashion. One out in the bottom of the tenth and Todd Benzinger hits a game-winning dinger off of Minnesota Twins reliever Keith Atherton*. It was crazy. The Sox would ride this hot streak into the fall before losing to the Oakland Athletics in the American League Championship Series. 

* I could have sworn that Benzinger hit his homer off of seemingly untouchable closer Jeff "The Terminator" Reardon, but apparently it was Atherton, which isn't as good of a story. 

Back to Curry, with his start on July 10, that may have been one of McNamara's final moves as a Red Sox manager. According to RetroSheet.org, Curry didn't pitch too badly in that game, losing 4-1 to the White Sox. He gave up four hits, three runs and walked seven--which sounds to me like the dude was nervous. 

His second start came against the Twins where he had a reverse split of walking only three (good!) but giving up seven hits (bad) in 4.1 innings. Lucky for Boston, they scored 11 runs and that took him off the hook. Though he wouldn't get the win because he didn't pitch five full innings. Just two more batters and you would have got the "W", dude! Damn. 

Curry last start was also against the White Sox and he gave up four hits and four walks but also five runs in a little over two innings. The Red Sox scored 11 and cranked out 20 hits. And that was it for Steve Curry. The bullpen and the offense saved his ass big time in two of his three starts, Morgan and General Manager Lou Gorman had apparently seen enough and he was banished to AAA Pawtucket and was never heard from again, which seems kind of crazy because he was only 22-years-old. 

A couple of things:

1. I have a feeling that Steve Curry was definitely rushed to the Big Leagues and completely spit the bit. He pretty much got his ass kicked, BUT he was in the Show and like I say, that's something that no one can take away from you, no matter how much you stink the place up. I'm really surprised that no one gave him at least one more shot, especially in 1993 when the league expanded and they needed pitchers. A 27-year-old Steve Curry couldn't have been handy to anyone? Really? 

2. It's kind of crazy to me that the 12-game winning streak had two starts by someone who pitched so damn poorly. Like I said above, I was under the impression that these games were mostly close--and according to the game logs they were as 8 of the 12 wins were decided by three runs or less--but they also scored a ton of runs too. I guess I forgot that the pitching staff gave up a bunch of runs too (44 in those 12 games, which isn't great considering that there was a Mike Smithson shutout mixed in there too (exactly who you would have thought). 

3. When I Googled "Steve Curry Boston Red Sox" I got his Wikipedia page and his Baseball-Reference.com page and that's it. The next bunch of links were about how Golden State Warrior future Hall of Famer, Steph Curry is a huge Red Sox fan. I kinda feel bad for the baseball playing Steve Curry, but that's the way it goes, I suppose. 

Hopefully the BCB drops more cards in the mail soon. Not email though. So impersonal. 

Friday, May 29, 2020

Top 19 -- Tenacious D: Tenacious D

We've come to the part of the Top 19 where I no longer talked about these albums on Facebook. Even though they're still in the Top 19  I guess you can consider them honorable mentions or runners up to the Top 10 Facebook list.*

This preamble seems highly unnecessary but so is this list.

Unlike when I relisten to yesterday's album, which reminds me of optimism, listening to this album now fills me with foreboding. Which is odd because Tenacious D is a comedy album and it's funny as hell, where Ice-T's "OG" is an album about how much everything sucked in the early 1990s. 

I got this album in the fall of 2002 on the advice of my roommate. At the time, I had moved into a place in Wakefield, MA where I had no idea who the two people I was living with were. We met on Craig's List and I got really lucky, because both guys turned out to be pretty normal and cool. The way that our place was set up was: you walk into the apartment and you enter the kitchen. To the right was my bedroom, down the hallway and to the right was a living room and to the left was a stairway that lead to my roommates' two rooms. I don't think I ever stepped foot up there. 

It was an awesome setup because we all just chilled in our rooms, unless we needed to use the kitchen--there wasn't even furniture in our living room. Each guy had a girlfriend and each duo pretty much kept to themselves. It was like having your own apartment but not having to pay full freight for rent and utilities. 

Anyway, this album reminds me of driving from my place in Wakefield to work in Marblehead. I didn't really love my job very much, but I was being paid to write and I figured that at 28-years-old, I better suck it up because this is pretty much what I was going to be doing for the rest of my life. My relationship with my girlfriend at the time seemed to be going pretty well too. 

 At the time I was starting to get into the alternative comedy scene and this, along with Adult Swim's original lineup, was my introduction to it. I had already watched "Mr. Show with Bob and David" and Tenacious D member Jack Black was on that show more than a few times. So with those bonafides, I gave it a listen and I grew to love this album so much.

It's funny as hell, the musicianship is actually really good and the idea that "Tribute" is a story about the greatest song in the world, but NOT that song is so fucking brilliant, that I can barely wrap my head around it. Black and Kyle Gass are terrific in their alter egos of JB and KG. I finally watched the Tenacious D trio of specials that were on HBO during the late 90s, early 2000s about a month ago. Again, awesome. The locations for the series was pretty much how I thought that mid-90s LA was all about.  

But how did this hilarious comedy album bring about so much foreboding? In late November of that year, our landlord came to us and told us that we all had to move out by January 1. He was sick of living beneath us, which was strange because we were barely around and when we were, we made zero noise, and wanted our apartment. He said that if we wanted, we could move to his place, but he was doubling the rent and there were only two bedrooms. He was a real dick about it too, like he read up on how to be aggressive in negotiating and just went over the top. I guess we probably could have fought him on this, because this seems highly illegal looking back on it, but we were all like "whatever" and went our separate ways. 

By Christmas, my roommates moved to different places with their respective girlfriends and I moved ... home. To my parents' house. Where I had no real bedroom. When I moved out, my Dad turned my room into his office, so I slept on a mattress on the floor. That sucked. 

Also around this time, my liaise faire attitude toward my job caught up with me and my manager really let me have it about taking a bigger interest and straightening up. It was then that I realized, writing about healthcare every month absolutely sucked and that I needed to make a change. I just wasn't sure what that was yet, so that uncertainty also sucked. 

Finally in early January, my girlfriend decided to give me my walking papers too. To be honest, I knew that things weren't great for a few months, but I ignored all of the signs. I didn't know what her deal was, but I wasn't going to ask because I was afraid of exactly what that conversation would lead to. And I wasn't ready for it -- though is anyone really prepared for that talk? The best part is that my (now ex) girlfriend and I worked at the same place and on the same team. So trying to forget her was made a little bit more difficult when I saw her eight hours a day, five days a week. That was a lot of fun. 

So now I was living at my parents' house, unsure about my future employment and newly single. And it was the dead of winter after the holidays. When I think back on the down moments of my life, this might have been the worst ebb that I've ever had to face. The good news is that these things don't last. You wallow for a while--I actually may have wallowed for more than a bit--but time marches on and things get better. 

As the months warmed up, I found a new job that I actually enjoyed in the same company. I got a new place to live with three cool guys in Somerville. And I didn't know it yet, but I was  about to meet the love of my life. To use sports as a metaphor for a moment--no one ever does this, right? I'm the first?--the end of my 2002 was like the end of the 2003 Red Sox season. Shit is as bleak as it ever was going to be, but then 2004 comes along with its brilliance and wonderfulness and it's like that shitty year was just what you needed to appreciate the greatness that is coming next. 

Unfortunately there needs to be a score for that shitty time and that score was Tenacious D. But when I hear that album, I know that it's dark; but it's going to be light again soon. And that's all that I need. 

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Top 19 -- Ice-T: OG

We've come to the part of the Top 19 where I no longer talked about these albums on Facebook. Even though they're still in the Top 19  I guess you can consider them honorable mentions or runners up to the Top 10 Facebook list.*

This preamble seems highly unnecessary but so is this list.

One of the best things about being 17-years-old is that if you don't have your license yet, undoubtedly, you know someone that does. That means freedom. Freedom to go where you want to go. Freedom not to walk anymore. Freedom from asking your parents to drop you off somewhere. 

One of the best freedoms of an automobile free from parental control is the ability to play whatever you want whenever you want on the car stereo. I don't go down this road a lot, because while the Walkman was ubiquitous (I wrote all about it in my Public Enemy entry) it wasn't like today where every toddler has an iPad and headphones allowing them to crank whatever they want in their own bubble. Back in the day, you're listening to what your parents want to listen to and that was going to be powerfully lame*.

* There's one exception, is that is when my kids forget their devices at home and have to listen to my music. That's just ME giving THEM an education in awesomeness. 

I was one of the youngest of my group of friends and the laziest. I wasn't in any particular hurry to get my license; I finally got it when I was 17-and-a-half, more than a year after I was legally allowed to drive in Massachusetts. My thought process was, why bother? I wasn't going to get a car of my own. At parties, I didn't have to be the designated driver. Most of the time, at least one of my friends was more than up for picking me up and going somewhere together. So when I talk about listening to music in a car while driving, 90% of these remembrances are going to be about me as a passenger. 

When we were bored, we'd just drive anywhere. Sometimes, when we had a little money, we'd go to the malls in New Hampshire. Sometimes, when we were looking for things to do, we'd drive around our small town and see if anyone was hanging out at usual teenage haunts. In this case that was the Millyard, a parking lot across the street from the pizza place (Pizza Factory) where everyone congregated. But most times, if we were really bored we'd drive to Salisbury Beach. We'd park at our friend's grandparents house and waste time and money at the batting cages, playing pool, bubble hockey and video games while eating beach pizza. 

In the summer, we'd add Hampton Beach, which was two or three miles down the road, to the mix and add in trying to pick up girls too. We usually didn't get too far with the latter*.

* I remember myself and all of my friends being steamed that girls our age would barely look at us. They only seemed to be attracted to older guys walking the strip. "When we get out of college, we need to come back here and scoop some high school chicks," one of us said. And we all agreed. Thinking about that statement now? Ugh. 

While the passengers changed from night-to-night, the one thing that was consistent was the music. We all loved hip-hop, especially the hard stuff: Geto Boys, N.W.A. and Public Enemy. But the two cassettes that got the most action were the Beastie Boys' "Paul's Boutique" and Ice-T's "OG". 

In the early 90s, the view of Ice-T is much more different than it is today. The media made it seem like Ice-T was one of the most dangerous people on the planet. His raps were self-described true-life stories of his neighborhood and his history as a street hustler. I'm not sure how exaggerated his stories are, but it didn't matter. To us, they were exactly how things went down in South Central Los Angeles. 

Ice-T looked the part; jacked up, black hat, locs and a sneer. He didn't rap his lyrics, he spit them out syllable by syllable*. To us, he was another in a long line of people telling it how it really is. And we listened to "O.G." over and over and over again. 

* I think it's comedian Paul F. Tompkins who talks about this in his act, but Ice-T has a very profound lisp. I never noticed it before when I listened to his stuff, but that's all I can hear now. I think that if I had heard it back then, this might be a different blog entry. 

Not only did Ice-T rap, but he fronted a hardcore band called Body Count that had its single in the middle of the album. It was preambled by Ice-T talking about how rock n' roll isn't just white people music, it was pioneered by people like Little Richard and Chuck Berry and that he "happened to like rock n' roll." In a flourish he continued (and I'm doing this from memory, so forgive me if I mess up a word or two), "As far as I'm concerned music is music. And if anyone said that I sold out, they can basically suck my dick."

That song was pretty fucking great mostly because they sounded a lot like Black Sabbath. But this song really reached all of us. It showed that hip hop doesn't have to be its own thing, hip hop can be fused with rock and that can lead to some good stuff. Faith No More also did that in the early 1990s and lead to the Anthrax and Public Enemy collaboration, Rage Against the Machine before completely bottoming out with NĂ¼ Metal. That last thing wasn't great, but the inclusion vibe that these bands gave off wasn't too bad. 

Ice-T went on to make more albums, including a controversial one with Body Count which featured the single "Cop Killer" which made Ice-T a pariah for a summer, but this was the only one that I really loved ("Power" and "Freedom of Speech" were also good, but never got into the rotation like "O.G" did). When I hear songs like "Original Gangter" or "Midnight" or "New Jack Hustler", I'm instantly brought back to my senior year in high school. A year that I had some of the swagger of Ice-T because we were finally the top dogs of the school and because things were looking pretty good because we were ending one chapter and going to start a new one. 

It's ironic--especially in the light of recent events--that Ice-T's music represents a sense of freedom for me. Everything that Ice-T talked about was about how the government is keeping everyone down and that one has to take action to get power. But when I hear these songs and close my eyes, I think of a bright blue sky, plenty of sunshine and beaches  with my future as vast as the horizon. 

I am positive that's not what Ice-T had in mind when he recorded this album, but I also doubt that he thought that in 30 years people would know him for playing a cop on a "Law and Order" spinoff. Once a person enters the public conscious, things tend to change.