Goodbye Albert: Arch Fans Bid The King Adieu(Apologies to John Updike)

By Ryan Hilligoss, March 2012


“It’s part of my responsibility(being the face of a franchise) to play the game the right way and be an example to the community and to kids who look up to me, just like when I was a little boy and looked up to big league players. I know how many kids out there want to be like Albert Pujols.” Pujols, Sports Illustrated March 2012

Musial statue

Picture this: 1955. St.Louis, Missouri. A hot, suffocating, August afternoon. A steaming, asphalt parking lot outside Sportsman’s Park. A family of 4 from Springfield, Il on their annual vacation trip to St. Louis for a river cruise on the once mighty Admiral and taking in a Cardinals game. A mother and father, hard-working people from central Illinois, and their 2 daughters aged 12 and 15. There are a lot of fans waiting to talk to the players after the game and seeking autographs. At long last, Stan Musial, the man most have been waiting for emerges from the clubhouse and starts to talk to the fans who have come from far and wide to see their hero play. After playing hard in the hot afternoon sun, the easy thing would have been for Stan to beg off, plead exhaustion from the heat and head home to his family. But, he didn’t take the easy way out, he never did. He makes his way around the crowd shaking hands, saying hello and taking time to talk with each and every one of the faithful who waited.

The family from Springfield patiently waits their turn and are elated when he finally makes his way to them. After signing autographs on the day’s scorecard and exchanging pleasantries about their vacation, Musial asks them what hotel they are staying in, and knowing it is several blocks away and it is a usual oppressive St. Louis day, the star offers them a ride in his car to the hotel to spare the girls a long, hot walk. The father, a proud and humble man, thanks the star but declines the offer stating the family will enjoy the fresh air. Stan waves goodbye and climbs into his shiny red car and exits the parking lot. That family was my mother Donna, aunt Glenda, and grandparents Hubert and Ivy Barr. My mother and aunt talk about that memory often, and the kindness and decency of Musial is what they remember after all these years and that is where they leave him in their mind’s eye.

Saturday Post Musial

And in my mind’s eye, I begin thinking of a new baseball season, a new team and the idea of heroes. My hopes begin to rise with spring training in full swing and a new season starting for the Cardinals April 4th against the re-designed Marlins in their newly christened stadium in Miami. The 2012 Cardinals will look a lot like last year’s team. The old workhorse Chris Carpenter will be back at it again, pitching and playing a hard game every time it’s his turn. Adam Wainwright will be a sight for sore eyes having missed last season due to Tommy John surgery. Last year’s WS MVP David Freese will be back at the hot corner. But for the first time in years, 1st base will be handled by someone other than Albert, as Lance Berkman takes over for the departed Pujols. The “King” has truly left the building.

At the time of this writing, it has been 150 days since the St. Louis Cardinals played and won one of the greatest single games of baseball ever played, Game 6 of the 2011 MLB World Series. It has been 149 days since the Cardinals won Game 7 and took home the World Series crown, the 11th in their long, storied history. But after the victory parade was over, the ticker tape was swept up and the joy faded away. It has been 108 days since Albert Pujols left his perch here in the town of the Birds on the Bat, and flew to sunny LA to join the Angels.

Hope springs eternal with the dawning of a new day that comes with spring training. And just like Lazarus of old, the dead and forgotten Cardinals of August 2011 rose from the dead and fought back to take the crown, fighting past the mighty Phillies, Brewers and Rangers.  This typifies the kind of organization they have always been and will continue to be. St. Louis isn’t a sparkling jewel of the nation. It’s a hard town filled with hard-working, hard hit people. But we fight it out, and we’ll be here tomorrow and the next day and the next, just like the Cardinals, and we will stand together as a testament of the faith we hold in each other. While Albert is soaking up the warm rays of sunny Anaheim, we’ll be here where the warmth comes from within.

The easy out would be to say that I knew he was going to leave. But the declaration would just be that: an easy out. And I would be trying to fool myself and others .Within days of the World Series victory, I spoke to Sam Madonia on Springfield radio and I declared, in childish foolishness and naïveté that I thought both Albert and Tony Larussa would both be back. How wrong could I be? I really thought Albert would stay and finish his career here as a player. And then once retired, he would be handed the keys to the organization by ownership and asked what he wanted to do whether it be manager, GM, scouting, etc. With his innate and brilliant knowledge of the sport and his incredible abilities, I imagined him being a player-manager at the end of his career just like Frank Robinson and then transitioning to full-time manager. Albert Pujols as a manager would have upheld the level of excellence of the organization and of his own career.

But that was just the wishful thinking of a naive and romantic kid at heart. A romantic who was an 8-year-old second grader at Irving Elementary School in Alton, IL when the Cardinals won the World Series in 1982. A victory that ended with Bruce Sutter jumping into the waiting arms of his catcher, Darrell Porter. The next day, our school held our own “victory parade” and each class got a moment of freedom during which we paraded through the historic surrounding neighborhood high above the Great River Road.

In my jumbled memory, I remember the day as being cold and rainy outside with wet leaves under our feet in the late fall. But we didn’t care how cold it was outside; we carried the warm glow of victory in our hearts and “romantic dreams in our heads.” We did not really understand what it all meant, if anything, but we had a sense that all was right and true in the world. We held onto innocence, but we also held an idea of the promise of having all the time in the world before us. But what we didn’t understand is something the modern American poet Bruce Springsteen wrote in his song The Promise:

When the promise is broken you go on living

But it steals something from down in your soul

Like when the truth is spoken and it don’t make no difference

Something in your heart goes cold

When you consider the following quote from Albert from a 2009 interview, it is an example of promises being broken and turning your heart cold. “Do I want to be in St. Louis forever? Of course. People from other teams want to play in St. Louis, and they’re jealous that we’re in St. Louis because the fans are unbelievable. So why would you want to leave a place like St. Louis to go somewhere else and make $3 million or $4 more million a year? It’s not about the money. I already got my money. It’s about winning, and that’s it.” In the end, that is exactly what he left St. Louis for, a few more million dollars a year.

It’s about the winning? What other organization in MLB has had the success the Cardinals have had since 2000? 3 trips to the World Series including 2 victories. Postseason trips 8 of those 12 years including 4 losses in the championship series.

After signing with the Angels, Pujols was quoted as saying that it was about the commitment of the Angels and not about the money. Apparently, Albert didn’t care for the “rough” treatment he received from Cardinal management including Bill Dewitt who was somewhat hesitant to offer a 10 year deal to a 32-year-old player which would have hamstrung the organization for years. I am going to go out on a limb and say it was probably about the money.

I have heard countless fans and pundits and “experts” weigh in and say that modern sports is just a business and Pujols made a business decision. They say this is just the way it is now. But it doesn’t have to be to that way. Just ask Cal Ripken, Tony Gwynn, Barry Larkin, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera or Chipper Jones. They all played for a single team their entire careers in the modern era. They all made conscious decisions to remain with the same team and the same fan base their entire careers. Sometimes, the call of home, the sound of peace and silence, is louder than the frantic din of the all mighty dollar.

In 1968, Simon and Garfunkel released their signature song, Mrs. Robinson. The song, originally titled Mrs. Roosevelt as an ode to Eleanor Roosevelt, shot to #1 on the record charts and later won them a Grammy. An earlier version was released the prior year as part of the classic movie, The Graduate. In the song, Paul Simon wrote the lyrics:

Where have you gone Joe Dimaggio

Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you

What’s that you say Mrs. Robinson

Joltin’ Joe has left and gone away, hey hey hey

Apparently, Joe Dimaggio, who never suffered from a great sense of humor or irony, did not care for the lyrics or the song. Dimaggio told many friends, “Damn it, I didn’t go anywhere, I’m right here.” Paul Simon meant the lyrics as a tribute to the baseball legend and what he represented to so many. Simon later explained to Dimaggio himself at a restaurant that “the line was meant as a sincere tribute to his unpretentious heroic stature, in a time when popular culture magnifies and distorts how we perceive our heroes.”

When Dimaggio passed away in 1999, Simon wrote the following in an obituary in the New York Times: “In the 50’s and 60’s, it was fashionable to refer to baseball as a metaphor for America, and DiMaggio represented the values of that America: excellence and fulfillment of duty (he often played in pain), combined with a grace that implied a purity of spirit, an off-the-field dignity and a jealously guarded private life. It was said that he still grieved for his former wife, Marilyn Monroe, and sent fresh flowers to her grave every week. Yet as a man who married one of America’s most famous and famously neurotic women, he never spoke of her in public or in print. He understood the power of silence. ”


As a longtime St.Louis Cardinal fan, left bereft at the leaving of slugger Albert Pujols, I would like to revise Simon’s lyrics to fit the situation by writing, Where have you gone Albert Pujols/Our Cardinal nation turns its lonely eyes to you/What’s that you say Mr. Dewitt/King Albert has left and gone to LA? Hey hey hey…..

In August of 1977, after the passing of Elvis Presley, noted rock critic Lester Bangs wrote a great essay for the Village Voice in which he lamented the solitude that the singer lived in as well as the solitude of all music listeners who no longer could, or would, en masse follow any one singer or group. Where once millions of fans had followed Elvis’ music, Bangs imagines a world where everyone listens to their own favorite artists with little or no connection to other fans or other music styles. In one of the greatest, most prescient lines of popular, social criticism ever written, Bangs wrote, “But I can guarantee you one thing: we will never again agree on anything as we agreed on Elvis. So, I won’t bother saying goodbye to Elvis. I will say goodbye to you.”

The passion, the memories and the thrills started with my grandparents and were handled down to my parents and down to me and my two bothers, and now in turn, they are being passed down to our kids. What has been handed down from generation to generation is an appreciation for excellence and a high standard of character. So, as a life long, multi generational fan of the second most successful MLB organization, I can say that we Cardinal fans have stuck through the good times and bad times over the course of the club’s long and storied past. I can say that we appreciate Albert for what he did while he played here and for being a part of 2 World Series Champion teams and several other pennant contenders. But we also appreciate the efforts of all the players that helped win those games and championships. We appreciate players like the inimitable Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Ozzie Smith, and Willie McGee and countless others who come back time after time for opening day ceremonies, post season pre game festivities, and appearances in the broadcast booths. And they are treated as baseball royalty and as St. Louis royalty.

St.Louis royalty- Lou Brock, Red Schoendist, Ozzie Smith, Bruce Sutter and Bob Gibson

They are treated as such not simply because they played and won games from our youth and our adulthood, but because they represent a link to the past, the collective past of them and us. A link to where we came from, where we are today and where we are going and all the miles in between. Through good times and bad, we’ve been here. Season in and season out, we have risen and fallen with the Cardinals. Just as the players carry a burning desire to win and play the game right, our hopes and desires are carried deep within and hold a special place in our heart. And we continue to stand ready, waiting for the next Lou or Ozzie or Stan or Yadi to come to the plate and bring home another championship.

We follow the fortunes and failures of the collective team, not of a single player. And so Albert, instead of saying goodbye to our former selves, the promises we made, and all the memories and hopes and desires we each carry every day. Instead of saying goodbye to all that is right and true about this town and this incredible baseball organization, we will say thanks for the memories, wish you well and say goodbye to you.

We are alive. We will be here and waiting for the start of a new season. We may grow older with each passing season and our hearts may run a little cold from time to time as our heroes let us down and as tragedies fall upon us and those we love. But, with each passing season, we will hold onto another of Springsteen’s lyrics from a different song, No Surrender:

Now young faces grow sad and old and hearts of fire grow cold

We swore blood brothers against the wind

Now I’m ready to grow young again.

And so with the dawning of a new season, we will watch and listen to the games. We will once again go to Busch Stadium and share the experience with our family and friends. We will pass on the legacy and the memories to our kids just like those before have done. We will root on for our beloved Cardinals just as we secretly root on for the kids within ourselves that we used to be. And we will be ready to grow young again, even for a brief time.

There’s a new day coming. Tomorrow there will be sunshine and all this darkness past

Ryan, Kevin and Graham Hilligoss. St.Louis, Mo 2008


Editor’s notes:

– In September 1960, long time Red Sox great Ted “The Splendid Splinter” Williams retired from baseball with a .334 batting average and the last to hit the baseball immortal .400. Shortly thereafter, author and critic John Updike, a life long Red Sox fan, wrote one of the greatest baseball essays ever in Hub Fans Bid The Kid Adieu. You can read his words here by clicking on the link below.

– I will leave the last word with one of Albert’s former teammates. Within weeks of Albert signing with the Angels, Skip Schumaker, who has always gladly done what has been asked of him including making the switch from outfield to second base, resigned with the Cardinals. In what I can only imagine as somewhat of a veiled rebuff against Albert, he was quoted by the St.Louis Dispatch as saying, “There’s always interest in the back of your mind about what else may be out there, but my agent knew where I wanted to be. This is where I’m comfortable. It’s pretty much a slam dunk for me. This is all I know. It was an easy call. Here, I know what I’m getting into. If you go to a new team, you don’t know. The majority of a really good team is coming back. These are good guys to play with. They’re good people. That’s something that’s very important within a long season.”)

Hank Says, or, All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in China

(Editor’s note:  At the age of 70, and in a state of semi-retirement, my father Robert Lee Hilligoss, the original Humboldt, Illinois Tiger, traveled to China for a total of 30 days, with his fellow Mattoon High School alum and  friend, Henry Weaver.  On the way to O’Hare airport prior to departing America for points eat, Bob confessed to being as nervous as he was on his first day of school with Ms. Emily in her one room school-house in Coles County Illinois. Upon his return to America 30 days later, he said that much like Chuck Berry, he was so glad to be right back here in the USA. The following are brief excerpts from the upcoming one man monologue, much like Spalding Gray, sure to be coming to a theatrical venue near you. Check for local listings.)

The Humboldt Tiger goes to the land of the Flying Tigers

By Robert Lee Hilligoss (But we call him B.O.B)

What’s For Dinner? The Ballad of the Uneasy Eater

The food was different from the Chinese cuisine that I get at my local Chinese eatery, the China Star. Most of the food was very good. Some was very foreign to my taste. I found very little to be unacceptable. The one thing that I ate, which I wished I had passed on, was chicken feet. I discovered what my friend Hank had spent a year talking about was the noodles in soup, with meat, to be a delight to eat. Even though I could not manage the art of using chop sticks, there are spoons to be had, but forks are rare. Dumplings with meat or vegetables were delicious.
Surprisingly I was offered very little rice. Fish was good, but bony. They had one dish that reminded me of Buffalo Hot Wings, but they used unbreaded pork. Drinks, water, tea, Coke(with ginger) were always served, hot. I never
saw ice once in China until I boarded flight 850 to return to the states. The first request that I had for stewardess was a diet Coke with plenty of ice.

The Ways of the World : Trains, Planes and….taxis??

Travel by train, taxi or bus, I found to be comparable to train and bus travel in America. The best way to travel between major cities is by far to take a plane. The cost is very reasonable, an hour and 15 minute flight cost about 600 Yuan or $96, the planes are modern and the service staff is very good.

What You Really Need to Know (If you know what I mean)

Prepare yourself for some surprises when it comes to bathroom facilities. There is a thing called an Asian toilet, most Chinese people understand the word toilet. The Asian toilet is basically a hole in the floor, some are metal, some are ceramic. Every hotel I stayed in had a western toilet, but the shower in most have no tub or stall. There is a
drain in the floor below the shower head, and when you take a shower, you flood your bathroom floor, your ceramic tile floor becomes extremely slick and dangerous. The hotels that I stayed in, and the Lemon Hotel in Yan’an
was very acceptable, do not offer a simple wash rag(face towel). You use a hand towel.

I Depended on the Kindness of Strangers; An ode to Blanche Dubois

The most impressive feature that I found in China is the people. They tried to be as helpful as possible. Two young women that Hank and I met in St. Louis in 2010 helped us greatly by drawing up a list of questions written in Chinese. I have save that paper, and it is worn out. Everytime we were having a difficult time due to language, out came the list. It bailed us out several times. If we were having trouble with giving a taxi cab driver directions, a crowd always formed, and people tried to help out.

The people that I met and grew to know were the teachers at Yan’an Shaanxi Middle School(High School). They were top-notch individuals, the kind of persons that would be good neighbors and friends. They are hard workers and are dedicated to their profession of teaching. The students were an exciting group of young people that I enjoyed speaking to, at every opportunity that availed itself. They asked enlightened questions, and tried their best to speak English that was understandable. They were fun and interesting.

In My Life; All Those I Met Along the Way

Walking upon the ancient Great Wall was my greatest thrill. I have to thank Mr. Gao, Mr. Li, Andrew, Mrs. Li U Feng, Paul Prang, Jenny, Michelle, Mrs. Tree, everyone I met at the school for making my 24 days in Yan’an worthwhile. But without the aid of Clair, Veronica, Amy and Michelle, we probably would not have made it out of the Beijing Airport.

Why China? Because Hank Says

After my return, while substitute teaching at New Berlin High School, a student asked as to why I would choose to travel to China. I probably surprised him when I answered safety. The simple fact that there are people in the world that want to see Americans dead because we are Americans, no other reason. I have not heard of one American dying in China as a result of terrorism. The Chinese government knows as to who is in their country and where they are to be found. You buy a ticket for air travel, you present your passport and it is copied. You buy a train ticket, you present your passport. You check into a hotel, you show, guess what—–your passport. They know who is in THEIR country and WHERE you are located. Unlike America, they want to know just who is in country and where they can be found. A high school student in Yan’an asked me as to why I would choose to visit his hometown of Yan’an. I answered that I wanted to see the “real China”, not the post card version for the average tourist. Some of the people of Yan’an saw their first white man with blue eyes, when they saw me for the first time I walked the streets of Yan’an, Shaanxi. There was plenty to see, it centered around the simple fact that Mao Zedong lived in the Yan’an area from 1937 to 1951


Bob flew back to Chicago in March and as we left the airport in Chicago on the way home, I cranked up some Chuck Berry music, as a welcome home and heard the pride of St.Louis, Charles M Berry sing these words:

I feel so good today

We just touched down on an international runway

Jet propelled from overseas right  back into the USA

Looking hard for a drive-in

Searching for a corner cafe

Where hamburgers sizzle on an open grille night and day

And the jukebox is jumping with records like Back in the USA

Uh huh huh, oh yeah…….

Editor’s note: My father, Robert Lee, retired in June of 2011 after teaching, off and on over a course of 47 years, for a total of 35 years in public school classrooms. He began in 1964 in tiny Westfield, Illinois, and then moved on to the metropoli of Divernon and Rochester before taking a 13 year sabbatical to work in the restaurant business before returning to the Divernon Dragons in 1990. During his career, he taught thousands in the classroom and hundreds more on the floor of the basketball gymnasium. He was a teacher and coach, but he taught his students and athletes much more than simply the dates of the Civil War or how to run a three-man weave. He taught them how to be better people. And he continues to teach as evidenced above.

Written by Ryan Hilligoss, March 2012

Mind Droppings and Honor Roll

Mind droppings, quotes of the week and honor roll

– “If I have seen farther than others, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.” Isaac Newton

-“Fuel efficiency- not the availability of a gun rack- is one of the top purchase considerations for all new vehicles. However if accessories for the Volt are that important to Mr. Gingrich, we’ll gladly send him a product brochure.” Chevrolet spokesman Rob Peterson, on GOP presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich criticizing governmental subsidies and the lack of space for gun racks in plug-in electric cars.

-“I am strongly in favor of common sense, common honesty and common decency. This makes me forever ineligible for any public office of trust or profit in the Republic.” HL Mencken.

-” A book is just a stranger talking brilliantly. He’s probably better company than you’ll meet in a saloon. After all, he’s probably sober and giving you the best hours of his day, and he’s forcing you to look at things in a new way and face new experience.” Wilfred Sheed

General Honor roll:

– Jason Cochran.

His 8 year old son was charged with unlawful possession of a gun and third degree after a gun he has placed in his backpack went off at his school and the bullet struck a fellow student. The student is still recovering from her wounds but is expected to have a full recovery. Mr. Cochran stated, ” I just want everyone to know that my kid made a mistake. It was a terrible mistake.” During a difficult time for his son, the innocent bystander and all other involved, Mr. Cochran could have taken the easy out and blamed everyone else but his own son, as many others have done in past in similar situations. Instead, he stepped up and accepted responsibility for his own actions and those of his son.

– Students at Maine West High School, Des Plaines, Il. Families of Stephanie Valusescu, Christian Volkmann and Scott Wolf.

According to a recent story in The Chicago Tribune by Jennifer Delgado, fellow students at Maine West HS have rallied and supported each other as well as the families of the three above students who have all tragically passed away in last year. Volkmann suffered a heart attack, Valusescu died due to complications related to brain cancer and Wolf died earlier this month when he was struck by a vehicle. The  students helped support Volkmann and Valusescu during their times of trouble as well as their families and the students have rallied around each other at each turn.

Last year when the students learned that Valusescu’s condition was worsening and her family was struggling with the medical bills, they raised $18,000 to help. And they also stayed by her side in the hospital as much as possible.

Touchingly, during Volkman’s stay in the hospital after his heart attack last year prior to the school’s homecoming, his friends turned his hospital room into  his own “party” decked with the school colors.

The following is something we all could probably learn something from. Gina Valusescu, Stephanie’s mother, had this to say about the other students at the school, ” There’s a great thing going on at Maine West. When the worst things happen, they show the best of what people can be.”

Attached is a link to the full Trib story.,0,6420344.story

Personal Honor roll:

– Kimberly Hilligoss- For all that she does for me as a wife, all she does for our kids and our family. Besides  that, she is quite the cook. She really makes cooking fun!!!

– Donna Hilligoss- For being my mom and fighting the good fight.

– Robert Lee Hilligoss- For having the courage to fly to China for a month , sharing his time and thoughts on America with hundreds of hopeful Chinese high school students and climbing the Great Wall. Not too shabby for a 70-year-old retiree originally from little old Humboldt, Il. Hank says……..

– Heather Nelson and Dave Buerstetta- For helping me get my humble, meager blog off the ground. If it weren’t for you two, I would still be pacing the floor and mumbling to myself instead of putting pen to paper….yikes, that is the Luddite in me speaking, rest easy Kurt Vonnegut…… I meant fingers to keyboard.

– Alabama Shakes- Looking forward to your new disc…giving old school soul, R&B a fresh voice.

Bruce Springsteen– For remaining a creative, developing artist who puts out timely, relevant music. For being a 62-year-old performer who still gives it 100% every night and who was willing to live in the moment and climb the rafters at the Apollo Theater last Friday ……onwards to the Land of Hope and Dreams.

The Wrecking Ball Comes to Thneedville


Sprinsgteen and Danny DeVito, New Jersey Hall of Fame 2009, Glory Days

By Ryan Hilligoss, March 2012

Springsteen and Devito; The American Bard and The Lorax

In 2008, Bruce Springsteen was elected to the New Jersey Hall of Fame along with such luminaries as Albert Einstein, Toni Morrison, Harriet Tubman and Frank Sinatra. Springsteen was born and raised in blue-collar Freehold, New Jersey, but came of age, both physically and musically, in nearby Asbury Park, New Jersey. Also, from Asbury Park is actor Danny Devito who inducted Springsteen during the ceremony with these words,

” He(Bruce) holds up a mirror to our souls, His words and music allow us to look inside ourselves, allow us to understand how to better deal with life, to better deal with any kind of oppression. And also, of course, he is the first person to step up when there is anguish or any kind of grief and lifts us up and gives us hope.”

Then Springsteen ripped into a live version of his classic, “Glory Days” with Devito accompanying on vocals and air guitar. In 2010, Devito was inducted into the same hall, and who else would be on hand to induct his friend but Springsteen. After which they reprised their on stage performance.

How fitting then that the two New Jersians, both from hard-working, humble roots, have new projects coming out in the same week. Bruce Springsteen’s 17th studio album, “Wrecking Ball”, is set to be released Tuesday, March 6th and Devito is starring in the new Universal Studios production of “The Lorax”, based on the classic Dr. Seuss book.

Each project addresses timely, hard-hitting issues, one on the current economic quagmire facing the nation and its’ suffering citizens, and the other addresses environmental degradation at the hands of greed and moral turpitude. Both works focus on difficult topics, but ask of us, the audience, an important question: What can we do to help solve the problems facing all of us.

While a rock/folk/urban music album and a “children’s” movie may not seem to have a lot in common at first glance, there is more under the surface that we can learn from, but only if we are willing to “listen” hard. A similar idea came to me recently while reading “Woody Guthrie: A Life” by Joe Klein who quotes from John Steinbeck in describing Guthrie’s songs, “He sings the songs of a people and I suspect that he is, in a way, that people…..there is nothing sweet about Woody, and there is nothing sweet about the songs he sings. But there is something more important for those who will listen. There is the will of the people to endure and fight against oppression. I think we call this the American Spirit.”

The Lorax cover

Just for a quick review for the reader, if there are any of you out there swimming through a tidal wave of binary detritus. The Lorax movie, with Devito as the voice of The Lorax, the “hairy peanut”, who speaks for the trees, is based on the book by the same name, written by Theodore Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, and  first published in 1971. It tells the tale of the Onceler who destroys a beautiful forest of Truffula trees and all the living creatures who once lived there in the pursuit of profits by selling Thneeds that everyone needs, which are made from the fuzzy tops of the Truffula trees. After the Onceler is done chopping down all the trees in the name of “biggering his roads and biggering his factories and biggering his money”, the Lorax takes leave, and all that is left is an ugly, blackened, scorched earth with no Barbaloots or Humming fish to be found.

The Onceler tells a young boy who is on a moral quest to find the truth, “All the Lorax left here in this mess was a small pile of rocks, with one word….”Unless.” Whatever that meant, well I just couldn’t guess. That was long, long ago. but each day since that day, I’ve sat here and worried and worried away. Through the years, while my buildings have fallen apart, I’ve worried about it with all of my heart.”

At the end of the story, on a sign of hope, the young boy asks the old Onceler hermit what happened and what he can do, the Onceler gives him the last remaining Truffula seed with instructions to “plant a new Truffula, treat it with care, give it clean water and feed it fresh air.”


Whereas “The Lorax” looks at the dangers of “progress” and destruction of the physical environment, Springsteen’s Wrecking Ball album takes a hard look at the scorched earth that remains of our “shackled and drawn” economy and the millions of suffering citizens. The album opens with an anthemic “We Take Care of Our Own” that is an upbeat mix of rock and flag waving that will surely be mistaken by some, just as Born in the USA was mistaken back in the 80’s, as patriotic and jingoistic instead of a scathing indictment of the current social and governmental failure to care for our citizens.  Instead of making a bold proclamation, the song and lyrics are asking a question,” Do we really take care of our own?”, and by listening to the rest of the album, his answer is steadfastly….. no!!!

The entire album plays as a straight Greek tragedy, but the story here is not a fairly tale or a play written long ago. It is a modern tale of hard times for hard-working people, to paraphrase Pete Seeger, many of whom have been left behind in the wake of the economic depression that has occurred in the last 5 years here in America, and all around the world. The first half of the album tells the story of the difficult, almost soul crushing times and circumstances facing many, through songs such as Easy Money, Shackled and Drawn, Jack of All Trades and This Depression. The second half the album with the songs Wrecking Ball, Rocky Ground and We Are Alive leads us to a more hopeful place, a place where we live up to the ideals we hold in our hearts.

In “Death to My Hometown”, a hard charging, Irish rocker, Springsteen sings from the view-point of a citizen who has lost all that is near and dear during the second great depression. The narrator has lost his job and his home through normal channels of modern business wherein jobs are stripped away and sent overseas or just stripped away altogether, leaving a wide path of emotional, social and communal destruction in its wake. Springsteen sings:

Now no cannonballs did fly

No rifles cut us down

No bombs fell from the sky

No blood soaked the ground

But just as sure as the hand of god , they brought death to my hometown

They destroyed our families and factories,

And they took our homes

In answer to these actions, committed by an enemy he cannot see, the narrator tells his assembled audience of fellow citizens that the enemy will be back again and to get ready.

Now get yourself a song to sing

And sing it til’ your done

Sing it hard and sing it well

Send the robber barons straight to hell

After the last lyric is sung , there is  a sound of a shotgun being loaded (actually an AK-47 per album liner notes) and an explosion of drums which comes across as a call to arms. Not a call to become armed and loaded and to take violent action, but a call to link arms in solidarity to fight the bastards, whoever they might be. When Springsteen sings about getting a “song to sing and sing it til’ your done”, it stands as a call to action for all of us. Or as a form of call and response. A call for each of us to find a “song”, whatever that might be for each of us as individuals to respond in the best way we can based on our abilities, whether it be an actual song if you have any musical talents, or to write a letter or an opinion piece, or to take better care of friends or family, or to take political action or to organize others to help fight for a cause near to your heart. Find your song and sing it well and sing it hard my friends.

Yes, on one level, Wrecking Ball and The Lorax are talking about economic and environmental woes and the dangers of venture capitalism and immoral companies. But, if you follow the earlier advice of  Steinbeck and listen harder, you might hear the sound of the American spirit. A spirit thundering down the tracks, and a spirit that says, in Walt Whitman’s mighty yawp,”We Are Alive.”

In asking if we take care of our own, you might find the answer is no. Then you might ask yourself, what can I do to help others around me who may be suffering. But, more importantly, what help do I need, which often times can be even harder to admit to others or to yourself.

You may not find the answers right away or, possibly, ever, but just by asking the questions and searching for solutions or reaching out for help, you can take the first step on a long journey to a better place, a land of hope and dreams. Until then, plant your own “Truffula Seed”. Get yourself a song to sing and sing it hard. For as the Onceler tells the young boy in The Lorax:

UNLESS someone like you

cares a whole awful lot,

nothing is going to get better.

It’s not.

(Editor’s note) ***The Lorax is currently playing in theaters, and is highly recommended by someone who saw it this weekend with his family. The movie is quite enjoyable even for those of you who don’t enjoy animated movies. Wrecking Ball comes out March 6th. Check out the rave review from Denis Lehane, author of Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone:

“Wrecking Ball is possibly Bruce’s best album in a quarter century, for what my opinion’s worth. It’s bracing and subversive and sonically fearless. It’s going to give voice to a generation, certainly to an era. In that regard, I would put it shoulder to shoulder with Born To Run, Highway 61 Revisited, Exile on Main Street, London Calling and American Idiot. Indelible. I stand in awe of Bruce’s ability make music this angry and relevant and authentic at any stage of his career, nevermind 40 years on. Thank God for him.”