Friday, November 18, 2005


Once in a Lifetime, Squared

On a magical Wednesday night, a Chicago baseball team won the World Series. True, it wasn't the Cubs, the team from the neighborhood of my birth, but I was never one of those Cubs fans that hated the White Sox. Actually, more White Sox fans hate the Cubs than Cubs fans hate the Sox. It's White Sox FANS that Cubs fans more often hate.

I have several friends who love the White Sox. I don't hold it against them. The first game that I can remember going to was in the old Comiskey Park. I sat in the front row of the upper deck in left field. I remember feeling like I was watching the game from up in the sky, and I remember looking over the railing at a great running catch made by Minnie Minoso and sparkling infield play by Nellie Fox and Luis Aparicio. The Sox won and everyone was happy. I was probably around five years old.

I was in Wrigley Field before I can remember. My mother and grandmother were both Cubs fans. I have seen hundreds of games in Wrigley. We were always a two team family, since my uncle had been in the White Sox farm system, his career ending when his elbow was shattered in spring training. He hung up his glove and became an insurance salesman.

When I was young, the Wrigley family still owned the Cubs and had very liberal ticket policies. The park was rarely sold out except on summer Saturday and Sunday afternoons. During the week there were regular promotions. Friday was Ladies' Day and Wednesday was Senior Citizen Day. On Ladies' Day women got in free. My grandmother and my mother would pack up my sisters and I and the only ticket purchased was mine. My grandmother could whistle with her fingers in her mouth, using her pinky and ring fingers on both hands to produce a shrill pitch that could be heard for at least a block. Hot dogs and cokes were always a whistle away.

I was ten years old when The Beatles first invaded the U.S.A., and rock and roll is my other great love. Blues based rock and roll. I did have a fling with art rock in the 70s, but I came back to my senses. I was a little too young to see the greatest bands of the sixties, other than the original Jefferson Airplane, who I saw in a free concert in Grant Park in early summer of 1968, just after the riots that followed the assasination of Martin Luther King and before the Democratic National Convention.

The first album that I ever bought was Jimi Hendrix' "Are You Experienced?" My second was "Willie and the Poor Boys" by Creedence Clearwater Revival. My taste was ahead of my age. I was more of a Rolling Stones fan than Beatles, since "I Can't Get No Satisfaction" was much closer to my personal experience than "She Loves You." The Kinks entertained me and The Yardbirds blew me away. It was no surprise that I became a big fan of Cream.

On that magical Wednesday night three weeks ago, the night the White Sox won the world series, Cream was having a reunion show at Madison Square Garden. Actually they did four nights at the Royal Albert Hall in London and three nights at The Garden. The Wednesday was the last show. Tickets were going for an insane amount of money, it being the last of only seven shows the supergroup performed, the first time since 1968 and possibly the last time ever.

I was only 15 years old when the group broke up. Too young, as far as my parents were concerned, to go to a rock concert. They would not give me the $6 ticket price. In October of 2005 people were paying more than one hundred times that for a pair, and some scalpers were getting a thousand bucks for the first ten rows.

I went to The Garden and got in line for cancellations. I stood in line for two hours, my legs and back aching. The line didn't move an inch, and there were at least 100 people in front of me. I figured that if I didn't get in, I'd go home and watch the game, the Sox being up three games to none.

Show time was 8:00 on paper, though people who had gone to the previous shows said that it didn't begin until 8:30. At 7:55 I left the immovable line to walk around and look for someone with an extra ticket, about to panic that they would be stuck with it. Within minutes I got a ticket for face value, behind the stage. I was inside!

I sat around 50 or 60 feet over Ginger Baker's left shoulder. Occasionally they turned around and played to the back of the house. There was a huge simulcast video magnification screen just over my head if I wanted to see close-ups.

The show was fantastic. Opeing with "I'm So Glad", the band couln't have stated it better. Jack Bruce was singing my feelings. At first I thougth that they were looking old. Ginger Baker played somewhat slow and workman-like. As the show went on and they warmed up, he got better and better. His fills got more and more complicated, but were never gratuitous. Eric Clapton played an amazing version of "Stormy Monday." I was enthralled. During "Tales of Brave Ulysses" I called my friend Mike, put my cell phone on speaker phone, and held up the phone to play the song to him in the Chicago suburbs. "Crossroads" was incredible. There was also "Sitting on Top of the World" "Born Under a Bad Sign" "Politician" and a dozen others. After "White Room" came "Toad" where Ginger Baker played a drum solo that lasted around twelve minutes, attacked with Buddy Rich intensity. At three different times during the solo I burst out laughing in disbelief. Baker is closing in on 70, after all. The encore was, of course, "Sunshine of Your Love." It was truly a once in a lifetime show.

The show came down at 10:30. On my way out of The Garden at one of the vending stands the television was on, set to the game. It was 0-0 in the sixth inning! I hadn't missed anything! I made my way to the subway. The first train to come by was a Q express, taking me to 14th street. I stopped for a beer and saw the one run scored in the eighth and hurried home to see the game end and the champagne spilled. The last time a Chicago team won the World Series my father was four months old, my mother not born yet, my grandmother the baseball fan was thirteen.

Truly once in a lifetime, squared.
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