Bob Dylan & Baseball

As July 4th approaches, many Americans look to enjoy some good old fashioned Americana. Webster’s Dictionary defines Americana as “materials concerning or characteristic of America, its civilization, or its culture.” By that definition, a radio show about baseball hosted by Bob Dylan is pure and joyous Americana. The combination; a blend of the modernity of baseball and the post-modernity of Dylan’s poetic protests, creates an enjoyable dose of nostalgia, peppered by with Dylan’s witty repartee.

The most surprising aspect of Dylan’s on-air personality may be the fact that he is undeniably funny; he keeps the show moving with humorous transitions and the occasional freestyle. As a host he’s clever, loose, and sometimes downright goofy. One of many sly jokes he makes is: “If girls love diamonds so much, then why do they get so mad when you take them to the ballpark?” Near the beginning of the show Dylan tells of an encounter with Charlie Sheen at the gas station, a surreal scene in itself; then follows it with a recorded interview with Sheen pontificating on the nature of baseball. Such is the charm of Dylan’s show, its structure allows for Dylan to wander, and often it’s the moments in-between the songs that are the most enjoyable.

Songs such as Johnny Darling’s “Baseball Baby” suggest the golden age of baseball, back in the days when steroids weren’t even a consideration and baseball was still America’s favorite pastime, before football took over. And that’s part of the show’s appeal. That you can hear Bob Dylan introduce Lawrence Ferringhetti’s recitation of “Baseball Canto,” a poem about Ezra Pound watching an imagery-laden lyrical baseball game. It’s a string of artistic icons put together and introduced by an artistic icon, and that star power infuses the game of baseball with the power it had 50 years ago.

The music Dylan plays is strange mÃ?©lange of songs you wouldn’t hear on any other station, songs that would be considered obscure in most circles. While this may disappoint some viewers, some find it a relief in an age of “Top 40” where you hear the same songs over and over. Dylan spins records that you probably haven’t heard before and probably won’t hear again, which is part of what makes them so interesting. He plays such records as Chauncey Holiday’s “Home Run,” and Cowboy Copa’s “Three Strikes and You’re Out.”

Dylan follows those songs with Buddy Johnson & His Hits Orchestra’s “Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball?” Dylan introduces the song then answers the question in its title, saying, “I don’t know, I wasn’t there. But I sure feel like I was,” and so do we. Sister Wynona Carr’s “The Ball Game,” is a gospel song with a Dylan-esque narrative, with its twist on love; “first base is temptation, second base is sin, third base is tribulation, Satan pitches a fastball.”

Dylan gets a little more current when he plays Billy Bragg & Wilco’s, “Joe Dimaggio’s Done it Again.” In his introduction to the song Dylan works in Woody Guthrie, quickly going to a tale of how Woody left behind unfinished songs, one of which Wilco made into a song about Joltin’ Joe, who Dylan refers to as the “Yankee Clipper.” This shows Dylan’s depth, modern to post-modern eclecticism, and just plain good taste. There’s a reason why Dylan’s Dylan. And it’s not because he has poor taste in music.

The show continues with such songs as Les Brown’s “Joltin’ Joe Dimaggio,” which is an old-time big band jewel. Next comes Teddy Reynold’s “Strike One,” which is playful storytelling, fun, in almost a “Looney Tunes” kind of way. But it’s songs like Sonny Rollins “Newk’s Fadway” that stand out, appearing like forgotten gems, a pleasure to hear, and affectionately obscure.

Bob Dylan’s version of the seventh inning stretch consists of his telling of the origin of Dodger stadium. He recalls how a Mexican community was destroyed to make the room needed to build stadium. He then introduces a song that speaks on the subject, Ry Cooder’s, “3rd Base Dodger Stadium”. Dylan finishes the show with Damn Yankee’s “Heart,” which proudly refrains: “we’ve got heart.” Dylan ends the show with the underdog in mind, the Americana of succeeding against all odds with your heart as your greatest asset.

As the song ends Dylan expounds on what you’ve got to have besides heart; getting amusingly pragmatic with suggestions such as “a hot meal.” This underscores the genius of Dylan’s show: it’s inspirational and old-fashioned, yet its postmodern awareness prevents it from taking itself too seriously.

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