The gentle tapping
Of the rain on the rooftop
As I lie, holding you
The gentle tapping
Of the rain on the rooftop
As I lie, holding you
Mars, shining orange,
Like a lone Christmas tree light,
Hanging beside the moon
Listening to songs
About going home, on the highway,
And singing along
Driving past strip malls,
After the morning rush hour,
Windows down- a cool breeze
Yesterday, the Boston Celtics lost to the Toronto Raptors in Game 3 of NBA East Conference Semi-Finals in one most heartbreaking finishes I have ever witnessed. After a brilliant play by Kemba Walker to give the Celtics a two-point advantage with 0.5 seconds remaining, Raptor’s point guard, Kyle Lowery managed to find OG Anunoby in the far corner and heave a cross-court pass of 7’5 Tacko Fall, giving Anunoby just enough time to shoot a three, which rattled off the back iron and into the net for the game-winner. It was an incredible play by both Lowery and Anunoby and a huge boner for the Celtics zone defense who never should have let Anunoby have that much space to himself.
As a Celtics fan, my mind immediately went to the “Confetti Game“- the classic Celtics win over the Philadelphia 76ers in the 2018 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. Confetti might not have rained down on the court after Walker found Theis at the rim for the go-ahead dunk, but it might as well have. The Raptors looked stunned. The Celtics were jubilant. It looked almost certain that Boston would take a 3-0 lead in the series and turn their eyes toward their second sweep of the 2020 postseason. It was hard to imagine Toronto getting a shot off in 0.5 seconds, nevermind an open look at a game-winning three.
But Nick Nurse was the Coach of the Year for a reason. He drew up a play that forced the Celtics zone to commit hard to the primary options- Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam. Had the Celtics been in man-to-man, Jayson Tatum likely would have followed Anunoby to the corner and the play would have had to go to VanVleet off of Gasol’s screen, probably a less dangerous option than what occurred. The zone the Celtics set was designed to prevent the action at the top of the key or on the strong side. It is hard to blame them for that with the incredible wingspan of Tacko Fall guarding the in-bound and so little time on the clock that any cross-court action would necessitate an absolutely perfect pass. Lowery made that pass and Anunoby made the shot. If the ball fell just a few inches shorter, or Anunoby was just a little slower on the gather, the Celtics win.
It’s the razor-thin margin of error that the Raptors walked that makes me think of the Confetti Game. Had Marco Bellinelli’s toe been two inches further back, Philadelphia would have won that game. Instead, they only tied and had to watch as the confetti that rained down to celebrate the apparent-win was cleaned up. They were lifeless and error-prone in the overtime that followed. To their credit Philadelphia did rally to win Game 4, but that was too little and too late at that point. Game 3 should have been a win, but instead it became a defining loss- the first in an ever-growing number of “what-if” defeated for the Ben Simmons-Joel Embiid Process 76ers.
Circumstances are different for the Celtics in this series. They led 2-0 going to the game and the Raptors had to fight tooth and nail just to hang with Boston, playing , Lowery, Anunoby and VanVleet all over forty minutes and Siakam for just under thirty-eight ( only Jaylen Brown topped forty minutes for Boston). Perhaps most significantly, there is no home-court advantage in the bubble, so Boston did not have face their heartbreak in front of their own fans, hearing the life sucked from the building as the ball sailed through the net or listen to the explosion of joy that would followed Anunoby’s shot in Toronto.
I am worried for my Celtics, however. Some losses are motivating and others are devastating. The loses that kill teams are usually the ones that should have been wins- the Red Sox losing Game 6 in 1986, the Cavs Game 1 loss in 2018. Those are the ones that are hard for teams to recover from. Many teams never rebound, never get over that feel that they were robbed.
The Celtics are the better team here, though, and that can’t be said of the 2018 Cavs or the 1986 Red Sox. The young stars that were just beginning to come into their own when the confetti fell in Philly are now dominating the East. If Tatum and Brown- the two players most responsible for the last-minute defensive lapse- can shake this off and close out this series against the Raptors, they are serious contenders for the crown. They will have shown that they have the mental toughness to go with all their skills with the ball. If they drop Game 3 in a funk and struggle to close out Toronto, this might just be their own Confetti Game.
I never had a band, exactly. When I first started playing guitar, I played with anyone I could find to play with. This was mostly just jamming- though calling it “jamming” is probably generous. After a while, my cousin and I joined forces with a drummer and tried to start a band. We called it the Psychedelic Aliens and we played whatever Phish or Grateful Dead songs we could best approximate. We did this three or four times, never got anything down, never had set rehearsals and never sound like much. That was the closest I got to being in a band.
I really wanted to be in a band. I just didn’t know how to pull it off at that point. By the time I was in college, I had set my sights on other artistic ambitions and given up on the guitar as anything much more than a hobby. I played a few “gigs” at college functions as a solo act, covering Dylan songs, sounding bad and feeling awkward until I shelved the guitar as a mere hobby. It’s been a great hobby for my entire life. Now I play songs for kids when they will let me or around the occasional campfire. Mostly though, I just play alone.
But lately, this has started to change. When you reach a certain age- or more accurately, when your kids reach a certain age- you begin making new friends with the parents of your kids’ friends. Early this year, a few of us, realizing that we all play guitar, decided to set up a regular jam. That jam is slowly starting to evolve into something like a band. We have songs we rehearse. We have parts to those songs we are supposed to play. It is fun and energizing and a little bit awkward. There is a enough drinking and socializing to give it a relaxed feel, but there is enough focus on the music to make it more than just four dads hanging out with their guitars. It isn’t exactly a band just yet, but it isn’t not a band either.
The dynamics that shape a band have been memorized in dozens of movies and documentaries. They are fertile ground for stories for a good reason. There are extremes within those dynamics. Bruce Springsteen earned the nickname “the Boss” through his total and complete control of his band, while Jerry Garcia spent 30 years as the leader of the Grateful Dead insisting he would not be the leader of the Grateful Dead. The greatest rock band ever, The Beatles, disbanded fifty years ago, but the complex web of relationships in that band still fascinates the world. All of this is to say that being in a band is complicated, even if you are just four dads butchering classic rock tunes.
As my little jam session gets just slightly more ambitious, I find myself sympathizing with Jerry Garcia. Jerry famously just wanted to have fun. He hated authority and didn’t want to become “the boss” of his band. But he was only ever going to be the leader, if only because he was the musical genius of the group and paired with Robert Hunter, the primary songsmith. I am neither of those things, but I have started to feel everyone looking at me when it comes to “what should we play?” and other musical issues. I don’t want answer those questions, I just want to play.
Wrapped around my head- the beat
Pulses through my body
Let’s face it, watching the Boston Red Sox has been difficult this year. The pitching woes that sabotaged their title-defense in 2019 have only gotten worse with Chris Sale out for Tommy John surgery, Eduardo Rodriguez lost to Covid complications and David Price shipped off in the Mookie Betts deal. The team is 9-18 and dead last in the AL East by 3.5 games. Things are only going to get worse from here too. Last night, the Sox traded relievers Brandon Workman- a playoff hero twice over- and Heath Hembree to the Phillies for righty Nick Pivetta and right-handed prospect Connor Seabold. It is the true beginning of a rebuild from the Dombroski-era and the start of Chaim Bloom’s vision for how that rebuild will work.
Sure, Bloom has already made the biggest move of the rebuild and possibly the biggest trade he will ever make. He traded 2018 MVP Mookie Betts along with David Price in February, breaking my heart and ending what little hope there was for this season before it began (and even before the pandemic threatened to destroy it entirely). But while Bloom is responsible for the package that trade brought back, the decision to deal Betts was made before Bloom was even hired. Ownership had decided that getting under the luxury tax was their top priority and Bloom was hired with that objective in mind. Coming from Tampa Bay, Bloom was a natural choice for a team looking to shed money and get quality players back.
And while their is nothing that will ever make me stop hating the team trading Mookie Betts instead of just paying the man his money, Bloom appears to have done well with the lousy hand he was dealt. Alex Verdugo has been one of the few bright spots for the Red Sox this season and the two prospects he netted in that deal, Jeter Downs and Conor Wong, still look promising. The Rays managed to stay competitive in Bloom’s time as Senoir VP of Baseball Operations while having to make deals like the Betts trade every time their stars got close to the end of their rookie deals by getting good overall value back in those deals. Bloom seems to have managed that, even if there is really no value that would match locking Betts in for the next decade-plus.
The trade Bloom made last night really begins his tenure at the helm. Nothing other than the Red Sox horrible performance on the field has forced his hand in making this deal. It is a fairly obvious move to make but the return is intriguing. Nothing will make Bloom successful quicker than being able to turn decent relievers into quality starters and there is reason to believe he has managed to do that here. Righty Nick Pavetta looked like a breakout candidate in 2018, outpitching his ERA in the advanced metrics and striking out more than a batter per inning. Seabold fits that profile in the minors so far as well. Both players have struggled more recently and that is why they can be had for two relievers, but the potential is definitely worth this modest risk.
Getting strong pitching on the trade market has been the Rays’ calling card and Bloom seems to be attempting to bring that approach to Boston with this deal. It won’t be the last one he will have to make before the trade deadline but it does mark the true beginning of his reign over Fenway. This the type of deal he was hired to make and deal like this may well define his tenure in the long run, even more than that first awful trade they made him make.
If you have been reading this series, you probably know that I am a fan of Lee Anderson’s Play Guitar Podcast. Lee is an excellent teacher and his passion for the guitar shines through in everything he does. I took much of my current practice regime from his template and it has been a revelation for me. On a recent podcast, Lee introduced a tone challenge for the summer. Since I began recording my guitar playing regularly around the time I started this series, I have wanted to dial in some better tones. This week, I started working on it in earnest.
It didn’t go great.
Actually, I fell face-first down the rabbit-hole.
Good tone is a complicated thing. It has a lot to do with context in my opinion. I might love a certain tone in one context and find it annoying in another. Fortunately for me, the context is always the same- it’s playing by myself in my basement. Usually, I play with a clean tone, my guitar- an Epiphone Sheraton- set on the middle pick-up setting (splitting the two humbuckers) with a little reverb from the amp’s built in effects and that is that. That tone is fine for me for sitting down and practicing every day. It is a good guitar tone.
Or I thought it was until I started recording it. It didn’t sound bad recorded. It needed a few tweaks, to be sure. The bass was a bit too much and I found I needed to boost the highs a little, but it was still a good tone. The problem was, it was just one tone. Since I was recording to hear my leads over my rhythm playing, I needed a lead tone and- potentially- several other rhythm tones to give the music separation. In my first recordings, some of which you can find in the older Diary entries, just messed around until I got something that worked for one track and then for the other. I wasn’t making Sgt Pepper’s here, I just needed to get some basic ideas on tape.
Now, however, I am starting to think more seriously about my playing and I want to find “my sound” on the guitar. I am fortunate enough to have two pieces of gear that I really like to help me out here. My Epiphone Sheraton might not be a vintage Gibson 335 (the guitar it is modeled after), but it is a great hollowbody electric that is extremely versatile. It has been with me for 20 years and required just a little fretwork over the years. I also have a Vox Valvetronix amp, a strange little tube practice amp that models the sound of a number of classic amps by mimicking their tube settings. It is a bizarre concept and the execution is hit or miss -it does a good job mimicking a few of the classic amps it is supposed to emulate- the Fender blackface, the Fender Tweeds, and the Vox AC30, but it misses on the Marshalls and other high-gain models.
The issue with the Valvetronix is not so much what it sounds like compared to other amps- it’s good but not great, more versatile than it is good at any one thing. The issue is that it has too damn many possibilities. Even without considering an effects beyond a little reverb and not bothering with any of the Marshall-style set-ups on the amp, I have to pick between four settings for the amp model, tweak all the tone settings for each and combine this with three pick-up positions. The end result being that I spent at least half my practice time this week doing the guitar equivalent of an eye exam- better like this? Or Better like this? How about now? More treble? Less bass? How about now?
I wish I could say that I found a few good sounds that I am excited to share with everyone, but I have not. I am not even close. I have learned a lot. I am getting there. But it has been mind numbing at points. I knew I had hit a low point two days ago, when I thought something was wrong with my volume control because it wasn’t getting louder and everything just kept sounding the same no matter what I changed.
My guitar wasn’t pulled into the amp.
Welcome to the Rabbit Hole.
Sitting still, alone
As the sun peeks over the fence
And stretches out to morning