It was the summer of 1967 when The Beatles took it to another level. Already the best-selling band in the world, the release of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band represented a stunning, quantum advance from the group's previous, otherwise impressive body of work. The White Album, Yellow Submarine, Abbey Road, and Let It Be followed before it ended, cementing the band's legendary status as the greatest rock ‘n' roll act that ever was. Celebrated, lionized, from coast-to-coast and around the world, the Fab Four were inducted into the industry's Hall of Fame in 1988, their inaugural year of eligibility. Rolling Stone Magazine anointed Sgt. Pepper with the honor of greatest rock album of all-time. Time's passage has only enhanced the legend. They remain the most revered music group in history.
A couple of weeks after Sgt. Pepper was released, Paul McCartney confessed to Life Magazine what everyone who had even casually scrutinized the album surely must have suspected: The Beatles were users of LSD. A psychedelic drug that unlocked the mind's creativity, acid aided them in the creation of their transcendent art. It was illegal, having been banned in the United States eight months prior.
To my knowledge, nobody ever asked The Beatles if the music was tainted.
So why are we so hard on Barry?
Look closely: Where's Waldo?
Easy, lazy, knee-jerk bromides come up short. Barry's race -- no, can't be that, after all, it's the dethroning of the civil rights icon Henry Aaron that we lament. Barry's irascible nature -- no, can't be that either, after all, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire, that affable dynamic duo of '98, now evoke similar scorn. The answer, it is submitted, lies with the game itself, the mystical, iconic place it occupies in our culture. Baseball, we have somehow rationalized, personifies innocence, and so we demand it be pure. Think James Earl Jones waxing rhapsodic in Field of Dreams: "This field, this game: it's a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good and it could be again."
But ... really? All was once good? Maybe so. But not in baseball. Arnold Rothstein fixed a World Series in 1919, merely marking the most public manifestation of a sport persisting years under the shadowy countenance of organized crime. Carl Mays loaded up a baseball with saliva and fatally wrecked the skull of Ray Chapman, the historical emblem (though perhaps unfairly so) of a tradition that has winked and looked the other way at cheating, not to mention assault with a deadly weapon. Berating umpires nose-to-nose (try that with a judge). Racial segregation. Cocaine. Let's stop kidding ourselves. Baseball lost its innocence before it ever found it.
Barry is simply the embodiment of the game, a business which exists within, not above, the "whatever it takes" society from which it spawned. He is the CEO who promotes an accounting loophole and is rewarded with a big bonus; the salesman who stretches the truth and is rewarded with a fat commission; the president who lies to the country and is rewarded with a library; the president who ruthlessly manipulates a vote count and is rewarded with an inaugural ball. He is America. He is us.
I admit it. I've been one, an unreprentent baseball romantic. But 756 has caused me to take stock, and I'm now ready to repent. No longer will I demand my baseball unadulterated, free from the moral relativism of this society, if not that of our very own lives. It comes down to this. Through the years, Barry Lamar Bonds has thrilled me with his exploits on the field - the sweet harmony of his swing, the rhythm of his hits, the melody of the crowd rising to its feet. I don't care how it was made. I'm just going to enjoy the music.
Let it be.
Sorry, George. R.I.P.
UPDATED: Here's the Rolling Stone top ten rock albums of all-time; notice there's NO ASTERISK:
1. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles
2. Pet Sounds, The Beach Boys
3. Revolver, The Beatles
4. Highway 61 Revisited, Bob Dylan
5. Rubber Soul, The Beatles
6. What's Going On, Marvin Gaye
7. Exile on Main Street, The Rolling Stones
8. London Calling, The Clash
9. Blonde on Blonde, Bob Dylan
10. The Beatles ("The White Album"), The Beatles
The magazine's review said it all:
"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is the most important rock & roll album ever made, an unsurpassed adventure in concept, sound, songwriting, cover art and studio technology by the greatest rock & roll group of all time. ... In its iridescent instrumentation, lyric fantasias and eye-popping packaging, Sgt. Pepper defined the opulent revolutionary optimism of psychedelia and instantly spread the gospel of love, acid, Eastern spirituality and electric guitars around the globe. ... No other pop record of that era, or since, has had such an immediate, titanic impact. This music documents the world's biggest rock band at the very height of its influence and ambition."
I don't sense any taint, do you?
For more of my ramblings on steroids and baseball, please see this previous post opinionating on the Hall of Fame voters' resounding rejection of Mark McGwire -- A Plaque For Big Mac: One Blogger's Vote. I promise it's much less pretentious.
Special thanks to Dana Camerik, age 14, the Chief Technology Officer of Troy O'Leary's Cow. It was her photo-shopping skeelz that gave this post its extra ... er .... juice. She did it drug-free, so it's completely un-tainted.