It is about baseball and it is about business.
But mostly it is terrific music.
In Sunday’s New York Times, I do a riff on the possible bicoastal curses that may or may not be attached to the Dodgers of Chavez Ravine. I use a few quotes from Ry Cooder, the legendary guitarist who produced the 2005 album, Chávez Ravine.
Cooder had more to say in a series of e-mails, but because my column also deals with the 25th anniversary of the career self-destruction of my late friend Al Campanis, I didn’t have space to rave about Cooder’s album, which was nominated for a Grammy after it came out.
Just turned 65, Cooder is perhaps best known for the music in Buena Vista Social Club, the movie by Wim Wenders. Out of LA,, he’s been involved in just about everything from the Rolling Stones to ethnic music since the 1960’s.
The Chávez Ravine album hits hard at the machinations that put the peripatetic Dodgers, former of Flatbush, Brooklyn, on a hillside overlooking LA. It incorporates sounds in Cooder’s head, and real news events and life in the mostly Latino village up on the hill, and it also contains a few artistic liberties.
But mostly it features East LA musicians like Lalo Guerrero, Pachuco boogie king Don Tosti, Thee Midniters front man Little Willie G, and Ersi Arvizu, of The Sisters and El Chicano.
Cooder depicts a sweet village life (Poor Man’s Shangri-La) interrupted by the greed of downtown, backed up by the anti-Communist furies of the 1950’s.
Of course, nothing like that could happen today.
“Myself, i don't like sports and i hate the developers and what they do, as i'm sure you know. i like old trees, little wooden houses, tiny winding streets, and the rural feel of elysian park and the ravine and bunker hill and all the beautiful places that are gone forever. i hate growth, i hate change. LA is ruined, cities are ruined, culture is quite ruined. now we have legal lynching back again,” Cooder e-mailed to me, the latter presumably a reference to Trayvon Martin.
Actually, he said, he liked boxing back in the day. He has a song “Corrido de Boxeo,” showing the sport as a staple of Latino life back in the ‘50’s, but in the album that world is disrupted after developers cut their deals.
He has a sweet-to-cynical song about a man who dreams about paving over the Los Angeles basin, with the phrase “It’s my town!” Cooder was amused a few years back when a Dodgers advertising campaign proclaimed, “It’s My Town.”
“Funny! I make no claim,” Cooder wrote the other day.
The developers send bulldozers up on the hill. (a driver sings: “It’s Just Work for Me”) and the people depart to the mournful strains of “Barrio Viejo” – old neighborhood.
Despite his instincts against big business and big sport, Cooder does leave the album with a sense of reconciliation in “Third Base, Dodger Stadium,” with a parking-lot attendant singing about the new ball park:
Second base, right over there,
I see Grandma in her rocking chair,
Watching linens flapping in the breeze,
And all the fellows choosing up their teams.
Somehow, the singer decides, “Yes, I’m a baseball man myself.” And the CD ends with a Costa Rican poem, mysteriously found inscribed on a wooden plank in a rain forest, transformed into a hymn, “Soy Luz y Sombra” (I Am the Light and the Shade) which talks about hope and reunion. One English translation includes this stanza:
Fertile home of old trees
Of tender flowers, newborn
With ancient roots and future hopes
The united family
The old goat pasture remains a symbol of the world that was evicted to make room for the Dodgers. An artist named Vincent Valdez has made a graphic version of that time. In my column, I raise the prospect of some left-coast curse waiting decades to smite the Dodgers. For all that, listening to the last two songs on Chávez Ravine around opening day made me ready for a new season.