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?"
Once I made some friends in the Boston suburbs, we would take the T or drive right in to Boston, walk up to the Fenway Park box office, and buy bleacher seats for about $8-10. But I was only there as a tourist. What a park! Right in the city, unlike Shea or even Yankee Stadium, which seemed like an outpost to me. Fenway, on the other hand, was right on the same block as rock clubs, vintage clothes stores and record shops. From that point on, the Kenmore area was a destination, like Wrigley. Thankfully, in 1986, I was in college when the Mets played the Sox and I didn't care about the outcome at all. I was sort of in my DMZ baseball time. It was all about music and other stuff by that point.
It was touring with Buffalo Tom that brought me back to the game. All that time away made me realize that Boston really was my home. I was no longer a New Yorker first and foremost. We'd go to other countries and I would get swept up in the local sports traditions: gigs getting delayed while soccer games finished; going to local footie games in Chelsea; learning about cricket and rugby in Australia and New Zealand; witnessing the passionate loyalty and traditions. It seemed like growing up in the late 70s/early 80s where I was from, kids had to choose to be jocks or rock freaks. This was a stupid and false dichotomy and I realized I had been cheating myself of something I enjoyed. I realized this acutely when I was paying back an Australian buddy/tour manager who was in Boston watching the Sox on TV with me on a night off. (That's the other thing: it was hard to monitor the local teams when we were away a lot). He had taught me the rules of cricket in Oz and as we watched the Sox, I explained baseball to him. It made me realize what a beautiful game it is. I got more and more into the Sox through the 1990s. My daughter was born in the spring of 1999 and I was home and up late every night. It was the first season I followed religiously since maybe the age of 10. Those were the peak years for Pedro, who still might be my favorite player of all time. And I haven't looked back since then. I picked a good time to become a fan, though 2003 was brutal. I had friends, grown men, literally calling me and crying when Wake gave up the HR to Aaron Fucking Boone.
The L: By any measurable standard, the experience of Red Sox fandom has changed in recent years. The Epstein/Francona regime has resulted in two titles, and a consistent and competent, enviable contender. For long-time fans, does this represent an uncomplicated and welcome deliverance, or, on some level is the bounty too great? I am thinking of the oppressed Soviet citizen, accustomed to breadlines and rations, who is suddenly exposed to a great western-style supermarket and feels overwhelmed by anxiety.
BJ: This is a very pertinent question as of this writing. There is this idiotic contingent of longtime neanderthal fans who discern casual fans as "pink hats." This refers to women wearing pink Sox hats, as "back in the day," there was rarely any significant number of female fans at Fenway. But now that they do have a logical plan, competent management, responsible ownership, and balanced teams, they are winning. And now that they are winning, you have the Drew Barrymore effect (I still refuse to watch that movie myself, as she and Fallon polluted that glorious WS win by filming a fake scene during a real moment), the unbearable tradition of signing "Sweet Caroline" every night. Tix have gotten ridiculously expensive but sell out. So I sympathize with the old timers and the real ball fans. But they also have to loosen up. They act more like the beaten wife syndrome; a lot of flinching and waiting for bad shit to happen despite two WS in the past five years. Of course, I am sure I would qualify as a "pink hat" to some of them, due to my johnny-come-lately status (only an active fan since mid-1990s). And the reality is, I rarely watch any games other than Sox games. There are too many of those to justify me watching any more until post-season.
The L: The comeback from 3-0 down in the 2004 ALCS and the events of the championship run in general felt dreamlike at the time. In retrospect, the achievement feels more surreal than ever. It could be argued that the series against the Yankees represented the greatest singular metabolic shift for any franchise in sports history. We can recognize now that it was not only the end of one long and miserable chapter, but also the beginning of another impressive one with broad horizons. What are your recollections of the comeback? Judging by the excitement I felt without the vested interest of fandom, I would imagine, to quote Lou Reed, that your mind split open?
I was at every home game of the 2003 and '04 ALCS. I was a physical wreck until Game 7. I was going on hardly any sleep. My family life and jobs suffered. But it was truly one of the best months of my life. The fact that it happened against the Yankees, the historical sweep and killing off demons, to be a Bostonian at that time... I feel fortunate. I remember vividly watching Dave Roberts. We had great seats. We all knew he was going. I turned to my friend, Mike, and said, "Look at how far off the base he is! Look at that lead!" And he almost got picked off. When he stole, my breath was taken away and I felt like I was gonna faint. It was religious. Before that game I had told Mike's dad, out on Yawkey Way, "All it takes is four games. No one said they couldn't happen in a row." I was only being half-facetious. He quotes that back to me almost every time I see him. In addition to the joy, I admit to a huge amount of schadenfreude at the expense of arrogant Yanks fans (not all of them are so). One of the first things I did in the wake was to tune into WFAN's rebroadcast of Mike and the Mad Dog. I'm smiling right now.
The L: I have always felt that Curt Schilling was the great enigma of recent Red Sox history, because while he seems to be an absolute braying ass, it is difficult to argue with his role as a catalyst in the turnaround. How do Red Sox fans tend to feel about Schilling? Attention seeking, Republican endorsing, bloody socked gasbag? Or slightly embarrassing but ultimately bulletproof and beloved agent of change?
BJ: All is forgiven, Tim, when you deliver. When you are The Man, you can say any whack-ass shit you want. You can support Bush, Chavez, or Kim Jung Il for all we care. You go out there and pitch while your fucking surgical wound is bleeding? And you win? Against the Yankees? In the fucking ALCS? Are you kidding me? He backed up all talk. He could be the govenah! I was listening to him today on the radio. When he is talking about baseball, I don't recall ever having disagreed with him. He is one of the only guys who doesn't speak in Bull Durham-like baseball cliches. He gives insight. I would sign him right up if I was producing Baseball Tonight.
The L: With characteristic subtlety, the Yankees spent roughly the annual NASA budget this off-season. But unlike previous iterations of the roster (comically bloated and obviously flawed) this year's model looks like a bulldozer. Curious to know your predictions for the playoffs, how you feel the Red Sox stack up, and which other teams you feel have a shot at bringing these bullies to their knees. Supposing Boston can't beat them, do you have a preferred scenario for seeing the Yankees lose? Joe Torre and the Dodgers in 7 wrenching games, or perhaps another biblical swarm of insects?
I'm not making predictions. A-Rod is tighter than a drum. Joba is insane. Petite is ancient and off the roids. This is not a team of role players like their glory era. They still have Jeter, whom I respect more than most players. It all comes down to pitching. I like our chances as well as any team.
Editors Note: In light of the events of this weekend, Mr. Janovitz has officially gone into hiding. He was last seen in the recesses of a clandestine Northern Massachusetts campground. He was spotted lying in a dark room, making cryptic references to the Book of Revelations, a cold compress affixed to his head. He has promised to emerge again no later then March, with the reporting of pitchers and catchers. Until such time, he requests his mail be forwarded.