He may have never played a single inning of major-league baseball, but singer/songwriter Dan Bern is nevertheless realizing a fantasy of his by heading to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., this weekend — for a pair of concerts, that is.
A huge sports fan who has written numerous songs revolving completely around baseball, in addition to songs simply name-dropping such greats as Jackie Robinson and Pete Rose, Bern will perform two shows (6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.) in the Hall of Fame’s Grandstand Theatre tomorrow (Jan. 11). The performances, which will be recorded for possible future release, will benefit Hungry for Music (HFM), an organization that aims to inspire disadvantaged children and others by bringing positive musical and creative experiences into their lives.
Bern regularly contributes songs to HFM’s baseball-themed albums, which are available on the organization’s Web site.
“Over the years, I think I’ve accumulated a whole set of baseball-related songs,” says Bern, a San Francisco Giants fan (“Barry [Bonds] is God!”). “So I’m kind of stoked to get to pull ’em all together. I’m gonna have to do some work, there’s so many songs I have to sort of re-learn.”
Among those is “Seven Miles an Hour,” a song about an aspiring pitcher who can throw an 87 mph fastball, but wants to throw faster — seven miles per hour faster — so that he can makes the big leagues (the song is found on the HFM collection “Nolan Ryan: A Musical Tribute”). In “Merkle,” from the organization’s “Diamond Cuts: Grand Slam” compilation, Bern wonders what would have happened if one of the most infamous incidents in baseball history — Fred Merkle failing to touch second base, and thus losing the 1908 World Series for the New York Giants — had never happened.
But not all the songs, Bern notes, are purely about baseball. “They’re metaphors for broader things. But a lot of them use baseball as a central theme of the story.”
Bern is also enjoying a productive partnership with his current label, Messenger. The indie recently issued the five-song “The Swastika EP” and the singer’s latest book, “World Cup,” a 60-page tome that also includes a five-song CD (both are available at the artist’s shows and at messengerrecords.com and danbern.com).
The title of the former comes from a song on the EP called “My Little Swastika,” a song inspired by a recent incident on the University of Colorado campus in Boulder, Colo. About eight months ago, on the Jewish holiday Sukkot — the celebration of which includes the creation of sukkot, wooden huts that are decorated with fruits and vegetables — vandals defaced a sukkot with swastikas.
Says Bern, “The first reaction is, ‘Ya shouldn’t be able to do this; at this late stage, this is too easy a way to continue to inflict pain.’ And then I thought, ‘Well, ya can’t keep somebody from doing it, but what you can do — what I can do — on my little one-man crusade, is try to transfer the symbol, make it mean something else, or — in the case of the song — make it mean a bunch of different things [in an attempt to] take the power away from that symbol, and literally to make it something fun, and to, like, make it your own.”
Bern, whose next full-length album will be released this spring on Messenger, also plays tonight at the Colony Cafe in Woodstock, N.Y., and Sunday at Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.