“Fenway Park Greatest Hits: 100 Year Anniversary” (Abkco)
By Brian Arsenault
In my household and many other New England homes for most of the twentieth century, the Boston Red Sox were not just a professional baseball team but an article of faith. And in the middle of that century, the high priest of the Red Sox was Ted Williams: Teddy Ballgame, the Splendid Splinter. Greatest hitter ever, fighter pilot in two wars – the man John Wayne played in the movies, someone once said.
So now that we are in the twenty-first century and the hundredth anniversary of Fenway Park has rolled around, I guess it was inevitable that the hype include an album of songs closely and loosely associated with the team. After all, Fenway has endured while most sports arenas come and go in three or four decades.
The concession areas underneath the stands may be a bit dark and dingy but to step out into that sea of green, reinforced and reflected by the well-named left field monster of a wall is to feel baseball as it must have been a hundred years ago – fresh, clear, untrammeled by 24-hour a day sports news cycles that lessen rather than heighten the experience.
It’s no wonder that the ballpark featured early in the film Field of Dreams is Fenway. It’s one of the last reminders of what baseball felt like to kids who dangled a glove on the handlebars of their bicycle and went to the neighborhood park looking for a game.
That’s gone as we now interview 12 year olds playing in the Little League World Series as if they were major leaguers, and create 13 year old eligibility so there can be more home runs and faster fast balls.
The surprising thing for me is that the musical quality of the album isn’t bad. “Not bad” like when you walk into a small club and the cover band plays respectably. I was expecting the musical equivalent of a polka band playing, but there’s some fun stuff.
You still can’t help but smile at “Dirty Water,” the most embraced song about a city’s least attractive feature: the absolute filth of Boston’s Charles River not so long ago. Still, I don’t know why the album’s producers didn’t buy the rights to the Standels’ original version. Too expensive, maybe, or the fact that the Standels were actually a California band.
There’s also a pretty good cover of the Cars’ “Let the Good Times Roll” featuring rock stalwarts Gary Cherone and Nuno Bettencourt. And “Dream On,” a hit by that guy who’s a judge on American Idol, is also given workmanlike treatment. And we can all be thankful Steven Tyler is not on the album singing the National Anthem.
If you are not a Red Sox or even a baseball fan, you are probably wondering by now what these songs have to do with the team. Well, you see, several are played at intervals during the game. The pauses in a nine inning contest just keep coming and sports fans are now judged to be so lacking in basic intelligence that every stadium must blast loudspeaker music whenever there’s a break in the action. “Here we are now, entertain us.”
Which brings me to the most grating aspect of any Red Sox game except for their middle relievers. The fingernails on a blackboard experience of “Sweet Caroline.” (Neil Diamond, God will probably forgive you for penning this ditty but I will not.) And here the song is sung by some guy from Glee, a show that’s equally objectionable on any grounds.
You see, it’s not just having to listen to this sing-songy crap, it’s also the point in the game where the vapid blondes in their pink Red Sox caps, an oxymoron of note, get to jump up and warble “so good, so good, so good” while shaking their pony tails. They can finally “get into the game,” these babes who think a suicide squeeze is what their boyfriends want after midnight and that a fielder’s choice is the special at Chili’s. Which it probably is.
But you’ll survive it. And it’s offset by a rousing “Knights of Bostonia” led by Ken Casey of the Dropkick Murphys. That kind of typifies the album: the audio pain of Kevin Millar’s “Tessie” balanced by the enjoyable “Meet Me at Mary’s Place.” Is that really Peter Gammons?
A recitation of John Updike’s wonderful New Yorker piece “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu,” about Ted Williams last home run in his last at bat of his last game, misted me up, I have to admit. My Dad never got to see the two Red Sox championships early in the twenty-first century after a nine decade title drought but I still have the scorecard he kept from a game he attended in 1946. I wonder if any fans can even keep a decent score sheet any more.
Williams was in left field, of course.
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