Last week my father turned 80. And it’s appropriate that he does so every year as baseball begins. He is an eternal youth who pursued the sport to its professional threshold. A boy of abject poverty whose Horatio Alger trajectory carries with it the hallmarks of the late 20th century's drastic change - that deep longing for a simpler time whiled away with high school friends with names like Digger and Shug, plotting pranks, cherry bombing his old man's car or politely picking up his girlfriend of 60+ years for a date in his 36 Plymouth. The anti-Don Draper.

He speaks in your voice, American, and there’s a shine in his eye that’s halfway hopeful.

It’s a school day, sure, but he’s nowhere near the classroom. He wants to be here instead, standing in the shadow of this old rust-hulk of a structure, and it’s hard to blame him - this metropolis of steel and concrete and flaky paint and cropped grass and enormous Chesterfield packs aslant on the scoreboards, a couple of cigarettes jutting from each.
— Don DeLillo from his novel, Underworld

The time in which he grew into adolescence is forever held in that smoldering post-war, pre-civil rights envelope that marked an apartheid in this country, but for some it defined halcyon. He is part of that some. 

Click image above to witness the Duke and band mates taking some cuts. (RE: photo above: Charlotte Brooks, photographer, LOOK Magazine Photograph Collection, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division)

Click image above to witness the Duke and band mates taking some cuts. (RE: photo above: Charlotte Brooks, photographer, LOOK Magazine Photograph Collection, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division)

Then, this week, as things got real in the major leagues, my sister posted this rare footage (click through the image above) of Duke Ellington and his band that was released by the Smithsonian. It appeared with an article that dissected the uniquely American modalities of expression - baseball and jazz. I was struck how in its silence it tells the story of that age. How no words are really needed. How the medium is both the story and the message. How it all says so much about so much. And yet its very different from my father's story, who may well have been swinging a bat on the same day the Duke, in front of his bus, chased that outside pitch.

Story is funny that way. It's somehow ineffable in its work upon all people and can take nearly any form, any vantage point. Images. Words. Tragic, romantic and lush.


Click to listen to "In a Sentimental Mood" as performed by Duke Ellington and John Coltrane.



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