Saturday, September 25, 2004

Rock and The Red Sox: Bill Janovitz and Boston's Two Obsessions by Steve Reynolds

In Zisk #8 we brought you a story about Hot Stove, Cool Music the charity benefit concert in Boston (which inspired an all-star album) that has very strong baseball ties. In this issue we bring you an interview with one of the artists that has been a big supporter of that fundraiser, Bill Janovitz. The singer-guitarist is best known for his work with the Boston trio Buffalo Tom, but this September he put out Fireworks on TV, the first album recorded with his solo band Crown Victoria. He’s also written music that was used going into and out of commercials for the Red Sox radio broadcasts on WEEI. And like one of the members of Zisk staff, Janovitz has been both a Mets and Red Sox fan (just not at the present moment).

With all these baseball connections, Janovitz seemed like a perfect person to include in Zisk’s series of articles about musicians and baseball. So just before the release of Fireworks on TV, Zisk had the chance to talk to Janovitz about his other passion, baseball.

Zisk: So what do you think of the Nomar trade?

Bill Janovitz: How much tape do you got? (Laughs) What do I think of the Nomar trade? I think it was inevitable, but I hated to see it happen. It was like a relationship that all of sudden comes to an end and you just go, “Wow, how did that happen? Why did it happen?” Nomar’s a complicated guy, from what I can tell. I met him very briefly a couple of times, so I can’t speak from personal experience, but from what I can tell—and I know some guys that are on the daily Red Sox beat—and from what I can gather from all of these different accounts, he’s just a really complicated, misunderstood guy, by no small fault of his own. I don’t think he handled things extremely well, but in Boston—and I lived in New York, I grew up as a Mets fan—nothing, nothing compares to the media coverage of the Red Sox. Because we have one team in this town, and they mean almost everything to almost everybody. And it’s just an impossible situation for almost every player that’s played on the team. (Laughs) And it’s a nightmare, so he couldn’t handle it. I think his skills, here anyway, were diminishing. I think he’ll have a renaissance wherever he goes—Chicago if he stays there. He’s already shown signs of life. I just think it was affecting his play. And I think the Red Sox are better off without him. And I hate to say it, and I’m sad to say it, because I wanted to see him stay here. I want to see all my favorite players stay and finish their careers here, and I get emotional about it. And this current team is really still really hard to get a hold of, and part of it was because they had a revolving door of injuries this year.

Zisk: It seems to me that last year’s team somehow connected more with Boston and New England in general than the previous few years.

BJ: Oh absolutely, especially if you compare it to this year. Whereas this year they have all these dramatic late inning one run losses, last year it was 180 degrees different, where they were coming back and winning these games consistently. They didn’t play great consistently until September, but they had a lot of dramatics and they were really underdogs. And this year they were picked to win the World Series. And they had no injuries last year, so it was a blast to follow until the last minute. And then that last minute was just the most nightmarish situation, and it would have been that much more painful had it not been so predictable and inevitable. (Laughs) I had grown men, friends of mine, calling me up crying, like sobbing, and I’m not messing with you, I’m talking about sobbing.

Zisk: I believe that. I absolutely would believe that. I was up there [in Boston] the day after, and it was like walking through a city that had been to a funeral.

BJ: Were you up here? (laughs) What were you doing up here?

Zisk: There was a Gentlemen show that was the next day, and I was thinking the night before, “Wow, if they win, tomorrow night is going to be one of the greatest nights ever in Boston.”

BJ: Oh, you’re right.

Zisk: And I was like, “If they lose, it’s going to be one of the worst nights ever.” (Laughs)

BJ: You were right, it was a nightmare. Here’s the thing—I was transitioning from being a Mets fan as a kid, to not caring at all, so I didn’t even really care in the ’86 series. I was watching at a pub in Northampton, Massachusetts, going to school, and I was full punk rock, artsy guy at that time. Did not really care about baseball. But I watched it and thought how dramatic it was and could appreciate it, and if anything I guess I was leaning towards the Mets as I was only in Massachusetts for few years at that point. But I saw the devastation that that reaped on U-Mass’s campus. There was literally like riots. But I don’t think—and from everybody I talked to that grew up with the Red Sox—nothing compared to this, because it was just nuts, and that was it. It was the end. In ’86 they had a chance to come back the next night.

Zisk: When do you think you transitioned to being a Red Sox fan? When did you feel like a true Red Sox fan?

BJ: I can almost pinpoint the moment, I just can’t remember exactly when it was—it was sorta like ’94 or ’95. You know, I always watched the Red Sox and I watching them increasingly more as I got older, especially if we were around for summers during the Buffalo Tom years. We would go to these countries, we would be playing a gig, and there’d be a World Cup thing and we wouldn’t play. We’d have a set and just skip it because nobody would watch us. So we’d end up going on three hours late or whatever. And forget World Cup, just like important national games, and the countries were just shut down. And so you’d have all these rock and roll fans where sports would take the priority. It was sort of like Fever Pitch [Ed: a book about British soccer fans by High Fidelity author Nick Hornby]. And I gained an appreciation for that. I had a friend from Australia who was our tour manager for most of the years and he was full on into cricket. And he explained all the intricacies of cricket to us, so we got this great appreciation for it. And one time he was staying with me in Boston for a while and we had the Red Sox game on and I’m explaining the game to him, and I just had a newfound appreciation for what this game looks like to an outsider. And explaining it to him made me appreciate the finer points of the game that much more. And then I started watching regularly and got into the whole kind of local angle of it in Boston. I had been in Boston for long enough and going away so much on tour made me realize how much I loved the town. And I think it’s sort of like that Tom Waits song, ‘I never missed my hometown until I stayed away too long.’ It’s that kind of sentiment. And coming back home after a tour made me identify more as being a Bostonian, which is weird because I still kind of feel like an exile. I grew up in New York, I don’t really feel like I’m a Massachusetts guy so much. So it’s all that stuff and then in ’99 my daughter was born, and she was born in the spring. So I had the night shift and so I watched every game that season and I haven’t stopped watching almost every game every season since. So that’s the arc of my Boston Red Sox fandom.

Zisk: I just got that digital cable baseball package this year, and so I watch a lot of Red Sox games now. That’s a good thing considering how horrible the Mets commentators are. I’d much rather listen to Jerry Remy talk than Fran Healy.

BJ: Isn’t Remy great?

Zisk: Yeah, it’s a pleasure to listen to competence, considering how bad the guys are here in New York.

BJ: Yeah, and the national guys are awful too. The talk radio lines here in Boston are lit up the next day after a national game because they can’t believe they have to sit there and listen to Tim McCarver and Joe Buck. Joe Buck is bad enough, but with McCarver it’s like having a retarded guy calling a game. (Laughs)

Bill Janovitz and Crown Victoria’s Fireworks on TV is one of the best albums of 2004 (at least in the opinion of the senior editor) and can be ordered at or through Janovitz’s website

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