RIDE ON JOSEPHINE (Monthly Book Report: 11/16)

All mystery this month. I’ll be reviewing a book of interviews with Ross MacDonald for BWW shortly. Meanwhile I reached the half-way mark in my Josephine Tey Re-read Project, finishing A Shilling for Candles and The Franchise Affair….two novels as different as the pre- and post-war years in which they were published..

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A Shilling For Candles (Josephine Tey, 1936)

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The date is telling. This is an old-fashioned, stiff upper lip, “there will always be an England” style mystery, about as conventional as Tey got. It was her second novel, following on The Man in the Queue from the previous decade (she made her bones as a playwright in between). I won’t say the future isn’t felt here–that WWII isn’t right around the corner–but it’s felt as something to be held a arm’s length.

Again, Tey rides with Inspector Alan Grant and, again, she attaches her mystery to Show Biz. The theater in Queue, the cinema here. As always, the character bits are sharp-edged and beautifully compressed. On her movie star victim (found drowned on the beach of a private hideaway in the novel’s opening sequence):

Nor yet when, tiring of song-and-dance pictures, her ambition had reached out to drama; her rocket had shot to the stars under its own power, it would seem. This could only mean one of two things: that she had remained virgin until her marriage at twenty-six (a state of affairs which Grant, who had a larger experience of life than of psychology textbooks, found quite possible) or that her favor was given only when her heart (or her fancy, according to whether you are sentimentalist or cynic) was touched. Four years ago Lord Edward Champneis (pronounced Chins), old Bude’s fifth son, had met her in Hollywood, and in a month they were married. She was at that time shooting her first straight film, and it was generally agreed that she had “done well for herself” in her marriage. Two years later Lord Edward as “Christine Clay’s husband.”

That single paragraph is powerfully redolent of Tey’s style–one she would go on to perfect at even higher levels after civilization managed to survive the storm clouds gathering deep in the book’s background. The fundamental natures of Show Biz, Hollywood, Scotland Yard, the British national character, and most of the insights you need into three principal players (including the one who’s death has set the story in motion) are all delivered in a single, short stroke. There’s never a moment when you are not aware that you are in the hands of a first rate writer.

The only letdown is the mystery itself, which–despite the lively presence of a tomboy who would have provided a plum role for Hayley Mills if anyone had been smart enough to make a film of this thirty ears later (no one could play her half so well now…thus has England gone)–is along pretty conventional lines. Not only do I not remember who the culprit finally was, a mere two weeks later, I don’t care that I don’t remember.

It would have been easy to guess, from the evidence of her first two novels, that Tey would go on being an acute practitioner of the Agatha Christie school.

Then the war came.

The Franchise Affair (Josephine Tey, 1948)

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This was Tey’s second post-war novel. While it’s not as disturbing or haunting as Miss Pym Disposes (it turns on the dread of failed reputations, unfairly tarnished, rather than the tragedy of a casual murder which punishes everyone but its perpetrator), it is very much in line with her new tone.

No aspect of “civilization” can be taken for granted.

This time the girl who might have been played by Hayley Mills a generation later (again, if someone in either Hollywood or the British Film Industry been the least bit on the ball), is a budding sociopath. A Lolita type arrived just a hair too early for the modernist eye to fall on her and give her a definitive shape (and yes, Stanley Kubrick wanted Mills for his film version of Nabokov’s novel…of course he did). She’s chilling enough, even in the background. I suspect, however, that writing Miss Pym, had taken something out of Tey, a less worldly and accomplished writer, in the same manner that Under Western Eyes took something out of Conrad, and Bend Sinister took something out of Nabokov. The dread builds nicely through the first two thirds of the book and then just sort of disperses, leaving a very nicely drawn middle age love story in its place.

Even there, Tey could be accused of pulling her punch. Not only does the monstrous child not rise to the level of murderer (casual or otherwise), or at least get away with her mischief, but the love story is reconciled on the last page, when it would have been far more poignant and realistic for it to remain broken.

It’s almost as if–perhaps wondering for the first time if there really would always be an England–the Scotswoman who had been born Elizabeth MacKintosh, could not bear to face the cold reality.

For that, she can certainly be forgiven.

[NOTE: The Franchise Affair, along with two subsequent Tey novels, Brat Farrar and The Daughter of Time, both of which I’ll be reviewing in due time, are routinely listed among the greatest crime novels ever written. Why Miss Pym Disposes, her greatest work, does not make these lists is….a mystery. Anyway, the ending reminded me a great deal, in both tone and incident, of the ending of the great Powell-Pressburger film from a few years earlier, I Know Where I’m Going. Somehow it worked better there. Given Tey’s interest in the cinema, I wonder if she was perhaps influenced by that film’s happy glow. One could see how. It starred Wendy Hiller and Roger Livesey and it’s worth any effort to track it down.]

WHAT IS POLITICS?

Here’s three post-election attempts to understand “those people” through a pop culture lens:

From Observer:

How Bruce Springsteen cost Hillary the Election.

Key quote:

“Imagine this:

“What if Bruce Springsteen had gotten into a van and trailed Donald Trump to every campaign stop over the last four weeks (or even the last two). Imagine if every time Donald Trump set up to speak, Bruce got out of his van, strolled to a street corner or park a few blocks away, strapped on an acoustic guitar, and began to sing. Maybe he would sing songs about the working men and women who have always been his constituency, or maybe he would sign songs of Boardwalks or Vietnam, or maybe he would sing the old songs of freedom and unity that Woody Guthrie or Pete Seeger sang.

“Imagine that.”

From Slate:

How Miranda Lambert could save us all.

Key quote:

:If you have any curiosity about what Trump-voting white women in Midwestern and Southern suburbs and small towns might cope with, how they become jaded day by day, Lambert can tell you.”

From The Federalist:

When the ghost of Ronnie Van Zant stalked New York.

Key quote:

Libby and I both stopped and looked at each other. “Seriously?” said my wife, a very disappointed Clinton supporter. She started gripping her soft Tomme Crayeuse a little too hard. By the time Ronnie Van Zant’s drawl started in with “Big wheels keep on turnin’,” everyone in the store was standing in shock. Brows were furrowed, people mumbled to each other. The song seemed to get louder as one of those New York moments happened, when everyone was thinking the exact the same thing.

One reason I’ve always tried to read across a broad spectrum of political views is so I don’t forget anyone’s existence. If I keep myself sufficiently up-to-date, I find the world holds very few surprises.

So none of this is surprising.

But boy is a lot of it dumb. I linked the full articles. You can read them and make your own judgments.

My take:

For starters, if Bruce Springsteen ever really was the voice of the working class that Tim Sommer seems to think he still is (and I’m not saying he wasn’t), he traded that status for standard Limousine Liberalism a long time ago. That no one ever worked harder at resisting the change (well, except maybe Woodie Guthrie and Pete Seeger) is proof of how seductive–maybe just plain inevitable–some changes are.

For Springsteen to connect with Donald Trump’s voters, would have meant sounding a lot like Donald Trump, no?

And who would trust him then?

Maybe Miranda Lambert’s fans?

Maybe. But who’s to say they aren’t Springsteen fans (i.e., not Trump supporters!) already?

If the audience Carl Wilson is writing for at Slate had any real “curiosity about what Trump-voting white women in Midwestern and Southern suburbs and small towns might cope with” they would have made Miranda’s idol and dear friend, Patty Loveless, a crossover superstar twenty years ago. And if the Country Music Association has lauded Lambert with six Female Vocalist of the Year awards (which is six times more than they awarded it to Loveless), it’s precisely because its voting members know that she goes down well at The Village Voice and all the other organs of hipsterism that the people who buy most of Lambert’s records don’t give a rip about. Right or wrong, everybody at Slate is pretty sure they know who Miranda Lambert voted for. With Patty Loveless–the singer who caught the spirit of the “White Death,” which drove Trump’s support more than the next ten factors combined, two decades before it started showing up in statistical studies–who could ever tell?

I mean, could you trust her to toe the line?

May-y-y-y-be.

But then you never really know about these hillbillies, do you?

Which brings me to Ronnie Van Zant. The Federalist writer, David Marcus, attempts to explain that he personally gets it. There’s the usual stuff about how the origin of “Sweet Home Alabama” is way more complicated than is usually understood, etc. and more of the stuff you’d expect from someone who is more enlightened than his fellow good liberals because he thinks maybe the hicks have a point here and there, or that, at every least, the idea should be entertained. It’s all very familiar.

What Marcus does not quite do is admit–or perhaps understand–that Ronnie Van Zant would never be easily pigeon-holed into any neatly composed narrative. Not the way Bruce Springsteen and Miranda Lambert, for all their fine personal and artistic qualities, have been. Missing that, he’s really just substituting one easy formula for another. A really political moment in that Brooklyn boutique grocery store he’s describing would involve telling at least one person–his wife maybe–that you should listen to Ronnie Van Zant, the real life Huck Finn, a little more, not because it will help you understand Trump voters, but because, like listening to Bruce Springsteen or Miranda Lambert, it will help you understand the world.

Good luck with that.

IT’S NOT THE MOMENT YOU DO, IT’S THE MOMENT YOU KNOW YOU CAN (Monk Bonasorte, R.I.P.)

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Strange how lives intersect and history moves in their wake.

These days, my alma mater, Florida State University is a football factory, expected to compete with the historical giants of the sport–Alabama, USC, Ohio State, et al–year in and year out.

It was not always so. It wasn’t even so long ago that such was unimaginable.

The man most responsible for the transformation was Bobby Bowden, a coaching genius who came to FSU in 1976 and, remarkably, when the signature programs (specifically LSU and Alabama) came calling and backed up dump trucks full of cash to his door, decided to stay on here.

That’s another story for another time. The story for this time is a reminder of just how improbable Bowden’s re-imagining of a down-at-heels, southern independent, which had little history of its own and ranked third historically in its own state while being far removed, both culturally and geographically, from the state’s famously rich recruiting grounds in South Florida and the I-4 corridor, really was.

FSU fans of a sufficient vintage know the story well enough. For the rest of you it can be shorthanded this way.

Before Bowden’s arrival at FSU, none of the state’s big three programs had ever posted a ten-win season. Bowden chalked up three of those in his first five years. Out of that came what Bowden himself later dubbed The Big Florida, a behemoth that eventually accounted for eleven national championships between the three schools in a thirty-year period stretching from 1983 to 2013, with a number of those teams having a single loss hung on them by one of the others.

A sea change, in other words.

It is hard now, to remember how it all began Harder still perhaps to believe it, even if you were there to bear witness.

Because it began with guys like Monk Bonasorte.

Bowden was an offensive genius, the most innovative coach in postwar college football (again, a story for another day). But for his innovations to work–to actually consistently win games, especially in those early years, when the talent was short–he needed stout defenses.

He got them.

He got them without a surfeit of elite talent. On the stellar teams from 1977–80, which set Bowden, FSU, and, ultimately, college football on the course where it still runs, there was little anybody else wanted. The defenses that sparked those teams contained only three really top recruits–a nose guard, Ron Simmons, a cornerback, Bobby Butler, and a linebacker, Paul Piurowski. They were all brilliant.

But Bonasorte–a buck-eighty safety who could just about outrun your dead grandmother–was more typical of both the spirit and the reality of those teams.

He made his way down from Pittsburgh, a hard-nosed steelworker’s kid who had spent a year playing sandlot ball after receiving no scholarship offers from FSU or anywhere else. Eventually, he walked on to the football team. After that, he worked his way into the starting lineup during his freshman season, from whence he went on to put himself high on the school’s lists of interception records for career and single seasons, where he still sits among names like Terrell Buckley, Deion Sanders and a few others who never had to worry about whether they would be invited to the training table.

It was in those years that FSU became the little engine that could and no one embodied that ethos quite like the unrecruited walk-on from Pittsburgh, who went on to devote much of his life to the school where he made his chance.

There was a specific moment, in Bonasorte’s senior year (which happened to be my junior year), when everything became possible.

That moment was when FSU–having lost one of the strangest games ever played to Miami the week before, a fluke-of-the-century game that would keep FSU from playing for the national championship that year (a pattern that would repeat itself several more times before the century was out)–traveled to Nebraska.

In those days Big Red was the sort of implacable power that FSU is now (all glory is fleeting…even in college football) and Florida State came from fourteen down in the first half to win 18-14 when that defense full of Monk Bonasorte types (Jarvis Coursey, Keith Jones, Gary Futch, Reggie Herring, I’ve not forgot) held at the goal line in the game’s waning seconds.

Monk Bonasorte passed away from brain cancer last week at the age of 59. I believe he is the first member of that defense to travel to the next plane. God knows if all the times he lowered his head to deliver one of those hits that made all those speedy receivers he couldn’t keep up with in the open field not want to catch the ball anymore sped his passage.

Time is merciless.

One thing I do know: There is no true Florida State fan my age or older who would trade “Nebraska 1980” for the three national championships we’ve won since, or any number we might win in the future.

Because if I close my eyes, I can still see myself back in my tiny, roach-infested apartment next to the FSU campus in the fall of 1980, leaping for the ceiling.

And, if listen close, I can still hear the horns honking–and honking and honking–all over town.

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MY FAVORITE WESTERN THEME (Not Quite Random Favorites…In No Particular Order)

Movies only…we’ll leave this, by a long ways the best TV western theme, aside…

..and stick to the cinema entries.

First, a little history:

Narration: Though High Noon opened to universal praise in late July, 1952, one of its early previews has proved disastrous. 

Fred Zinneman, Jr.: What was wrong with the preview was that there was wall-to-wall music in it and what people were responding to was the amount of music. After it was over, people–all the executives–were forming into little groups, whispering, and I just went into the bathroom, where two other executives were, and I heard one of them say to the other, “Well, what does a European Jew know about making westerns anyway?”

From Inside High Noon (50th Anniversary DVD edition of High Noon, Frank Langella, narration)

Stanley Kramer:  He (Columbia studio head, Harry Cohn) said “What difference does it make? So I ran it. It’s a piece of junk anyway”

Narration: Now, in fairness to Harry Cohn, the print that he saw of High Noon was missing a crucial element: music. You don’t have to be an expert to know how much music can add to a movie. But in this case the music was so unusual, so revolutionary, in fact, for its time, it added a whole dimension to the picture. Most movies of the 1950s opened with a fanfare, a big orchestra. Here’s what you heard at the beginning of High Noon…as spare and low-key as the film itself:

(From The Making of High Noon (50th Anniversary DVD edition of High Noon, Leonard Maltin, narration)

Not that those sometimes fanfares went away entirely….either from not so famous movies…

or extremely famous ones…

Or that you couldn’t split the difference:

Still, the makers of High Noon–having gone with too little music and too much–were onto something when they found the right mix. In the western, at least, vocals added something.

But there were only a few great ones. Some spare and low-key, some operatic.

And some of them didn’t make it to the movie. Well, one of them anyway:

Sometimes, a shoulda’ been didn’t make the movie either…

…that’s from the cutting floor of Rio Bravo, which, if it’s missed, is not as missed as it might have been, thanks to what is there.

This couldn’t have been a theme, exactly….

But this actually was…(well, a piece of it was, anyway)

So you can see (or hear), where they might have had a hard time choosing. And why they had a high bar to meet when they “remade” it (fanfare and all)…

And, by the late sixties, there was even at least one instance of a theme that blossomed out into a soundtrack (i.e., an ongoing ballad that ran through the whole movie, with endlessly witty variations, the gist of which are barely hinted at up front):

But, really, when it’s all said and done, there are three that stand head and shoulders above the rest.

One has the advantage of being from the greatest movie ever made:

One has the advantage of being both the greatest vocal and the best song ever recorded for a western theme.

But, down at the end, there’s something about the ground-breaker…Tex Ritter’s proudest moment, and one which he knew how to deliver more ways than one. My favorite is the one I played first, but this is a great variation. And there’s no more elegant or mysterious phrase in the English language than…”Wait along.”

 

MS. TEY DISPOSES (Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #92)

A dead British crime novelist’s characters ruminate on the election just past:

“Those clods were local, I suppose you know,” Bill said as they drove home through the quiet spring night.

“Yes,” Robert agreed. “I realised that. They had no car, for one thing. And ‘Foreign bitches!’ smells of the conservative country, just as ‘Fascists!’ smells of the progressive town.”

(The Franchise Affair, Josephine Tey, 1948)

It’s nice to know that some things never change. What better excuse for reading the books of the dead?

But I’d feel a lot more sanguine about our own future if there was still an England.

INTERESTING TIMES (Segue of the Day: 11/28/16)

“It is not so long ago that a member of the Diplomatic Body in London, who had spent some years of his service in China, told me that there was a Chinese curse which took the form of saying, ‘May you live in interesting times.’ There is no doubt that the curse has fallen on us.”

(Austen Chamberlain, annual meeting of the Birmingham Unionist Association, March, 1936…Yes, he was Neville’s brother. No, there is no evidence that the curse he mentioned is, or ever was, Chinese. Yes, there was and is plenty of evidence that it is still the most “interesting” of all curses, sourced or unsourced. The source here is the great site QuoteInvestigator.com, which must be as trustworthy as any other “source” just now.)

So…today. My usual drive to the grocery store. And, on the way home, my usual button-pushing scan of the meager local radio offerings, stopped by this….which always stops everything.

I thought that was a pretty good comment on the times…his and ours.

Then this came on….

…and made me wonder if Hendrix would have been able to commodify himself anywhere near as smoothly (some might say slickly) had he lived. Of course, we want to say “nay.” But then it didn’t seem all that likely Steve Miller could–or would–thus transform himself when he was living through Jim Hendrix’s interesting times. I like seventies’ era Steve Miller, but it did set the mind to both wandering and wondering.

Then this came on…

And I was about to let my mind wander a little further into contemplating to what mystifying extent Donald Trump has now blasted away whatever hapless shards remained of either the culture or the counterculture, when the London Bach Choir broke with tradition and sang:

You can’t always get what you want
And if you lie sometimes, you’ll  find, you get what you need.

If I’m being honest, it was the “and” that grabbed hold.

Without that, I would have just assumed I misheard the “lie” bit. it was as if whatever mind control system has been put in operation during this “elect” phase was already smart enough to know the only way the mind could receive the second substitute was to make sure the first substitute was not a word one could mistake for another.

A lot of ears could hear “lie” for “try.”

No ear hears “and” for “but.”

No ear, having heard the first substitute, as meaningless as it was obvious, would ever believe it was mistaken about the subtle, telling second.

Of course, I rushed to the computer as soon as I got home and pulled up this version on YouTube, and, of course, since it (and all other versions presently available anywhere that you or I could ever access, including the version that played Donald Trump off the stage at every single one his rallies in the pre-“elect” phase) were recorded some time before the election, so what you still hear–for now–is “But if you try sometimes, you’ll find, you get what you need.”

I know I”m supposed to be welcoming everyone to my world–paranoid, isolated, bemused–but even I’m impressed with the speed with which the new paradigm is taking shape.

Let me therefore put my predictions for 2020 on the record now, before the snow-static starts interfering with the clarity of my delicate Paranoia Blues Antenna’s reception.

Dow: 32,000
National Debt: 42 trillion.
Electoral College: Trump/Pence 535–Gates/ Cuban 3 (They’ll hold D.C….barely)

For what it’s worth, the Big Illuminati do not yet have full control. If they did, I know what I would have heard next–on the radio, not just in my head–instead of Journey and Supertramp.

Go ahead. Smile if you dare.

DIAMONDS IN THE SHADE (Bay City Rollers Up)

“Rock and Roll Love Letter”
Bay City Rollers (1976)
Billboard: #28
Recommended source: The Definitive Collection

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Only the Rollers could inspire so much….plaid!

Well, we could all use a little happy. If you need a sign that the Apocalypse didn’t exactly start yesterday, though, consider that this not only stalled outside the top twenty in America, but some fool saw fit to not even release it in the UK, or half the other countries where Rollermania was a real thing.

That’s exactly the kind of stupidity that causes empires to fall.

This song has a lot of personal relevance for me because it contains my favorite misheard lyric. My original angst was bad enough, but now I find that “keep on rock and rollin’ till my jeans explode” was really “till my genes explode.”

I had feared as much, but now the internet has confirmed it.

Not that either could replace “to my Jesus soul,” which was what I heard throughout my blissfully ignorant youth.

Oh, well, at least the Rollers (or their producer) had the decency to slur the blasphemy (and I don’t mean the part about Jesus, which was holy).

There are at lest half a dozen hipper–i.e., more clearly enunciated versions–on YouTube, including the original by the song’s writer, Tim Moore. This smokes them all. You really can’t beat the pros for this sort of thing. And, just on another personal note, I can state with complete certainty that if you segue this on a properly made mix-disc and bleed it out of Madonna’s laugh at the end of “Where’s the Party” it will make your head explode.

In a good, healthy, life-affirming, purely therapeutic way.

I promise.

Smile and be well.

And, yeah, I thought about doing this as a two-fer with “Yesterday’s Hero,”–the greatest “all glory is fleeting” record ever made–but, what with so many people on Suicide Watch just now, I didn’t want to be held responsible for some kind of wrist-slitting epidemic in case this went viral. The brave can find it easily enough.

ELVIS IN THE REARVIEW MIRROR….AND OVER THE HORIZON (Segue of the Day: 11/24/16)

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I haven’t been able to listen to Elvis all year until this week.

Not even a little.

It wasn’t that he was irrelevant to the unfolding disaster befalling the American Experiment–a disaster which has nothing to do with the outcome of the election, that being just one more mile marker on the road down, though I’ll buy that it’s potentially a sign-worthy milestone at least. It was more that he was too relevant, too near, too obviously nagging the national consciousness, even as the fragile coalition between Appalachia’s version of the Celtic Imagination and the Delta’s version of the African Imagination that formed in his head in the mid-fifties and brought the Promised Land heaving into view off the bow, finally sank beneath the waves without anybody bothering to mention his name over much.

Maybe I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t listen.

Anyway, this week I started again and I started with the Fifties. Figured I’d just get the The Complete 50’s Masters out and let it roll over me, night after night.

Since this was probably the longest stretch I’ve gone without listening to any serious Elvis since the late seventies, re-engaging was an experience….like recovering a lost memory.

Along the lines of, “Oh yeah. That guy.”

I forgot how improbable it all was.

You tend to, if the music isn’t right there in your ear.

Anyway I do, what with all the white noise the world can make crowding in, day after day.

Toward the end of the second disc, just when I thought I couldn’t possibly be gobsmacked any harder, I ran into these three, right in a row:

Elvis the doo-wop singer, who, if that was all he had been, would have been in the conversation with Clyde McPhatter and Dion DiMucci as the greatest of all.  (An amazing number of his records would fit the category if they had been recorded by some soundalike and been a career maker, the way “Be Bop A Lula” was for Gene Vincent, or “It’s Only Make Believe” was for Conway Twitty, to take only the most obvious examples.) This, the purest example, might not have become a hit for that imaginary soundalike. But it would have become a collector’s item, which, in doo-wop is maybe more to the point.

Followed by Elvis, the off-hand rockabilly, too smart to compete with Little Richard directly (though he could have, listen again to “Jailhouse Rock” or “Santa Claus is Back in Town” some time), too committed to treat it less than seriously…and a reminder that it was always the off-hand part that made Elvis the first and greatest rockabilly singer…

Followed by Elvis, the white gospel singer, who, if that was all he had been, would have been in the conversation with Jake Hess and James Blackwood as the greatest of all.

It’s been almost a given among the crit-illuminati, ever since his existence increased their value to the Overlords a thousand fold–made them not merely convenient but necessary–that “rock and roll” would have been just as big a deal, just as important, and moved to the center of the culture for three decades just as surely, if Elvis had failed to slip the noose and stayed a truck driver. (I created the “Stupid Stuff People Say About Elvis” category to give just a small taste of their willful ignorance.)

All you ever have to do to make nonsense of that is listen to the actual records and ask yourself, “Who else. then?”

Who else covered that much territory with so much fluidity and ease that it seemed “natural.”

No one else.

That’s who.

The one cold comfort that will be available to the future is the assurance that the boot-lickers, having played their role all too well, will be going down with the rest of us.

The Overlords, too.

As Elvis, the inveterate Bible reader, might have told them:

For whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

THE MYSTIC CHORDS OF MEMORY….AND THE BITTERNESS OF LIFE (Ralph Branca, R.I.P.)

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Like nearly all who have ever been entrusted to close a game with a Major League pennant or World Series championship on the line, Ralph Branca was a fine pitcher trying to cap a solid season when he yielded “The Shot Heard Round the World” in the final game of the three game series that decided a tie between the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers at the end of the 1951 regular season. Yes, he had been in a slump, but his manager had entrusted him with the first of the three game series and Branca had lost a tough pitcher’s duel to the Giants’ Jim Hearn. Plus, he was basically the only option left when the third game came down to the bottom of the ninth and Brooklyn needed someone to relieve their tiring ace Don Newcombe.

What happened next is still arguably the most famous moment in American sports history, when Branca (nearly as used up as Newcombe), gave up a home run to Bobby Thomson and elicited this….

…likely the most famous call in American sports.

Whether the issue was physical or psychological, Branca, who had been a three-time All Star and a thirteen-game winner that season, never recovered and spent the rest of his career in mediocrity, with no chance for redemption.

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Years later rumors that the Giants had used the age’s version of electronic spying to steal pitch signs, in a manner that some players themselves credited with helping them mount a miraculous comeback during the regular season, were more or less confirmed (that is, as confirmed as any conspiracy ever can be). Thomson may or may not have been tipped when he hit his famous home run. He claimed not.

Branca remained sanguine. He was from the old school. Thomson still had to hit it, didn’t he?

Even if he knew what was coming.

Funny thing. If Bobby Thomson had lined out to third, he wouldn’t have been remembered by anyone but hardcore baseball fans when he passed in 2010. If Branca had retired the side–that is, been successful–he would likely not have been remembered any better.

Baseball is the greatest sport because it’s the cruelest. No other sport tests the nerves quite as much because no other sport is so defined by failure. And in no other sport is one man’s failure so deeply tied to another man’s success.

The really memorable failures belong mostly to pitchers. Nobody would have remembered if Bobby Thomson and the guy on deck behind him–a rookie named Willie Mays–had struck out.

Every pitcher knows this on some level. Every pitcher knows in his gut that lasting failure is one pitch away and he knows it in a way that no hitter or fielder ever quite does, unless and until they make their own spectacular mistake. In baseball and every other sport, everybody else finds out the hard way.. or not at all.

The pitcher always knows. Even if that moment hasn’t yet come for him, he knows it might. And if that moment never came, he knows it could have.

Nobody was forced to live with a colossal failure longer than Ralph Branca, and no one could have borne such an unfair stigma with more grace.

In his own quiet way, he made a memory even better than Bobby Thomson’s.

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