The Devil and David Eckstein: An Improbable Journey Through the Improbably Cool, Starting with Harry and the Potters

A simple request: I am starting in a random spot, but I will, I promise, bring it back around to pitchers. Consider the first few graphs the poet portion of the program.

A few weeks ago I watched “We Are Wizards” on Hulu. The featured slate of eccentric enthusiasts for J.K. Rowling’s work was, yes, at times a little unsettling. But tucked between the eccentrics was a band that I’ve become mildly obsessed with in the ensuing weeks: Harry and the Potters. If you’re already gearing up to make fun of me for listening to a band whose content is founded on and limited to the plotlines and emotional content of children’s literature, and plays libraries to hordes of eleven-year-olds, I assure you that my wife has already beat you to it. Social acceptance aside, though, you might find as I did with a listen that the spare punchy rock of Harry and the Potters is uncommonly sincere and raw. The hooks hook. You could play it at a party, and if you didn’t tell your guests that it was Wizard Rock, they’d like it.

Harry and the Potters, image from racketmag.com
Harry and the Potters, image from racketmag.com

I am, in my defense, as surprised about my new favorite band as you are. I’m not a massive Harry Potter enthusiast, though I like the movies. I’ve read one and a half of the books. I didn’t fire up the Hulu flick to find a new band. I expected, at best, to see a few goofballs in wizard costumes (mission accomplished). But watching Harry and the Potters–two brothers who wear striped Hogwarts ties and V-neck sweaters–I was taken by their energy, their enthusiasm. It’s rare I think to find a band with so little production and even musicianship that nonetheless just brings it, wailing and ripping for two and a half minutes. There’s even a subversive element to a punk band with such deeply uncool songs in the era of skinny jeans and hipsters and architectural hair and the ever aloof uber-cool. Paul and Joe DeGeorge are not cool. They both look like Harry Potter.

The question I asked myself while I was walking my dog yesterday was, why? Why do I like this band so much? Am I mentally unstable, hoping for an eternal childhood that can never be? Am I just another Peter Panish Michael Jackson, and should I cancel the portrait that I’ve custom-ordered, portraying myself playing volleyball with Professor Snape? Then it hit me. Harry and the Potters sound like and tremble with the same vibe of the mesmerizing folk-rock antihero, Daniel Johnston. I learned about Daniel Johnston via another documentary, The Devil and Daniel Johnston. He’s got some mental health issues, and he began making music in his parents’ basement with a chord organ. In his early recordings, his warbling, at times tender and at times desperate, dances over the pumping air of the organ. If you’re hung up on juvenile lyrics, I’ll ask you to consider Johnston’s plaintive “Casper the Friendly Ghost.”

Johnston is rough around the edges, but his music is rooted in an undeniable earnestness, that shimmering relic of childhood. Pretense is a membrane of complication laid over the bare facts of life, the pursuit of happiness. Music without pretense recalls the dry, cool ground. Daniel Johnston plays the guitar not like a practiced virtuoso, but like a kid who just found a dusty guitar in the basement. Same goes for Harry and the Potters.

Daniel Johnston
Daniel Johnston

This is a roundabout exploration of why certain things appeal to me, however unlikely, and why anything appeals to anybody. Harry and the Potters are unlikely. Daniel Johnston is unlikely. But I listen to them both and feel the ground’s heart beat.

I am now going to do something about as annoying as recounting Harry Potter plot points: I will bring up David Eckstein. No baseball player in the last five years has been as equally anointed as he has been reviled, and I’ll assume that most of you PnP readers are up-to-scratch on that whole Fire Joe Morgan line. But I would like, for a moment, to request a momentary reprieve from that long debate, and ask that you think back to a time when a slight smile warmed your features when you first heard his story; before you learned to despise him, and if not him, then his unbidden acolytes.

Isn’t there, in the story of this walk-on, this undersized guy with a terrible arm, that echoes the improbability of Harry and the Potters and of Daniel Johnston? Eckstein’s style was built from necessity in the same way that Johnston developed his raggedy chord organ romping, engaging because it is as far as he can go, but he gets there. Doesn’t David’s very presence at the major league level remark on life’s unpredictability, on the grace of altered expectations? I think it does, but maybe that puts me in league with those who would value the story over the statistics, and those who claim that there is more value in a stirring tale than there is in the subject of that tale’s slugging percentage. Maybe I’m just that romantic, and should be slapped across the face with the latest Baseball Prospectus.

David Eckstein waves his magic wand

David Eckstein waves his magic wand

But being a fan is about being a romantic, after all. Winning–that most prized attribute, more important than any bard’s tale–is a romantic notion; it’s a hope for the future’s euphoria–the climactic soaring chords of a great song–when the last out goes into the books and the dark cloud of loss is lifted; winning is hero-making. A child reads a Harry Potter book straight through in a day with that same sort of hope, that same clammy grip on the binding with which the baseball fan holds the bar top or the nosebleed arm rest. So tread lightly, is all I’m saying, when counting and discounting. We all want to be cool, and some of us are (subscribing to Pitchers and Poets via RSS grants you an automatic five badass points, BTW). In my humble experience, the coolest breezes blow from the most improbable ducts.

Harry and the Potters on MySpace
Rolling Stone’s Rock & Roll Daily Pick of the Day, September 28, 2006: Save Ginny Weasley by Harry and the Potters
Daniel Johnston on MySpace
– For more raw tunes, Eric suggests The Black Lips and Titus Andronicus.

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