Fenway Vanity, Part 3

I swear I won’t go on about this anymore after today. It’s just that it took me a while to figure out how to extract the audio track for the rendition of “God Bless America” that we sang at Fenway Park during the 7th inning stretch.

The video of this, by the way, is definitely not for public consumption. I’m guessing it was shot with a hand-held camera because it’s so jerky. The sound seems to have been recorded from what was coming out of the speakers in the park, rather than through a direct feed from the mics. Also, there is image and recording information visible in the corner of the video frame—rather like what you used to see in home videos in the early days of the camcorder, when people didn’t know how to turn this stuff off.

Anyway, the point is that we got to sing for the 7th inning stretch. This was a song that wasn’t in our repertoire, and we had about three days to learn and memorize it.

In the event, the musical wheels came off a bit just before the final “God Bless America,” but you might not have noticed that without this heads-up from me.

So, without further ado, here are The Grateful Dads singing “God Bless America.”

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

We did it! Although our efforts weren’t broadcast, we sang the national anthem and “God Bless America” at the Red Sox game yesterday. The adrenaline rush was beyond description, and I am still basking in the memory of 35,000+ cheering fans.

The fact that they weren’t necessarily cheering for us is pretty much beside the point. Red Sox fans love to cheer, and they gave us everything they had. When we sang to them, we did our best to return the favor.

When I finally crashed last night, it was as if someone had dropped a brick on my head. I slept like a stone, but I’ve still been tired today. The truth is that I’ve spent most of the day in a state somewhere between coma and outright death.

The Grateful Dads on the JumboTron at Fenway ParkRed Sox home games are rich with tradition and ritual, a lot of it musical. Since shortly after 9/11, for example, live performers have sung a verse of “God Bless America” at every game during the seventh inning stretch. Since 2002, fans have sung along with Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” before the bottom of the eighth inning. “Sweet Caroline,” in fact, has evolved into a sort of performance art piece where audience participation is necessary to complete the song. In some ways it reminded me of the audience participation material that has developed and evolved in midnight screenings of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Baseball being what it is, of course, the antics at Fenway are a whole lot more wholesome.

But not necessarily more sanitary. The way vendors sell hot dogs in the stands, for example, was enough to turn my stomach. Here’s the deal: If you’re sitting in a middle of a row in the grandstands and you want a hot dog, the vendor takes the hot dog and bun and wraps a single cheap paper napkin around it. Both ends of the bun are completely uncovered. The vendor gives the hot dog and bun to the person at the end of the row who then passes it to the person beside him. And so it goes. Hand to hand to hand, until it reaches the customer. The customer then sends money back to the vendor, hand to hand to hand. Change, if any, then goes back to the customer, hand to hand to hand.

A young couple with two little boys sat at the end of our row. As we passed hot dogs and money back and forth, I said to her, “Isn’t it fortunate that all the people in in this row just washed and sanitized their hands.” The little boys looked puzzled. The young mother blanched.

The boys did not get vendor hot dogs, and neither did I. Make no mistake. If the Red Sox ask, we’ll go back to sing at Fenway Park again in a heartbeat, but if I want a hot dog I’ll go to the concession stand.

Four Minus One Equals Zero

l. to r., Joe (tenor), Pete (lead), Bill (bass), Dave (baritone)

4 – 1 = 0. The equation is quartet math. With a quartet you have to have all four parts. If even one part is missing, you have nothing.

I’ve been singing with these guys since 1997 when a local high school chose The Music Man as their annual musical production. The director tried valiantly to recruit four high school boys to be the barbershop quartet the show requires, but she had no luck. Finally, she turned to parents, and Joe, Bill, Dave and I stepped forward. I knew the other guys already since we all sing in the same church choir.

As I understand it, the director said something to the kids in the show to the effect that they should be grateful that parents were willing to support their production. The kids responded by giving us our name: The Grateful Dads. In the picture here, I’m the beardless one.

I have said many times (and meant it every time) that quartet singing is more fun than a person probably should be allowed to have. My vocal range is what is called second tenor. In quartet terms this turns out to be lead—I get to sing the melody almost all the time!

In the beginning we stuck to traditional barbershop. It wasn’t long, however, before Dave got the itch to write arrangements for us. With Dave’s arrangements, we began branching into doo-wop (aging white guys singing the music of young black guys of 50 years ago). Then came Elvis. Then came the Beatles. One of our doo-wop numbers is Gene Chandler’s classic Duke of Earl. As lead, I get to do all that swooping falsetto business at the end.

When my daughter Elizabeth first heard us sing the number, I wanted to know her opinion of the performance. She thought for a moment and said, “It would be worth the price of admission for me just to hear my own father make a noise like a little girl on a roller coaster.”