Sunday, March 31, 2019

Back On The Record

First post of the month!

Where has they time gone?  I've been away from the keyboard for almost a full, calendar month and I have certainly missed a lot in the meantime.  After all, while I was gone, the entirety of Spring Training came and went, rosters were set, and the first few games of the 2019 season of Major League Baseball were played.  Thankfully, during my absence, no new Cubs players were added to the active roster; otherwise, I would have missed those Cubs All-Time Roster Collection changes, as well.  That's not even to mention the slate of new card products that have found their way to store shelves during my leave of absence (Opening Day, Donruss, Gypsy Queen, etc.).  In short, I've missed a lot.

The reasons for my disappearance are many and I won't go too deep into the weeds on that topic here. Suffice it to say that some general apathy and some major changes in my personal life have kept me from wanting to write about such relatively trivial things as baseball cards.  However, the moodiness has passed and emo Tony Burbs is back in the shadows.  It's time to fire up the desktop and bang out a quick post about... vinyl records???

That's right, I collect much more than baseball cards.  For my entire life, I have been a fervent collector - it's just that the targets of my affection have constantly changed.  Rocks and bottle caps gave way to Pokemon cards and Beanie Babies.  Die-cast NASCAR models sucked up much of my teenage budget while I spent most of my early adulthood tracking down cool band t-shirts.  Needless to say, my shelves and walls have been lined with countless different types of kick knacks over the years.

While my passions constantly morph and evolve across the years, there have been a few steady and consistent collecting targets that have stuck in my craw.  One in baseball/trading cards, which is made evident by the nearly 800 posts that compile this blog - with some lulls here and there, I've been stashing Cubs cards since the mid-90's.  Another passion that has sucked up my time and hard-earned money, for more than a decade now, is vinyl.  I'm not talking about bizarre BDSM stuff or Funko Pop Figures... I'm alluding to the world of LP's, 45's, turntables, and styluses.

My vinyl collection, as of this week - those baskets are jam-packed with 45's.

Since I purchased my first record player from a local garage sale, circa 2008, and repaired it with rubber bands, super glue, and dogged stubborness, I've been trying to build up my music catalog the old fashioned way.  My musical tastes have always skewed older, which is what got my foot in the door initially, but a deep need to collect has since led me to pursue this avenue.  It is much more fun to track down gatefold albums than collecting viruses on torrent sites, cheap CD's, or Spotify playlists.  In fact, I've even alluded to this side project on my blog in the past.

Now, I know what you're saying - this is a blog about baseball and it's associated trading cards (and sometimes football, hockey, or track and field cards)... why are you bringing this up on Wrigley Roster Jenga?  What does this have to do with America's pastime?

I'm glad that you asked.

Last week, a close friend of mine dug an old suitcase out of her storage unit and found that it contained a wild and messy array of forgotten records.  The musty old container had been given to her years and years ago by an old associate and hadn't been touched since.  Since my social circle is much more aware of my vinyl collecting habits than my baseball card ones, she generously offered to let me sift through and take whatever I wanted before she passed them on to Goodwill.  When I got that text message, I nearly lept up and ran through the front door without even stopping to put on my Converse.  Isn't that sort of message any collector's wet dream?

As expected much of the mish-mash was shattered due to extremely poor storage (suitcases aren't exactly tailored for the needs of a musical library) and warped from being non-temperature controlled environment for a prolonged period of time - I wish that I had thought to take a picture of the mess.  Furthermore, most of the albums were put into this case haphazardly, leading to the rug being pulled out from under me with several sleeves of major albums turning up empty.  Not every rock that comes out of a mine can be diamond and, thankfully, this prospector was eventually able to turn up more than just pyrite:

While there was no "butcher cover" of Yesterday and Today hiding out in the pile, there were several quality discs to be uncovered.  Some of my favorite classic rocks acts and a pair of top notch movie soundtracks was an exceptional haul, especially considering how they had been stored.  Sure, that J. Geils Band cover "stinks;" however all of these artifacts were in surprisingly good shape and (I have since confirmed) play without nary an issue.  Not bad for a free excavation!

Again, I can hear you all out there screaming at your smart phones - "what does any of this have to do with baseball?!"

Alright, alright - I'm getting there, I promise.  Patience is a virtue.

Anyway, those six LP's weren't the only albums I walked away with that day.  In fact, they weren't even the stars of the show, in my eyes.  Rather, it was a set of three folk albums that really caught my attention:

Steve Goodman was a Chicago-based folk musician who, while big in the Windy City, never really got his due in the national spotlight.  He's one of those types who was "your favorite artist's favorite artist."  Mr. Goodman penned some hits for the likes of Arlo Guthrie (City of New Orleans) and David Allen Coe (You Never Even Called Me By My Name) and released on album on the Asylum label (the one in middle, here) but just never really broke through to the mainstream himself as a performer.  Thus, to see these relatively obscure releases show up in such an unexpected place was enough to make me do a little happy dance... once I was safely in my own home for no one else to see.

In Chicago, Steve Goodman is a legend and there are two very good reasons for that... besides his apparent and prodigious talent.  One of which is the ubiquitous victory anthem that is played after every single Cubs win at Wrigley Field, "Go Cubs Go."  This earworm was penned by Mr. Goodman when WGN came a-calling for a peppy number to open up their broadcasts with in the mid-80's.  Of course, since then, it's become inseparable from the franchise.  But, that song is not to be found on any of these three recordings.

The second reason for Steve Goodman's enduring presence can be found on his Affordable Art album, which is the album furthest left in the image above.

Affordable Art was released on Steve Goodman's very own record label, Red Pajamas, in March of 1983.  In fact, it was the only the second album to be pressed with that label and it would continue to serve as Steve's personal home for new releases for the rest of his career (and after his passing).  After splitting with Asylum in 1980, Steve decided he was done with the national recording scene, moved his base back to Chicago, and started Red Pajamas so that he could play the game his own way.  This was likely related to his health, but we'll get to that.

This live recording is a fair representation of Steve's club shows at the time, with serious, heart-felt folk compositions (i.e. "Old Smoothies," a tale about the deep love of his grandparents) mixed with a fair amount of Dr. Demento-approved goofiness (i.e. "Vegematic," about a guy who falls asleep in front of his TV and dreams of ordering a bevy of infomercial product).  There's even a duet with his old friend and fellow Illinois native, John Prine, with the latter's "Souvenirs."  Affordable Art truly encapsulates what it must have been like to catch Goodman on stage at the Earl of Old Town on a Saturday night - lively, humorous, emotional, and certainly an experience to remember.

As you should be able to deduce from my praise-filled review, when you spin this disc at 33 1/3 RPM, your ears will be blessed with plenty of high quality tune-age.  That being acknowledged, there's one track found on side two that still stands head and shoulders above the rest.  In fact, it's that second big reason why Mr. Goodman's voice is still omnipresent in the Windy City today:

The third track on the B-side of this album was yet another tune about Steve's favorite baseball club, appropriately set up by a rousing take on the story of Katie Casey.  This one might not be as well-known as his "rah-rah" anthem, but it leaves a much deeper emotional impact.

Goodman often firmly planted his tongue in his cheek while writing songs and "A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request" is no exception.  Penned in 1982, this acoustic number tells the tale of a Northside fan, on his death bed, relaying to his friends and family his miserable fanhood and the plans for his ideal, "doubleheader" funeral.  It's enough to make any long-suffering Cubs fan giggle and nod their head in  slightly-pained agreement.  If you haven't heard it before, I highly suggest you stop reading right now and give it a listen.  Don't worry - I'll wait for you.  Just click on the embedded video file below:

I think you'll agree, not only is it a good Cubs song, it's just a plain good song about baseball, sports, and the loyalty we sports fans have to our chosen clubs.  It becomes even more poignant when you learn that Steve Goodman was actually dying when he wrote the number - he'd long been suffering from leukemia and knew he was fighting a losing battle.  The disease would tragically take his life just a couple of years later, in 1984, and Affordable Art would be the last album released before his death.  On top of that, his passing occurred just days before his beloved "Lovable Losers" would clinch their first playoff berth in 39 years.  Life is just plain cruel sometimes.

Anyway, coming from a long line of Cubs fans, this poignant tune has long been an important one to my family.  In fact, I've wrote about it on this blog before, when I re-discovered the cassette tape my beloved, late uncle used to make a bootleg copy of the song decades ago.

Of course, to come across such a significant and treasured song/album in such a random place ranks among the greatest finds in the history of my vinyl collection, even higher than that time I found an original edition of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in the dollar bin of a thrift shop!  Seeing as most of Goodman's albums were released on his regional label, these "oddballs" don't turn up all too often.  Furthermore, being in the Chicagoland market, the album that contains "A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request" has only been seen by my eyes with premium pricing.  I cannot believe that I was able to get it (and two further albums of Steve's work that I can't wait to get acquainted with) for free and out of a friend's random music trunk, of all places.

All in all, this was certainly one of the best experiences in my decade of collecting vinyl.  I'd love to share more stories about this passion of mine, but the vast majority of them have no tidy tie-in with the normal subject matter of Wrigley Roster Jenga.  Perhaps I should strongly consider starting a second blog that focusing on my music collection.  I don't know... I've already been neglecting this one for nearly a month... maybe.  What do you think?

Also, I just have to ask, are there any other card collectors out there reading this who also collect records?  If not, are there any other non-sports related passions upon which you build a collection around?  I'm curious to know - please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment section below!

Anyway, WRJ is back in business and hopefully the motivation sticks around.  I've already got a full slate of topics that I want to discuss, including an absolutely incredible and unexpected gift from P-Town Tom and the entrance of my lovely wife into the blogosphere.  Stay tuned.

In the meantime, here's hoping the old "doormats of the National League" can bounce back after last night's deflating loss in Texas.  Go Cubs Go!