By Jon Weisman
Driving home my 11-year-old from a birthday party tonight, I turned on the radio just as the quiet first verse of Don McLean’s “American Pie” began playing. It was an unexpectedly sweet moment – the work week behind me, a reasonably clear San Diego Freeway in front of me and a perfect song suddenly surrounding me.
My history with “American Pie” began oddly. One night, when I was my daughter’s age or a bit younger and my family was on vacation in Carmel, I was lying in bed when my older brother came over to me and started saying, in a nonchalant voice, “A long, long, time ago, I can still remember how that music used to make me smile.” He recited the entire lyrics from memory as I laid there, wondering what aliens had possessed him. Only days or weeks later would I hear the music that made it a song.
This would have been 1977 or so. “American Pie” was barely five years old; the movie franchise that absconded with its name was more than two decades away. Of course, back then, the song still seemed ancient to me. I can remember, when my brother finally showed me the case for his cassette, all black covered by a sticker representation of the album cover, by that moment peeling, as if it came from a time when they hadn’t really figured out how to make cassette cases. (This was still the era of 8-track tapes, though we didn’t have one then – my mother, in a few years, would inexplicably go to Gemco on Ventura Boulevard in Woodland Hills and purchase what was almost certainly the last 8-track stereo ever sold in the solar system.)
Tonight was my daughter’s first time hearing the song. She didn’t say a word, and as I write this, I don’t know how much, in her own Friday evening bliss, she was listening to it, let alone what impact it might have had. I’m usually disappointed when I expect songs that affected me to have affected my kids – Springsteen is a complete loss – so my strategy of late is just to be silent and dream that they might sink in some way. But the thing is, there are just so many more songs competing for their attention. In 1977, “Rock Around the Clock” was barely 20 years old. The entire history of rock and roll (minus its precursor roots) has just about tripled between then and now. A show today as old as “Happy Days” was then would be set in the 1990s and, instead of Fats Domino, feature what, the Spin Doctors?
I bring this story here, to the first week of Dodger Insider, because I really wonder what it’s like for young Dodger fans today – not only 11, but 21 or 31 or … well, you know, younger than me. I was born the year after Sandy Koufax retired, and when I started paying attention to the Dodgers, the team been in Los Angeles for barely 15 years. Dodger Stadium, which for my purposes had been there forever, was only a year older than my brother. (For all practical purposes, he had been there forever, too.)
Even back then, there was a lot of history to learn: Koufax and Drysdale, Wills and Gilliam, on and on, before you even tackled the Brooklyn days. But now, the mountain is considerably higher – nearly 40 years higher. It’s just impossible to wrap my head around the fact that as long ago as Koufax’s perfect game was to me then, that’s roughly how long ago Eric Gagne’s heyday was to young Dodger fans now. Heck, the 4+1 game is history for my kids, the oldest 3+1 days shy of her 3+1 birthday when it happened.
Consequently, history changes. Not the history in books – the books are all there, if you can read them all. But the history that you retain changes, and in turn, the history you share with others also changes. The events remain immutable, but the collective memory evolves into something new. We’re fast running out of people who saw Jackie Robinson play, who remember him in the flesh instead of merely as a collection of milestones. Zack Wheat has disappeared into black and white. My grandmother, who lived from 1910 to 2012, would give me first-person accounts of Carl Hubbell; now he’s just that screwball pitcher.
Baseball is music, and even though today we have never been better at preserving it, that’s a bit of a double-edged sword, because we now preserve so much of it that it has got to be one hell of a song break through and make an impact on generation after generation.
For me, R.J. Reynolds’ squeeze is “American Pie.” For my kids, who knows? But I suppose they’ll just find their own “American Pie,” and I’ll just have to accept that, as much as I’ll always believe mine is better.