A Red Guitar

This doesn’t really have much to do with NASCAR, but since it’s about family and so much of NASCAR is centered on family it fits in, methinks.

John Andretti was buried yesterday in his native Indianapolis. After his funeral, before proceeding to his final resting place the hearse carrying his remains took a solemn lap around his beloved home track Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home of the Indianapolis 500.

My father’s family moved to Indianapolis in 1921, when he was two years old. He grew up there. It wasn’t an easy life; his family was anything but well-off, and his mother died at an early age. Still, to him it was home. After marrying my mom in 1944 he moved out west in stages for employment purposes, going from Indiana to Illinois to New Mexico and finally California where I was born. When he retired in 1980, he along with my mother and yours truly moved from California to Indiana, specifically Greencastle which is some thirty miles west of Indianapolis. We often went there both while I lived in Indiana and during my visits there after I moved back to California. He showed me the neighborhood where he grew up, the schools he attended, and when my mother wasn’t in the car with us the locations of his favorite watering holes along with the houses where assorted girlfriends once lived. My Dad enjoyed life IYKWIMAITYD.

In my tender-headed … er, tender teen years I was quite convinced I was going to become a rock and roll star, thus was utterly consumed with playing guitar. My parents tolerated my fantasy perhaps too much, occasionally buying me an electric guitar despite the fact I was at the time far more adept at playing folk on my acoustic. The first professional quality electric guitar I had was a Gibson Les Paul Deluxe. I detailed the story surrounding it a few years ago, so skipping ahead I eventually traded the guitar for a different one and have never forgiven myself for doing so, even though I now own one very much like it.

Flash forward to today, when on that seeming rarity for me known as a day off of work I was doing some light maintenance on a guitar – installing a new bridge (real tough – you pull the old one off its mounting pegs and put the new one on), adjusting the neck, etc. A luthier and/or skilled repairman I am not, but I am capable of doing the basics. Sidenote: the guitar in question is close to the same color the aforementioned Les Paul was when I was gifted it, which is one of the reasons I bought it a few months ago.

As I was setting the intonation (in English, making sure each string plays in tune up and down the entire neck), I suddenly found myself talking to my father as if he was there watching me. He was an engineer by trade, and a highly skilled one, thus making it somewhat curious that I am anything but mechanically inclined. It’s also worth nothing my father passed away nearly twenty-one years ago. Yet there I was, talking with him and assuring him yes, I know what I’m doing here Dad, as surely as if he was physically present. And it didn’t seem in the least bit odd.

As I finished setting up the guitar and set about playing it, I smiled at the thought of how my intended upcoming musical adventure is a mixture of country and blues, and how my father would get quite a chuckle out of the sight of his son Mr. Rock & Roll accompanying my musical partner (and most superb singer) when we first hit the stage together and break out “Crazy,” a Willie Nelson composition made famous by Patsy Cline.

As noted, my father has been in heaven for nearly twenty-one years. It still takes but brief reflection on him to bring on the faraway stare, the moistening eyes. Yet I smile, not only in anticipation of that coming day of great reunion promised by Our Lord but also at how such simple things as adjusting a guitar bring warm memories. Life continues. We may be but temporary assemblages of dust on this planet, yet we are immortal even as life itself is immortal. For we are life, and shall always be.

Of NASCAR And Rory Gallagher

Much has been made in recent years of NASCAR’s struggles at the ticket window and in television viewership. Reasons flung about for this usually center on the loss of major stars due to recent retirement -Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards – with precious little save Chase Elliott for replacement as far as fan affection goes. Others point to deterioration in racing quality, with ever fewer on-track lead battles being the norm rather than the exception. Still others cite NASCAR losing site of its main fan base in vain pursuit of pop culture pseudo-glory. It’s a mix of all of the above, but the latter is the main culprit.

NASCAR expended tremendous energy in the 2000s and to a lesser degree the 2010s chasing after the sporting equivalent of a Super Bowl halftime extravaganza in lieu of focusing on its core strengths, which far more align with a backyard barbecue and some blues than shimmering bodysuits and stripper poles. At the risk of touching on the political (not that I object to discussing such matters, but I’d rather soft-pedal the topic in favor of others), it’s quite like how the Washington DC/New York City politicos and media – pardon the redundancy – love nothing more than to look down on most everyone living anywhere else in the country and then being genuinely  astonished when someone comes along and wins a national election on the primary platform of being with said looked down upon people instead of demanding the people being with them. Certainly the departure of NASCAR’s brightest stars plus a failure to strengthen and/or rectify the sport’s actual core, most commonly known as auto racing and all this entails, have contributed to NASCAR’s decline in the public eye. But it is trying to appeal to those who wish nothing to do with the commoners that make up the sport’s fan base that is the primary culprit. When you ignore Cars and hype Talladega Nights, you’re doing it wrong.

Refer back to the aforementioned backyard barbecue and blues. NASCAR should embrace that embodied by the late Rory Gallagher, an Irish blues guitarist without peer who for decades bubbled underneath the general public consciousness as too unfashionable for the pop charts yet was wholly embraced by the knowledgable few for his authentic, gritty, bare roots music. Gallagher passed away at age forty-seven from complications following a liver transplant necessitated by years of excessive drinking fueled by personal heartache and professional frustration over never receiving the acclaim this most modest among men deserved. His brother Dónal has kept Rory’s memory alive through maintenance of his recorded catalog plus mining live recordings for previously unreleased material.

NASCAR, like Rory Gallagher, was never meant to be fifteen minute candy for the easily bored self-satiated. It is successful solely when it is auto racing from and for the heart; a sport celebrating oneness with its fans. There have been encouraging signs in this direction. Hopefully they will continue.

In the meantime, listen to Rory Gallagher.

NASCAR Fans, We Get No Love

There’s allegedly some kind of professional sporting event taking place tomorrow. When first informed of this my immediate response was, “But Daytona 500 qualifying isn’t until Sunday February ninth.” I was then informed the event was actually a Shakira and J-Lo concert sandwiched in-between two halves of some football thingy. Eh, whatever it takes to get people to watch.

Given that I am a San Francisco Bay Area native, I still live in said area, and I work at a sporting goods retailer that carries team licensed apparel as a core element of its business, it should be obvious to everyone that I am joking when I say I don’t know what’s happening this Sunday. My store’s entire center aisle is presently occupied with anything and everything 49ers related, and as my job duties consist of serving as the store’s front end overlord I spend the vast majority of my work day ringing up purchase after purchase after purchase of said 49ers merchandise. Given that my NFL teams of choice are the Rams and Colts, with my other favorite team being whoever is playing the 49ers on any given Sunday (or Monday or Thursday), the recent weeks have been rather painful. In some cases literally painful; whichever tendon or tendons attach my right bicep to the shoulder has/have become quite tender in recent days due to the multiple repetitive motions involved in cashiering. There’s a whole lot more involved than running things over a scanner, folks.

Courtesy of my penchant for using the workplace as a most excellent platform from which to observe the human condition, several notations regarding the public reaction to a local team reaching the summit of their sport (or at the very least being one of the two teams readying to vie for their sport’s ultimate prize) warrant mention:

    • No tests determining knowledge of the local team, its players, the sport they play, the league they are in, or much of anything else are required to purchase team apparel. The most painful example of this took place yesterday, when a customer responded to my response regarding which team I was rooting for this weekend (I said I didn’t care) was “well, you should still wish the 49ers good luck against Tennessee.” I’ll get on that the next time the 49ers and Titans get together, which won’t be tomorrow.
    • A further example of this also came yesterday, when a different customer looked at a decal sheet featuring 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa, then turned to me and asked, “Is he any good?” No, we sell more of his jersey than any other player on the team because our clientele is packed with long-term Kurt Busch fans who’ll buy anything with a 97 on it because it reminds them of back when he drove that number for Jack Roush.

Along with a noticeable lack of football acumen comes an amount of ignorance regarding how business in general, and retail in particular, so profound you’d think every single shopper was a career politician who is utterly convinced all businesses great and small are sitting atop an unlimited amount of money and the sole reason business is in business is in order to funnel all income into the government’s coffers for funding social engineering experiments. To wit:

    • “Do you have any more of this in the back?” Of course we do. We refuse to bring it out onto the sales floor because the notion of stocking shelves and clothing racks with items presently flying off said shelves and racks, the purchase of said items being our source of income, is utterly abhorrent to our dream of going out of business, becoming unemployed, and moving en masse underneath an overpass.
    • “How come you’re out of stock on this?” Oh, same reason you’re rather unlikely to find this season’s hot toys if you postpone your holiday shopping until Christmas Eve. Rude of us to let other people buy things you wanted for the sole reason of their coming in to shop before you did, we know.
    • “Do you know when your next shipment will be?” Um, probably whenever whichever delivery service stop by. Sorry we don’t have their GPS information.
    • “Will you be getting any more of these in?” If they make more, yes. See, merchandise tied into a specific event isn’t like Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon used to be when it was on the Billboard charts for 741 consecutive weeks. Only so many pieces of these championship thingys get made, and when you combine that with the number of retail outlets clamoring for these items … you get the picture. Maybe.
    • “How come you don’t know exactly what you’re getting in and when?” Our super secret telekinetic mind wave wonder reader connecting us with all manufacturers, distributors, and delivery agents is currently in the shop. A thousand pardons.

I say the above noting if I went on 1/10th of 1% as much about NASCAR to any and everyone as people are going off about the Super Bowl, I’d be run out of town on a rail. We NASCAR fans who live anywhere other than a hot spot for it get no love, just like NASCAR gets no love from the sports world at large.

It’s enough to drive this teetotaler to drink.