Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Imagine - A John Lennon Jersey

This month's blog allows me to tie together the two passions of my childhood - music and baseball.

Very few people who know me from my current incarnation as a historical baseball uniform merchant know that I had a previous career in rock & roll. Nor should they. I was spectacularly unsuccessful. But from that day in February 1964, when as a six-year-old, I watched transfixed as The Beatles performed for the first time on The Ed Sullivan Show. That date began a lifelong love affair with the group - and with music -that continues to this day.

Although my father did not share my interest in this newfangled music, he knew it was important to me, and every six months or so he would come home with a package: The latest Beatles LP, purchased in Manhattan. I would take the shiny wax disc out of the sleeve and put it on the old mono turntable, careful to avoid the mild electric shock that sometimes came with contact with the needle. I would listen to the new exciting music while deciphering the photographs and liner notes on the album cover as if they were newly-discovered sacred texts (which in a way they were). This, with only minor changes, was the routine from "Meet The Beatles" through "Abbey Road" and into the solo years (though we would eventually get a real stereo).

Of the four talented musicians in the group, Lennon was the guy I aspired to be like: Brilliant, acerbic, honest (sometimes painfully so), tortured. He was one of the first pop musicians the word "artist" was applied to. He was political before it was fashionable, when popular musicians were risking much of their appeal by taking political stands. As an instrumentalist, he was not as technically dazzling on the guitar as contemporaries like Clapton and Hendrix, but he could "make a rock move" in his words. (His searing, nasty solo on "Happiness Is A Warm Gun" is Exhibit A.) And his songwriting was revolutionary (pun intended).

In the days before MTV and VH1 (let alone YouTube), rock musicians on television were extremely rare, and usually came in the form of performances "for the kids" on the establishment network variety shows of the time. To get to The Beatles on Sullivan ("now for you youngsters!..."), one had to sit through crooners, a plate-throwing act, a Borscht belt comedian or two, and inevitably, the puppet Toppo Gigio. When the Stones appeared on The Dean Martin Show, they had to put up with Martin's drunk shtick and his blatant mockery of the band (after a trampoline performer segment, Martin remarked "that was the Rolling Stones' father. He's been trying to kill himself ever since").

So it was indeed a radical departure when in February 1972 talk show host and sometime nightclub singer Mike Douglas allowed John Lennon and Yoko Ono to co-host his show for a full week. John & Yoko were good sports, enduring Douglas' lounge singer rendition of The Beatles' "Michelle" ("I love you, I love you, I looooove youuuuuu". No doubt the fact that it was a McCartney-penned tune being mauled made it easier for Lennon to tolerate ). The couple participated in cooking segments and took questions from the audience. But the living rooms of middle America were also treated to Chuck Berry, Yippie leader Jerry Rubin, Ralph Nader, and much of Ms. Ono's art. Best of all, Lennon - backed by Elephant's Memory Band and Ono gamely banging a bongo drum - performed his signature tune "Imagine" sporting a pinstripe flannel baseball jersey with "EASTON" across the front. See the clip here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MyW96tojeLU

The Lennons had recently moved to New York and had became involved with the anti-War movement and The Yippies, and (we know know) earning themselves the official enmity of Richard Nixon's White House and the FBI (Lennon was harrassed and wiretapped for years, and efforts were made to deport him). He soon fell out with the Yippies, but fell in love with New York, finally settling at The Dakota on the Upper West Side after a stint in Greenwich Village. He never returned to Great Britain. After the brilliance of his first two post-Beatle albums, the records grew more erratic and less frequent, and finally stopped altogether. There was a long retirement, and an all-to-brief comeback.

On that night in December I was visiting my parents in Scottsdale, Arizona. It was a low-key evening, with a "Lou Grant" rerun on television. When the bulletin was read, I went into the den and called my girlfriend at the time. "Did you hear?" I asked. "Yes" she replied. There was nothing more to say. I hung up the phone and sat in the darkened room for a very long time.

I personally don't think Lennon would have approved of his canonization as the sort of "peace saint" he has been turned into. While he sincerely believed in and fought for peace, he would be the first to acknowledge that like many great artists, he was a complex and imperfect figure. Lennon had huge insecurities to go along with an enormous talent and outsized ego. He could be verbally cruel and cutting, even with those he loved. But he also was willing to laugh at himself - often saying he was willing to be the world's clown if it helped get his message out. He was probably the wittiest musician who ever lived.

I have the great fortune to count Michael Lyndsay-Hogg - the director of "Let It Be" and many other Beatle projects - as one of EFF's most loyal customers. Michael patiently indulges my inexaustible thirst for firsthand accounts of my heroes. Lennon was aloof and uninterested during much of the recording and filming of what became "Let It Be". It fell to McCartney to try to motivate the group during their last days. Even while standing in the hallway moments before the famous "rooftop concert" that ends the film - their last public performance - The Beatles could not decide whether or not to actually go through with it. Finally they looked to Lennon and he said "Fuck it, let's do it". He started the group, and in the end he was still the leader.

I lived on the Upper West Side briefly earlier this decade. The Dakota apartment building where the Lennons lived (and where Lennon died) was a short walk from my apartment on 71st street. Across the street was Central Park, and the Strawberry Fields section, with the simple marker saying "IMAGINE" in the cobblestone sidewalk, was a place I often went to collect my thoughts and sometimes find a bit of inspiration and peace in the city I was born in and one of my heroes made his own.

This just in: EFF customer James Poisso has sent us a photo with "Easton" players posed with a player from Lafayette College. Since Lafayette is in road uniforms, it is possible that Easton was their opponent. (Scroll down past Comments to see the photo).

The jersey is a gorgeous cream pinstripe with unusual red, white and blue trim. We have replicated Lennon's #30 on the back. This authentic jersey is $99 for a limited time only.