Sunday, January 20, 2013

Four Good Men, Two Farewells, A Second Inauguration

President Obama and Joe Biden were officially and quietly sworn in today for their second terms of office.  Tomorrow will be the gala public ceremony.  Congratulations to two very good men we can all be proud of and grateful for.  Congratulations to all of us who helped secure their second terms.

There used to be more good men like them, but death has recently thinned the ranks of the truly admirable. Today word comes that Stan Musial has died at age 92.  He was one of the all-time greats of baseball and a very good person.  He had integrity, modesty, a sweet nature, and a hell of a batting average earned by hard work and talent.  He was called Stan the Man.  That said it all.  He was definitive.  He was The One.

He puts to shame the other athletes in the news this week:  the two football players at Notre Dame, one accused of rape and the other suspected of a role in a weird his-girl-friend-died fraud.  Musial also shames the doping baseball players who did NOT get into the Hall of Fame this week because their records were fraudulent.  He also shames Lance Armstrong, who is fraud personified.

Stan Musial was not only a fine athlete and a good person but also a good guy in politics.  In 1960 he campaigned for the young JFK.  They were both the same age, and JFK joked with him about some critics saying JFK was too young for his game and Musial was too old for his.  They were both winners at what they did and both were classy.  Among the presidents since JFK, only Obama approaches JFK's level of classiness and intelligence.  Since Stan the Man, too few athletes have been such good guys as he was.

We lost another class act a few weeks ago.  Dave Brubeck died at age 91.  If you don't know who he was, you've missed something delightfully important:  West Coast Jazz.  Coming into full glory in the 1950s, it was also called "Cool Jazz".  And it was cool.  It was ultimate cool.  As was Brubeck himself and the other guys who played at the little clubs in San Francisco or tiny ones like The Haig on LA's Wilshire Boulevard.  The jazz greats of Cool Jazz are legend and include Stan Getz, Jerry Mulligan, and Russ Freemann.  ( I had a fight a decade later with Russ Freeman, but that's a another story for another time.)

I was in those clubs that summer in the 1950s for what's since been called "The Summer of West Coast Jazz". It was then that everything came together for this great art form, right there in those tiny clubs midst the cigarette smoke and the light glinting off the horns and the glowing wood of the bass.  I was just a teenager, fifteen or sixteen.  We'd go to the Haig or some other little club on Wilshire or to one in the African-American neighborhood along West Adams.  I don't recall that we ever said a thing about the music or why we were going to these places.  It just seemed the natural thing to do.  We didn't drink anything beyond cherry Cokes.  We were certainly the youngest in the miniscule audience.

That troubles me.  I may soon become the last person alive who actually heard those guys that magical summer.  If so, it's wrong.  I don't have the musical vocabulary to tell you what it was really like.  Something wonderful happened right before me, and I am but a mute witness.  Maybe the recordings are enough, especially the greater truthfulness of vinyl.  But some experts maintain that there is no substitute for live sound.  How unfitting, therefore, that memory of that live sound will die with me, just an almost-accidental visitor at a wondrous scene.  

What will never die is the stature of Brubeck and Musial.  They are among the great for as long as people care about music, baseball and goodness.  It is fitting that we remember them this week of the Second Inauguration because Obama honored them on behalf of the nation while there was still the chance.  He hosted Brubeck at the White House as a Kennedy Center honoree in 2009, and he gave Musial the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.

Of Brubeck, he recalled him playing in Hawaii when the president was just a young sprout like I had been in the 50s.  Of Brubeck, Obama said, "You can't understand America without understanding jazz, and you can't understand jazz without understanding Dave Brubeck."

Of Stan Musial, President Obama said,  "He is an icon untarnished, a beloved pillar of the community, a gentleman you'd want your kids to emulate."

Farewell, Dave and Stan the Man.  Thanks for walking through almost a century with us.  Getting old is not onerous when one realizes the quality of those who have shared the road.

And may the angels sing thee to thy rest.



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