Vinyl Memories #9 – Herschel Bernardi’s Show Stopper

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This Vinyl Memory is not about a record from my past.  My distant past, anyway.  The first time I listened to it was less than a week ago.

I was in my basement, where the turntable sits and spins when I am either free-writing by hand or doing some other arranging, organizing, or sorting through the collection of memories beneath the ground level of both home and mind.  This evening, it was putting a few items out on the Internet’s largest garage sale.  As I worked, a couple of Monkees albums played, followed by a Frank Sinatra LP.  With a few items left to list, I decided to sample a freebie.

The record store I frequent – Weirdsville Records in Mount Clemens – will package records by the dozen that they just can’t sell, and give them away for free in the form of a “mystery box.”  The caveat being you can’t bring them back.  Herschel Bernardi’s Show Stopper was one such album I discovered in a mystery box I took home one day from the store.  Tonight, I thought I’d give it a spin.

I’ve never been one for musicals, though that is changing.  Since our first trip to New York City and seeing Rock of Ages on Broadway, my hopes for the next trip there are 1) staying in one of the boroughs so not to spend so much time on the train in and out of the city, and 2) to take in a Broadway show at least every other night during the vacation.

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I put Bernardi’s record on.  It’s a live performance of him singing a variety of songs from musicals, explaining that he was raised in the theaters of New York and was different from the other kids he grew up with.  He sang, and I listed items on the website.  Side One concluded, it wasn’t terrible, so I got up and flipped it over to Side Two.  While working, a song played which made me stop.  The lyrics struck me.  I rose, walked over to the record player, lifted the needle and gently lowered it back to the beginning of the track.

Damn.

South Pacific is a Broadway musical which premiered in 1949 by Rodgers and Hammerstein.  Based on James A. Michener’s book, Tales from the South Pacific (1947), the story’s theme is racism as two characters become involved in romances that cross racial boundaries, and the decisions based upon their conflicts.  I have never seen this musical, but I’ll be on the look out for it.

The song struck me, at first, because of the lines:

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

Yeah.  At first I thought that I did a good job of ignoring what I had been taught.  And though I was able to disregard the specifics, I was still taught how to hate.  The words of this song had come to me less then a week after MLS Cup 2015.

On December 6, 2015, the Columbus Crew SC hosted the Portland Timbers FC in the MLS Cup in Major League Soccer’s 2oth season.  Since 2002, I’ve traveled down to Columbus to catch the occasional match – the Crew being the closest MLS team geographically to Detroit.  I’ve grown to become a fan of the Crew.

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When Portland entered the league in 2011, I enjoyed watching their home matches on television, as their supporter group – The Timbers Army – was a powerful force of fan enthusiasm.  The team dates back to 1975 in the old North American Soccer League and three years later, I was introduced to professional soccer through the Detroit Express.   Then, in 2012,  Detroit City FC was born, from which emerged the Northern Guard Supporters.  It is my understanding that the NGS had roots to and were inspired by the Timbers Army.

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That said, the prospect of a Portland Timbers at Columbus Crew MLS Cup was a no-lose proposition for me.  The Crew are my favorite MLS club, and the Timbers my third (NY Red Bulls became #2 when Thierry Henry joined them in 2010).

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The thing about Supporters Groups is that the focus is all about supporting the team, and contempt for every opponent.  Sunday reminded me of this.  In a place where I would be happy with either team winning, there were a few NGS folks at the game rooting for the Timbers and hating on Columbus and Ohio, not just the team, but the whole state.  You see, some Michiganders are taught to hate Ohio (and I’m sure vice versa), most likely through the sports rivalry between the University of Michigan and Ohio State University. (Another view is that Ohio is the state Michiganders are forced to drive through in order to get to where they really want to go).

I’m not exempt from such sports-driven hatred.  I could have chosen the Chicago Fire to follow, however my hatred of that city and all of its sports teams guided me to Columbus.  There are three hockey teams I root for – the Avalanche, the Devils, and whoever is playing the Red Wings.  Even distance doesn’t prevent the growth of hate, for as an Arsenal fan of the Premiere League, I’ve come to hate the Manchester teams – both United and City.  The hate for these teams and locations did not emerge from me at birth, but emerged from experiences with their fans and organizations.

With all that is going on in our country right now, where we have one 2016 Presidential candidate whose campaign foments with fear and prejudice, first against Mexicans, most recently stating he would ban Muslims from entering the United States; where a county clerk in Kentucky refused to carry out her duty to give marriage licenses to same-sex couples; and with the unending institutionalized racism against African Americans, You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught strikes a chord which still rings true today.  And though the message of the song speaks to racial prejudice, we learn to divide ourselves and cultivate hatred on many levels, which include sports rivalries.

Hatred is one of the three poisons the Buddha warned us about.  Because we want our life to be pleasant, comfortable, and satisfying all the time, we create conflict with those who would disrupt that.  Obviously, if we have a strong bond or connect our identity to our sports team, and another team defeats ours, we’re drawn to disliking them, perhaps even elevating our feelings to hatred depending on the stakes of the game.  It’s as if it is a personal blow against us.  The Buddha identified the poison, and provided the antidote: loving-kindness, compassion, patience, and forgiveness.  If we’re open to the complete experience of life, there will come times of defeat and loss.  Yes, it is the other team that delivered that blow to our team, however hating them is not going to eliminate the pain we feel from it.  It may, instead, amplify it.  Being patient and forgiving the errors that were made which resulted in the loss is more effective.

I still have work to do on this when it comes to the teams I hate.  But I’ve come a long way by letting go of the hopes of winless seasons for Chicago teams, the Manchesters of the Premiere League, and the Red Wings.  My energy is better served rooting for and supporting the teams I love.

You never know what you’ll uncover in a free “mystery box” of record albums.  Teachings manifest everywhere.

Understanding your sports fanatic friend.

DSC02971According to the countdown clock on the Columbus Crew website, there are 35 days and change until the league’s opening match to the 2013 season.  And closer to home, Detroit City FC’s season is to begin a couple months later.  The excitement of the coming season has risen to a fever pitch with me.  Last year, I attended more live soccer matches than in previous years.  Even taking out DCFC’s full eight match season, and the handful of games I saw the Michigan Bucks play, my trips to Columbus tripled to see the Crew in action.

This entry is for friends, family and loved ones of the person known as a sports fanatic.  The person you know who schedules their life around games; who bleeds the colors of their team and goes to extremes to follow their team; who seems to care little about the mundane things in life, or even the important things.  I hope that by the end of this writing, you will understand your friend, family member, or loved one better.

I recently finished reading Nick Hornby’s classic, Fever Pitch.  It is a no-apologies memoir of sports fanaticism.  Hornby is a rabid Arsenal fan, and his journal of matches and how they relate to his life reveals the mindset of a team loyalist, while also addressing issues within the sport of soccer, (racism, stadium tragedies, etc).  His life is marked and connected to the Arsenal.

There is one passage in Hornby’s book that really sinks in.  He described his greatest moment ever.

On May 26, 1989, Arsenal’s last match of the season was at Liverpool.  In order for Arsenal to win the championship, they would have to beat Liverpool by two goals.  The Gunners scored early in the second half, but Hornby had resigned to defeat as the game went into stoppage time.  Then Michael Thomas burst through the Liverpool defense and scored, giving Arsenal the league championship and Hornby a moment of delirium.

In seeking a metaphor to describe the feeling, Hornby declined the orgasm analogy, and stated why:

 Even though there is no question that sex is a nicer activity than watching football (no nil-nil draws, no offsidetrap, no cup upsets, and you’re warm), in the normal run of things, the feelings it engenders are simply not as intense as those brought about by a once-in-a-lifetime last-minute Championship winner.

None of the moments that people describe as the best in their lives seem analogous to me.  Childbirth must be extraordinarily moving, but it doesn’t really have the crucial surprise element, and in any case lasts too long; the fulfillment of personal ambition – promotions, awards, what have you – doesn’t have the last-minute time factor, nor the element of powerlessness that I felt that night.  And what else is there that can possibly provide suddenness?  A huge pools win, maybe, but the gaining of large sums of money affects a different part of the psyche altogether, and has none of the communal ecstasy of football.

There is then, literally, nothing to describe it.  I have exhausted all the available   options.  I can recall nothing else that I have coveted for two decades (what else is there that can reasonably be coveted for that long?), nor can I recall anything else that I have desired as both man and boy.  So please, be tolerant of those who    describe a sporting moment as their best ever.  We do not lack imagination, nor have we had sad and barren lives; it is just that real life is paler, duller, and contains less potential for unexpected delirium.  (Nick Hornby, Fever Pitch, [Riverhead Books, 1998], 222-23).

Hornby reminded me a lot of myself back in my hockey fan days.  It became an obsession applied when I was the president of the Ontario Hockey League team, Detroit Jr. Red Wings (currently known as the Plymouth Whalers) for two seasons.  Then, the Detroit Vipers claimed the Palace of Auburn Hills home, and my passion settled in a permanent location.

In 1997, I was fortunate to be photographing Detroit Vipers games for my friend’s hockey publication.  The Vipers ended the season with the best record, and marched through the Turner Cup playoffs.  Where games were proximately close (like Kalamazoo and Cleveland) I would make the trip for at least one of the road games.  Their opponent in the Turner Cup Finals was the equally tough Long Beach Ice Dogs who had an ungodly undefeated streak at home.

The format was two games at the Palace, three in Long Beach, then back home for two games, if necessary, in Detroit.  The teams split the games at the Palace, and it seemed unlikely that the series would end in Long Beach.  But the Vipers pulled the surprise, winning the next two games in California, taking a 3-1 lead in the series and the potential of winning the Cup in Long Beach on a Friday night.

So damn close to being with the winners, I decided I had to make the flight to LAX and get to that game.  However, the Ice Dogs would not go down at home, and I had to get back to Detroit for the Father’s Day, Sunday evening Game Six of the series.  The Vipers won, 2-0, the on-ice festivities and locker room partying will never be forgotten.

Patrice Tardif hoists the Turner Cup.  Photo by Michael Kitchen
Patrice Tardif hoists the Turner Cup. Photo by Michael Kitchen

It was one of those moments that Hornby described.  Following hockey for so long, this was unlike anything I ever experienced.  Not being an athlete myself, I never thought I’d ever come this close to this sensation.  It remains the greatest moment in my life.  Even though I wasn’t on the ice, delivering a check or setting up a goal that made a difference in the game, I was a part of it.  All I was doing was shooting film.  Having been situated between the players’ benches all season, I was there in the trenches.  When I was in the Long Beach Ice Dogs’ building ninety minutes prior to Game Five, Phil von Stefenelli – one of the Vipers’ defensemen – was going through his pre-game ritual outside the locker room, and gave me the nod of recognition and camaraderie.

I get the Hudson Street Hooligans of the Columbus Crew.  I get the Northern Guard Supporters and Motor City Supporters as they cheer and chant in the filled to capacity visitor’s bleachers at Cass Tech High School for the Detroit City FC games.

Hopefully, this helps you understand your sports fanatical loved one.  He or she has developed a deep emotional connection to their team performing on its athletic stage.  I can’t speak for all fanatics, but after that once-in-a-lifetime moment comes true, it opens one up to new avenues.  But the connection never dies.  The Detroit Vipers became defunct in 2002, but it will always be my favorite hockey team.  And though Columbus Crew and Detroit City FC have arteries running into my ventricles, I don’t feel a need to have my life consumed by them.  I still will attend every DCFC home game, and will make one or more trips to Columbus, my vacation soccer home, and make sure I can see as many of their matches on the tellie.

Detroit soccer fanatics celebrate a Detroit City FC goal at Cass Tech High School, Detroit, 2012.  Photo by Michael Kitchen
Detroit soccer fanatics celebrate a Detroit City FC goal at Cass Tech High School, Detroit, 2012. Photo by Michael Kitchen

The 40-year relationship is over.

January 19th, the NHL season will finally get underway.  I really don’t care.

This should concern me (and anyone who really knows me).  I marveled at the sport ever since the days of my youth.  And even though I’ve never had an athletic bone in my body, in gym class I excelled at floor hockey.

I wasn’t a casual viewer.  No, I was someone who…

  1. still has the program from the first hockey game I attended live (January 9, 1971, Detroit Red Wings vs Buffalo Sabres at the Olympia in Detroit).  Larry Brown is on the cover, and the Wings won 3-2;
  2. collected hockey cards from 1970 up through the late 1990’s;
  3. shared two season tickets to the Red Wings for three seasons (1989-90, 1990-91, and 1991-92);
  4. was the booster club president for the Detroit Jr. Red Wings of the OHL (currently known as the Plymouth Whalers) for two seasons (1992-93 and 1993-94);
  5. photographed the Detroit Vipers of the International Hockey League (IHL) and wrote a column in a local hockey publication for the 1996-97 and 1997-98 seasons (Great Lakes Hockey Alliance);
  6. traveled to places like Kalamazoo, MI; London & Niagara Falls & Owen Sound, Ontario; Montreal & Quebec City, Quebec; Long Beach, CA; Buffalo, NY; and Cincinnati, OH to watch live hockey;
  7. was the commissioner of a fantasy hockey league that spanned over a decade; and
  8. continues to wear vintage Detroit Vipers jackets appropriate for the season.

Why is this forty-year relationship coming to an end?  Perhaps the sport and I have just grown too far apart.

The first signs occurred after the IHL folded.  In 1994, the Detroit Vipers emerged at the Palace of Auburn Hills, which provided quality, entertaining and affordable hockey.  The IHL was a minor hockey league dating back to 1945.  With the NHL locking out its players during the 1994-95 season, the IHL expanded into areas to compete with NHL franchises.  Along with Detroit, the league added teams in Minnesota and Chicago.

I followed the Cincinnati Cyclones the year previous, as my sister and her family lived across the Ohio River in Kentucky.  But it didn’t take long for my blood to flow the aqua and eggplant of the Vipers.  I attended the team’s very first game (a 7-3 victory over the Cleveland Lumberjacks on September 30, 1994) and their very last game (a 3-2 victory over the Orlando Solar Bears on April 14, 2001) at the Palace.  I still have my photo passes for the June 15, 1997 game where they won the Turner Cup against the Long Beach Ice Dogs, and the October 3, 1997 game where Gordie Howe took to the ice for one shift as a Viper.  The memories are endless, and all of them fond.  The Vipers folded, and my passion for the sport waned.

Stan Drulia of the Detroit VipersPhoto by Michael Kitchen
Stan Drulia of the Detroit Vipers
Photo by Michael Kitchen

NHL ownership greed pushed me away.  Three lockouts which shortened this season and the 1994-95 campaign, and completely cancelled the 2004-05 season.  How does a tradition establish and maintain itself with this kind of off-ice instability?  Such gaps provide the opening for other interests to emerge.

The game itself went in another direction.  For each step forward that the league made, such as the elimination of the two-line pass, the game retreated a couple of steps because of the oppressive push to eliminate fighting from the game.  I’m not the biggest fan of fighting, but the role of the enforcer insured that players were held accountable for their brutal acts on the ice.  With that element removed, players have been able to injure each other with intent, and the league assuming punishments of suspensions and fines would provide adequate retribution.

The first game I attended back in 1971, no one wore a helmet.  In fact, the Buffalo goaltender, Joe Daley, didn’t wear a mask.  In those days, you didn’t have the concussions and injuries to superstars that you have in today’s game.  The addition of helmets and goalie masks are acceptable safety precautions.  However, it has lessened respect for each other on the ice, and the elimination of instant justice, coupled with the faster pace of the game has allowed for a more dangerous sport, especially for the marquee players.

Dissatisfied, frustrated, and watching the game grow away from me, a past lover returned in my life, which sparked what has become a renewed passion and rekindled love: soccer.

In 1978, I was introduced to professional soccer through the Detroit Express of the North American Soccer League (NASL).  It was their first year in the league and Trevor Francis made the experience magical.  Arriving after the first eleven games of the season (finishing his English season with Nottingham Forest), Francis destroyed opposing team’s defenses scoring 22 goals and 10 assists in 19 matches.  The first game I saw live was July 30, 1978 where the Express defeated the Fort Lauderdale Strikers (and legendary keeper Gordon Banks) 4-2.  Francis scored two goals and assisted on another.  I also attended the first round playoff match – a 1-0 victory over the Philadelphia Fury, with Francis netting the only goal.

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Trevor Francis triple-teamed by the California Surf.
Photo by Michael Kitchen

I got to a few more games at the Silverdome in 1979 and 1980, and watched as much of the NASL that was televised.  But then I was off to college and the Express and NASL went the way of other defunct professional sports leagues.

On June 28, 2000, while vacationing and visiting friends in Washington DC, I attended a DC United match.  The LA Galaxy beat DC United 2-1 that evening, but the love of the sport that had been in hibernation for 20 years was reborn.  A couple years later I got to my first Columbus Crew game, and since then, there’s been no turning back.

Eddie Gaven of the Crew dribbles through Stoke City of the English Premiere League.Photo by Michael Kitchen
Eddie Gaven of the Crew dribbles through Stoke City of the English Premiere League.
Photo by Michael Kitchen

The hockey cards I’m slowly selling off on eBay, and in place I have almost a complete collection of every MLS card set available.  I find myself able to watch, at most, a period of hockey, but I can lose two hours in the blink of an eye if Arsenal is on the telly.  I do miss going to Detroit Viper games, however neither the Plymouth Whalers or Detroit Red Wings motivate me to purchase a ticket.  But I’ll eagerly make the four-hour drive to Columbus for a Crew match.  Given the choice, I’d take a ticket to a Detroit City FC match and sit amongst the Northern Guard, Le Rouge Supporters and Motor City Supporters than an ice level seat amongst the suits at the Joe Louis Arena.

I could conclude that the death of hockey’s influence on my life is a part of a maturing process.  Other interests such as civic duties, promoting change and protesting the elements in society that promote a destructive status quo, immersing in my profession, and just trying to make the world a little bit better place then it was when I got here was prioritized higher than being entertained by sport.

Yet soccer has moved in and occupied hockey’s place in my life.  Perhaps that, too, is evident of a maturing process.  Hockey, despite what Gary Bettman tries to promote, is a regional sport, conducive to areas where winter’s breath creates the field of dream in backyards and ponds and streets of everyday life.  Soccer is global and its fans and players are a global community.  The sun never sets on the beautiful game, for I can follow Arsenal in the English Premiere League from August to May, and attend Columbus Crew matches from March through October.  And with matches played on a weekly, rather than three or more times a week basis, a two-hour soccer match once a week leaves time open for other, more noble and mature pursuits.

After forty years, both hockey and I have grown in different directions.  It was fun and formative.  But it is time to move on.

Detroit City FC thanks you for attending.Photo by Michael Kitchen
Detroit City FC thanks you for attending.
Photo by Michael Kitchen