Saturday, April 14, 2012

April Centenaries, 2012

“History” is often the least popular of the core academic subjects.  The irony is that the subject notorious for stunning students into boredom with a litany of mind-numbing dates and places to regurgitate…is fed by perhaps more human interest stories than the other academic subjects.

It’s not always what you tell, but how you tell it.

Two examples—one international, one local—have their 100th anniversaries this month.

Long before “Molly Brown,” the passenger ship Titanic was supposed to be unsinkable.  The ancient Greeks would have said that such a public boast could only tick the gods off (including Poseidon, God of the Sea).  The Titanic left on her maiden voyage on April 10, 1912.  She struck the fabled iceberg late on April 14th, and went down in the early morning hours of April 15th, 1912.  As if April 15th isn’t already a difficult enough day…

Those are the dates.  It is because of the stories within the dates that the Titanic continues to live on in our imaginations.  There have been at least two films about it: one in 1953 with Barbara Stanwyck, and the recent James Cameron movie (also called a disaster of, uhm, titanic proportions by its detractors).  The Titanic has become part of the vast legacy of nautical disaster songs.  There is Spider John Koerner’s Titanic (it was sad when the great ship went down).  Other ship disasters have spawned dramatic  songs from Stan Rogers (The Jeannie C, White Squall, et. al), Gordon Lightfoot (The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald), and others. 
A few years ago there was a traveling exhibit about the Titanic that included replicas of passenger cabins, among various depictions of life on the great “unsinkable” luxury liner. 

There have been far too many tragedies at sea.  But the Titanic remains the Granddaddy of them all.  And not because of the dates and places.

Locally in Boston, Fenway Park turns 100.  This is a good time for a moment of silent contemplation [cue the stadium organ]:  “Dear Lord, thank you for not letting Frank McCourt buy the Red Sox back around 2000.  For had that happened, the occasion of this anniversary would not happen.”  McCourt was among the many who wanted to tear Fenway down.  For more reasons to be glad McCourt did not buy the Red Sox, spend two hours with any LA Dodgers fan.  [Cue “This Magic Moment”]

Fenway Park--what a cathedral of magic moments within that awkward band box.  Here are the dates:  April 9, 1912 was the first actual contest, an exhibition game against Harvard.  The first official game was on April 20th 1912 against the Noo Yokk Highlanders.  Of course, the dates alone do not tell the stories.I have been fascinated with Fenway Park since watching the fog roll in over the Green Monster on TV games as a kid in Los Angeles (where I worshipped Baseball at the cathedral of Dodger Stadium).  I’ve been very lucky to experience my share of spine-tingling moments at Fenway Park in my short time here:  John Valentin’s 7 RBI’s in Game 4 of the 1999 playoffs against Cleveland, which the Sox won 23-7.  Trot Nixon’s electrifying pinch-hit home run to win Game 3 of the 2003 playoffs against Oakland.  And Game 5 of the 2004 ALCS against the Yankees.  In the 10th inning of that game, my buddy and fellow Red Sox fan in LA Tony told me on the phone, “sleep is overrated--do not leave.”   In the 13th inning—three hours before I normally left for work—I nervously headed for the subway.  In the 14th inning, at the end of the State Street station, someone with a radio let out a WHOOP as David Ortiz singled in the winning run.  The rest is…History.

There are some terrific Various Artists collections of baseball songs out there.  And don’t be surprised to hear from Chuck Brodsky on WUMB.  His Baseball Ballads has many surprises from the sport’s history in song.  But for pure FenwayPark goosebumps, you’ve got to have The Impossible Dream, The Story of the 1967 Red Sox (narrated by Ken Coleman).  Thanks to my friend Troy who welcomed me to Boston with a vinyl copy of this! 

Thank you, Mrs. Wolf in 8th Grade, for being such a great storyteller before I realized you were actually giving History lectures.

And thank you for reading this.  Consider yourself invited to share your Fenway Park memories, as well as any songs that make History come alive for you (Dave Palmater talked about many WUMB artists with songs that bring history to life on a recent Blog post:

Until next time, make use of history to enjoy your present.

--Perry Persoff


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