The Music Behind, Aligned, and Intertwined
with the Novels of John H. Ritter
"When I was 15, the Bob Dylan Songbook fell into my hands and changed my life forever. I found it to be an amazing book—full of crazy characters, of sadness and love, of desperation and revolution, of insight, and morality, and even humor.
"I stood in my garage and tore the baffle off my electric organ, cranked up the tiny Sears and Roebuck mail order amp, and sang that book from cover to cover, memorizing beat street lyrics, adopting the wail of a moaning man of constant sorrow, a tambourine man, a weather man, only a pawn, only a hobo, but one more is gone, and on and on. I began carrying around a spiral notebook in my back pocket, cover torn, metal rings flattened from school desk seats, pages bent, half-ripped, but all filled with blue pen lines scribbled out, fast paced, double-spaced, full of civil rightist, war protest love songs. And that experience gave me my emotional material for Over the Wall and a prose rhythm I still dip into, as you can see. Under the Baseball Moon simply became the right vehicle—with the right characters—to tap into that songwriting background." —John H. Ritter (from Holly Atkins Interview)
Click on the links below to find, and listen to, Ritter's musical inspirations for each of his novels.
Music from The Boy Who Saved Baseball
Music from Under the Baseball Moon
Music from Choosing Up Sides
MUSIC FROM The Boy Who Saved Baseball:
From the opening paragraph of his quixotic novel, The Boy Who Saved Baseball, and throughout the book, writer John Ritter employs the "harsh and wild winds" of Dillontown as both metaphor and character, finally utilizing the wind, ala Bob Dylan’s historic civil rights song, "Blowin’ in the Wind," as the sole factor in Tom Gallagher’s decision to step up to the mound and pitch in the crucial Big Game (Chapter 24). By tossing a handful of dirt into the air to determine "which way the wind is blowing," Tom finally decides what to do. "The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind."
Ritter references many Dylan songs in this novel, using them both in narrative and dialogue. Here he uses two such songs: "Subterranean Homesick Blues" which proclaims "you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows" and the civil rights standard "Blowin' in the Wind." The songs also contain subtle plot undertones. For example, Ritter reports that the three-verse song, "Blowin’ in the Wind," became the subconscious blueprint of his storyline as the age-old struggles from each verse (for peace, freedom, and justice) were played out in the novel.
"Blowin' in the Wind" by Bob Dylan
"Subterranean Homesick Blues" by Bob Dylan
(with iconic Beat Generation poet Allen Ginsberg standing in the background)
The magical pitch that Cruz teaches Tom is called his "crossfire hurricane" from the first line of the Rolling Stones song, "Jumpin’ Jack Flash."
"Jumpin' Jack Flash" by the Rolling Stones
In Chapter 19, the conniving banker Alabaster Jones calls the community involvement in restoring the old ballpark the "stupidest thing I ever saw." María jumps out of the dugout and fiercely confronts him. When he wonders why she is so emotional, María angrily retorts, "Because there’s something happening here, but you don’t know what it is, do you Mr. Jones?" (p.149) The line comes straight out of the chorus of Dylan's masterpiece, "Ballad of a Thin Man," a song in which many say Dylan is decrying the gap between his music and the mystification it causes among critics in the mainstream press.
"Ballad of a Thin Man" by Bob Dylan
In Chapter 22, the entire team is camped outside in their sleeping bags, contemplating the stars. This scene, as well as suggesting the "Blowin’ in the Wind" question—"How many times must a man look up before he can see the sky?"—also employs several images from Dylan’s "Mr. Tambourine Man." As the players let their thoughts drift and "dance beneath the diamond sky," Rachel speaks of rising above fear and seeing life from the hawk’s perch, letting the scene echo the song's line, "And but for the sky there are no fences facin’." In a bit of foreshadowing, Cruz then asks Rachel to consider running away with him, in a nod to the song’s chorus, "In the jingle-jangle mornin’ I’ll come followin’ you."
"Mr. Tambourine Man" by Bob Dylan
Hollis B, who lives in a tree on the outskirts of Dillontown, gets his name from a Bob Dylan song called, "Ballad of Hollis Brown." Though the Hollis in the tragic song, who "lived on the outskirts of town," is far from the poet savant depicted in Ritter’s novel, Ritter intentionally uses the burdened character’s shadow in The Boy Who Saved Baseball to suggest a tragic event somewhere in Hollis B's past, driving him to become another man who "ain’t a-got no money and ain’t a-got no friend."
"Ballad of Hollis Brown" by Bob Dylan
As if to underscore Hollis B's mental state, on page one of Chapter 24, he sings, "I ain’t fakin’! Whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on," straight out of the classic song written and performed by wildcat rock-a-billy artist Jerry Lee Lewis.
"Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On" by Jerry Lee Lewis
(back to top)
MUSIC FROM Under the Baseball Moon:
Early in the novel Under the Baseball Moon by John Ritter, young trumpeter Andy Ramos talks about the accomplishments of his late grandfather who played with such jazz luminaries as Freddie Hubbard and Tito Puente. In a conversation with the Holy Jokester on p. 26, Andy asks HoJo how he knew about the magical effect Andy’s music had on the pitching of Glory Martinez. HoJo responds, "The night has a thousand eyes." Here Ritter makes a double song reference. One is a jazz number by that title played brilliantly by Freddie Hubbard, and the other is a song made famous in 1963 by pop singer Bobby Vee, containing the line, "So remember when you tell those little white lies, that the night has a thousand eyes." Ritter also lets the reader know one night (in the final chapter) Andy will uncover the truth behind the magic and the "little white lies" he’s been told all along. (Andy himself tells us so in the book’s very last song, "Say Me, War You in on Niss?")
"The Night Has a Thousand Eyes" by Freddy Hubbard
"The Night Has a Thousand Eyes" by Bobby Vee
One night on their favorite bench at the end of the OB Pier, Andy tries to warn Lil Lobo about this new chica in town, Glory, by invoking an old blues refrain, which Ritter slightly alters.
"All women is trouble. / But some women is double.
See ‘em comin’ you bes’ step aside. / A lotta men didn’t and a lotta men died."
Most people will recognize one version of these old lines which appear in the Tennessee Ernie Ford classic, "16 Tons," a song which also speaks to a deeper theme in Baseball Moon. Ritter embraces this theme—namely how so many workers toil their entire lives for "the Company Store" with nothing to show for it at the end other than the debt of one’s own soul—as being crucial to the understanding of both Ocean Beach, California, and the novel itself. Here British rocker Eric Burdon puts his spin on the classic tune.
"16 Tons" sung by Eric Burdon
When Andy finally runs into (literally) the mysterious Max Lucero (p. 46), whose name in Spanish means "Bright Star" (and puns on the name of the recording label which signs Marlina Martinez, mentioned on p. 283, "Loose Arrow" Records), a song pops up. Max politely states, "Please allow me to introduce myself" using Mick Jagger’s famous opening line to the Rolling Stones’ "Sympathy for the Devil"—another bit of foreshadowing as to Max’s real identity.
"Sympathy for the Devil" by the Rolling Stones (on David Frost in 1968)
The Holy Jokester knows before Andy does that Andy and Glory belong together, and he foreshadows the point when he says "Yes, I know now, yes, I know now, yes, I know." (p. 63) This line is from the song by Bob Marley (who looks a lot like the Holy Jokester) called, "Is This Love?" —a question that runs through Baseball Moon from beginning to end.
"Is This Love?" by Bob Marley
(video shot at OB Juan Quixote’s Taco Bar and Grill one midsummer’s night)
Glory’s backstop-climbing meltdown (based on a similar real life meltdown in the Major Leagues by stressed-out former Cleveland Indian, Jimmy Pearsall) is a turning point in the novel for Andy, who now sees his old female nemesis as simply a "girl with a wild imagination in a tough situation and sometimes she got really scared. And at those times, she did the best she could." At this tender moment of personal insight (p. 105), Andy offers her the tender words from Bob Marley’s nostalgic song, "No Woman, No Cry." The tune can be seen as Glory’s theme song as references to it appear two more times in the novel.
"No Woman, No Cry" by Bob Marley & The Wailers (Live)
Another big theme in the novel is the idea of a crossroads. Crossroads provide us with turning points. They also provide us a chance to go straight ahead, continuing the road we are on. Andy and Glory face several such intersections, all of which have been approached by many more before them. And no one is as famous in the music business as legendary bluesman Robert Johnson—that is the legend behind Johnson, as told to Andy by his father (p. 140)—whose escapades were alluded to in a song he wrote called, "Crossroads Blues." References to the lyrics of this song creep up several more times throughout the novel. (See p. 155: "How often does one cross paths with a man who offers to put everything in place?" And p. 173: "You can run, you can run..." ) Ritter then goes on to juxtapose the legendary curse of Robert Johnson with Red Sox owner Harry Frazee’s legendary bargain to sell Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees and the "Curse of the Bambino" which followed (p. 174).
"Crossroads Blues" by Robert Johnson
(See the historical info written by slowtubbi, who posted the video.)
Upon making his agreement with Max Lucero and at Max’s urging for Andy to play something on his guitar, Andy Ramos, of Mexican heritage, decides to finger pick the opening to "La Bamba," the Mexican folk tune made famous by Chicano Rock pioneer, Ritchie Valens. Ritter selected this particular song by this particular artist in part because Valens was a classic maverick (referring to the solemn lecture by Andy’s dad, p. 141-142) who’d had his surname shortened from "Valenzuela" by Bob Keane of Del-Fi Records in order to better mask Ritchie’s heritage from the mostly white rock and roll fans of the late 1950s. Additionally, Andy’s parents call their band "Soy Capitán" meaning "I am the Captain" and not just a beached sailor, straight from "La Bamba": "Yo no soy marinero...Soy capitán, soy capitán."
"La Bamba" by Ritchie Valens
When Andy self-immolates on Dirk Sutro’s radio show, "The Lounge," Sutro, a veteran interviewer, rescues him deftly by segueing into the classic Tito Puente tune, "Oye Como Va" (p. 164) which loosely translates into the first greeting Andy gives to Max, "Howzit?" Here’s a portion played by Carlos Santana (along with a loose translation of the lyrics in English).
"Oye Como Va" performed by Santana
Having a cup of Mexican coffee with Glory one morning, Andy toys with the notion of telling her about Max Lucero by bringing up the idea of someone making a bargain with the devil to advance one’s career. As close as he comes to doing so, though, is claiming "I’ve got friends in low places" (p.183) quoting from the Garth Brooks hit, "Friends in Low Places"—a song which Ritter claims captures the crowd at OB Juan Quixote’s Taco Bar and Grill accurately enough.
"Friends in Low Places" sung by Garth Brooks
In Baseball Moon, Glory’s mother, Marlina Martinez, a one-time professional singer, often sings to the ocean. Accidentally Andy catches her doing so while she renders an a cappella version of the Eagles hit, "Desperado" (p. 186). This is one of several mutual tie-ins between Baseball Moon and Ritter’s subsequent novel, The Desperado Who Stole Baseball (Penguin, 2009) as well as Ritter’s earlier novel, The Boy Who Saved Baseball (Penguin, 2003), in which María Flores declares "We’re all desperados." Later in Baseball Moon Mrs. Martinez sings the song again (p. 260) to begin the surprising climactic scene in which Andy mentally grasps a line from the song declaring he’s the one who has finally "come to your senses" as he abandons his major chance at stardom to search for Glory.
"Desperado" sung by Tori Amos (a rendition Ritter imagines Mrs. Martinez might do)
When Andy, Glory, and the gang make it back to Olivia Olivetti’s fortune telling show at OB Juan Quixote’s (p. 191), hoping for more clarity on her last message, she gives it to them—in code. She not only gives clues as to the presence of a shapeshifter—with direct references to The Holy Jokester—she starts her "reading" with a tip-of-the-hand clue to any Bob Dylan music fan with her opening words. "Silver and gold," she says. "Silver and gold, dear people, cannot buy back the heat of a heart turned cold." The words closely match the chorus of Dylan’s song, "Silvio." Those readers who know the song would jump ahead in their understanding of the unfolding mysteries in the story just by recalling the first two verses:
"Stake my future on a hell of a past / Looks like tomorrow is coming on fast
Ain't complaining 'bout what I got / Seen better times, but who has not?
Silvio / Silver and gold
Won't buy back the beat of a heart grown cold
Silvio / I gotta go
Find out something only dead men know."
"I can tell you fancy, I can tell you plain / You give something up for everything you gain.
Since every pleasure's got an edge of pain / Pay for your ticket and don't complain."
Most people credit Dylan with the song, which Ritter reports as being stuck in his head for months on end while penning Baseball Moon, but it was actually written by Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter—serving as another clue.
"Silvio" performed by Bob Dylan
Andy’s parents’ band, Soy Capitán, open their gig at OB Juan Quixote’s with "Hand in My Pocket" (p. 214) where Ritter again underscores the value system of the OB community he’s spotlighting with the song’s first lines,
"I'm broke, but I'm happy / I'm poor, but I'm kind."
and the chorus lines:
"What it all comes down to / Is that everything's gonna be fine fine fine
I've got one hand in my pocket / And the other one is giving a high five.
...I've got one hand in my pocket / And the other one is giving the peace sign."
"Hand in My Pocket" by Alanis Morrisette
Onstage, the entire time Andy is backstage being waylaid by Max Lucero, his band, FuChar Skool, has started the gig without him. Waiting for Andy, the band buys time in front of the massive crowd with their take on the Jimi Hendrix rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" (p. 252) which Hendrix employed to wake up a massive crowd at Woodstock, NY, one morning many years before.
"The Star Spangled Banner" by Jimi Hendrix
Once Andy finally realizes what Max has done to him, he says his blood chilled and that, "My heart stopped beating and my hands turned cold." (p. 254) Ritter borrowed this line from the classic Blind Lemon Jefferson song, "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean," which a twenty-year-old Bob Dylan covered amazingly well on his first album, heard here.
"See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" by Bob Dylan
After the ballgame celebration, Andy and his band are pressured into playing two songs onstage at OB Juan’s. Here (p. 275) Ritter selects an original tune he wrote specifically for the novel, "That Night Down by the River" and the old Beastie Boys hit, "(You Gotta) Fight for the Right (To Party!)." Ritter chose the latter song because of its inherit premise intrinsic to the story, i.e., Andy needed to fight more for his happiness than he had to for any material success—as hard-won as that status might be. No audio recording is available for the Ritter tune, depicting Andy’s true happiness, though the lyrics and chord progressions are included in his novel. "Fight," a song which the Beastie Boys now disown and have not sung in over 20 years, was meant to be a parody on party songs such as "Smokin' in the Boy's Room" and "I Wanna Rock." They were disappointed that their fans did not get the joke.
"(You Gotta) Fight for the Right (To Party!)" by The Beastie Boys
Bob Marley was John's inspiration for the Holy Jokester in Under the Baseball Moon. Here's an award-winning documentary, "Playing For Change: Peace Through Music,"
in which musicians from around the world (including San Diego's Keb' Mo' and Manu Chao) perform an incredible rendition of the legendary Bob Marley song "One Love."
Playing For Change: Song Around the World "One Love"
MUSIC FROM Choosing Up Sides:
In the second chapter of John Ritter's IRA award-winning novel, Choosing Up Sides, Ritter depicts Luke’s father, Preacher Bledsoe, sermonizing at the Holy River of John the Baptist Church in Crown Falls, Ohio. The sermon is fire and brimstone—complete with a gritty "Get thee be-hind me, Satan!" To wrap up the chapter, Ritter decides to use the traditional Southern hymn, "Throw Out the Lifeline," which was used extensively during the Temperance Movement leading up to Prohibition. Ritter chooses the song as Preacher Bledsoe’s final hymn selection, not only to put a musical aura around Luke's present state of mind, but to subtly foreshadow the novel's tumultuous climactic scene. Here it is sung by the great Ella Fitzgerald.
"Throw Out the Lifeline" by Ella Fitzgerald