Saturday, September 28, 2002

From Blackjack to Stickfigure: An Interview With Jack McDowell and Mike Mesaros by Dave Schulps

"This is a difficult business to break into and I don't want to be thought of as some ballplayer who's dabbling in music,” 1993 A.L. Cy Young Award winner Jack McDowell recently told ESPN’s Peter Gammons. “Music is now my entire life. I once was a pitcher who played music, now I'm a musician who used to play baseball."

Botched elbow surgery (a “minor” arthroscopic operation that left one of the muscles in his throwing arm permanently paralyzed) in 1997 brought McDowell’s baseball career to a premature end two years later at age 33. But even while he was playing, McDowell was laying the groundwork for the music career he hoped to begin when his playing days ended. A big Beatles and Who fan as a kid, thanks to his older brothers, he was influenced in his teens by the likes of R.E.M., the Replacements and the Smiths. In the early ’90s, McDowell, who sings, writes and plays guitar, put together his first band, V.I.E.W. In winter 1991-92, they were asked to open a winter tour for New Jersey rockers The Smithereens, mostly on the recommendation of that band’s bassist and baseball fan extraordinaire Mike Mesaros and guitar-playing soundman Mike Hamilton. V.I.E.W. would eventually break up after recording one EP. For McDowell’s next project—his first full-length studio album—he chose the name Stickfigure (an old high school nickname spawned by his 6’5,” 185 pound frame). Among the players on that album, 1995’s Just a Thought, were Mesaros, Hamilton and ex-Del Lords drummer Frank Funaro. This became the original touring line-up of Stickfigure and a second album, Feedbag, followed in 1997.

Of course, McDowell’s most famous rock’n’roll involvement during his playing days probably had less to do with his own band than with an evening out in New Orleans with friend Eddie Vedder, whom he’d known since before Vedder became a superstar as Pearl Jam’s singer. Jack ended up making headlines when he ended up on the short end of a fight with a club bouncer who was hassling Eddie.

With the end of his playing career, music became McDowell’s full time occupation. He began writing intensely for a new album and having written over 30 songs began recording what would become Ape of The Kings, with super drummer Josh Freese (The Vandals, Paul Westerberg and a gazillion others) replacing Funaro, who with Jack’s blessing had left to join Cracker full time. Released this year on What Are Records?, the album should appeal to anyone whose tastes run to the kind of taut, tuneful songwriting that characterize Jack’s abovementioned influences and, of course, The Smithereens, too.

Having known Mike Mesaros since the earliest days of The Smithereens and had many long discussions on both baseball and rock’roll with him, I figured Zisk would be the perfect place for a lengthy interview with Jack and Mike. We spoke prior to Stickfigure’s show at the L.A. club The Mint this May. I’m sure Jack—who’s admitted that the toughest thing for him has been convincing people that he’s not just an ex-ballplayer trading on his notoriety--will be pleased to know that a friend of mine who attended the show’s first comment on his performance was: “Hey, this guy’s actually a legitimate musician.”

DS: Jack, what music did you grow up listening to?

JM: I had two brothers and an older sister that were 7, 8, and 10 years older than me, so pretty much what they were listening to was my first taste of the music world and I got lucky. My oldest brother was a huge Beatles fan. My brothers used to sit me on the bed, play Beatles records for me and have me tell them who was singing. You know, ask me “Which one of the them’s singing?” and I’d have to figure out who it was. If I was wrong they’d smack me around. That was one of their fun games. So I kind of grew up on the Beatles and moved on from there.

DS: What was more memorable for each of you, your first big-league ball game or your first rock concert.

JM: The first rock concert came when I was a teenager, so the big-league ball game definitely because you’re a kid and just everything looks so surreal and the uniforms are so white and everything is so clean and nice out on the field. The field’s perfect compared to the little league fields you’re playing on, so that was definitely more memorable.

DS: What was the first ball game you ever saw.

JM: It was probably a Dodgers game. I’m trying to think when exactly was my first game. It must have been early grade school.

DS: And what about first rock concert, do you remember when that was?

JM: I think the first rock concert I may have gone to was Genesis in the early ’80s. A couple of high school friends had tickets and I didn’t really go to shows. I didn’t get over to clubs, obviously. Being underage, I couldn’t go into clubs over in Hollywood. Oh, you know what, Genesis wasn’t actually my first show. My brothers took me to see Springsteen when they were in high school. He was doing the crazy 3 ½ hour shows way back when. I did get to see that. That was probably the first one I went to see. It was either at the Forum or at the Sports Arena, I think it was the Sports Arena.

DS: How about you, Mike? Which do you remember best, first concert or ball game?

MM: I remember both. The first rock show I saw was Canned Heat and the Grass Roots at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City, where my parents had once gone to see Abbot and Costello and Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, so that was really cool. I remember my first ball game was with my little league team and it was at Yankee Stadium, the old Yankee Stadium, and it was some time in the ’60s and I remember Mel Stottlemyre was pitching that day and Mickey Mantle was in the line-up. It was a great way to start, and just like Jack says, there’s a thing about walking in and seeing that green, that grass, and the uniforms, how beautiful they looked. I think to this day, one of my favorite things about going to a ballgame is just looking out and seeing that grass for the first time, especially at a place like Fenway Park or Wrigley Field.

JM: Did you guys wear uniforms to the game.

MM: Yeah.

JM: Absolutely.

MM: And I remember Billy Cantor. I was so grossed out the way he was eating a hotdog with mustard all down his face. Ugh.

JM: Soiling your little league uniform.

DS: I grew up about two miles from Yankee Stadium and used to pass it all the time and you just wanted to be there seeing a game every time you passed.

MM: It had to be torture if there was a game going on and you weren’t going.

DS: So staying on this topic, how about your first time on the mound versus your first time on stage.

JM: There’s no comparison, because certainly the first time you take the stage you’re not throwing in front of a TV audience and 20,000 or 30,000 people, so pitching the first big-league game was nuts. I was talking about it the other day with somebody, reflecting way back when. Carlton Fisk was my catcher. I’m looking around and seeing all these guys I’ve been watching on TV and I’m two months out of college. It’s like they put you in the middle of a video game or something. It’s just a completely surreal experience. Talk about tunnel vision; I had so much tunnel vision that after about the second or third inning, I was walking off the field and walked into one of the railings of the dugout. I didn’t want to look at anything; I was so locked into my own head I didn’t know what was going on.

DS: Was the College World Series good preparation for that?

JM: Yes and no, I mean we played in front of a couple of thousand people in college in different places. Stanford has a nice facility and you got to play for a lot of people in the regionals, but nothing like in the big leagues. I mean you walk into a stadium compared to a ballpark. It’s completely different.

DS: And your first show on stage fronting a band?

JM: I think my first show was… I did acoustic shows with some guy in Chicago in a bar. That was the first time I was ever out playing my music in front of people. The first show the band ever did was at a park, probably 100 feet from my house in Chicago at the time. It was kind of crazy; definitely different.

DS: Was the press on to the thing?

JM: No. It was pretty low key. I mean, people knew I was doing it, but it wasn’t like it was a big, crazy thing.

DS: Did you have one highlight as a major leaguer that stands out above the rest?

JM: I think the highlights I had were the clinch days going toward the playoffs. I was never lucky enough to actually win a playoff series in the handful of years I got to go, so I think the highlight was when you finally reached that first step. You set out a goal and you get to reach it, so I think those days are definitely the highlights, sprinkled along with the things I got to enjoy, like a couple of milestones Carlton Fisk had when I was with the White Sox and we got to celebrate with him. That was great, too.

DS: Having Carlton Fisk catch your first major league game, what did that mean to you?

JM: Oh, it was great. The one story I tell about Pudge all the time is I came to the majors with a good fastball and a mediocre split-finger fastball. I mean, I was still developing that pitch, so I mean I was a 1½-pitch pitcher at the time. So he got really good at using my fastball. I’ve related this a bunch, but there were times when I would go into the windup and he would move to set up his target and he’d be literally behind people, like “OK, if you’re missing, throw it through this guy.” That’s the way I learned to pitch early on with him.

DS: Were you kind of a Drysdale disciple attitude-wise?

JM: Yeah. I was pretty aggressive on the mound and I went after people, you know, but I never liked to waste pitches. I wasn’t trying to scare anybody by throwing up and in, but I would throw inside to try and get people out. You know, you miss by 6 inches and you’re right on them. You make the pitch you want to and they’re not going to hit the pitch. That’s the thing; if you’re trying to throw strikes on the inside part and you miss, it looks like you’re trying to dust somebody off the plate. I never liked to waste pitches. I liked to get to it, get after them, and get them out as quick as I could.

DS: Is there a constant battle with the batter moving in on you and the pitcher trying to keep him off the plate?

JM: There is, especially nowadays. The thing is, they stopped calling the inside strike for a long time, so batters just got up on top of the plate. Basically, the outside corner of the plate was right down the middle where these guys were standing and you’d throw a perfect pitch inside and they’d jump off the plate and everybody would think you’re throwing at them. Meanwhile, the pitch is right there. It’s a strike if you go back and look at it. They weren’t calling that for a while so you had to be more aggressive in there. The trick for me was getting them into a situation to exploit that and I used to use it in the opposite way from most pitchers. When I’d get behind in a count, I’d challenge people inside and they’d see fastball and think, “This is something I can handle.” Early on in my career, when I had a good enough fastball, I’d be able to get in on them. That’s how I used that.

DS: Later in your career, when the fastball was not as good, did you develop other mechanisms?

JM: You know I never got a chance to get to that point. I kind of just went boom [McDowell’s career ended at 33 after a botched elbow surgery] and I was done so I never got to it. But I was stubborn; it would have taken me a while. I still would get to a situation where I’d go, “I’m going to jam this guy inside here.” I would try to throw my 84-mile-an-hour fastball by somebody and he’d remind you that’s not a good idea.

DS: How did you and Jack meet, Mike?

MM: I saw Jack on Roy Firestone’s show in 1990 and he was on with, I think, Lee Plemmel who was a member of Jack’s band V.I.E.W. I remember he played a song called “Prodigal,” and it made quite good musical sense to me. I can tell in one song if a person is coming from the same musical place as I am. Then through a mutual friend we met and those guys came out on the road with the Smithereens for a good month on tour in ’91 or ’92.

DS: Was that your first bona fide tour, Jack?

JM: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. I tell these guys now, but I didn’t tell them at the time, that we had only done a handful of V.I.E.W. shows with that band together and they called us out to do the Smithereens tour with all these packed crowds and I remember showing up, the first gig was in Louisville, and having the auditorium just jam packed with kids. It was nuts and the first thing they see is us, because we’re the opening band, and we go out there, and I remember finishing the first song and I know the whole crew of the Smithereens were checking us out, because they didn’t know what we were all about. Nobody had heard us or anything. So we had the added pressure of the veterans looking on plus all the kids. At the end of the song, the kids were going nuts and I thought, “Oh we can do this, this is cool.” I probably learned as much during that three weeks on the road as I have since.

MM: There was no hazing going on, though. We didn’t give them the shave and all that.

JM: That’s right. They were nice to us.

DS: So, Mike, were you the one responsible for having V.I.E.W. on the road with the Smithereens?

MM: Yeah. I knew it would be musically compatible, which it was. A good guitar-oriented rock and roll band. I knew it would be a hell of a lot of fun, which is one of your main concerns. A gig is only an hour, or 90 minutes, then you’ve got the rest of that time out on the road, so it’s good to have good things going on then so that everything’s going to be fun and going to work.

DS: So Jack, were you a Smithereens fan?

JM: Oh, absolutely. I was sitting there playing their songs one winter. Me and Lee were learning their songs as we were sitting around messing with each other and here we are a year later and they’re calling us up to go on tour with them and we’re just looking at each other and going, “OK, now what do we do?” It kind of stepped things up for us in a hurry, which was great.

DS: Did the kind of discipline and practice regimen you had in baseball carry over into learning to play the guitar and sing.

JM: I think so, but I’m not so sure it’s from baseball. I think you either have that kind of mentality or not, but it definitely comes in handy. A lot of the same disciplines that I used in baseball that were my strong points I’ve used in music—as far as having tunnel vision and going for it and working hard and working on your craft and all that stuff. This record that we have out now is the first project that I’ve been able to put all my efforts into and not have the old baseball day job stepping on its toes. It’s been great. You know, it’s a lot of work running a band and getting things going. You want people to be able to hear the music. It’s all about getting it out there to the people and there are different ways to do it, whether it be sitting and talking to you about it or playing shows or whatever. There’s a lot to it.

DS: Do you have to be in the same mind frame to get up on stage as you do to get up and pitch.

JM: It’s not so much of a competitive thing. What do you think of playing sports, Mike?

MM: Well, you’re not trying to beat someone who’s trying to beat you; there’s no one trying to make you look foolish and if you make a mistake, you’re not going to get booed and it’s not going to be part of your permanent record in a book forever and ever that you made this many mistakes this particular tour: “You made 33 mistakes on that tour in 1988.” It doesn’t work like that, but baseball’s like that. Every move you make is recorded forever.

DS: What about the competition between bands on a bill? I mean sometimes you hear about that kind of thing.

MM: I don’t believe in that kind of thing between musicians. Comparing one band or musician to another is like arguing about which is a better color, red or blue. How do you argue that point? It’s all in the ear or eye of the listener or beholder. You know, if you’re a naturally competitive person you do have a certain amount of it, but often, if you’re playing on a bill and there are other good musicians and their performance is good and it goes good, well, that works in your favor because it fires you up. Maybe you’re beat or tired and you need that little extra kick in the butt to really put out at the top of your game so in that way it could work for you.

DS: So you guys really got to know each other on that tour. When and how did you decide to work together?

MM: Well, Jack asked me to play on a few tracks on one of his subsequent records and it went well and we have a good musical rapport. It’s a comfortable fit. It’s fun for me because Jack’s writing is different from Pat [DiNizio]’s writing because Jack is a little bit of a different generation. He’s coming from a different place; not as rooted in the ’60s as the Smithereens. Jack has a lot of that, but there’s also a few more contemporary things as far as what feels we’re going to use drum-wise and stuff like that. So, it’s a good way for me to expand my vocabulary.

DS: What was recording this album like?

JM: It was kind of crazy because it was done over maybe a year and a half or two years, the last couple of years that I was playing ball. I had my home studio that I was doing a lot of the stuff on and I would do drums at an outside studio. It was a period of time where I probably recorded about two records worth of material, which I pared down to one record for this. I’ve got a whole ’nother bunch of songs sitting around waiting to be redone better now that we’ve been together as a band as much as we have the last year or so. But it was weird because it was a definite outlet for me and a lot of songs came from the emotional roller coaster, I guess you could say, of seeing the end of my career and not knowing what’s going on and thinking, “Wow this record might actually be something I might be doing fulltime.” When I started doing it I was planning on it being just another record that I put out while I played ball. So it was all things in one.

DS: What are some of the specific songs that are tied to your career ending or that kind of thing?

JM: “The Grave,” the song that leads off the record, is the one that most directly relates to it. There’s lines in there about where I’m going and what I’m doing with my life, basically. You know, it’s interesting because as you write a song, you write certain things and you have certain things in mind, but you go back after a while and look at it and so many more things come out. You know, every song you write is going to have an element of where you are emotionally at the time, at least the way I write. I’m not necessarily the type of person that is crafting a song just to craft a song. It’s usually about something I’m passionate about or feeling at the time or moves me to discuss in song. So, obviously, where I’m at at the time emotionally is going to set it off a little bit.

DS: There’s a song, “Hey Man.” Was that inspired by the brawl you got into in New Orleans with Eddie Vedder?

JM: No, not at all. That song was actually inspired by a spiritual retreat I went on a couple of years ago and they told a story about their thinking that we choose to come down here and take human form and kind of their thoughts on what religion really is and what spirituality really is. And that song was basically what came out of that little story for me. But what they believed in was that Eddie was God, so you had it tied in. [laughs]

DS: How did you meet Eddie?

JM: My wife, Meredith, used to live with his wife, Beth, way back in the San Diego days. They were roommates when he was playing in In Style and doing the San Diego thing and when me and my future wife at the time met in Chicago she was really into music and that was one of the things that kind of hooked us up and she said, “Oh, I’ve got another friend in music and he’s really good.” And it was right as the [first] Pearl Jam stuff was being recorded and going down, so we got to kind of watch that from Day One.

DS: Last year you did a charity show in San Diego that Eddie was part of. Is that something you’re going to be doing yearly?

JM: You know what? It is. We’re doing it again this year. Last year I was sitting out on my balcony just going “What am I going to do with this band? What’s going to happen?” And I started thinking about the All-Star game. And I thought I could probably put something together. We’re not that busy right now. The record’s not out. The record was done. We were shopping it and getting ready for it to come out. All that kind of stuff. So, I said maybe I’ll put on a benefit and I just started calling a lot of my favorite bands. And everyone was totally down with it. I said I’d get them tickets for the All-Star game if they’d do the show. And it turned out great. Last year’s lineup was Mudhoney, the Supersuckers, and Eddie played with both of them. Matt Cameron’s band, Wellwater Conspiracy, Pete Droge, Marcy Playground, and the ever-rising Stickfigure. So that was the lineup last year. This year we’re actually doing two shows, one in Chicago and one in Milwaukee.

DS: What was that show like for you last year, Mike?

MM: The party afterwards was great, which means I don’t remember much about the previous few hours.

JM: It was a rock and roll evening, let’s put it that way. Eddie was coming up to me and going “How did you put this together? There’s no promoter in Seattle that could have brought this group of Seattle bands together.” Basically I did it all myself. I got on the phone, got in touch with all these people, booked all their hotels and flights. I did everything myself with a little help from my brother. And at the end of it, I just couldn’t wait to get done with our set so we could just sit down and let it happen. This year I’ve got someone to help me with it and it’s going to be a lot easier.

DS: How many of the players were into the same kind of music you were?

JM: I’d say at the most, two per team. If you found two that listened to any similar music or knew any of my top-10 favorite bands or stuff that I’d have in my car it would be interesting. Most of my time was spent on the fringe guys, who kind of liked the popular stuff, the watered down stuff of what was really good. And I’d go and get all the good CDs and give it to them and say, “If you like all that, listen to these. This is the good stuff of that stuff.” I was always trying to convert.

DS: So you were really a proselytizer for the music.

JM: Definitely. I don’t know how many Wilco Summerteeth records I’ve bought just to give to people. I do that all the time. I mean, I buy my favorite records and say, “Here, listen to this.” That’s my passion about music. I believe everyone should listen to music that’s really cool. If they did they would enjoy it.

DS: So in a clubhouse you probably have 25 guys who are into different music, if they’re into music at all. Does everybody just listen through headphones?

JM: There’s always a stereo playing. I never corralled the stereo. I knew I was going to knock off 23 of the guys right away. So I never even got on there at all. It was usually something very lowest-common-denominator-ish.

DS: Obviously, there are some players who really like to hang out with musicians and some musicians who really like to hang out with ball players. Are there places where the two intersect. You know, bars in various cities.

JM: The strip clubs, I’d have to say. What do you think?

MM: There are a few bars where that intersection takes place. I’ve had some really interesting times at the old Wriggleyville Tap below Cabaret Metro in Chicago.

DS: Did a lot of ball players show up at Smithereens shows. I remember Mike telling me, Jack, about your namesake Roger showing up at a Smithereens show in Kansas City.

MM: I met Roger during spring training. I was down there and there was someone I knew who worked for MTV at the time who knew Roger and he introduced us. Roger used to come out a lot. And, you know, just from being on the road a lot and being in hotels…. One time I got out of the bus and somebody’s standing there looking out as I walk out. And it was Rick Cerrone, who was then with the Red Sox. So I got to be friends with Todd Benzinger and Denis Lamp, who were with the Sox at the time. They and Rick came to the show that night. So one thing leads to another and you have mutual friends. I’ve had phenomenal experiences as a baseball fan, seeing the game in ways that are absolutely not accessible to the average fan. The more I learn, the more I see, the more I experience, it all influences my appreciation of the game, and I enjoy it all the more for all these experiences and talking to players. It’s really cool to be able to watch, say when Jack was pitching, and be able to ask him what was going on in a given situation. “What were you thinking?” And you really get the inside game. It’s a great education and I really feel I have a little bit of a unique perspective on the game that the average person doesn’t have.

DS: How much baseball and sports are talked on the van or bus while you’re traveling? Is that they way you pass the time between shows?

MM: I’d say a good deal. I’m always talking about baseball even to people who don’t have any idea what I’m talking about, so it’s fun for me to be around people who know what I’m talking about, let alone a major-league player. Unfortunately, most of the things I’ve heard from Jack I can’t tell you about. [They both laugh.]

JM: That’ll come out in my book, right after Jose [Canseco]’s.

DS: Since you brought it up, what did you think of his recent pronouncement that 70% of ballplayers were on steroids?

JM: I don’t know. What’s the reason? I mean, does he just feel so hurt he’s got to go out and hurt everybody else, saying stuff about other players? What did they ever do to this guy? I don’t understand why he’d do that.

MM: If he’s mad at the powers-that-be or the so-called power structure in the game, why would you want to come and bring guy’s names into it who were teammates; who went through the wars with him, so to speak.

JM: But that’s the reason why. We were discussing this on the way down here. Jose doesn’t look at it that way. It’s not the wars to him. It was him trying to hit home runs. His thought was, “They come out here to see me hit home runs and you got 24 other guys out there.” When I was a little kid, I always pretended I was winning the World Series in my backyard. And the guys that don’t get that, are never going to get that. That’s where you have a guy writing a book like that, who doesn’t get what it’s all about. And that’s all I have to say about that.

MM: There’s only one Ball Four. I think Jose’s overestimating his own importance.

DS: Do you think Jose’s being blackballed by Major League Baseball?

JM: For what reason? If he could put up numbers, they’d throw him out there. If he wasn’t hurt every two weeks, they’d throw him out there. The fact that he can’t play defense takes away half the teams that he’s going to be able to play for. Most of the others have DHs, he’s not your pro-type pinch hitter. He strikes out a lot. He’s not putting the ball in play, and he’s not hitting for average anymore. And basically he told all of baseball, I want to come back to I can hit 500 homeruns. Who the heck’s gonna want that guy on their team? I think that blackballed him as much as anything did. That would be my guess as to why there wouldn’t be the interest in some places that maybe you’d think there would be.

DS: Speaking of that kind of attitude, I’ve got to ask you your feeling about Derek Bell’s “operation shutdown” this past spring?

JM: Mike should comment on that because it was the same week as the big Anaheim versus Padres brawl with Klesko and Sele. Take it from there Mike….

MM: I don’t remember.

JM: I’ll refresh you and then you can run with it. The quote from Derek Bell was “I’m just in shutdown mode, because I didn’t walk into this job.”

MM: Oh, I’m going to go into operation shutdown if I’m not assured of a job.

JM: And at the same time, guys are fighting in spring training and getting fined and suspended. In spring training we played a Stickfigure show down in Arizona. We were saying, “How warped is that?…. Spring training fights…. Everyone saying, “Oh these players, they don’t care about the game anymore.” Well, you know what, you get into a fight in a spring training game, that’s gotta show you that when you actually step on the field, you’re getting it on. I mean, we might fight because we care about the game, and you care about your turf and winning and that kind of shows people that the game is strong and it’s real, it’s not just about making money and going through the motions. On the other hand, Derek Bell can say that and it really hurts the game. [to MM] That was your comment on it.

MM: Right, if there were a real commissioner, which there is not, there’s only one in name, he would come down on someone like Bell for making those statements. It wouldn’t take the Pirates to have to release him for the good of the game. Remember when that existed? “For the good of the game…. In the best interest of the game.” Somebody like Bell causes more damage because the implication is that he’s not giving a hundred percent. That is the most damaging thing in baseball, because then it starts getting into the area of pro wrestling. Is it sport or sport-entertainment? When you buy a ticket to a major-league ballgame the inherent bargain you’re making is that you’re seeing players who are giving 100% of themselves to try to win that ballgame and are out there performing at the best of their ability, whatever it is, on that given day. Anything less, you’re being cheated. To sum up, if I were the commissioner, somebody making a statement like Bell’s or some of the statements that Gary Sheffield has made over the years, those are the people who’d be getting fined, not guys that are getting in brawls. I would let the players police the games themselves. They have it backwards.

DS: What general manager in his right mind would hire Derek Bell?

JM: The same with Canseco. If you’re trying to build a team, you want to have team players. That’s the hardest thing to put together the chemistry on a team that can actually win. That’s why you can have Montreal and Minnesota that they want to get rid of up on the top and doing well. It has nothing to do with money, big name players and all this other stuff. It has to do with a bunch of guys all working to win games.

DS: Who are some of the best team players you’ve played with?

JM: There are a lot. Robin Ventura is a great team guy, a great guy to play with. Just about the entire Yankees team in 1995; that was probably the tightest-knit group of guys that were all on the same page of anybody I played with.

DS: And they seem to have kept that going.

JM: Yeah, that was basically the core of the team that’s run off the streak that they have.

DS: So how does Robin like right field in Yankee Stadium.

JM: It looks like he’s liking it a lot.

DS: Which ballplayers can you count on to show up at a Stickfigure show?

JM: If Charley Nagy’s anywhere in the vicinity, he’ll be there. He’s been at all of them that he’s been able to get to. Just kind of a smattering when they really get the urge.

DS: Is the groupie scene any different in baseball than it is in rock and roll.

JM: I don’t know. We’ve got to start getting more people to our shows, and maybe I’ll tell you.

DS: I mean, I know you’re both married guys.

MM: That was so long ago, Dave, I can’t remember.

JM: The one thing I have to say about it—just on a general theory—is in baseball you’re in a town for three day. In music, you’re there for the show and usually you’re taking off to go somewhere else, and very rarely are you even staying that night. So you’d better put some fast work in if you’re looking to get in on the groupie scene. I think you’ve got a little more leeway if you’re a sports guy, if you want to go down that road.

MM: But people like us, we don’t have that kind of thing going on anymore. Years ago, a guy like Pete Townshend, says he picked up the guitar just because it was a good way to get girls. There was a thing—a guy with a guitar—that was something that really appealed to women. Now I don’t know what appeals to women and girls. Not guitars.

DS: Jack, how much have you learned from Mike about the history of music?

JM: Tons. I had little pieces here and there, but to get deeper into it has been great. I have a strong knowledge from the 80s on and just little nibblets of what’s been behind it.

MM: That’s one reason I don’t like a lot of current bands, when I hear their roots don’t go back beyond Jane’s Addiction. That’s not to say anything about Jane’s Addiction one way or the other, but that’s not where it starts. You don’t start something, you don’t get into a field, in the later part of the timeline. I feel it’s necessary to go back and to embrace the very beginning and to make that part of your vocabulary. I can hear that lack of classic roots in many musicians today.

JM: I love when Mojo magazine does those backwards lineages. These guys were listening to these guys who were listening to this.

DS: Will the Smithereens be recording anytime soon?

MM: Probably. I don’t know when and I don’t know how as far as labels and everything and whether we would just want to put out something ourselves. That’s what I would like to do. I’d like to just have it sold on the Internet. I’m very disillusioned with the music business.

JM: Oh, come on, Mike. What do you mean?

MM: I hate record companies. I hate them.

DS: How do you feel about that, Jack? You’re just starting out in this.

JM: I’ve been around it enough to realize that it’s change even from the time that I started in the music business. At that point, you could still have music conversations with people in the industry, like we are now, and relate at some level. Nowadays, if you find one person around an office that you can have any kind of conversation with about music or music history or what’s good and what’s not…. Those kind of people just don’t exist anymore. It’s a bunch of marketing geniuses who are there to stuff the American feedbag. It’s all sales, which is fine, it’s a business, but there should be more.

DS: Speaking of business, do you think there’ll be a baseball strike?

JM: Yeah, absolutely. They’ve been trying to get a cap for the last seven or eight years. They’ve got a worldwide pay-per-view plan they’ve been holding onto for a decade. You wonder why they’re paying $10 million just to negotiate with these top Japanese players and then doubling it up to pay them. They’re trying to increase the worldwide awareness and interest, which they already have, and then they’re just going to go over and go to South America and Europe, Japan and make it pay-per-view. And if they’ve got a salary cap, that is just cleaning house. And that’s what they’re going to try to do. They don’t care if they have to shut the game down again and shut the World Series down again. Players have nowhere to go, because if players don’t strike, at the end of the season, they can implement any situation they want. It’s a bad scene.

DS: Do you think that has anything to do with Selig’s call for contraction?

JM: I think that was just something to take everyone’s eye off the ball. And I don’t know that from anything other than when I first saw it, I said, “He’s just trying to get everyone’s eye off the ball,” which is the labor disputes and talk about something else for a couple of months, which everyone did. The whole thing with contraction, too, is they don’t want these teams to move to another city because if a team moves to another city, no one gets any money. But if they shut down these teams and then a team starts, like Arizona did or Colorado did, the new ownership group, on top of just buying into it, have to pay like a $250 million initiation fee that everyone gets to share. You’re talking about half a billion dollars if two teams shut down and two new ones start as opposed to moving. It’s not too hard to figure out. If you buy the team, it’s going to cost you enough just to get the team up and running but then you have to pay a $250 million initiation fee to join the club with all these owners who are going out of business supposedly.


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