Tuesday night, Titus Andronicus rocked the Vera Project in Seattle so hard they made me want to write something. The Vera Project is an all-ages, non-profit, no-booze venue. The handful of high school kids and baby boomer parents in the crowd only added to the rec-center vibe. But with Titus Andronicus every guitar solo is a statement. Every song is a declaration. It doesn’t matter where they play as long as somebody – anybody – is listening.
Most of the material came from their new album The Monitor. I wouldn’t call it a concept album in the Pete Townshend sense, but The Monitor is thematically steeped in the Civil War. Between songs, guest stars read passages from 19th century figures like Abraham Lincoln and Walt Whitman. The songs themselves can only be called epic. Absolutely, fucking, epic. And they sound even better live than on record. Screams and handclaps and violin solos and guitar breakdowns into the Battle Hymn of the Republic.
What does any of this have to do with baseball? Well, not much. The first song on The Monitor, and the first song Titus Andronicus played Tuesday night “A More Perfect Union…” includes a Newark Bears shout out. But the point of this isn’t baseball. It’s writing. The artists that I love the most are the ones who constantly seem to remind me that I’m alive, and that even when it sucks, it’s still something to be excited about. I think a philosopher said something along those lines. Art is a declaration of our humanity.
Wrecked and drunken rock anthems are not the only way to declare humanity– though I am certainly partial to bands that can pull those off. One of those bands is The Hold Steady, patrons of the badass guitar solo, the crowded lyric stanza, and the reaffirming whoah-whoah-whoah. It fits that at one point on The Monitor, The Hold Steady’s frontman Craig Finn voices Walt Whitman (and not just because both men are/were huge baseball fans). Whitman is probably the greatest declarer of humanity in history:
I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
It’s easy to write Whitman off as a kook, which he certainly was, especially when we take passages like that out of context. But the thing about Whitman is that you can feel his heartbeat pulsing through every line of poetry. The same goes for the songs of Titus Andronicus. The same goes for the sentences of James Joyce. The same goes for all the art I find affecting, whether visual or musical or literary.
The whole Pitchers & Poets project might not be art in the classical sense. We try to have fun. We don’t pour out emotion like Whitman or Titus Andronicus or even Josh Wilker. But we also strive to go beyond just writing about baseball. It goes back to what a blog is – not a form or a genre but a channel. If a band can sing songs in a Civil War motif and still say something urgent about life, there’s no reason we can’t write writings in a baseball motif and say something equally urgent.
We’re now in year two of Pitchers & Poets. For Ted and I, this has become more than a passing hobby. We are fully, 100 percent, invested. And now we have practice, we have an audience; we have a sense of urgency. We’re going to push it this year, even if that means going beyond baseball. I hope this season you can feel the heartbeats when you visit this website. That means in the posts, in the comments, and even in the podcasts. Let’s make something special.