This moment in “Field of Dreams” was how I started off my baseball and culture presentation this week. Ironically, the speech has always irritated me, because of its stagey blocking, and because it is a speech that sounds like a speech, and is essentially right out of the book the film was based on. In the novel, “Shoeless Joe,”,the “Terrence Mann” character played by James Earl Jones was real life (and then, still living) recluse author J.D. Salinger. I dislike the speech, but the scene always moves me, for a personal reason.
As Terrance Mann stands, giving his speech, the ghostly players of the past silently assemble behind him in Ray Kinsella’s (Kevin Costner, of course) magic corn field. One of the players behind him has been identified in the film as Smokey Joe Wood, a 30 game winner with the World Champion 1912 Boston Red Sox. Just a few years before the film was made, I had been in the Fenway Park grandstands as Smoky Joe, feeble, in his mid-nineties and in a wheel chair shortly before his death, barely threw out—more like dropped—the first pitch at a Red Sox Old Timer’s game, to a standing ovation. And here he was, in that corn field, but young and vital again.
Gets me every time….
1. Ethics query: is it ethical to perform “Piggies”? I just caught an old concert clip in which George Harrison and Eric Clapton performed the obnoxious pseudo-Marxist ditty “Piggies” (from the White Album) to thunderous applause.
[Notice of correction: I originally wrote that “Piggies” was a Lennon composition. All these years I assumed it was, heavy-handed and juvenile politics that it was. I am stunned that the song was George Harrison’s doing; I thought better of him.]
This was well after the Manson murders: I had never heard anyone perform the song in decades. Admittedly, it is just moral luck that a madman seized upon the White Album Beatles songs as his inspiration to mastermind the slaughters of Sharon Tate, her unborn child, and her house guests, as well as supermarket executive Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary the following night. However, “Piggies” was the one song referenced directly in both murders. It is not inconceivable that if the White Album had omitted that song—no great loss, either–at least the LaBianca murders might not have taken place. I know I can’t hear the song without picturing carnage, and it seems to me singing the song is like a celebration of Manson’s work. I wouldn’t ban it; I don’t believe in banning anything. I just think it’s bad taste to play it or perform it.
Is that inconsistent with my objection to “canceling” “Dixie,” “My Mammy,” “Rockabye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody,” “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” “Oh Susanna!” and other songs that are redolent of the Old South? I would argue that those songs have the virtue of being great tunes and important cultural touchpoints…in other words, works of musical art that justify themselves. “Piggies,” in contrast, is musical junk, like about 20% of the White Album filler. Continue reading