For those of us who grew up on the remarkable Buffalo Tom, a band which wedded the passion and energy of the best punk rock with a sweeping appreciation of great songwriting throughout the entire history of the rock idiom, it will come as little surprise that frontman Bill Janovitz is 1) consumed by baseball and 2) enraptured by the Boston Red Sox. We see this only too often with great writers: the bleachers at Fenway are a veritable colloquium of literary and musical exemplars. What gives? It’s a very particular alchemy. Phillies fans, for instance, are loyal and vocal but most of them are probably out on parole. For elucidation and his fondest hopes for a playoff outcome, we turn now to the wit and pathos of Mr. Janovitz. NB: This interview was conducted before the Red Sox were eliminated by the Angels.
The L: Bill, you are not a native Bostonian… how and when did it transpire that you came to identify so closely with the Red Sox? Can you describe the circumstances of your indoctrination? My own childhood consciousness was inexplicably dotted with a peculiar, non-regional affection for characters like Eckersley, Fisk, Mike Torrez, Jerry Remy, Rice and Lynn. I felt, on some level, that they seemed sort of insane, but in a fashion which I found oddly relatable. That is to say, not insane in the agro, macho, self-aggrandizing manner of the Bronx Zoo: Munson, Jackson, Nettles, et al. Even as a five year old, I could tell that the Yankees were not for me. In any event, do you have a theory on the strange, persistent attraction of this franchise to the arts community?
Bill Janovitz: I grew up in Huntington, NY. My father was only 24 when I was born in 1966. The guy grew up as a die-hard Brooklyn Dodgers fan. He was at the tender age of 15, I believe, when they left for LA. Like most in the same situation, he halfheartedly migrated to the Mets and was finally taken by the 1969 Miracle Mets. But before that, he was a kid/man without a team. Never would he root for the Yankees, and the Giants left as well in 1957.
So, that’s how I grew up. Kingman, Kranepool, McGraw, Cleon Jones, Rusty Staub, Tom Seaver, even Willy Mays, these are the names I grew up with. But my memory is so bad for sports. I have very little recollection of those games. But I remember going many times to Shea, and of course, the first time. I remember my father pointing out Mays’ pink El Dorado in the lot. I got Ron Swoboda’s and Lyndsey Nelson’s autographs. Mr. Met, banner day, “Meet the Mets,” “Kiner’s Korner,” “the one beer when you’re having more than one,” and losing while the Yankees were always winning. I recall being very young and thinking that fandom could be completely arbitrary, that I could therefore simply declare myself a fan of the Cowboys or, god forbid, the Yankees. I was just tossing such ideas around, but not committing. It was one of those life lessons when my wise father told me, basically, sure, I could. But that the character of a person is their loyalty, even loyalty to something as silly as sports teams. So if I wanted to be a fan of the Yankees, that was my choice (those words came hard for him, I am sure. He probably threw up in his mouth) but if I made that choice, he didn’t want me changing my allegiances later on. No fair-weather fans in his house. It was not an outright ban on Yankee fandom; it was something much larger and more important.
My family and I left New York for Massachusetts when I was 16, but these are my memories. I have friends from the same era who remember more details of the actual games. And they remember baseball as a whole way more than I do. I only recall random names and details. Ron Cey, for example. Mark Fidrych, of course. Fisk, Munson, Nolan Ryan. Rollie Fingers. Vida Blue. But they were mostly baseball cards of guys I might see once in a while. So the Sox had not registered for me much beyond that. And by the time I left, I was pretty much over sports. I had posters of Jimmy Page and Robert Plant (the one with the bulge in the jeans), Jagger/Richards at one mic; and hairy old sepia-toned Skynyrd on my walls. My father walked in once, looked around, shook his head smiling and said, “So these are your heroes, eh?” It is a memory that inspired a line in a BT song, “Summer”: “Where’ve my heroes gone today?/Mick and Keith and Willie Mays?”