"One time I was at a game," remembers ChinMusic! editor and publisher Kevin Chanel. "Between innings, they show a thing on the screen where a player picks the song they want to hear; the next inning, everybody cheers and all that. One guy picked 'Hotel California,' some other guy picked 'Centerfield' or something. But [San Diego ace relief pitcher] Trevor Hoffman picked 'Everyday Is Like Sunday' by Morrissey. That just struck me as too bizarre. I was like, 'Shit, I want to talk to this guy!'"
An interview with Hoffman -- as much about his taste in rock music (which ended up being rather to the right of the Smiths, encompassing Van Halen, Alanis Morissette, Metallica, and Stryper) as his pitching -- ended up as ChinMusic!'s first-ever cover story in 1997. Since then, the annual-or-so zine has devoted some fifty pages of each issue to the underheralded baseball/alternative rock crossover. There are interviews with major-league superstars (Mike Piazza, Barry Zito) and scrubs that run more to music than baseball; chats about the Great American Pastime with underground rock outfits such as Royal Trux, Suicide, and Guided by Voices; punk rockers and zine editors writing about baseball, not punk; a photo spread of GWAR being taken to an Oakland A's game; and a rundown of a bootleg reissue by super-abrasive punk band the Pop Group next to a review of the best-selling Moneyball, Berkeley author Michael Lewis' study of the secret of the Oakland A's' success. It's a wholly unpredictable mélange of baseball and rock (mostly, but not always, punkish), and rarely just one or the other. One particularly memorable cover was a witty takeoff on the classic sleeve of Roxy Music's Country Life LP, the half-nude models covering their breasts with baseball gloves and bats instead of underwear.
Chanel started putting out ChinMusic! shortly after moving to San Francisco from San Diego in the mid-1990s, but the A's cap he wears makes it clear where his true allegiance lies, baseballwise. "I definitely prefer to go to the Oakland Coliseum than Pac Bell Park any day," he declares. "I love it there. They have better beer, the Oakland A's are the nicest people you ever want to meet: [General manager] Billy Beane, Zito, [Scott] Hatteberg, [Eric] Chavez -- really good guys.
"One of the things they don't really talk about in Moneyball is that Billy Beane loves the Ramones, loves the [Sex] Pistols and the Buzzcocks. Billy actually called me once on opening day. I'd never met him before; I don't even know how the hell he found my number. It was when they still sucked, when they were just bringing [Jason] Giambi up to be full-time. We talked for like half an hour about the Buzzcocks, Pistols. We talked Dictators! And I just kind of thought: 'Jeez, you really should be finding a shortstop instead of talking to me!'"
Indeed, Beane and Johnny Ramone even ended up interviewing each other for one of ChinMusic!'s more off-the-wall features, an experience that "sounds like it was more of a thrill for Billy Beane," Chanel says. "He was just this huge fan. And Johnny Ramone is like, 'Hey, sure, kid, I'll sign an autograph for ya. '"
Now in his thirties, Chanel is a big Johnny Ramone fan too, and a right-handed hitter who has continued to play baseball for fun long after his schooldays. Married to the daughter of the proprietor of San Francisco's Grooves record shop, he's also the kind of huge collector who'll rush over to the local music emporium to buy a Pop Group or Gang of Four rarity.
And he's done his time in the underground rock and zine worlds, having written for the mags Ben Is Dead and Gearhead and having played bass in the San Diego hardcore band the Front. In the mid-'80s, Chanel and his fellow bandmembers were houseguests of Berkeley's Tim Yohannon, founder of Maximum Rock'n'Roll, a seminal punk zine that sprang from Yohannon's show on KPFA. A dozen years later, he was interviewed in ChinMusic! -- not about punk, of course, but about New York baseball. Yohannon, who died in 1998, "hated the Yankees, so we immediately bonded," says Chanel, who like most zine editors fits in production of the five-thousand-copy-circulation ChinMusic! around a day job.
A conversation with Chanel yields nuggets about both ballplayers and punk rockers that you aren't likely to find in either the daily sports or entertainment section: Beane turned Hatteberg on to the Ramones, it turns out, by lending him Legs McNeil's scathing American punk-rock history book, Please Kill Me. All the Yankees are "assholes except [star outfielder and accomplished guitarist] Bernie Williams, who was actually interested in the magazine." Neil Hagerty of Royal Trux "can talk forever, and say 'um' about a thousand times in each sentence." It's just these kind of below-the-radar goods that highlight ChinMusic!, whose new issue (#6) features an interview with the A's' team photographer Michael Zagaris, who was formerly a rock photographer and who sees rock stars and ballplayers as much the same kind of people.
Similarly, Chanel sees baseball and rock 'n' roll as much the same worlds -- "the same movie," as he puts it, "just different subject matter. I think you could probably say the same thing with the film industry, the same thing with, maybe, Nobel Prizes. I think they all have the same idea toward groupies, the same idea toward success, toward the type of persons that make it. They all kind of work on the same pattern. Maybe the chicks look different; I don't know."
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