Dusty Baker, “Kiss the Sky – My Weekend in Monterey at the Greatest Concert Ever”

 

kiss-the-skyUm, yes, that Dusty Baker. The writer is the former hard-hitting outfielder (Braves and Dodgers) and long-time manager (Giants, Cubs, Reds, Nationals).

First, what a great idea for a series of books. Second, this should make anyone a Dusty Baker fan; he comes across as a very likable, laid-back guy.

Third, the subtitle is a bit misleading. Yes, he was at the Monterey Pop Festival as a teenager. And, yes, he was there as an enthusiastic music fan with a wide range of tastes. But the festival comes and goes in the first few chapters and then the rest of the quick book (135 brisk pages) races across Baker’s life, skipping back and forth between music and baseball. The book is heavily weighted on Baker’s early life and decisions about his baseball career.

But, yes, music. Lots of music—and you have to tip your hat to his omnivore appetite for tunes, from reggae to jazz to rock. Baker liked everyone from Jerry Lee Lewis to Paul Simon, from Otis Redding to Jimi Hendrix. (And Baker claims a bit of fame for having once shared a joint with Jimi on the street in San Francisco in 1968; Baker was a huge Hendrix fan.)

Baker credits Joel Selvin’s Monterey Pop account for some of the detail that goes into describing the festival itself—and it’s a good thing. It’s hard to believe, for instance, that an 18-year-old was taking notes on what song kicked off Big Brother and the Holding Company’s opening night set. What’s easy to grasp is Baker’s sheer enthusiasm for how music made him feel.

Janis Joplin “didn’t hold anything back, not a damn thing. Any time I saw Janis sing, and that was not the only time I caught her, it left me feeling both jacked up and kind of exhausted. That was how intense it was listening to her. At Monterey when she finished ‘Ball and Chain,’ Big Mama Cass was sitting up near the front, shaking her head and just mouthing ‘Wow.’”

“The (Jefferson) Airplane were the ultimate San Francisco psychedelic band as far as I was concerned, after seeing them the month before in Santa Clara, and their second album, Surrealistic Pillow, had just made it to the Top Ten. At Monterey they jumped right into one of their hits from that album, ‘Somebody to Love’ and just tore it up.”

Baker recalls the look of “exultation” on Hendrix’s face between songs and compares it to the feeling of hitting a home run for fans. “And I know he had some chemical help with that exhilaration, but what you saw was a childlike joyousness and ease, a sense of complete comfort, since he knew he was tapping into major talent and everyone else there knew it, too.”

Robert Christgau or Greil Marcus need not quake in their boots over this new music writer; there is hardly a deep thought anywhere in the book. The whole point is the joy and feeling of being a music fan.

Baker touches on his relationships with Hank Aaron (Baker was on deck when Aaron hit his record 715th home run) and Satchel Paige and other musicians and players, too. Personal life is almost non-existent in this overview along with skipping-stone references to criticism or troubles he experienced as a player or manager.

The focus is music and Baker’s passion for it, from Van Morrison to Bob Marley and 2Pac. Baker has turned his kids onto artists and they’ve done the same in return. He’s certainly got one of the most eclectic, open-minded approaches to music as anyone you’d want to meet.

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