Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Cultural Diversions: Living the Dream 

I finished a couple books recently whose subjects both dealt with young men "living the dream" (or on their way to living the dream), though in different arenas. The first had somewhat personal meaning; the second is interesting, especially for Diamondback, Padres, and Reds fans.

So You Wanna Be A Rock and Roll Star, by Jacob Slichter

Slichter was the drummer for the Minneapolis band Semisonic. "Huh?," you say? You know, "Closing Time"...

Closing Time
One last call for alcohol so finish your whiskey or beer
Closing Time
You don't have to go home but you can't stay here

OK, now the lights go on (maybe). A decent band, but one who, though they don't technically meet the definition of a "one hit wonder," exemplify its spirit. One massive hit, a song nearly inescapable, then little else.

Now, I thought (and still think) "Closing Time" is an awesome song. It was worth reading the book to find out the real meaning of the song (and, no, it's not obvious). For the most part, it's a standard-order description of life as a corporate rock-and-roll artist (i.e., not as much fun as you might think, though apparently all late-night talk shows give their guests clothing of some sort). Slichter and his bandmates seem, well, waaaaay too well-adjusted to be rock stars, which may explain why they were such only briefly and barely. His writing is
fun, though he's almost to cerebral and rarely gets into the emotional reasons of why he wanted to be a musician in the first place. One of the highlights for me was the chapter describing the ever larger and louder crowds who knew the words to "Closing Time" and the rush of playing to those crowds; I wish more of
the book had been about that. I also appreciated the discussion of Twin Cities radio in the early-to-mid-1990s -- it triggered fond memories of the original "Rev 105," the best commercial (barely) radio station I ever got to listen to.

The Last Best League, by Jim Collins

Collins is a college baseball player-turned-writer who spent the summer of 2002 following -- in great detail
-- the Chatham A's of the Cape Cod Baseball League, one of the NCAA-sanctioned summer leagues. Cape Cod gets a bunch of the best college baseball players each year and their games are heavily, heavily scouted by the major league squads.

There's quite a bit of the technical nuts-and-bolts of how the league is run, but the meat of the book is spent on talking about the kids who play, 20-year-olds who are maturing both on and off the field. I say that the book may be of particular interest to D-Back, Padre, and Reds fans because the three players Collins spends the most time with (in the book) are Jamie D'Antona, Tim Stauffer, and Thomas Pauly. Stauffer and Pauly come off well in the book, but D'Antona... It's not that Collins rips him, but he's clearly portrayed as a nice kid with a whole heck of a lot of talent (and power, goodness, what power) but not necessarily the drive that will push him all the way to the Show. At the end of the book, it appears D'Antona may have turned the corner. Although Collins does devote a lot of space to these three, I think he could've jettisoned even more of the discussion on the other players in lieu of more space on these three. As an evocation of "baseball in a special place," the book does only a fair job, but for some background on those three, it's a pretty good read.

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