Knuckleball Catcher by mattsteinglass
February 12, 2009, 8:29 am
Filed under: Music

I can’t hear all the lyrics of this amazing Gillian Welch song (not recorded yet). But it sounds to me like it’s basically about herself. Nominally, the song is about former Red Sox catcher Doug Mirabelli, who was kept on the roster solely to catch for knuckleball pitcher Tim Wakefield, and was finally let go last March. Mirabelli is one of those obscure tragic-heroic sports figures you tend to get in Boston — simple, obstinately reliable guys who haven’t got the greatest gifts but who can do one strange thing better than anyone else: catch the notoriously difficult-to-catch knuckleball. He’s an object of fantasy for middle-aged guys because, while few of us can really imagine ourselves being an all-star pitching ace like Tim Wakefield, we can still daydream about what it would be like to be a regular schmoe who ends up on a championship team because we just happen to be able to catch Tim Wakefield. Obviously anybody who can hit a home run in the major leagues is far from a “regular schmoe” athletically speaking; anybody who’s even warming the bench on the last-place team in the NL West is a star athlete. But still, Mirabelli’s relative regular-guyness makes it easier for us goofy guys to empathize. Clearly the movie of Mirabelli’s career is on its way.

Anyway, Gillian Welch, like Doug Mirabelli, does one thing, really, really well. Incredibly well. She and David Rawlings have decided to stick with their all-acoustic, two-guitars-and-harmony combo for 15 years. They’ve never gone electric. They’ve occasionally added a guest instrumentalist for one song in a live performance; they’ll play a song with the Decemberists and so forth. Welch’s songwriting style has changed somewhat, become stranger and more complex. But basically Gillian Welch does her Gillian Welch thing. She had a song back in 2001, “I Want to Sing That Rock and Roll”, about what it feels like to envy the people who play a different sort of music. But ultimately that other stuff isn’t for her. Instead she’s done things like taking a Radiohead song and turning it into an acoustic bluegrass number — with shattering beauty. Doug Mirabelli did his one thing, and when the Red Sox traded to get him back after stupidly trading him to San Diego in 2006 and realizing their error, and he showed up at Fenway the day of the trade just in time for the game, the crowd gave him a standing ovation. Welch does her one thing, and as a result people like me who’ve been listening to her for 13 years now would basically lie down at her feet and die for her.


2 Comments so far
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Dude, it’s not about herself. She’s comparing a (great) banjo picker to a knuckleball catcher. Here are the lyrics:

Caught my eye when a flash of lightening hit the land
Out in the darkness, with a banjo in your hand
You came into the firelight, to the circle from the gloom
And I was standing childlike, while you got yourself in tune

Now a bricklayer can be an old-time player too
But a knuckleball catcher only gets one job to do

You played your melody, it was too much to believe
Froze my flesh down to minus nine degrees
Like I was passing a graveyard full of flowers on mother’s day
Now that’s the last time I let a stranger break my heart this way

Now a grandmother can be a dashboard drummer too
but a knuckleball catcher only gets one job to do
Only gets one job to do

When the jam was finished, well you slipped out of the choir
I tried to follow, but my shoes just caught on fire
so I searched the campground, I never saw your face again
Were you a devil woman, or just a bluegrass fan?

‘Cause a left-winger can be a bluegrass singer too
and some hard liquor can make a guitar picker out of you
but a knuckleball catcher only gets one job to do

Comment by Robert J Hartford

That is incredibly good commenting and intro-spective on your part. Very well said and appreciated.

Life is art.

Comment by John Schindler

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