Red Line Roots (THE HITTER)
Mark Erelli’s new song, “The Hitter,” is a story song and a love song...for all of the metaphors, meta-metaphors, and hidden meanings–let’s not forget that (he's) written just a damn good song, one that gets in your head and, before you know it, you’re singing in the grocery store.
Bart Giamatti’s essay “The Green Fields of the Mind,” begins with the perfect description of baseball: “It breaks your heart. It was designed to break your heart.” Any Red Sox fan born before, say, 1990, could attest to that. For most Sox fans, a few names can make that heartache come rushing back. Bucky Dent. Mookie Wilson. Aaron Boone. But the reason baseball is so beautifully designed to be heartbreaking is that there is always hope. Carlton Fisk waving the ball fair, Pedro coming out of the bullpen, Big Papi hitting in the clutch. All we need is the ball to bounce our way, a little bit of luck, and we’re rolling.
Mark Erelli’s new song, “The Hitter,” is a story song and a love song. Written about his younger son’s first Little League season, the song reflects on the rituals of spring, the ups and downs of a season, and truths that extend far beyond the game. I’ve had the first lines of the chorus rattling in my brain for this first month of summer. I’ll be in the grocery store or cooking dinner or folding laundry and just start singing to myself, “Life’s a little like a baseball game, / It ain’t the score, it’s how you play. / You win some, you lose some, that’s a fact.”I like Erelli’s ability to use cliches in this song. Songwriters are often told to steer away from cliches entirely, but this song calls out for them: it pokes at the familiar, the nostalgic, and helps us go deeper. The assertion, “that’s a fact,” changes the “win some, lose some,” cliche: it extends it beyond the “oh well,” quality that usually attends it after a tough loss, and leads us to the challenge, disappointment, joy, and uplift that inevitably accompany our lives. The chorus then evokes the heartfelt promise of a father to his son: “Whenever you strike out, I’ve got your back.” It’s not if you strike out, it’s when you do. This is a game, after all, where if you fail seven out of ten times, you’re pretty good. The parallel in life might be taking risks, being vulnerable, failing and trying again. When Erelli regards his son and sings, “He looks just like a hitter who could use a little luck,” he expresses the hope that parents feel for their kids without treading into the toxicity of living vicariously through your children that is seemingly ever present these days.
As a parent, you find out things about yourself because of your kids: patience and impatience that surprise you; anxieties that shouldn’t keep you up, but do; things that maybe should keep you up that you learn to let go; new interests because your kid is all-in (my son has gotten me into musicals, I’ve found that I have an appreciation for pedicures, after visiting my daughter’s nail salon, and I’ve had to work on my jump shot because of her recent obsession with basketball). In a lovely essay for No Depression, Erelli said that some other dads have, “confided that while they identify with the father, they also see themselves through the eyes of the boy in the song, and it brings back memories of their fathers’ love.” That’s not how he thought about it while writing, and that’s one of my favorite things about songs: the meanings that the songwriter never intended, but that the audience reveals.
And for all of this–for all of the metaphors, meta-metaphors, and hidden meanings–let’s not forget that Mark’s written just a damn good song, one that gets in your head and, before you know it, you’re singing in the grocery store.