In the previous installment of our chat with singer/songwriter/Padre fan Steve Poltz (poltz.com), we talked about Celine Dion, great places to play music, and the effect James Taylor had on his love life in the ’70s.
This time, Steve muses on the connections between music and baseball, his work with Jewel, and what it was like to open for the Ramones…
Ducksnorts: My wife came up with this question. A lot of musicians are also baseball fans. What sorts of connections do you see between the two?
Steve Poltz: It’s really weird because when the Giants were in town, Barry Zito was on his off day and [Tim] Flannery came down to the dugout. I was there early and played him [Zito] some music. I’m looking at him, going, “Wow, that’s Barry Zito.” I always wanted to be a baseball player and I can’t do it, so I look at those guys with awe. For me, they’re gods. I don’t want to get too close to them — my girlfriend calls people like that “pedestal people” because we put them up on a pedestal. I kind of do that.
DS: It’s hard not to.
SP: And they always like music, which is weird. Wally Joyner used my song “Silver Lining” when he batted, and I couldn’t believe that he did that. All these baseball people for some reason love — I wish I could give you a better answer; that’s a lame answer.
DS: Back in the early-’90s, remember Jack McDowell? Eddie Vedder, that whole thing?
SP: I know him well; Black Jack, yeah.
DS: My theory is there’s so much art to both. Baseball is a sport, but there’s so much art in it; there are layers of complexity to it that don’t exist in other sports.
SP: I wish that was my answer [both laugh]. Okay, ask me that question again; I want a do-over… Baseball is musical. If you think about it, it’s a musical game… This is the worst answer ever; tell your wife this is a very hard question. Okay, you have the rhythm — the sound of the ball, the whack of the bat, the sound of the ball hitting the glove, how far you step, what you listen for, whether a runner hits the bag first or the ball hits the glove (what the ump hears), the sound of the crowd, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”
One of the worst things that’s ever happened to the game is singing, “God Bless America.” Give me a break.
DS: Thank you. We already sang the national anthem.
SP: I understand the whole 9/11 thing, but keep your politics out of my game. I don’t want it in there. [We have] the anthem before the game. And when you play a Canadian team, you get to hear the Canadian anthem; I love that.
DS: It’s a beautiful song.
SP: When we played in Montreal, it was in French. Tom Flannery can sing it in French — Tim’s brother… It is a musical game, the sound of [in vendor voice] “Cracker Jack, get your Cracker Jack.” Maybe I’m drawn to the music. That sounds cooler.
DS: Absolutely… You don’t want to know my wife’s other question.
SP: I do; what is it? I do want to know.
DS: She said, “Ask him what Jewel is really like.”
SP: [laughs] I love it. That’s a good question, and I like it. She’s somebody who grew up skinning her own cattle, taking a crap in an outhouse — with no electricity. [She didn't know] who the Beatles were, who the [Rolling] Stones were. She was a country bumpkin who was a real artist; she could make stained glass, paint, and draw. She was raised yodeling in Alaskan villages since she was six.
She came out to San Diego — and really did live in her van, and worked as a waitress at Java Joe’s — met me. We happened to write some hit songs, she moved in with me, became my girlfriend for a few years, and then she got a tremendous amount of accolades and stardom by the age of 20. She was on the cover of Time magazine, Rolling Stone a couple of times — all these different magazines; [she] sort of got swept up in all the hype. Everything in music is timing. She was talented, and it was time for women [singers].
It was a backlash to grunge and everything else going on. People were sick of — I call them “goat singers.” Then you couldn’t turn on the radio without hearing women. Then she became very aloof and almost became kind of snobby; I saw it because I was on the road with her.
Now she’s got a great boyfriend, who I love, who’s a friend of mine, and she’s out there grinding, working, trying to make a living playing casinos or wherever. She’s got a crazy work ethic.
She’s really sick and twisted. That’s what she’s really like. She has the sickest, darkest sense of humor… You can say anything — the sickest stuff — and she’ll laugh. That’s what Jewel’s like.
DS: Very cool.
SP: I used to sit down with her and say, “This is the Beatles” — swear to God — “This is the Stones”; she couldn’t tell them apart. “This is the Replacements; they have a record called Let It Be. So do the Beatles.” Then I’d be playing the Beatles, and she’d go, “Is that the Replacements?” It was awesome. She really didn’t know and really didn’t give a s***.
Then we moved and did that first record at Neil Young’s ranch… That first record really captured her, where she was at; then they just wore that whole [scene] out…
[Rambling discussion about the San Diego music scene from the early-'90s; people we knew, places we'd played, etc.]
SP: I was on the road once, and one of the weirdest things that happened to me was, I was on this morning radio show and the morning radio guys are, like, “Hey, we’re the wacky morning radio guys.” They would stay stuff like, “Why doesn’t Jewel fix her teeth?” I’m really patient with people — for some reason I was given that gene… They were, like, “Steve Poltz — Steve Poltz is playing here.” And the way they were saying my name, people thought they were saying “Steel Pulse,” so all these reggae fans showed up. Then I come walking out and they’re, like, so bummed when they see me walk out — who the f*** is this skinny white guy? So I was, like, trying to do my songs with a reggae beat.
DS: That’s hilarious.
SP: One time when we were the Rugburns, we had to open for the Ramones in Cleveland at this [large venue], which is a shed — sheds are what Coors Amphitheater is — they call them sheds… If you do a shed tour, it means you’re big — Pearl Jam big, something I’ll never be, which I’m glad. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’d be cool to be Dave Matthews or something, but I’m really happy with what [I do].
We were opening for the Ramones, and our promoter comes backstage — we were getting a lot of radio play in Cleveland for “Hitchhiker Joe” and “Me and Eddie Vedder” — and our promoter is, like, “Hey, man; I just want to say to you guys, don’t be bummed if people start throwing s*** at you — like shoes, lemons — because Ramones fans don’t like anybody but the Ramones. So, just take it as a compliment if somebody throws a shoe at you or something; they don’t mean any harm.”
Then the Ramones’ manager came in to tell us that this had been happening every night. Ramones fans only want to see the Ramones — and rightly so, the Ramones f***ing rule — so when we come out on stage, I knew [what to expect].
The first thing that came was a shoe. I remember looking around, just like — you have to be really agile — maybe that’s what baseball players and musicians have in common — we both have the ability to dodge flying objects. So I dodged this shoe, and then somebody threw a lemon and it hit my guitar — my Taylor acoustic — and put a crack in it; I treat my guitars really rough, so… I picked up the lemon, put it in my pants, and rubbed it around; then I took the lemon and squeezed it on my mouth, and the audience went, “Yeah!” From then on, I swear, the crowd was with us. Talk about the highlight of my life — it was opening for the Ramones.
When I got off [stage], they let us stay on the side of the stage because they liked us. I watched Joey Ramone vomit in a trash can that they had on the side of the stage. Everything is so fast with them — they never say one word between songs — it’s just 1-2-3-4 and the songs go into each other. I watched them come running off after one song…
[The club is filling up and getting very loud; they've just received a favorable review in the San Diego Reader, which is great for Steve's business but not so great for trying to decipher the rest of his answer.]
In Part 4, Steve talks about singing the national anthem at Qualcomm before a playoff game, getting signs from third-base coach Flannery, and being banned from the Padres hotel…