True, my freakishness is a bit myopic, in that nearly all of it is filtered through the lens of Ohio State football and what everything might mean for the Buckeyes. But that doesn’t diminish my freakdom, and it doesn’t mean I can’t sit in front of a TV for 12 hours on a fall Saturday, trying not to sprain my remote-changing thumb.
I’ve written about college football stuff here for years, and I’ve written about it elsewhere as well, mostly for the now-defunct Draft Day Suit blog. And that … led to this:
Let’s back up. I had been contributing to DDS for a while when we started kicking around ways to add different kinds of media to the lineup; one natural was to get together a weekly video chat where we could make NFL picks. They were fun, pretty good and the source of perhaps my greatest moment of football punditry, when early in the 2012 season I told Goon Squad Sarah that third-round pick Russell Wilson would be a better NFL quarterback than second overall pick RGIII. I will never tire of reminding pretty much everyone how right I was about that.
At some point during that season, my friend and former colleague Carla — who was not only a DDS contributor but also an actual sportswriter at the time — decided to branch out into picking college games. As I recall, the first season — and probably the subsequent two or three — were a bit erratic; we didn’t do shows every week and we didn’t really settle on a format for a long time. But there we were, posting the vids from our chats on the blog and on the socials.
As we went through subsequent seasons, we took gradual steps towards something that one could almost call “polished.” The above logo (which was all Carla’s doing). Consistent naming and format conventions. A Facebook page. And, as of 2017, an audio version — I believe the kids call it a podcast — that posted to iTunes and a whole bunch of other places. We’ve even added a correspondent — hi, AJ! — who gives us a rundown of the stupid fun Group of Five games I’m too old to stay up and watch.
We’re now in our eighth season. And I bring up the show here because we’re actually having a pretty good season so far. The format is solid, we have some fun little things we do each week and — somewhat oddly — we’ve actually been pretty good with our picks. And while I don’t want to speak for Carla, it feels like a lot of fun this time around, even after we spent the month of August boggling at the notion that we’d been doing this for eight years.
Look. This is a little show. I’m sure it’s mostly friends and family who are listening. And hey — that’s you guys. If you’re of a like mind as far as college football goes, give us a listen.
In the late 70s, my musical world view was informed pretty much exclusively by Q-FM-96 in Columbus, and was therefore a bit limited. Rock ‘n’ roll — and the harder the better — was what I wanted to hear; anything else (but especially disco) sucked. I clung to those opinions into the early 80s, when a couple things happened.
First, I found the Grateful Dead, which eventually opened a ton of musical doors for me. And second — I heard, and loved, The Cars. They were a bit poppy, sure, but there was enough new wave edginess to keep me from dismissing them as Top 40 crap. And eventually they served as my stepping stone to Talking Heads, REM, The Pretenders and a bunch more.
Ric Ocasek was found dead today, in his apartment in NYC. And when I consider context — what he and his band meant to me at 15ish years old — this is a pretty big deal. I said previously that the Dead opened doors for me, to roots music and psychedelia; Ocasek and The Cars did the same, but for the stuff that was new and interesting right then … and for that, I couldn’t be more grateful.
When I found out last week that he had died, I realized I was wrong. And this was harder than I thought it would be.
I hadn’t seen Derrick since … my wedding, maybe, almost 17 years ago? I have a more definite memory of my last contact with him, although I don’t recall the date. It was a message on AOL, and he asked about a mutual friend; immediately after I answered, he was gone. After a couple more attempts to get him to respond — and a few more passing weeks — I understood that I wouldn’t hear from him again.
I was mostly OK with that. That Derrick wasn’t the Derrick I worked with at The Post, or the one who had been one of my best friends when I returned to Athens. I was largely insulated from that Derrick, although I know that wasn’t the case for everyone.
And in that respect, I’m lucky: the memories I have of the real Derrick — the one I knew in Athens, the one in these pics — I get to keep for the rest of my life. I remember meeting him, in R.J.’s office, not long after I returned to school following my Army-sponsored field trip to Germany; I think we were both a bit dubious of each other, but it was quickly clear to me that Derrick, who was editor of The Post that year, was the real deal: smart, talented and driven. I figured out something else a little later on: Derrick’s prickly exterior wasn’t as prickly as it appeared to be. If you were willing to weather a bit of abuse — and maybe give a little back — you were in.
And I was. For the three years I was in Athens following my return from the Army, Derrick was one of the best friends I had. And like everyone else, I learned a lot from him too, even though I was the old guy coming back to Athens and The Post when I finished with the Army. He was so smart about journalism and about running a staff of kids who were just figuring out how to make a newspaper work. He could be intimidating — even to me, a little bit — but without fail, he’d stop and help anyone on staff figure out a writing question, a difficult source, a bit of political juggling. He wanted to be better, and he wanted that for everyone who worked for him.
We are the sum of our experiences and the people we share them with. I wouldn’t be me if I hadn’t had that time with Derrick. I owe him. For all the time at The Post. For all the pitchers of Lowenbrau Dark at The Union. In the pink house. Above Campus Sundry. All over Court Street. For Ren and Stimpy:
And for that goddamned awful song he insisted we play at every single staff party so we could pogo around someone’s living room (and if anyone remembers what song that was, let me know?).
This is the Derrick I knew. This is the Derrick I’ll remember when we attend his memorial service in Mentor-On-The-Lake this afternoon.
I took that shot as I awaited the start of my very first real yoga class.
I was nervous. Nervous enough that I almost didn’t get seated in the grass. Nervous enough that I almost left.
I had been through a couple of demonstration classes at Venture Outdoors Fest two weeks before; I did those with a friend, and I enjoyed them enough that I talked myself into following up with a studio. I met a woman who owned a studio in Bellevue, just a few minutes from my house at the festival, and geography made that choice a natural one. But I also picked up a flier for a summer-long series of classes — at Grandview Park on Mount Washington and in the little park at South Side Works — and those sounded interesting too.
They were interesting enough, in fact, that that’s where I headed for my first yoga class.
And I was fine with that decision. Until I got there.
I parked and walked up the crest of a hill in the park, the one you have to walk over to really get a look at the stunning view of Pittsburgh over there on the other side of the Mon.
I should have noticed the downtown skyline; what I noticed instead was all of the athletic-looking people — mostly women, and all at least 20 years younger than me — walking over the hill with me.
“I do not belong here,” I thought as I slowed my pace up the hill to a shuffle. “I am too old to start this. And I should just go home.”
I froze on the top of the hill, seconds away from turning around, chucking my brand new mat in the back of my car and heading to Carson Street to find a breakfast suitable for a fat old guy.
What kept me from leaving? I met the guy who was signing people in for the class, an instructor at BYS who appeared to be about my age and then seeing two friends who had already unrolled their mats and were waiting for the class to begin.
Seeing friends there was good. Seeing someone there who reminded me of, well, me — and a yoga teacher, no less — was even better. I was still nervous. But I stayed.
And, oddly, as I approach this weekend, I’m feeling a little bit like I did when I walked up to that first class on June 1, 2014.
I’m signed up for three workshops with a visiting teacher on Saturday and Sunday. And I’m nervous about it.
The situation is a little different this time. Before that first class, I really had no idea what we would be doing. But I know pretty much exactly what’s coming in two of the three sessions, and one of those — Sunday’s shoulderstand workshop — is massively intimidating.
I know how this is going to go — we’ll break down poses into their component pieces, and I’ll be ready to do them or not — and this isn’t the same kind of doubt I felt two years ago. Part of what I’m feeling is excitement. But for the first time in a long time, I’m also feeling a little anxious about going to the studio as well.
No, I’m not going to turn around before I get to the top of the stairs at BYS. I’m not going to skip out on the workshop for a breakfast at Piper’s. Even if I’m feeling like a new guy again.
I had a good run with the Grateful Dead. But by 1994, my expectations were diminished.
I started seeing the band in the mid-1980s, during a pocket of high energy, powerful tours that peaked, for me, at Riverbend in 1985 (otherwise known as the show when I “got it” for the first time). Garcia’s diabetic coma slowed things down for a couple years, but when he was back, he was back, driving the band through its last consistently great period.
In the midst of all of this was a run by the band at the old Richfield Coliseum south of Cleveland. It must have made sense geographically; Richfield was an easy-ish trip for Deadheads from the Midwest and East alike, and I know the Coliseum was bigger — and, with a solid roof instead of a retractable one, better able to handle the weight of the band’s PA and light rig — than Pittsburgh’s Civic Arena. The result? An easy trip to suburban Cleveland from Columbus or Athens, over and over and over.
The short run at Richfield in March 1994 was what had become a regular spring break for me: while most of my friends headed to a beach somewhere, I set up in slushy parking lots in Detroit or Cleveland.
I was excited to see the band, but I was also aware that things had taken a downturn. The end of Bruce Hornsby’s extended residency took a little wind from the sails, and the old guys never seemed completely comfortable with Vince Welnick alone in the keyboard seat. And while we weren’t privy to the details of his heroin addiction, Garcia’s up-and-down health seemed to be on the way down again.
So — I would have settled for good on March 20 and 21, 1994.
On March 20, that’s pretty much what we got — good. A solid set list, well played, but no fireworks. We left happy with with the show and feeling mildly optimistic about what we might see the following night.
On Monday, March 21, something else was going on. The tip-off for me was Bertha, the second song of the first set … the band was tight and energetic, and Jerry was fully engaged, nailing lyrics, solos and the kinds of flourishes that he reserved for nights when he was feeling really good. That energy continued through what looks to be a standard-ish first set, on paper, anyway. From the stands inside Richfield, though, we knew different.
A good Picasso Moon started the second set — not the song I would have picked, but a good start nonetheless. But then: New Speedway Boogie, with the authority of a band that had seen Altamont with its own eyes. Victim — not my favorite song, but on this night it was especially dark and intense. He’s Gone, which is my favorite Grateful Dead song, and this was the best one I had heard since the Riverbend show I mentioned earlier.
And then it got really good.
There was a rote rhythm to the second sets of those 1990s shows: Three songs, maybe four; the drums and space segments; pump it up out of space, then Jerry ballad, then roar into the set closer. After the vocal jam on this night, Bobby, Phil and Vince packed it up, ready for their 10-minute break while the drummers took over. Jerry, however, wasn’t done; he stayed on stage, eventually locking in on a calypso rhythm with the drummers that turned into a jam based on the Harry Belafonte song Matilda (a song the band would sort of play five or six times before Garcia died in 1995). The jam seemed to be spontaneous and it was driven entirely by Garcia, who didn’t often take that initiative at that point, and it was good enough that Weir came back out on stage to play along.
Post-Rhythm Devils? We expected something up-tempo, and we got it with Lovelight that was surprising because that was always — always — a second-set closer. While we tried to comprehend that twist, the band downshifted … and started into Stella Blue.
I can’t argue with people who say that Garcia’s best days as a guitarist were in the late 1970s, probably 1977 and 1978. But the 1990s version of Jerry was head and shoulders above the the 1970s version in another area — vocals. Age gave 1994 Jerry’s voice an authority that 1977 Jerry couldn’t match … and that’s what we heard in this Stella Blue. Raw. Emotional. Subtle and powerful in the same song. The band behind him sparkled, but this was all about what Jerry was feeling right then … and it was the best version of the song I’d ever heard.
And that’s still the case.
The Stella Blue turned out to be the middle of a Lovelight sandwich, a thunderous end to the set. And I always liked Liberty as an encore.
And that was it … the last truly great bit of Grateful Dead I saw in person. There were at least a couple other shows — a rainy, cold day at Buckeye Lake the following summer and an odd afternoon at Three Rivers Stadium in 1995. That’s the one where we got a rain storm during the set break that finally cut that day’s stifling heat and humidity … and we got a sloppy, fun Grateful Garage Band Dead version of Gloria as the encore, one month before Garcia died.
I’d classify those shows as pretty good, memorable for the fact that they were the last ones for me.
But the last great one was that Richfield show, 22 years ago today. Here’s a link to a stream of the soundboard recording. Listen, at least, to the second set from He’s Gone through the Lovelight coda. In a year when the Grateful Dead could occasionally be written off as a nostalgia act, I was lucky to get that bit — that one final hour — with the band that could breathe fire. And I will never forget it.
From now through Nov. 28, one state will occupy an inordinate amount of my time and energy.
One week from today, Ohio State plays its final home game of the season against Michigan State. In recent years, the game against Sparty has been the biggest one on the conference schedule, at least in a practical sense; there are teams I want to beat more every year — hello, Penn State — but this one has become the game of year. Besides being good, there are some losses to State bad enough — and recent enough (B1G title game two years ago, and the 1998 Reason Why I Hate Nick Saban Game) — that this one will always have my attention.
Plus, it’s fun to see we can make Mark Dantonio look even grumpier than usual.
The annual game against that other school from that state — The One Up North — has lost some luster recently, because TTUN has been, well, bad. It turned down the intensity of the rivalry a bit and, worse, it damaged the reputation of the conference, because one of it’s marquee schools wasn’t playing up to standard.
And then this guy came back. And he has his team playing … better.