David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 11: The Traveling Wilburys (Handle With Care)

May 7, 2020

Imagine Top  40 as a basketball pick-up game. It's December of 1988 and one early morning you see 5 old guys walking onto the neighborhood court. From a distance, they can't possibly bring any game. However, as they get closer, you see an old guy wearing dark glasses.  You glance at the grey December sky, thinking. "WTF?"

He takes the ball from a bearded guy also in sunglasses and proceeds to sink threes with the prettiest, most perfect jump shot you have ever seen: "I'm so tired of being lonely," he croons, sinking shot after shot after shot. "He's still got some game to give," the bearded guy tells you.

The scruffiest of the five-some proceeds to sit down on the makeshift bench, pulls out a chalkboard and some chalk and starts scoring a series of plays that are both beautiful and so obscure that they can't possibly work once a game actually starts.  He mutters under his breath a lot. You try to get close to see exactly what he is writing or to understand exactly what he is saying to his teammates, but damn if you can understand it.  A little cocky, you start some trash talking, "Hey, man, what fossil pile did they dig you out of?" The chalkboard-wielding play-drawing old man squints at you, mumbling something that sounds like "been ridiculed in day care centers and night schools." You turn to look at your own posse, young, cocky, over confident. "What the fuck he mean by that?" They shrug. "Who cares," one says. "Let's ball up."

The bearded guy in sunglasses starts sweeping the court, removing the debris that you never even knew existed. He pulls out a ladder, places it under the basket, and proceeds to restring the net through the basket. He rips off his sweatpants to reveal those high-riding shorts worn by teams your father liked back in the day.  With a nod of his head, the other old guys take off their sweats to reveal the same basketball shorts.

You laugh arrogantly. "Hey, I've seen those before," you blurt out. "But not in like 20 years, like not since those early 70's Lakers' teams." You start to pace the court anxiously. You just want to play but these old guys are taking forever.  "C'mon dude, this is the modern era. Stop with that retro shit!"

The youngest of the group just smiles and takes a hit off of a blunt. He's skittering around the court, dribbling through his legs, weaving and bobbing, dishing the ball to the old guy still hitting every shot with perfection. "You ever going to take off that stupid hat," you yell at the young guy. He just tips his hat and feeds a behind the back pass to the last guy you hadn't really looked at yet.

And that's when you stop dead in your tracks. "Fuck it, I know you. You were on that Lakers' team in the 70's. What they fuck? "Baby, you're adorable," he croons. "Let's play."

And in a just world, you get completely wiped off the court.  You are lucky to even score. You're the one "beat up, battered around, been sent up, and been shot down." These old farts are not only killing you but they are having a blast doing it. "Nice pass, Tom," one says after being set up for an easy lay-up. "Hey, everyone needs someone to lean on," he says backpedaling down the court.

When it is all done, they saunter off the court, crowing about the "sweet smell of success," while you are left to find your crushed egos among the crushed blunt ends.

But this is not basketball. This is pop music. And there is no justice. You are some unknown called Breathe.  You sit at #3 in the charts with some crappy pop song called "How Can I Feel," prevented from #1 by someone covering old Peter Frampton and by the latest factory-produced Chicago light hit.  Meanwhile these old guys, a supergroup reimagined as The Traveling Wilburys, can't rise higher than #45.

Poor guys can't catch a break, can't even get "overexposed, commercialized" in an era when that defined the music world.

"Handle With Care." The Traveling Wilburys. Volume 1. Wilbury Records. 1988.

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Day 12: Stevie Wonder "I Wish." ->

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